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Daron Williams

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since Oct 08, 2016
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Hi, I’m Daron, and there’s nothing I love more than cultivating food, habitat, and beauty for my family and the wild critters that share our home.
Home, for me, is the Wild Ride Homestead—the little piece of earth where my wife, Michaela, and I are raising a family and running a business.
Michaela tends to the “home” part of the homestead—turning our harvests into wholesome, tasty meals, and taking the lead raising our little toddler. She also helps out quite a bit with Wild Homesteading, acting as my editor and helping me translate some of the abstract concepts into concise, actionable tips.
Our son Arden is also a cornerstone of our life and work, keeping us smiling and laughing even when times are tough.
Michaela and I both work outside the home to pay the bills—I work as a restoration project manager, and Michaela works at our local public library.
Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Recent posts by Daron Williams

I use raw wood chips and leaf mold plus chop and drop material on my annual garden beds. But I've also added wine cap mushroom spawn to the beds to speed up the breakdown of everything. When I go to direct seed if the seeds are small I pull the mulch back and add a bit of topsoil / compost and then seed into that. Once the plants grow up a bit I cover the topsoil / compost with wood chips again. Large seeded veggies like beans and peas just get put into the regular garden soil under the mulch and they push up through the wood chips fine though I do pull the wood chips back a little bit.

But I have decided to switch to growing my own starts for most of my veggies except ones that don't do well being transplanted and ones that have large seeds like beans and peas. It will make it easier to manage and all in all the starts I've already been using seem to do fine water wise. Decreasing my watering was the main reason I wanted to direct sow instead of growing my own starts. But I'm building a greenhouse this summer so switching to starts will be fairly easy and it should improve things and save me time overall.

I started my kitchen garden with just wood chips for mulch and then in the first fall I spread leaf mold over the wood chips. Next I chopped and dropped my spent veggies and placed them on top of the leaf mold--this let the roots decompose in the soil but also helped hold the leaf mold in place. Later in the fall I put in the wine cap mushroom spawn (wine caps have been popping up this spring!). This spring I added more wood chips on top of the existing mulch layers. The wood chips I put down last year were mostly decomposed and the leaf mold was almost gone too.

I do spread worm tea on my beds from time to time and I'm going to be adding worm castings to it too though I haven't yet. So far I haven't added any compost or animal manure--but I'm thinking about starting my own composting setup before long. I also don't plan to keep adding worm tea on the beds forever but it's a nice way to jump start the soil life.

My soils are mostly silt and clay and had almost no organic material in them when I started my kitchen garden. Last year the garden did okay but plants like broccoli didn't produce at all though the tomatoes did great. This year things are doing a lot better and the broccoli are already getting nice heads on them. All in all I'm noticing a stark improvement in the growth of my veggies this year over last year though it's a bit early to know for sure. I hope this improvement continues and I'm planning to keep adding wood chips, leaf mold, and chop-and-drop material.

I don't put the wood chips on too thick--about 2 inches deep and no more than 3 inches. But all the wood chips I use are raw and I don't screen them or compost them. Though sometimes the pile sits for a while depending on when I get it delivered and when I get around to using them.

I also grow some perennial vegetables in my kitchen garden but mostly I'm growing annuals. The biggest lesson I have learned so far is to not chop and drop kale and other brassicas. Their leaves and stems stick around a lot longer and I've found that the only areas I have issues with slugs are where I chop and dropped those plants. The other beds have far less slugs and the chop and drop material from other veggies broke down much quicker.

Anyways, just wanted to share my experience so far with using wood chips for mulch and some of the other things I do to add to it.
31 minutes ago
My hugelkultur hedgerows continue to grow and fill in. Attached are some pictures showing one of them. If your curious what it looked like this time last year here is a picture taken on May 28th 2019:

The following attached pictures were taken May 27th 2020--yesterday! Here is one of them for a quick comparison:

As you can see a single year can make a big difference. The Nootka roses have really filled in but the other larger shrubs and trees have also grown a ton. Snowberries are helping to fill in the gaps too--they don't mind the shade which makes them great for this purpose. Native strawberries are making a great groundcover and now that there is more shade I'm starting to plant woodland herbaceous plants to continue filling everything in.

Eventually I'm going to add a bunch of evergreen huckleberries along the backside (the part you can't see) of the hedgerows. These will provide a great harvest but as evergreens they will help with privacy and keeping deer out in the winter.

I also noticed that the lupines are being slowly pushed out but that's fine. They were there to help keep the hugelkultur bed all together and improve the soil a bit while the other plants got established.

The Nootka roses are doing their job and creating a dense front to the hedgerow. This makes a great thorny barrier that should keep deer and people out. Especially once it has another couple years to fill in and get woodier. The shrubs along the top of the hedgerow are getting taller and thicker and the trees along the backside are getting taller all the time. All in all this hedgerow is quickly getting to the point that I can't see through it anymore.

