Winter Homestead Tasks: Mend, gather, sleep and feast...and sleep!


Some years ago during my apprenticeship with the master permaculturalist Zev Friedman (here and here), I was exposed to this rich document named, "The Forest Gardener's Year" - it was a season-by-season task list for any land-based dweller, gardener, farmer or permie. Adapted from his own learnings, Zev collaborated on this document with another bad-ass, Natalie Bogwalker, who has become a priestess leader in the original skills world and natural building community. You can find her work here.  This is from Natalie's organization, Wild Abundance, most recent post:

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If you're interested in more of these types of updates, you can sign up for their newsletter here.

When you receive a permaculture design from us here at Witch Hazel, we typically include an edited version for our PNW climate - aptly called "The Oregon Forest Gardener's Year". 

For Life,


Grasses: Living Legacy Landscapes

"Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints when cops aren't around."

Despite what many permaculturalists may preach, grasses are, in fact, useful - sure, not the typical Bermuda grass found rhizomatically (and systematically) taking over land everywhere; nor even the acres upon acres of cultivated grass seed right here in the Willamette Valley - rather the life-giving legacy of this truly remarkable and maligned plant.

Seeing the Woods, a blog by The Rachel Carson Center, highlights the glory of grass by following the patterns noticed within the deeply beautiful and ancient cultures of central Asia:

[grasses] represent the co-evolution of humans and nature over thousands of years where nomadic pastoralism has been the dominant form of land management and way of life...

They go on to mention the importance and value of pastoralism (free range grazing and land management) as an integral role in our society's ecologies:

Pastoralism is a “quiet” system where the subtleties associated with management are inextricably linked to local knowledge of an extensive ecological and social network over time and place. The rhythm of the grasslands is connected to seasonal change and cycles of life and death no less dynamic than the virtual world.
The grasslands of Mongolia – these living legacy landscapes – have been molded by pastoralists and climate over thousands of years. This is the central question to consider as we face the increasing decline of pastoralism across the globe – the known and unknown contributions that grasslands and these specific livelihoods provide to the global commons of a healthy environment.

We love using grasses in our permaculture designs! From food to fiber, these old plants have endless benefits to any living landscape. Sometimes folks mention 'grasses' when referring to all different types of plants - a good way of remembering this is: Sedges have edges, Rushes are round, Grasses have joints when cops aren't around. 

1. Sedges (have edges) - a great erosion control plant, boundary species and bioswale companion

2. Rushes (are round) - Rain garden species, bio-filtration plant and habitat for native insects

3. Grasses (have joints when cops aren't around) - From bamboo which is a wonderful food, shade and building material to corn, the food of life - all effective foods and ecological guild members. 

Medlars - the art of bletting


Medlars are a unique fruit - under loved by some but revered by others - this tasty custard apple-like tree has become a new love for me. Unique and under appreciated foods tend to find their way into my life actually ;). 

This most recent harvest back in early December was from Portland Community College Rock Creek - where I'll be attending the winter sessions on Environmental Landscape Management

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Cultivated in southern Europe - in parts of Bulgaria and modern day Turkey, the Medlar is harvested around the same time as the persimmon and, instead of being deliciously edible right off the tree, Medlars need to go through a process of ripening called bletting

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Bletting is similar to letting fruit ripen - like a banana or an avocado - and with Medlar, the longer ya wait, the better they get. Simply harvest the fruit when dark and firm (first picture above) and store in a typical cool, dark place. You know they're done when soft and developing a rich dark skin. I preferred cooking them up with butter...lots of butter, maple syrup and some nutmeg. 


Goat Butchering


This past weekend I had the pleasure of joining my dear friend Adam, from GeerCrest Farm, in one of their many seasonal goat harvests.

In Hawaiian, I'm told, a kumu is a teacher - Adam is my (and others) kumu; A patient, wise and goofy brother who, when he was younger, was a devout vegetarian. Through a wild incident of accidentally killing a rabbit with an oversized cucumber, Adam embarked on a path of reconnecting to his omnivorous side. Through a meat processing center, being a farmer, and working as a massage therapist, Adam has now gained a termendous amount of experience (and reverence) for raising and harvesting his own meat. 

The kill was well tended and fast - Adam with a quick draw of the knife around the neck after the goat (hazel) had succumbed to his pressure of being on the ground. We hung her by the Achilles heel, removed the hooves, and skinned her gorgeous hide. Once removed, Adam walked us through a gorgeous anatomy lesson from mussel to organ and from fascia to bones - step by step, meticulously paying tribute and honoring every single inch of hazel's body. 


For those of us who've not spent a significant amount of time around harvesting our own meat, these experiences can be life changing - it was for me - and although butchering has been part of my past, you can learn something new every time. More info on goat butchering here.