Jen Michel

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since Oct 17, 2015
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forest garden trees foraging bee medical herbs seed
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mid atlantic (previously high desert southwest)
currently 75 acres - 35 woodland to riparian acres abutting 35 crop acres + 5 acres of the home/zone 1-2 ish
using forest garden / agroforestry concepts on the land
cropland is in perennial grass + tree crops (there was an existing mature nut grove) I converted 8 acres of cropland into pollinator habitat hosting bees- (I practice treatment free beekeeping in the style of Kirk Webster and have an interest in breeding queens, but right now just encouraging them and trying to keep them alive)
I'm entering year two 'prep' (1 1/2 yr old baby trees about to transplant this spring) of my attempt at a heirloom/threatened cultivar apple orchard. (trying to do my part to keep biodiversity alive-hope they live!)
I also grow medicinal herbs, figs, and delicate (for zone 6b/.7a) plants in a high tunnel greenhouse. hoping to experiment with successional plantings inside the structure for a slightly warmer and longer perennial food environment.
I do a lot of guild based edge plantings (at field/forest edges) and tons of cover cropping everywhere/anywhere to smother undesirable green -and feed the soil. (utilizing sickle mowing in spring/summer and winter kill method ) I also like making biochar, using 'applied technologies'', and I love to save and share seeds.
I'm learning (and would like to learn more) about foraging temperate forest foods, cultivating mushrooms, natural plant dyes, tapping trees for syrup, and plant breeding. let's share knowledge and ideas
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mid atlantic / northern piedmont zone 6b/7a USA
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Recent posts by Jen Michel

Ebo David wrote:Hope it all goes smoothly for you Jen.  I would be curious what they said was not possible.  There are things that are not possible (or possible but not practical), and maybe someone here has an idea if something you asked was not possible.  When someone tells me something like that I ask Why -- I have learned some useful information this way, and I have sorted out some of the BS that made me decide not to use that company.

BTW, when I got into this I found out that I could take the Enphase's certified installer classes.  I got to the point where I need to submit a design, do a hands-on workshop, and then build out a system to become a certified installer.  IronRidge (for their rackign systems) has a similar deal.

Hi David, thanks for your reply.
For me, My two different meetings went "south" because the scale I needed didn't work or flummoxed the salesmen.
Even for a large house, my energy needs are vast-since I have a large farm property with outbuildings etc.
I was told I couldn't rely completely on solar, which in a sense, for where I am in the US- is true- but I didn't need to split my energy sources as much as suggested (spending $$$ on more stuff- for example, huge propane tank to run other things etc) as suggested.

The companies simply did not have the high powered panels that I needed/ and even went as far to say they didn't exist (which then after I did research the panels did exist-but were harder to obtain/more expensive). Despite my larger than normal needs, I think I felt exactly the same way as someone with smaller needs that don't fit into a cookie cutter "solar package" box.  So I shelved my plans for a couple years. It also isn't fun feeling like you don't really understand what is going on technology wise.. This was problem A. ha ha.

I do think, as many folks on the forum here, and even in this thread have shared, that knowing your usage, with a fair share of wiggle room in terms of usage (that your budget can allow) is key. After realizing I needed to go back to the drawing board, I first set myself on the task of finding the most energy efficient appliances/fixtures possible in every aspect of our life- then had to budget replacing the older ones slowly.  (or calculating what kwh these will use if I can't afford to replace something before the install goes in). This has helped me get the overall KWH down, which reduces the panels/gear. (and investment, however buying new appliances, almost everywhere is an investment too. agh! I just purchased a new refridgerator, and was told it would last me 5-7 years. I cringed. ( must restore the original root cellar and spring house, this planned obselescence stuff..... infuriaties me, but we needed a fridge)

Your idea on another Permie having this knowledge is GREAT.  Hello, is anyone out there?

IF anyone is reading this and has experience with a large scale solar/geothermal/heat pump technologies for instance, on a large farm or even miilitary outpost- please contact me in purple moosages. I can pay you fancy pants consultation fees if you have done something like this before.