There is a double fence all around this hedgerow and I hope to be able to take down the back fence in the next year or 2 and just have the front fence. Later I will take that front fence down too but I'm going to wait longer to do that just to be safe.

I can't wait till this time next year to see how much more everything has grown! It really is exciting to see how well this is all growing!
1 hour ago

One of the biggest challenges I have faced on my wild homestead is dealing with deer. At first I wanted to live with them and use hedgerows to guide them away from sensitive plants.

Yeah, that didn’t work—the hedgerows got munched before they could get established.

So I eventually installed fences first around specific planting areas and now around my entire 2.86 acre property. Some of this is brand new deer fencing, some is just extensions on existing fences and some are double fences around my hedgerows.

A bit of a hodgepodge but after 4 years of dealing with deer they’re finally staying out.

But sometimes a fence isn’t an option. So what else can you do?

This week’s blog post—How to Deal with Deer on Your Wild Homestead—dives into 6 strategies that can work to keep deer from eating your plants.

I want to give a big thank you to my patrons over on Patreon for picking this blog post topic. Each month they get to vote on a list of questions that I’ve been asking on Facebook, here on permies, or via email. I then write a blog post based on the question that was voted #1—this post on dealing with deer was voted #1 by my patrons last month.

The 6 Strategies for Dealing with Deer

I should note that each of these strategies can work but they don’t always work. It really depends on how much deer pressure your site has.

On some of my restoration sites the deer pressure is fairly light and the deer really just walk around and it’s fairly easy to get them to leave certain plants alone by adding brush rings around them.

But on my own wild homestead the deer pressure has been very intense and in the end fencing my whole property was really the only viable option.

A lot of times a combination of strategies may be needed. Say brush rings around groups of fruit trees and shrubs, a full fence around your main garden, and individual fences around specific highly sensitive plants.

One strategy that isn’t listed on the blog post is hunting. This is mainly because it’s limited in its effectiveness. Often there are just too many deer for hunting to reduce their numbers enough. But also there are limits on when you can hunt and how many deer you can kill. This varies but because of these issues I left this strategy out. If this one works for you then that is your choice.

Here are the 6 strategies covered in the blog post. Make sure to check the post out for more information about each of them.

- Strategy 1: Fence Your Whole Property

- Strategy 2: Fence Individual Plants or Small Groups of Plants

- Strategy 3: Dense Plantings – Mix in Plants Deer Don’t Like

- Strategy 4: Fence Specific Planting Areas and Your Garden

- Strategy 5: Use Branches and Brush Rings

- Strategy 6: Plant a hedgerow

After trying several of these strategies on my own wild homestead I ended up fencing my whole property and I’m now planting hedgerows all along it. The long-term goal is for the hedgerows to replace my fences. But that will take a fair bit of time.
What Strategies Do You Use?

But sometimes even the best strategies don’t work. It’s important to take time to observe the deer on your land and start to understand their patterns and habits.

Eventually I figured out where the core routes the deer liked to take were and I made sure to reinforce those sections with stronger (more expensive) fences. The result is that I don’t have deer breaking through my fence anymore!

The blog post goes more into what you can learn by observing deer and how that can guide your efforts to manage them. The post also covers the 6 strategies in more details.

So please check it out!

And please let me know what strategies you use to deal with deer on your wild homestead.

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.

And again a big thank you to my patrons for their support. You can find more information about Patreon here.
17 hours ago
Michelle – You’re welcome! I’m glad it was helpful for you! Good luck with your mulching—it really will boost your garden over time!

Susan – Yeah, mulch is great. There are a few downsides but I find the upsides far outweigh the negatives. It can be harder to sow seeds in mulched beds and the beds will be slower to warm up in the spring. But you can pull the mulch back in the spring and then put it back once the plants are up at growing good.

Emilie – Fall leaves are a great option but they do break down quicker as you mentioned. I still have some bags that I’m just getting around to using and I add them to my garden every fall. In some areas wood chips can be gotten for free from tree service companies. You could try to reach out to them. And as was mentioned by Pete straw or hay can work—especially rotted straw/hay.

You could get the branches and sticks mulch you mentioned and make a compost pile out of it if you can get access to some good greens. Let it breakdown a bit more and soften up and then apply it as mulch to your garden. Bit more work but it should work.

Pete – Thanks for sharing!

Lesley – You’re welcome! Happy that it helps! 😊 Yeah, my wife and I have been talking about updating our orange color because of that. It’s part of our “brand” so we are just trying to figure out a good option we like. Sorry its causing problems!

Nathan – Thanks for sharing! Chipdrop can be a good site for free mulch.

