Ashley Cottonwood

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since Feb 08, 2018
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Chicken mamma & Compost Queen
British Columbia
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Recent posts by Ashley Cottonwood


One of my current goals is being able to grow & produce 75% of my calories ( for me & my partner ) over the next 3 years. One of the things I'm running up against is figuring out a balance between growing the things I want to eat vs eating the things I can grow/forage.

Meat has been one of the things I've recently learned to raise & process myself.

Do you learn to eat what is easily available? Or do you learn to grow things you like to eat?  Or is it a journey to find the happy medium?

I live in a climate where the window to grow food or forage is limited to about 6 months of the year; which, to me, is a pretty solid indicator of of needing to learn how to preserve food. This was not something a grew up with so I find myself forgetting to plant things in the garden for winter storage. In addition, planting things in the garden that I like to eat canned or dried. I often default to freezing items only to forget their existence in the back of the fridge.

- What do you do to ensure your garden continues to provide in the winter months?
- How do you ensure what you do preserve gets consumed?
- Do you choose to preserve food using methods that preserve the food's desirability or simply its shelf life?

Another barrier I run into is learning how to eat things that are easy to grow or forage. I find when I'm busy or stressed I just want to fall back to my "comfort" foods and recipes.
- How do you learn to incorporate new foods into your regular diet?

I would say a personal success of mine was learning to incorporate lard into my diet to replace other fats & oils (it's the first oil/fat i learned to produce myself that I can preserve)

Finally, I often find I need to learn to develop a 'taste' for what grows in my climate. I love avocados and bananas but there is no way those are ever going to be a staple crop in a zone 4 environment.
- Any tips or tricks for replacing staple foods that aren't available in your bio-region?

3 months ago
Welcome Kate! I would love to get my hands on a copy of the book!
3 months ago

Carmen Rose wrote:

Ashley Cottonwood wrote:Anyone else reading their book? Anyone want to be my accountability partner? I could also make a thread for finding accountability partners

Did you find someone? I'm just starting to figure out what to do with my 7.75 acres and would love to have someone to discuss things with. I haven't found anyone in S Pierce County, (WA state) who is interested.

I made a thread! Accountibility Group & Buddies
3 months ago
Yes, this is my mobile coop for my meat birds. I loved the solar door so much I got one for my later coop. They aren't cheap but I've also haven't lost any birds to wild life yet... so either I'm very lucky or having them closed in before dark helps a lot.
3 months ago
May Update

So far the market garden season has been off to a roller coaster start...

We had a week of warm weather (Highs of 25C) and then a recent drop in temperature to -3C at night. Lots of people had their plants got frosted. I was really trying to push my season to get crops in the ground early with mixed success.

Things that did fine outside:
- Spinach (covered)
- Carrots (covered)
- Fennel
- Endive (covered)
- My friends super hard tomato variety (covered)
- Cabbage/Broccoli/Cauliflower

Things that didn't do so well:
- Tomato starts in the greenhouse. I thought they would be fine but it is the second time I've made this error. I think I might have placed my greenhouse, at the property a rent, in a cold sink :? There are two different greenhouses with varying degrees of insulation and all the tomatoes died in both of them with the radishes still happy as can be...
- Squash that I transplanted outside because I started it indoors WAY TOO EARLY. I knew it would end badly but it was better than taking up space in my greenhouse. Maybe it will make a come back, maybe not, either way zucchini isn't a money maker for me. I just like zucchini bread.

I also experimented with trying to get an early crop of radishes off by planting them in one of my greenhouses before transplanting my tomatoes & cucumbers. It worked! The only problem was I didn't have any of my market streams set up to sell them because they were so early! Yay for early crops but I need to make sure I'm ready to sell what I've produced (Newbie fail). So far, I've been selling them on Instagram, which is mind blowing for me. A local catering business also likes to grab a little bit of whatever I have each week to add to her "Wednesday Lunch Club" meals.  I'm going to guess there will be some chicken snacks in the future...

Overall I have sense of some changes that I would like to make for next season. These concepts are nothing new, people have come to these conclusions long before me (There's Paul's voice in the back of my head saying "See? I told you so!")
- Move from Market Garden to Permaculture Market Garden/Biodiverse Beds: Instead of 50 ft of one crop plant a mixed variety and harvest whatever is ready/works out. I'm so small scale that I would have to scale up significantly to make "Elliot Coleman" style market gardening efficiency practices really worth my time.
- Direct seed as much a possible for squash/tomatoes
- Transplant all the things and none of the things: Transplant everything in the market garden beds and direct seed everything in my personal gardens and monitor the differences.
- Soil blocking instead of trays: my friend started a greenhouse this year and used soil blocks and it makes transplanting SO MUCH EASIER! No more stupid plastic trays that break all the time.