As I continue to try and figure things out on my own... I thought I'd share a few helpful resources:

I found this book "Install your own solar panels" and bought it as an impulse buy on Azure Standard while grocery shopping
(they have competitive prices on many good new books, I suggest checking it out if anyone shops groceries on the site)

Another impulse buy (this time I think at the tractor supply)  was a Mother Earth News "Modern Homesteading" collectors edition special summer 2022- "This was I bought it when I saw the issue it had a huge section on solar-with stories from people who have put in different systems since its incarnation, and then upgraded over the years- It was a well written article-so more nuts and bolts of all this "stuff" clicked.  I am not particularly enclined to tech or math-calculations stuff. I've had to up my math/science skills over the years just with botany/soil science-I'm much better than I used to be (I was a liberal arts person in my previous life) but I would say I still feel like it's not entirely my bag. If I can feasibly work hard at something else and pay someone who it is definitely their bag, I will try to that.

Thank you for the Enphase link...
I will go check that out, (and will probably watch the videos at 1 am before I collapse after a 12 hour day farming) I will continue 'crawling through glass' trying to learn as much as I can, but I know I'm going to have to go with some kind of company or person. (Perhaps this should be another thread- Any recommendations would be appreciated)

However, since I really hate not 'knowing how to do it myself' (and I do think knowing how to do it, even if you don't do it, helps with the dialogue and also respect of whoever is doing it for you)
I think I may try to rig up an outbuilding, and I am looking into charging stations and other smaller panels for mobile applications.  

Any books or websites or Store recommendations appreciated.

But to return to the topic of the thread, what I have learned the most, is you have to really know those kwh and understand your terrain, and the aspect of the sun to where you are at various times of days/seasons, and very often-adjust your usage/lifestyle significantly (some more significantly than others) I enjoyed reading everyone's methods to reduce their usage during seasonal changes. My middle name is cross ventiliaton and I've started to do weird, "fun" things, like paint with purpose (light, light light)  or (dark dark dark) depending on if I want more light, or I want to absorb it.  Temps in various south or north facing rooms have gone from uncomfortable to comfortable with adjustments like these (and no need for gear!) When I get overwhelmed at the tech stuff, I look backwards and remember people heated and cooled themselves without all this "stuff" - at least enough to survive, but often just fine, and perhaps even to thrive....- it puts things in perspective...

1 year ago

Ebo David wrote:I wonder if there is some sort of image processing/model that would compare the area in shadow on your roof throughout the day -- and use that to estimate the degradation in PV efficiency.  I do not have time to research that now, but of you have time to dig on the net and find some potential programs I'll break away a little time to check them out.  It will of course require a series of photos all from the same place if not also orientation (but I can probably adjust for that).  Let me know if that is of interest.

Wow this entire thread has so many good tips and experiences. I am also working on sizing and installing a very large solar system to run my property/farm. (It is incredibly intimidating) I am not that DIY savvy when it comes to electronic equipment etc, but after two visits from commerical solar companies, (and with just a small amount of research) I realized, at least with the guys that visited my house, they were only selling me the products and sizes and systems they stocked-not necessarily what I needed. (and maybe I am a bit distrustful of sales people in general) I was told things weren't possible -that I knew were completely possible.

I am still learning (and absorbing as much as I can) but somewhere in the rabbit hole of research, I found a government website, that you can input your exact location and it shows the amount of sun your exact location receives. This was very helpful to me, as I saw realistically, for me to be able to have a solar system run all needs it had to be as south facing and 'optimized' as humanly possible, as my location in the US was just on the 'edge' of where I could realistically expect to install a system that would take care of our needs- (according to this website, but being a bit of a skeptic, maybe they are wrong! ha) Perhaps this will help someone.

Here is the link :

I went down the rabbit hole about a year and a half ago, and to share any further- I would have to refresh myself on all the various terms / charts-but I remember when all the info was fresh in my brain- I got information that helped me eliminate certain systems and realize that I needed much more than I had thought!

1 year ago

Roshni Chandy wrote:Just acquired my slice of heaven (2.6 acres ) and a coffee grower friend, from Coorg (India) is giving us 6 plants (3 arabica, 3 robusta). Arabica is fussier and lives for a shorter while. Robusta for a longer period, but the flavour isn't as great.
He says 3 bushes are sufficient for a family of 4. He also advised planting fresh every 3 years (from bean) so we never run out of coffee.
Interesting factoid : a substitute for coffee is roasted okra seed. Read about this, but never tried it myself.
Thanks for this thread. I don't drink, i don't smoke, nor do weed and I gave up meat/fish/chicken. I will not give up coffee. If coffee goes extinct, I'll be guarding my bushes like a post apocalyptic hero ...

