Marsh Creek Farmstead

Comfrey And Its Many Uses

Russian  ComfreyComfrey is a useful and powerful helper. Do you have any growing? Buy Russian Comfrey Today

It is a dynamic accumulator that improves your soil, prevents disease and provides free mulch for your plants as well as livestock fodder. Comfrey is also a powerful compost activator and will get your compost pile off to a quick start.

Do you have a plant in your garden that gives free mulch, compost activator, and a potent plant food?   The plant is Russian Comfrey. It has long taproots that harvest nutrients from deep within the ground.  The dynamic accumulation of minerals and nutrients is what makes comfrey leaves an excellent natural source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The NPK ratio of comfrey leaves is 1.8-0.5-5.3.  Comfrey is also rich in calcium and many other valuable plant minerals it mines from deep in the subsoil.

Here are some ways that you can Harness the Power of Comfrey

Mulch. Freshly cut comfrey leaves make good mulch because they're high in nitrogen, so they don't pull nitrogen from the soil while decomposing, as high-carbon mulches like straw and leaves do. And comfrey's high potassium content makes it especially beneficial for flowers, vegetables (such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers), berries, and fruit trees.

Comfrey as mulch

Soil amendment. Use freshly cut comfrey leaves (but not the flowering stems in this case—they can root) as fertilizer in planting holes. The leaves break down rapidly and provide nutrients right at the roots.

Compost activator. Comfrey is especially useful if you have lots of dry brown material and the pile is slow to heat up. Just layer the fresh comfrey leaves and stems in as you add other material to your pile.leaves and stems in as you add other material to your pile.

Liquid fertilizer. One of the best ways to tap your fertilizer factory is to brew comfrey tea. Fill a barrel or trash can about halfway with fresh comfrey, add water, cover it, and let it steep for 3 to 6 weeks. Comfrey tea smells foul, so brew it away from sensitive noses (yours or your neighbors). The tea may be used full strength or diluted to about half strength—to the color of weak tea. Use it whenever you water your plants. It's great for watering stressed plants to help get them back on track.
You can also make liquid fertilizer concentrate by packing fresh-cut comfrey tops into an old bucket, weighing them down with a big rock or a plastic bag of water, covering tightly, and waiting a few weeks for them to decompose into a lovely thick black goo. Some gardeners put a hole in the bottom of the bucket and collect the concentrate in another container as it drips out. Dilute this comfrey concentrate about 15 to 1 with water, and use as you would comfrey tea. You can seal this concentrate in plastic jugs until you are ready to use it.

Pest prevention and control. Scientists at Moscow State University in Russia observed that powdery mildew spores that landed on wheat seedlings sprayed with comfrey tea did not germinate, and the wheat seedlings did not become infected. The researchers concluded that the comfrey tea sprays had activated natural defense mechanisms in the wheat seedlings, making them more resistant to disease.

To use comfrey tea or diluted comfrey extract as a foliar drench or spray, add a few drops of liquid soap (it helps the spray stick to leaves) and apply it to your plants. You can use a watering can with a fine rose, but you'll get better coverage with a garden sprayer. Be sure to strain yourliquid very carefully (let it drip through a large coffee filter) before you put it in your sprayer, or you'll clog up the nozzle before you even get started. When you spray your plants, don't coat just the tops of the leaves; reach under and spray the bottoms, too, at least until the liquid starts to run off.

Easy to Grow
If you're not yet ready to put comfrey to work in your garden, wait until you find out how little it expects from you. Russian comfrey is a hardy perennial (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 to 9) with large, hairy leaves; long, fleshy roots; and clusters of small cream, pink, or blue flowers. Unharvested plants grow to about 3 feet tall and wide. Comfrey spreads rather enthusiastically both by self-seeding and sprouting from even small sections of severed root. You can prevent this by planting only sterile cultivars such as 'Bocking 14' and not digging or cultivating around your comfrey.
Comfrey grows best in full sun or partial shade. It thrives in clay soil with plenty of moisture but tolerates a wide range of conditions. Once established, it is difficult to get rid of, so choose a site where it can stay. Six plants is enough for most gardeners, which means allowing a planting space of about 6 by 10 feet or 3 by 20 feet. Don't plant comfrey in any area you cultivate, as breaking off bits of root will create oodles of new plants. Remove any perennial weeds in the bed. Plant root cuttings or plants about 3 feet apart either in spring or fall, and keep the soil moist until plants are well established. Don't harvest the first year, and cut off any flower stalks that form, as your plants need to establish a good root system.
If you have a small yard or you're concerned about comfrey taking over your garden, grow it in large trash cans. Just cut drainage holes in the bottom of each can, fill with a soil and compost mix, and plant.
Comfrey produces huge quantities of leaves during the growing season (4 to 5 pounds per plant per cutting) and will happily soak up any nitrogen-rich fertilizer it's given, though it grows just fine without extra feeding.

'Bocking 14' Russian comfrey is sterile but individual plants will expand, so divide them every few years if your patch is getting crowded. Don't even dig them up; just slice through each one with a sharp spade while its in the ground. Replant the sections you remove or share them with friends, but don't put the roots in your compost pile, or you'll have comfrey plants popping up everywhere next year.