Michelle – Yeah, I had the same issue with Chipdrop but I know people in my area who have had luck with it.

I’m growing some trees/shrubs for coppicing that I hope to use to build up my own mulch through chop-and-drop. Living mulch is my long term plan for my perennial areas and I’m even experimenting with it in a new vegetable garden—still figuring out how that will work…

Anne – Thank you for the comment! Really appreciate it! You weren’t the first to comment but I did give you and Susan an apple each as a thank you for the comment.


Thanks all for the great comments! Since there was a lot of comments about mulch I wanted to share what I do in my vegetable garden.

I start out with wood chips and just use whatever I can get as long as it’s not too big. In the fall I add leaf mold that has been sitting for 1-2 years on top of the wood chips. I then chop and drop most of my old vegetables and use them to help hold the leaf mold in place. In the spring I may add more wood chips if the mulch is getting thin.

I have also added wine cap mushroom spawn to the garden beds which is helping the mulch breakdown faster. But since the ground doesn’t freeze here over the winter things can breakdown fairly quickly which helps to build soil more quickly.

This much mulch won’t be needed later as the soil improves but my soil is poor at the moment and becomes rock hard if it dries out. The heavy mulch is already improving the soil condition and really helps to keep the soil from drying out.

I also add worm tea to the mix and worm castings which helps to build soil life. Plus I’m growing a lot more beans and peas than I will in the future.

All of this is to try to quickly build soil fertility in my kitchen garden. The garden is only in its second year but the plants are doing better than last year and I’m noticing a lot more worms and the soil seems easier to work with.

I often see the advice given that plants need 1 inch of water per week. But this one size fits all advice misses some key points.

The biggest is that there is a lot of variation in water needs for different plants. But also this advice tends to ignore how much water can naturally be in the soil.

Even if plants need 1 inch of water per week that doesn’t automatically translate to you needing to water your plants every week.

This week’s blog post—How to Water Your Plants (without Over Watering)—dives into this topic and provides a simple test that I use to determine when I need to water my plants.

Check out the post to learn more but let’s dive into the test!

A Finger Test for Watering

The finger test is how I check to see if my plants need watering. This test works best if you have a good layer of mulch around your plants. Without mulch, you’ll need to stick your finger down a couple inches (~5 cm) into the soil instead of just checking the surface. (Bold text indicates when you should water your plants.)

1. Stick your finger down through any mulch until you reach the soil below (or a couple inches [~5 cm] into the soil, if you haven’t mulched your plants).

2. Check to see if the soil is damp and cool.

3. If the soil isn’t damp and cool, then your plants should be watered deeply.

4. If the soil is damp and cool, look for signs of wilting or other stress.

5. If you see signs of wilting/stress then you may need to water.

6. Wait to see if the plants recover in the evening on their own. If they do, and the soil is damp, they should be good.

7. Keep observing your plants. And if they show signs of stress like wilting in the morning, or for a couple days in a row, then make sure to water them.

If you see wilting in plants that were recently planted, then you should give them water. Also, trees and shrubs likely won’t wilt. In these cases, follow the rule of giving them water a couple times a month for the first few months and then follow the finger test to determine if you need to water.

Though I generally just skip watering my shrubs and trees once they’re established. This finger test really works best for annual vegetables.

Watering Plants

I really like this finger approach and it works great for me. If you don’t mulch your garden then this approach is less effective. Though even then it can work—just know the surface will always be dry so you need to check down below a bit more.

The blog post covers this approach in more detail and also mentions some of the tradeoffs that you may have.

I use this approach for all my plants and the result is I rarely water except when I’m getting plants established in the spring. But what about you? Do you use a similar test? What is your approach to watering your plants?

Let me know—I would love to hear from you! Also, head on over to the blog post to learn more about this approach to watering.

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.
Dianne – I started harvesting mine during the first year but very little. This year is their 2nd and I really can’t keep up with them! So I would say worth holding off the first year though it depends on how much they grow.

Anne – I know of at least one person that grows them in zone 5. Though he has them in bed that gets covered with a green house each winter. He has also just taken cuttings from them and rooted them inside before the frost kills them and then replanted them in the spring. Not ideal but it can work—of course if you have to replant them each year then you could just stick with regular collard greens.

Here are some links to videos he made about it: and

Woody – Glad that the kale is working for you! I’m getting kale (mix of different varieties) going in my food forests this year with the hope that they will just regrow from seed or even potentially become perennial. Thanks for sharing!

Bonnie – Good luck with your tree collards and yeah they taste very similar to regular collards.

Stacy – Thanks for sharing and sorry to hear about the ground squirrel issues. I wonder if there are any different varieties of purple tree collards… I haven’t noticed any bitterness with the ones I have. But I’m also not very sensitive to bitter foods.