Congratulations on your slice of
You are in good coffee country -and it’s amazing you’re receiving plants from an experienced coffee grower!! (Much better yields I am sure + adapted well to the climate) I like the idea of successional planting of the beans to sustain supply.

 it’s very important to put in apa apa or ice cream bean tree /leguminous plant - for mulching/weed control and nitrogen fixing. I found it interesting that kale, potatoes, soybeans, avocados, bananas, vertiver etc are good companion plants

I remember reading somewhere long ago that you could roast okra and drink it like coffee- but I forgot - thanks for reminding me!

1 year ago

Greg Martin wrote:Just wondering, I have this friend who tends to drink 4 cups of coffee a day.  If this friend was to want to grow his own coffee to replace his store bought coffee, how much space would this friend have to grow out in coffee plants?  This friend really would love to know.  I He can quit any time....but he won't.  This friend thanks you in advance!

Hi Greg,

I checked a few different sources and I believe it would hover around 30-35 plants to achieve the healthy daily fix your friend requires. (These are full grown plants)
I am adding a few extra plants to a general assumption number that a mature arabica plant produces approximately ..5-1 lbs of roasted coffee- These amounts have such a range due to the a myriad of factors like environment, inputs, and the skill of the grower.

Someone new to this, would most certainly have an issue or two-(or seven) so I would recommend planting 3-4 (or 10 if you have the space)  to account for mistakes, death, disease, low yielding plants etc.
I've attached some photos from the aforementioned guide that gives ideas on spacing. But for ease -about 6-6.5 ft (3 m) between plants is a good number.

1 year ago

I love that you posted this!.

I am also interested in growing coffee at home. I thought I'd share this guide. (and a few pics for those who want to check it out first or the skimming type)

"Growing Guide part 1" was great. (yet for papers from Academia, I found it a pleasant  read (not always the case! ha) and I think, anyone with reasonable growing/gardening skills would gain from it if you wanted to try.

The germination tips were helpful. I liked the detailed info on what cultivars are best at certain altitudes (so I looked for something that reasonably matched- though I realize I may not be able to obtain some of these cultivars -but you never know....)

I also found the soil conditions/regional info interesting, as in this way , I could tweak my container soil a bit -since for me  (as this is just a fun experiment in a corner, which started because my son demanded (in a sweet way) we grow some bananas!...... and with this,  I started to think  "What else have I never tried to grow but consume?"

and now for another cup of coffee!

1 year ago

Beau Davidson wrote:

Jen Michel wrote:Hi Paul,


Hi Jen,

I did some thing.  

Can you try again and let me know how it goes?

That some thing you did worked !

There are so many awesome ‘things’ to check out in this cornucopia of goodies!

Thank you so much

Judy Bowman wrote:

M Monroe wrote:I didnt have the time to read all of the previous feedback to your original post so apologies if this is redundant.  
I think the advice on watering the weeds may have been along this line:  "Weeds'' are pioneer plants.  They will provide what nutrients the soil needs based on the state of the soil. Different plants have different nutrient properties. They come before and help prepare and amend the soil health.  So by seeing what weeds come up with watering, you can get an indication of the state of your soil.  Hope that is helpful!

I, too haven't read the whole thread. But I live in a tough arid environment. I agree with the advice to just water and observe especially if you’re moving into an unfamiliar climate. Nature really is the best teacher.

I smiled when I saw that their were replies to this 7 year old thread!! I  wrote this thread when I had  purchased my first place, a 3.5 acre property. I was trying to develop my zones on a 'homestead scale.'  I received helpful advice on this thread.- ( that I immediately put into practice. )

I needed all the ideas  I could get.  I was completely starting from scratch in terms of the soil- and -This soil when I landed on it, was bare.. it didn't even have weeds and it was blowing around violently dustbowl style.. that is how bad the soil was.  (I agree with you on 'weeds'- I love 'weeds' !-and you are accurate on how they can tell you the condition of soil.- I think when I bought the property I was obsessing on the water issue, and this property had ample water. I figured I could figure out the weeds/bountiful crops as long as I had what I needed in terms of acre feet of water/water rights.