Comfrey is ready to harvest when it is about 2 feet tall or starts to form flower stalks. Depending on your climate, you will probably get four or more harvests a year. Cut off the whole plant about 2 inches above the ground with pruners or a sickle. Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting comfrey, as some people find it irritates their skin. After harvesting, give your comfrey a good watering and renew the mulch layer.

Comfrey Cubes the DIY sunburn soother from

I was listening the The Survival Podcast today and caught wind of this gem from Erica over at Comfrey is an amazing plant with many uses you should add some to your matter where you live!

DIY Sunburn Soothing Comfrey Cubes

When I was nine, my parents took my younger sister and me to Disneyland. It was the kind of vacation every little girl dreams of – Main Street Parade, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, pictures with Minnie Mouse, and a teeth-rotting amount of cotton candy.
I know, because there is visual proof of all these activities, carefully organized across my mother’s photo albums. But what do I really remember? What single thing from the vacation made that deep, visceral, never-going-to-forget-this impact that changes a kid’s life?
My sunburn.

I’ve been a Northwest girl for longer than I’ve been able to walk, and that California, Disneyland summer sun fried me to a crisp. Even slathered in SPF 10, or whatever skin protection was top-of-the-line in the mid-80s, over the course of a long day of cartoon idol-worship, I turned from my natural just-this-side-of-albinism pinkish pallor to bright scarlet. (If you are nerdy, think #FFFAF0 to #FE2E2E.)
I remember so clearly lying face down on the polyester bedspread of our hotel room. It was black with a Hawaiian flower motif. The bedspread looked shiny and smooth but any touch against my shoulders, chest, arms, or the tops of my feet was like a kiss from the cat o’ nine tails. Even weeks later, I was peeling patches of dead skin off the sunburnt areas.
That experience fused a conviction in my young mind: sun = evil.
And so, for the better part of 15 years, I hardly went outside. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t play sports, I didn’t go camping, I didn’t hang out at the beach, and I sure as hell didn’t “tan”. In high school, while all the pretty girls got punch cards for strip mall tanning salons, I embraced my naturally porcelain skin as a statement. By this point I was watching My So-Called Life and Daria. I was wearing Dr. Martins and thought Ally Sheedy was cooler when she was wearing glasses and decorating her pictures with dandruff. The whole goth-look skin was part of the package.
Everything might have continued along this way had I not become a gardener and a mom. Now, between planting, playing, harvesting, weeding, and time at the park or beach, I spend a lot of time outside. I still try to cover up, hug the shady spots and stick to the cooler hours of the day, but my knee-jerk reaction to avoid the sun at all costs has changed.
My skin, unfortunately, has not.
Walking my son home from school yesterday (a 20 minute walk even at kid pace) led to a fairly painful sunburn across my shoulders. Luckily, I had a stash of Comfrey Cubes in the freezer.

Skin Soothing Comfrey Cubes

skin soothing sunburn comfrey cubes
These cubes are my top pick for DIY emergency skin care. Comfrey (yes, the same plant that permies never shut up about. Just kidding, love you guys.) is phenomenally useful for skin care because it’s a rich source of allantoin, a compound that helps skin regenerate, soften, and recover from damage.
Allantoin is quite amazing. Wisegeek sums it up well:
Allantoin is odorless, safe, non-toxic, and non-allergenic in both natural and chemically synthesized form. When sold on its own for use in homemade soaps, lotions, and bath products, allantoin is a white, crystalline powder. It is moisturizing and keratolytic, meaning that it causes keratin in the skin to soften. This property helps skin to heal more quickly and to bind moisture more effectively, making products containing this substance useful for dry skin and for healing wounds, burns, and scars. It is also effective against sunburn, chapped lips, cold sores, diaper rash, and similar skin irritations.
Because of all that allantoiny goodness, these Comfrey cubes are useful for sunburns, regular burns, rashes, abrasions – pretty much any kind of non-puncturing skin damage. Every home should keep a stash on hand.
Confrey cubes for sunburn
In my neck of the woods, comfrey is a common weed. When I need some, I just walk across the street and dig. The thick, fleshy roots are what we are after for the Comfrey Cubes, but the leaves are very useful in herbalism too.
Comfrey root
Familiarize yourself with this under-appreciated medicinal herb and you may start to see it everywhere, too. If you live someplace where comfrey isn’t available wild, you can substitute 1 oz of dried comfrey root, available online, for the fresh.
This recipe for Comfrey Cubes is from my book, The Hands-on Home. If you like this kind of thing, you should go pre-order my book right now! Actually, seriously, if you’re a regular reader and you are planning on buying the book anyway, my publishers tell me that good pre-order numbers really help convince book sellers to carry the book. Thank you for considering!
5 from 1 reviews
DIY Sunburn Soothing Comfrey Cubes
An allantoin-rich skin soother, these Comfrey Cubes are useful for sunburns, regular burns, rashes, abrasions, skin softening and healing. If fresh comfrey is unavailable, 1 oz. of dried comfrey root may be substituted. For external use only, do not take internally.
  • 4 oz. fresh comfrey root
  • 3 cups water
  1. Very thoroughly scrub the comfrey roots, then chop them finely, by hand or in a food processor. Add the chopped comfrey root and the water to a medium saucepan. Bring to the barest simmer over medium-low heat, and maintain that temperature for 30 minutes. Remove comfrey gel from the heat, cover, and let cool completely, about 2 hours.
  2. When the comfrey gel has cooled, strain it through a very fine mesh strainer. It will be brownish and highly mucilaginous (goopy) - this is normal. Use a spatula to push as much of the comfrey mix through the strainer as possible without getting any root bits in the finished gel. You should have about 2 cups of comfrey gel when you are done.
  3. If you have a sunburn you can smooth a small amount of the comfrey gel right on your skin. To save the gel for later use, pour the cool comfrey gel into an ice cube tray (I use silicone trays like these) and freeze.
  4. When the comfrey cubes are frozen solid, transfer them to a freezer safe plastic bag, label the cubes so everyone knows they aren’t edible, and keep frozen.
  5. To use, rub a frozen Comfrey Cube directly onto sunburned skin.