Kimberley – I’m not 100% sure but I don’t think they have tap roots and I would assume that they are fairly shallow rooted. Though I haven’t needed to water them either… Anyone know for sure?

Lyda – Great! Happy to help and good luck with your tree collards! I love mine! 😊

Joshua – Good luck with your cuttings! I just took a cutting from my existing plants to try to root them. First time I have tried doing that but it’s supposed to be fairly easy. Thanks for the comment!

Karl – Thanks for the comment and for sharing about the perennial kale you have been trying. Have you tried Kosmic kale? I have a few of those plants going at my place and they have been a great perennial kale. They never flower and stay very bushy. I love how they taste and they’re also fairly ornamental looking with variegated leaves.

I love my purple tree collards. These great perennial vegetables provide year-round greens and now that they’re fully established I have more than I can eat.

Tree collards and other similar perennial vegetables like Kosmic kale make it easy to have fresh winter greens.

This week’s blog post—Purple Tree Collards – A Fantastic Perennial Vegetable—dives into these perennial vegetables but I wanted to give some info here too.

Quick Overview

While purple tree collards are great perennial vegetables they’re not very cold hardy. USDA zones 8 and 9 are ideal for them though they might be able to go warmer or even down to zone 7.

Though in zone 7 I would make sure to plant them in a warm micro-climate. Even here in zone 8 I have mine planted along the southside of my house since we occasionally get cold snaps that could kill purple tree collards.

My purple tree collards so far haven’t shown any signs of frost damage despite some nights down in the upper teens (F).

These plants also like full or partial-sun and can get fairly large—hence the name tree collards.

As far as taste they have a mild flavor and are good eaten raw or cooked.

Growing Purple Tree Collards

I have 3 purple tree collards growing on my wild homestead and I’m hoping to add some more to other areas this fall.

When I first purchased them they were very small—just small rooted cuttings. And I got them in winter.

I was very careful with them when I first planted them giving them each their own little plastic green house. Since they came from a nursery in California I was a bit worried about them handling the cold here.

But I don’t know if that was really necessary. Though in the end all 3 have survived and are growing great. I’m going to have to start trimming them down to keep them from blocking a window!

So if these plants sound interesting to you make sure to check out the blog post!

And I would love to hear what you think about purple tree collards. Have you tried to grow them? Make sure to leave a comment over on the blog post and here!

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.
Really great to see! Thank you for sharing! Beavers also really like western red cedars. It's interesting what they like and don't like!
2 weeks ago

Skandi Rogers wrote:I go a little more over the top by recording nearly everything as well as just looking, I find I can never remember anything the next year!

Yeah, that is easy to do! What do you record in? Written document? Digital? Just curious.

Taking time to observe your garden can help ensure you end up with a successful harvest. But what should you observe?

This week’s blog post—3 Things to Observe in Your Garden for a Successful Harvest—focuses on what you can observe in your garden.

The 3 things in general to observe in your garden are:
1. Wildlife visiting your garden.
2. Moisture level in your soil.
3. How your vegetables are doing.

When you take the time to observe these 3 things you get to know your garden which will help you make better decisions on how to manage your garden.

Let’s look a bit more why observing your garden is so important.

Why You Should Observe Your Garden

Often you might see gardening advice that is given as if it applies to everyone. The most common is that your garden needs the equivalent of 1 inch of rain every week.

But there is also lots of advice out there about making sure to fertilize your plants on regular cycles.

These are examples of advice that don’t require you to observe your garden. Instead you just do X on a regular cycle regardless of the unique aspects of your own garden.

There are more examples of this sort of thinking but what connects them is they’re all examples of not taking time to observe your garden.

Let’s look at watering as an example.

You could just water on that regular cycle or you could use a basic test—that is just stick your finger in the soil and see if the soil is moist and cool.

This works best if you have a mulch layer over your garden but even without mulch you can still use this test.

I use this test regularly in my gardens and other growing areas. I know my plant roots go deep into the soil so if the top layer of soil is moist then most likely the soil deeper down will also be moist.

Though you do want to make sure you water deeply when you do water and not just get the surface of the soil wet.

If the soil is still cool and moist then I don’t worry about watering. The result is that I water far less than is generally recommended. My perennial food systems don’t get watered at all.

I will water my plants if needed but instead of following some general one-size-fits-all rule I instead observe my garden which let’s me respond to what my garden actually needs.

This is just an example of the benefit of observing your garden.

What Do You Observe in Your Garden?

I would love to hear from you about what you observe in your garden and how your observations affect your gardening.

Please leave a reply to this thread and don’t forget to go check out the blog post. The post dives into 3 ways you can observe your garden so make sure to visit it.

While you are over on the blog most make sure to leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.