One of the best pieces of advice on soil rehab/land tending is what I received was from one of my mentors when I was  living in New Mexico,  Roxanne, the founder of Flowering Tree Permaculture ) and It was some of the most elemental and important aspects to keep in your mind at all times. (and of course ideas central- to both Indigenous agricultural wisdom and Permaculture practice)  

-things like using adobe bricks; (teeny earthworks) making little walls/ simply collecting rocks (to give much needed shade and shelter to nurture plants who could handle the poor soil at first-and those plants, provided something for further growth to build/work with once they came up. as the fertility improved.

It is humbling sometimes when you have nothing really to build on but this really dead dirt- But you work it in your hands and it comes to life.

Also of course-using this earth or the rocks you can collect to divert or hold water. That soil just wanted to slide

build on what you did last season, observe.learn. plan.
I was also reminded gently (when I would get frustrated at my dirt patch - I totally had 'ants in my pants' to create my eden)
that her property took her.... 30+ years...
Patience is probably the hardest thing to 'cultivate' when you're trying to green the desert (at least it was for me)

7 years on I'm in a completely different terrestrial biome now- a temperate forest-but we had major drought last year. All around me, farmers fields were brown- but mine were green.. I still use everything I learned in the Southwest -every day.
When I am around other growers in the Northeast ( and they are complaining about something-) I just say "You have no idea what is "hard,"!!- Try growing food with poor caliche soil, no water (or hardly any), high winds, and extreme temperature swings...................all the time"-

My mom lives outside Sedona, so I get my 'Southwest fix' as much as I can.
I'm going to put in a grid garden in her backyard to keep my skillz sharp. - Southwest farmers and gardeners are brave, awesome, and inspiring. Getting something, anything really going there is no easy task..

But to get technical on the 'soil rehab.'
The areas that improved the most on this site were areas that I terraced myself- or were naturally quite sloped (mesa hillsides) They seemed to have natural 'sheltering' from the high winds and improved ability to hold water-simply due to the topography. I also had some luck with soaking straw bales in fish emulsion, lots of humates, and pickup truck loads of compost. and making pits or grid gardens.
I did get sheet mulching to work -but I was a little horrified about how long it took to decompose. (would I be 80 years old before I had my eden?) I think I was too stingy with the water there.

cruising down memory lane,  I looked up the property , and I saw from newer real esate photos (the people who bought it from me had resold it during the pandemic real estate sales highs and made a big profit) I was happy to see most of the fruit trees I planted are still alive (but very small, they look like 3 year old trees- not 8 year old trees)
so small victories

hopefully your response (and mine, and others) someone from the Southwest will see this and get some good ideas! (or simply encouragement)

1 year ago
Hi Paul,

No I can't get into the forum.. :/  It still says "I don't have sufficient privileges"  argh

I went over to kickstarter( just to double check everything on my end and my email(s) etc are the same etc) I can see the updates for all the roll outs as a backer etc-but if I follow those direct links from kickstarter to permies-........I'm still not cool enough to get access to any backer forums/content.

I'm stumped. (especially that you can see the "K" by  my name as a backer) What should we (I) do?

No big deal/rush- my gorging on all this awesome content would be slow and steady in aforementioned 15 min of free time at the witching hour. I am looking forward to checking it all out though; hopefully someone can help me get access...



paul wheaton wrote:

Jen Michel wrote:I am one of the poor souls that can't access their "stuff"- I eagerly changed my main email here to match my kickstarter email (without first seeing this handy thread about adding secondary) - I am unsure if there may be a lag in updating- but when I go into my email and click the links sent from the girl bot- it takes me to permies, but just says I don't have sufficent access. I hope I can get sorted- am looking forward to enjoying this content in my 15 minutes of farmer free time (ie late at night before I pass out)

All the best,



I see the "K" next to your name.  It looks like our system knows you are a backer.  Can you see this forum:


I am one of the poor souls that can't access their "stuff"- I eagerly changed my main email here to match my kickstarter email (without first seeing this handy thread about adding secondary) - I am unsure if there may be a lag in updating- but when I go into my email and click the links sent from the girl bot- it takes me to permies, but just says I don't have sufficent access. I hope I can get sorted- am looking forward to enjoying this content in my 15 minutes of farmer free time (ie late at night before I pass out)

All the best,