Two words of warning

Any time you wildcraft (harvest medicinals or edibles from the wild) you must be absolutely, 100% certain of your plant identification. If you are uncertain, find an experienced herbalist who can show you what to look for before embarking on the wonderful adventure of wildcrafting.
Comfrey root is not for internal use. There are compounds in comfrey that can cause liver failure if taken in large doses internally. If you have any concerns about limited, external use of comfrey decoctions, talk to a qualified herbalist or doctor before using this gel.

How to Make Comfrey Salve - from

Comfrey is an amazing herb with many uses.  Learn how to make a salve for soothing minor bumps and bruises. ~The Homesteading Hippy #homesteadhippy #fromthefarm #naturalmedicine #comfrey

Comfrey is an amazing herb. It has anti-inflammatory, analgesic and decongestant properties that make it a must have for many home herbal apothecaries.

I like to have it as a salve to use on bumps and bruises, and to help soothe pain from sprained wrists and ankles. With kids in taekwondo, and a busy homestead, those things happen on a regular basis around here. I usually make a batch of this every 3 months or so in order to keep up with demand. You only need some dried comfrey, which you can find at my affiliate partner, and some carrier oil. I used fractionated coconut oil here, but you can use almond, hemp seed, or even olive oil for this.
Comfrey is an amazing herb with many uses.  Learn how to make a salve for soothing minor bumps and bruises. ~The Homesteading Hippy #homesteadhippy #fromthefarm #naturalmedicine #comfrey

Place about 2 grams (weighed) of the dried comfrey into a clean glass jar.

Cover the herbs with about 1 cup of oil. Carefully place in a pot of barely simmering water and cover the jar to keep the essential oils in. Allow to sit in the barely simmering water for 45 minutes. Don’t allow the oil to get too hot. I use a thermometer to make sure it stays under 100°. Allow to cool completely. For a double infused oil, drain the oil from the root and add it to new herbs and place back in simmering water for another 45 minutes. Personally, I have never used double infused oil for this, but there is no reason you can’t if you would like.
Comfrey is an amazing herb with many uses.  Learn how to make a salve for soothing minor bumps and bruises. ~The Homesteading Hippy #homesteadhippy #fromthefarm #naturalmedicine #comfrey

Drain the herbs from the oil using a metal strainer.

Carefully press down on the herbs to ensure all the goodness is drained out of it. Put the infused oil back in barely simmering water and add 1 tablespoon of beeswax and slowly melt together. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before use. Label and store in a cool, dry place. Use within 6 months.
Comfrey is an amazing herb with many uses.  Learn how to make a salve for soothing minor bumps and bruises. ~The Homesteading Hippy #homesteadhippy #fromthefarm #naturalmedicine #comfrey

To use, simply apply a thin layer to bruises, sprains or owies.

You DO NOT want to use this on open skin, however, as it may irritate the healing. This is only for surface wounds that are closed like bruises and sprains.
Comfrey is an amazing herb with many uses.  Learn how to make a salve for soothing minor bumps and bruises. ~The Homesteading Hippy #homesteadhippy #fromthefarm #naturalmedicine #comfrey

How to Permanently Improve Your Sandy Soil

Posted by on

Size of a pumpkin leaf: 42 cm, that’s 16.5″. Not bad for a sandy soil!
One of the problems a lot of people have is how to improve the fertility of sandy soil. One solution is to add more organic matter (compost, manure, wood chips), but unfortunately if you live in a hot and humid climate the stuff you put in the soil is going to decompose quickly, since microbial activity is so fast. That creates a serious problem, because your poor sandy soil is not holding nutrients. You can add fertilizers, but they are going to leech out of your soil very fast. Because of that your fruit trees, shrubs, and vines will be yielding poorly, and they will be susceptible to diseases and pest damage. What’s worse, the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor will taste plain and they will not have a lot of vitamins and minerals in them.