This is me prepping my garden beds. I peel away the tarp as I'm ready to establish each row. Helps keep the weeds down and earth worms go crazy under it in the fall/winter. Also makes a good habitat for snakes and voles. I then use row cover to protect from frost/hail/insect damage. The amount of plastic required is... depressing. I would like to figure out a way around this. The system has meant so far that I have very little weeding to do and very few issues with pests & losses to frost, but hopefully I can still improve to reduce plastic.

I get wood chips from a local arborist. He knows my preferences so drops some off when he has a load of chips that I would desire. Last years pile I was using in the pathways only to find out the bottom foot of the pile had turned into beautiful soil. YAY! Free soil amendments!

Apple & plum tress are packed with blossoms this season, hopefully we have a good fruit season. My neighbour said it was suppose to be "a good year for her apples"; hopefully my trees are following their lead.

Made a pig run at my sister's place for our families hogs. It's a forested area with a pond/surface well/wallow that hopefully keeps them occupied for a while. We can expand it later in the Summer but right now they are having fun ripping around. I would like to eventually set up a rotational grazing system for them but that will require some planning and forethought.

The meaty birds are doing well... I think. I find the meat breeds more finicky, it seems like half the things your suppose to do for raising meat birds is more like superstition that actual facts. I'm just trying my best to observe them as often as possible and make adjustments as I see them. This year I had 3 chicks with sinus issues. I isolated them for 3 weeks and gave them extra TLC; not sure if it was viral, bacterial, or developmental. They seemed energetic, to be eating & drinking well, and overall happy chicks but they had the sneezes and clearly a hard time breathing through their nostrils. The internet tells me 101 terrible things that are happing to them. My "chicken guru" tells me you would have to send one away for analysis to actually know what's going on so just give them some vitamins and hope for the best. I have Western Rustics. I tried the Mistral Gris last season but I had a painfully awful time with them injuring their legs when they were 3 to 4 weeks old. I was told it was because I let them run around outside too early... but I want birds that can run around outside early. I would love to breed my own multi-purpose landrace variety one day.

So apparently when I'm feeling blue... I order books! I'm excited to poke my way through them over coffee in the morning. I started a thread for people working their way through the "Building Your Permaculture Property" book here: Accountibility Group & Buddies . I've also been listening to Paul's podcasts as I work away prepping beds and transplanting. Gardening + Podcasts = My Happy Place.

That's all for now folks!

3 months ago
Hi Permies!

Recently Rob, Michelle, and Takota had their book launch and online permaculture forum. There were quite a few Permies who attended and purchased their book & resource package. Yay!

In there book they recommend finding an accountability partner to help keep you on track! I wanted to create this thread to find buddies, share progress & hurdles, and share questions and concerns in regards to process described in "Building your Permaculture Property".

Let us know if your interested in joining a group discussion or finding a buddy to work with 1-on-1~

(Photos for inspiration!)
3 months ago
I want to come.... but I have no idea if I'll be able to cross the boarder!
3 months ago
Yes, I've been pretty spoiled actually. Renting the space has allowed me to "try out market gardening" without huge overhead costs: having to invest in fencing (there is 10 ft elk fencing around the whole property), irrigation & pump, tools and equipment (Jang seeder, hand tractor if I ever needed it), wash station prep area, and established 50 ft raised beds. The owner has decided she wanted to take a step back from gardening this year to be able to spend more time with her family so I have access to an additional greenhouse this season too. She grew up on the land so I know it hasn't been sprayed. She's worked hard to build the soil in her gardens with compost, crop cover, and diverse species planting. The beds are located right next to a pond and the ground retains moisture really well.  I'm hoping to move towards a system that doesn't require irrigation, or very little. She now has a live stock guardian dog. She has mini goats to help keep down the weeds and brush. I pay part of my rent by selling the produce and poultry back to her and her family.  

Overall it has been a great experience being able to have hands on knowledge of what it takes to grow food using a more traditional market garden process. Or even just run a business in general. I mean, there is a lot of work that needs to be done before it's fully formed permaculture farm, but it allows me the space to experiment with pretty low risk and investment. Land in this area is crazy expensive! No joke, a mobile home, in a mobile home park (so you don't own the land), was listed for over $330,000! So I'm very happy with my 'practice' zones until I have the skill and resources to take on more.
4 months ago
Anyone else reading their book? Anyone want to be my accountability partner? I could also make a thread for finding accountability partners
4 months ago