How can sandy soil be improved?
What you need to do is increase the capacity of your soil to hold nutrients. Then adding fertilizers (either organic or not) will be much more effective, because the stuff you put in your soil will actually stay there. As I mentioned before, compost or mulch are sometimes not the best option because they’re often decomposed very quickly. But there is a way to permanently improve the organic matter content of your soil. It’s called biochar.
What is biochar?
Biochar is a fancy name for charcoal if it’s used as a soil amendment (to improve soil properties).
The benefits of using biochar
Its main benefits are:
  • Significantly and permanently increasing soil Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) — i.e. the soil’s ability to hold nutrients
  • Because of its high porosity it creates lot of habitats for beneficial microbes
  • Increased water retention
How is biochar made?
Usually biochar is made of agricultural wastes, such as stalks, straw, and wood of no commercial value. Sometimes it is made of manure or animal bones. If it is made of manure or bones, its immediate fertilizing value is higher, but it will not be as permanent. Biochar made of wood or woody organic matter should not be considered as a source of nutrients for the soil since its purpose is not to fertilize your plants or soil, but to create the opportunities for it to be fertile.
It’s mainly used by farmers or gardeners who follow sustainable agriculture practices.
Why should you use biochar in your garden or on your farm?
There are reasons to believe that biochar is responsible for the existence of terra preta. It’s a type of soil that was probably created by Native Americans in the Amazon Basin. It was created by mixing charcoal with waste (manure, bones, food waste, human feces, broken clay pots, etc.).
How fertile is terra preta?
Researchers have measured the CEC of “fresh” biochar made from pine sawdust pellets and pine timber ranging from 22meq to 138meq. (Characterization and Comparison of Biochar, Herbert et al, CalPoly2012). It is also known that as biochar ages its exchange capacity can increase, up to an order of magnitude (10x). In 2006 researchers compared several ancient char-amended soils (terra preta androsols) in the central Amazon with adjacent soils to which char had not been added. The most impressive result was an androsol with an Effective CEC of 213meq compared to adjacent soil with an ECEC of 23meq. This same androsol, estimated to be 600 to 1000 years old, tested as containing 9064ppm Phosphorus and 17 545ppm Calcium, vs the adjacent soil with only 273ppm P and 115ppm Ca. (Black Carbon Increases CEC in Soils, B Liang et al, Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 70:1719–1730, 2006) — Ideal Soil 2nd edition, by Michael Astera
By comparison, poor, sandy soil with little to no organic matter would have a Cation Exchange Capacity (the ability to hold positively charged soil nutrients) in the range 1-4.

Corn grown on soil with and without biochar. Terra Preta on your right.
Because of its unusual ability to hold nutrients, it was and still is very fertile….
It’s a remarkably fertile soil, which is rich in organic matter. What’s so unusual about it? There are other places in the world that have soils with high organic matter content. That’s true, but most of those places are in much cooler climates. Because of high microbial activity (both heat and moisture) all “normal” organic matter is quickly decomposed, so it’s almost impossible to bring the soil up to 2% organic matter content.
The term “organic matter” means matter containing carbon (C). What’s unique to biochar is the fact that it’s a type of organic matter that no living things (except for humans — i.e. if we have food poisoning) want to eat. So if biochar is added to the soil it tends to stay there, especially if no till agriculture is being practiced. It’s a good thing to do if you have a lot of brush or decaying wood to clear – you might get rid of weeds and improve your soil in the same time, changing a problem into a solution….
What do you do if you don’t have any brush or weeds to clear?
What do you do if you can’t make charcoal?
What do you do if you don’t want to make charcoal?
The obvious solution is to buy charcoal! But that might be expensive and usually the wood that’s used to make charcoal is acquired by cutting the tropical jungle somewhere in Southeast Asia. That means it is not too good for the environment…. Fortunately there’s a different type of carbon product that microbes can’t consume.
It’s coal.
Yep, that black stuff that’s being mined from the ground.
How do you make biochar to create terra preta?
Because of that we (by we I mean myself and Jacek Kobus) decided to check how good coal mixed with horse manure is in improving properties of the sandy soil. Jacek created an impressive pile of horse dung mixed with culm (brown coal dust). Culm is the cheapest fraction of coal you can buy. We bought 1 ton of culm and then mixed it with 3 parts – by volume – of horse manure.

Biochar made the Polish way – culm (brown coal dust) mixed with horse manure.
Why does biochar research sometimes show a decrease of yields?
I mentioned before that biochar is not a source of nutrients for your garden. The same can be said about coal. Although it contains a lot of micronutrients and trace elements, but they are not available for plants.
What’s more important to remember is the fact that coal or biochar has both a high Cation Exchange Capacity and Anion Exchange Capacity. That means it can hold all sorts of nutrients for plants very well – that’s why you want to use it in the first place! But most of the “place” where the nutrients can be held is initially empty, waiting to be filled up.
Because of that, if you apply it to your garden, field, or pasture straight away, it would suck up and hold nutrients from your soil. If you have infertile, sandy soil, your biochar will be taking and holding nutrients from your soil for months, making the growth of your fruit, vegetables, and cereal less than perfect. That’s why biochar research sometimes shows a decrease of yields after an application of biochar to the soil.
How do you charge your biochar with nutrients before applying it in the garden?
Mixing biochar with manure – “the dry method”
It’s quite simple – just mix your charcoal or coal with some moist animal manure and let it “mature” for at least 2-3 weeks. We used 1 part coal dust to 3 parts horse manure, because that’s what was available. You can also use chicken, pig, or cow manure.
Mixing biochar with urine or another liquid in a barrel or container
Some people also put coal into a barrel, then add urine or any other liquid fertilizer so the coal can “suck up” nitrogen, a bit of potassium, phosphorus, and other trace nutrients that can be found in human urine or a different fertilizer. Again, let it “rest” for at least 2-3 weeks before you apply it to the soil.
One of my readers used a similar method to prepare special biochar for blueberries – he mixed coal dust, sawdust with water, elemental sulfur, and ammonia sulfate to make biochar more acidic.
The results of using biochar made of coal on sandy soil? It’s actually quite impressive….

20 year old cat hunting for rodents in biochar fertilized field of pumpkins
How do you add biology to your biochar to improve the soil food web?
Before you apply “nutrient charged” biochar to the soil you can add some beneficial organism (microbes, mycorrhizal fungi mycelium or mycorrhizal fungi spores) that will improve the biology of your soil even further.
Using biochar as animal bedding
You can also use biochar as the bottom layer of animal bedding. It will soak up excess liquid, tie up nutrients, and limit nitrogen loss. You can also add some rock dust (like granite rock dust or basalt rock dust) to your biochar. Just make sure to add some other bedding material on top of it, like straw, wood chips, or sawdust.
Should you mix biochar with rock dust or not?
If you are planning to add rock dust to your soil, you can add it to the charcoal-manure mixture. It is especially beneficial to mix soft phosphate rock dust with manure, because microbes from manure will help to unlock nutrients from phosphate rock.
Should you dig biochar into the soil?
I advise incorporating biochar into the soil but it will work even if you spread it on top of your soil. Eventually it will get into the deeper soil levels.
If you want to spread it on top of your soil in your garden it will be good if you put some mulch made of “normal” organic matter that will be digested by microbes.
How much biochar should I add to my soil?
Biochar is one of those things that the more you have in your soil, the better it is, but the minimum value I recommend to use in a garden is a 1″ (2.5cm) layer on top of your soil. No matter if you dig it in or not, you will have more than 10% organic matter content in the top 6-8″. If you add 2″, then even after the manure that you mixed with your biochar decomposes, you will still have plenty of organic matter in your soil. That way you can have a Cation Exchange Capacity for your soil from 1-4 to 8-12, which is good enough to grow high quality, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. Our pile made of 1 ton of coal dust and 3x as much horse manure was enough to cover 300-400 m² (3200-4200 square feet or 1/12 of an acre) with 5cm (2″) layer of biochar mixed with horse manure.

3 Things Permaculture Isn’t - by Rob Avis

After posting a bit about what permaculture is, I want to dispel some common misconceptions and tell you what it’s not:

1. Permaculture’s Not Just Gardening

Permaculture isn't just gardening
Gardening in non-straight rows is only part of it! Image by amberdc.

One thing I hear often is that permaculture is just gardening in non-straight rows. This is both funny and frustrating to me! As I mentioned in my last post, 7 Things You Should Know About Permaculture, permaculture is a design system that allows us to meet our needs while enhancing ecosystem health. Gardening’s just one possible part of this system. When we become aware of our surroundings, when we learn to work with nature, we can build healthier and more energy-efficient buildings, grow better and more sustainable foods, produce less pollution while increasing personal and societal well-being. These are all possible by applying the permaculture ethos.

2. Permaculture’s Not Just for Australians or the Tropics

Permaculture in winter climates
Permaculture works here too! Image from V. Kiatying-Angsulee

Permaculture practices have been proven in both cold and temperate climates. Natural processes may be different depending on climate and region, but they are still observable and understandable patterns. Permaculture design teases out these patterns and works within them in local areas. It doesn’t matter where you are – there are universal ideas embedded within permaculture that will allow you to design for human needs and ecosystem health.

3. Permaculture’s Not Just For Hippies

This is probably the biggest misconception I come across. Many people have forgotten what the hippie movement was originally about. Hippies were protesting a system that didn’t work. While some of them protested through the use of drugs, some embraced permaculture because they wanted to create a new future. But today, hippies aren’t the only ones embracing permaculture.
Permaculture attracts people from all walks of life
Permaculture attracts people from all walks of life. By Alla Guelber.

I believe the world today is ripe for change. I see how our permaculture design courses are primarily taken by white and blue-collar professionals who can see that things are not right and want to do something about it. I sense that they have a desire to reframe their degrees or work experience. A lot of them have properties they want to manage or enhance; others are entrepreneurs who want to innovate by starting green businesses based on permaculture principles. Change is coming, and many of our students see the writing on the wall and want to become drivers for that change.
Permculture Information and DesignAre you interested in a systems approach to problem solving? Do you want to adapt or improve your skillset to a changing world? Are you looking to participate in innovative and solutions-oriented programs?
Why not try out permaculture for yourself? If you’re completely new to permaculture, check out our online permaculture primer, an intro course in 6 easy videos – for practically pocket change!
Ready to take the plunge? You might be interested in our full Permaculture Design Certificate. Our Spring course starts this February and early bird prices are on now for a limited time!
If you’d like to read more about what permaculture is, check out my previous blog: 7 Things You Should Know About Permaculture.
Feature Image from

7 Things You Should Know About Permaculture - by Rob Avis

What is permaculture? For those of you who’ve only heard of the term in passing, and ever for you seasoned “permies” who struggle to explain this exciting (and sometimes life-changing) idea to others, here’s the gist in 7 points:

1. Permaculture is a Design System That Uses Ecosystem Principles to Meet Human Needs

Masanobu-Fukuoka permaculturePermaculture is an ecological systems theory. As author Toby Hemenway notes, while conventional thinking asks how we can meet our own needs, permaculture asks the broader question of how we can meet our needs while also taking ecosystem health into account.
Permaculture looks closely at how ecosystems work and condenses those functions into twelve general principles. These in turn inform our design decisions about shelter, food, water, energy, and waste management. They also rest on two fundamental assumptions:
  1. Humans are a part of the planet and cannot be separated from it.
  2. Humans can be a positive force that leaves things better than we find them.
If we are willing to learn from and work with nature, we can make smarter decisions to inform how we live. These choices can prevent the wasteful use of fossil fuels or the unnecessary need for environmentally and economically costly foods. They can help us avoid living in areas prone to fires, droughts, and floods. They can help us tread more lightly on the environment while saving us money and keeping us healthier and happier in the long-term.

2. Permaculture Regards Humans as Part of the Solution

Human beings cannot live in a physical world without having an impact. We consume resources, generate waste, and alter our surroundings. But what we can do, as an ethical and responsible species, is to optimize that disturbance. As a global industrial society, we are very ignorant of the consequences of our actions and  are causing a lot of damage. Permaculture offers us a framework and the tools to align our creativity with actions that can repair and regenerate both the natural and human world.

3. Permaculture is a Way to Reframe the World

At its core, permaculture is an optimistic discipline. Research has shown that negative thoughts can shut down our prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain we think and design with. If our mindset constantly revolves around doom and gloom, it becomes very difficult to find solutions to the environmental challenges we face in the twenty-first century. By looking to the wonder and complexity of nature, permaculture allows us to reframe problems as opportunities. In the natural world, disturbance brings about new cycles, niches, and possibilities for species to adapt and prosper. When we approach things with this optimism, problems become much easier to deal with. A popular permaculture saying:
 “One never has a slug problem in the garden, but rather a duck opportunity waiting to be exploited.” 

4. Permaculture is a Metric to Define Sustainability

Modern society’s metrics for success are fundamentally flawed. Did GDP go up or down? Did quarterly results increase or decrease? Did employment rates rise or fall? As Steven Stoll writes in the Orion Magazine article, The Mismeasure of All Things, a lot of these indicators tell us nothing about the things that are truly important in life. They tell us nothing about ecosystem health and biodiversity, of farmer livelihoods or community cohesiveness. They offer us no advice on how to create a happier and healthier world.
In my opinion, we need new metrics to measure genuine success. Did we sequester more carbon than we emitted? Did we leave an area more species-rich than before? Did we grow a vibrant and thriving community? These are the things that truly matter, because we cannot thrive as a society without clean air and soil and community, no matter how large the GDP becomes.
Permaculture helps us establish many of these metrics. It helps us identify opportunities to make change and to inspire others. It promotes actions that increase diversity, health, and balance. There’s a lot of exciting work that can be done through the permaculture lens.

5. Permaculture is a Systems Approach to Design

Buckminsterfuller DesignIt doesn’t matter what you’re designing – permaculture’s system approach represents a way of doing things differently. I’ve designed businesses, community groups, houses, and even laundry systems through a systems mindset. Permaculture design is universally applicable because it reflects how the real world, a world of interdependence and complexity, works. It makes available the tools for you to become aware of those connections, always with the big picture in mind.

6. Permaculture is a Set of Solutions

I’ve often said that permaculture is just one big solutions matrix. For any problem, there are a huge number of potential solutions. Permaculture provides you with the principles so that you can choose solutions that are optimized for you and your surroundings. An example in the area of home design:
What is most important – High thermal mass, high insulation , high thermal mass and insulation, or lightweight construction?
The solution depends on your needs: Which one will be most comfortable? Which uses the least energy? Which lasts the longest? Which has the lowest embedded and operating energy? Which is most suitable for your environment?
Examples in other design areas:
It is this decision-making process, based on systems thinking and focused on optimization, that is invaluable to any project.

7. Permaculture is a Bunch of Disciplines Rolled Into One

Permaculture is engineering, physics, biology, anthropology and architecture all rolled into one. Obviously you don’t become an expert in all these fields just by studying permaculture, but you can gain a solid foundation in these areas while gaining perspective on how human beings fit on this planet. With this broad knowledge base, you can get started designing around your life’s needs while creating positive change.
As one of my friends once asked me, if the nuclear bomb is the most negative thing we have ever created, what is considered the most positive? I don’t think we really know yet because we have only started to apply ourselves, and that is really exciting to me.
Buckminsterfuller Revolution and Design
Now that you know a bit more about what permaculture is, consider diving in deeper with one of our acclaimed permaculture courses:

Completely new to permaculture? Check out our online permaculture primer, an intro course in 6 easy videos – for practically pocket change!
Ready to take the plunge? You might be interested in our full Permaculture Design Certificate. Our Spring course starts this February and early bird prices are on now for a limited time!
Stay tuned for my next blog, What Permaculture Isn’t.
Featured image: One of Masanobu Fukuoka’s seed balls. Picture by Herder3

8 Ways to use Chicken Power in the garden! - By

how to use chickens in the garden
I’m honored to have Justin Rhodes from Abundant Permaculture guest posting today. Justin is a wealth of information when it comes to sustainable chicken-keeping, and you’re going to love his tips for putting your flock to work in the garden. He is also currently in the thick of producing a documentary all about Permaculture Chickens. I’ve NEVER seen anything like this– this information has been so hard to find up until now, but Justin is making it easy to access. I’ve already donated to the Kickstarter campaign– I hope you will too! This is the kind of information that has the potential to really make a splash!

I am continually blown away by the power of chickens in the garden! They’re such great workers, I would keep them even if couldn’t eat their eggs or meat. Plus, they reproduce themselves, unlike any man-made tool.
In this article, I’ll explore eight different ways you can use chickens in the garden. You’ll discover how you can put chickens to work by providing nitrogen for your compost pile, replacing machine tillers, fertilizing your garden, turning compost, spreading mulch, disposing of your garbage, controlling pests and sanitizing your orchard. Let’s go…
Credit: Ingrid Pullen Photography
Credit: Ingrid Pullen Photography

8 Ways to Use Chickens in the Garden

1. As a Nitrogen Source for a Compost Pile

One chicken can produce eight pounds of manure a month according to Ohio State University. That’s about enough to compost one cubic yard of leaves!
To make great compost, you need a carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio of about 30:1. Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen and is rated at about (10:1). This means you won’t need much to balance it out with its readily available counterpart; carbon materials like leaves, hay or straw. Leaves for example, are rated at (47:1), so for every 1 pound of chicken manure, you’ll use 45 pounds of leaves! A little goes a long way with chickens manure!
How to do it:
Harvest your flocks’ manure regularly and store it in a leach-proof container until you are ready to build your pile. If you don’t want to store poop, then you can apply the manure with the carbon material as you go. For more information about compost building check out my article on composting with chickens, “I Cut My Chicken Feed Bill 100%
Ingrid Pullen Photography
Ingrid Pullen Photography

2. As Tillers

One chicken can till 50 square feet of established sod in just 4-6 weeks!
By scratching and eating practically all vegetation, chickens make great tillers. Although they take much longer than a machine tiller, they require no fossil fuel, they’re much quieter, and you don’t have to do any of the work. I sold my machine tiller years ago and have been using my chickens ever since. Based on my own experience, 1 chicken can till about 50 square feet of reasonably short sod within 6 weeks. (Jill: Keep in mind that chickens will also till areas you might want to keep, so consider fencing them out if you are wanting to preserve certain areas of vegetation or sod)
How to do it:
Simple leave your flock in one place long enough! For small jobs, like individual garden beds, I suggest a chickens tractor suited for your particular garden design. For larger projects, I suggest mobile housing and temporary electric netting. Feel free to estimate your timing based on the size of you flock and garden plot on the 50 square foot per chicken statistic.
You can see in the photo below how chickens can clear an area of vegetation:
ground cleared by chickens
Credit: Ingrid Pullen Photography

3. As Automatic Fertilizers

One chicken can provide enough nitrogen fertilizer for a 50 square foot garden in a little more than a month.
The chickens nitrogen levels in manure isn’t just great for compost, it’s the key ingredient to fertilizing our gardens. Based on the eight pounds one chicken will poop in a month, the average chicken will extract about a quarter pound a day! There’s 1.5% nitrogen in their manure, so that’s .004 of nitrogen a day. If we’re shooting for a solid .30 pounds of nitrogen every 100 square feet, it will take one chicken 75 days to fertilize a 100 square feet. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quickly when you have multiple chickens. At this rate, 24 chickens could fertilize 1200 square feed of garden in just 6 weeks!
How to do it:
Confine your chickens to the area you want fertilized and figure their length of stay based on the size of the area and how many chickens you have. Be careful not to leave your chickens in one place too long (without mulching) as you can have too much of a good thing!
using chickens to fertilize
Credit: Ingrid Pullen Photography

4. As Compost-Turners

One chicken can help do a quarter of the work of turning a compost pile!
In order for your compost to break down, it must get oxygen. The more air you give it, the quicker it will break down. Many gardeners make a habit of “turning” their entire compost pile regularly when they need some of the precious material quickly. Turning is a laborious job, but your chickens can do at least a quarter of the work for you. I estimate they’ll do a quarter of the work, because they won’t take down the entire pile and they certainly won’t re-stack it for you. However, they will take down a good chunk of it, and all you’ll have to do is turn what they left of the pile and re-assemble what they spread out.
How to do it:
Assemble your compost pile and allow it time to heat up. If contains only fresh ingredients your chickens won’t show much interest. Once it’s warmed up and had time to start to decompose it will be swarming with life! If you need to protect your pile while it heats up, you can put it in protected bin, temporarily fence it off, or keep it covered. Once it’s had time to heat, your chickens will show great interest in the live biota that now makes up the pile. Later, you’ll come back and re-assemble the pile. I re-assembly and turn the piles once a week and within 4 weeks I have finished compost.

how to use chickens in the garden

5. As Mulch Spreaders

One chicken can level a large pile of leaf mulch within two days.
Chickens can level a pile in no time. If I want to spread mulch or compost, I just pile the material where I need it spread and fence in my chickens around it. My flock of 30 can easily spread a large pile of leaves in a half a day, and one cubic yard of compost within two weeks!
How to do it:
Confine your chickens around a pile of mulch or compost where you want it spread. Leave them until the work is done! Time to spread will depend on size of pile, material, and age of material. Older material will have more biota and the chickens will show more interest. If your chickens aren’t showing interest in a pile you need spread (like fresh wood chips), try spreading their feed on the pile, so they have to scratch for it.
chickens spreading mulch in the garden

6. As Garbage Disposals

One chicken can convert up to pounds of food “waste” a month into fresh eggs and meat!
17% of what Americans throw out as “trash” is food according to the Gossamer foundation. Chickens are omnivores, like us, and will eat practically everything we can and more! Why not give our food scraps to our chickens and save money on trash disposal and lessen the burden of our landfills? Based on my own experience, chickens will easily eat a 1/4 to a 1/3 pound of food in a single day. That means a small flock of six could eat up to 60 pounds of food “trash” a month! (Jill: This is also one of my favorite ways to save money on chicken feed!)
Credit: Ingrid Pullen Photography
Credit: Ingrid Pullen Photography
How to do it:
Collect your food scrap in a food grade container or bucket. Chickens will eat practically any type of food your throwing out, including meat. If your not sure it’s safe for you chicken, try it and see what they do. I believe they have the sense to know whether it’s good for them or bad. You can clean up what they won’t eat or let it decompose where it’s at.

7. As Insect Control

One chicken can easily de-bug up to 120 square feet a week!
Chickens will thrive on all kinds of insects, beetles and grubs. They’ll snap up pretty much any thing that moves above the surface and they’ll scratch down more than six inches in garden mulch for grubs! A couple of years ago, I moved a flock of 15 around the pasture in 1700 square feet of mobile electric netting. Those birds easily eliminated the bug population in that area within a weeks time.
How to do it:
There are several options here. Before you plant the garden, you could confine your chickens in a tractor or with electric net over the area, then move them out when you start your garden. You could also free range your birds, while protecting your garden and other areas you don’t want them. I’ve heard of folks fencing the chickens around the entire garden. This would work to protect the garden from any crawling insects and the chicken manure might attract harmful slugs out of the garden, to the chickens. You could also move the chickens around the garden or property with a tractor or mobile netting depending the size of your operation. Finally, you can allow them supervised time in the garden or give them in 30 minutes to an hour before dusk. That way they’ll have just enough time to get at the bugs, and they won’t have any time left for your goodies!
using chickens as insect control in the garden

8. As Orchard Sanitation

One chicken can de-bug an entire fruit tree within an hour, breaking the life cycle of pests and disease.
Disease and insect problems plague your typical orchard, but it should come by no surprise that the that the chickens can help in this area too. With some strategic timing, chickens can significantly boost orchard production! Two years ago some of my friends ran their flock through my granny’s abandoned/low production orchard. That next summer, we harvested so many apples, we’re still enjoying the applesauce!
How to do it:
Typical fruit trees don’t need a lot of nitrogen so you’ll wanted to limit the birds time around them and use some strategically timed planning. I suggest running the chickens through during the spring when the adult worms are coming out to lay their eggs. I would run the flock through again in the Autumn to eat the fallen fruit that that insects might use as housing throughout the winter.
using chickens in the orchard
Credit: Ingrid Pullen Photography
gardening with chickens poster

(Want the printable version of this poster, for free? CLICK HERE. A HUGE thanks to Justin and Abundant Permaculture for creating this for Prairie Homestead readers!)
Don’t forget to head over and check out the upcoming Permaculture Chickens film– I’m stoked to be a part of this project by donating, and am counting down the days until it’s released. This is just the kind of information we need more of to empower more people towards homesteading and self-sufficient living.
About Justin: 
Once Justin discovered self sustainable farming around 2004, he has enjoyed many years of practicing “beyond organic” and permaculture methods on his 4th generation, 75 acre, family farm near Asheville NC.
 Justin trained under the highly accredited Geoff Lawton of PRI Australia for his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and has trained under popular authors Joel Salatin and Pat Foremen. He’s passionate about teaching from his own homestead on the chicken systems essential to more sustainable living. 
 With a great combination of business and permaculture skills, Justin is well positioned to deliver high quality educational films of this nature.