Friday, January 30, 2015

Wisconsin Garden Expo "here I come!"

I received a thick envelope today - and it had all this cool stuff in it!
  • name tag
  • 2 entrance tickets
  • 2 grounds entry permits (not sure what I'll do with those)
  • map
  • letter
I'm presenting twice, Saturday, Feb. 14, 4:45 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 15, 2:15 p.m.

The business card at the bottom of the image below is the front and back of the new cards I had printed for the Expo so I could hand it out and - hopefully - get some new subscribers!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New business card

I'm kind of a business card junkie. I just like them. I tend to create them in small batches, and am always changing the design, content and photos. One of the best batches was from Moo, where all 50 cards had a different image pulled from photos I had as Facebook cover photos.

Since I'll be presenting at the Wisconsin Garden Expo (read more about that) and could talk with as many as 300-500 people, I thought it was a perfect time to get more blog followers. So I had the following created by a designer on Fiverr. Fiverr is a site where you can get an amazing number of tasks done for $5.

(yup, one side is vertical, and the other is horizontal)

Monday, January 26, 2015

How to build community - organize a block party

My 2015 New Year's Resolution is to do each of the community-building activities listed in the poster at right. It will be fun and exciting, and to be realistic probably disappointing and difficult at times. So my goal is to write about what I'm planning to do and then another post about what actually happened.

The first idea is to organize a mid-winter block party. Why? I miss my neighbors. And I really don't like winter. So sitting around a fire pit, in the winter, with my neighbors seems the logical thing to do.

In the summer, I visit with my neighbors as they walk by while I'm in the orchard, or watching the chickens during "outside time," or simply sitting on the porch having dinner with Jay.

In the winter, dogs are let in the backyard, people's heads are down to protect from the cold and I'm sure not outside for any length of time to catch people while they're scurrying by.

So why not have a mid-winter block party and defy the winter cold, isolation and long nights.

My neighbor Chris has a portable fire pit, so we're going to set it up on the sidewalk at the bottom of our driveway, where we'll have plenty of room for people's chairs to sit around the fire.

Jay and I are supplying s'mores fixings and hot apple cider, and are inviting people to stop by for a minute or an hour, followed by indoor board games at our house.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, January 23, 2015

My graduate school essay

I am applying to the Edgewood College Sustainability Leadership masters program. Part of the application is an essay. I wrote about my background, what I hope to bring to the program and what I hope to take from it. While I haven't heard if I've been accepted or not, it's a nice little essay I thought you'd enjoy reading.

When I was five, my middle-class, college-educated parents left Milwaukee to buy 100 acres of sloping, rocky farmland in western Wisconsin. They wanted to nurture my two brothers and me in a rural community away from suburbs and, as my mom says, “…kids that had too much.” Farming the land and raising animals was a means to this end.

Theirs was a daring adventure into the unknown: two teachers with three young sons leaving home, family and job security with little more than a sense of curiosity and the experience of one year living in a farmhouse and paying rent by caring for the animals.

It turns out, however, they weren’t the only ones on this particular adventure. Unbeknownst to my parents, they relocated us into the middle of a small and enthusiastic community of back-to-the-landers who had moved to western Wisconsin for their own reasons. That community of homesteaders influenced my life immeasurably, particularly seeing that there are alternatives to traditional ways farming and family life.

I am applying to the Edgewood College Sustainability Leadership Graduate Program because this would be my daring adventure to learn new ways live and lead, sustainably.

I bring to the program the same passion that moved my parents to cast aside the familiar and try something new. I’m curious what further study in sustainability leadership will mean for me personally and professionally. I’m interested in applying what I learn on the block where I live, my neighborhood, city and beyond.

I bring decades of gardening work—picking produce from the family’s gardens, and preserving food for the winter at my mom’s side. These experiences instilled an appreciation for fresh-picked produce and home-preserved food. From these early experiences, I bring a keen awareness of the importance of food security and justice, and the inseparable relationship between sustainability and the environment to provide for human and animal needs.

I also bring more than 10 years of traditional farming experience—raising many pigs and the occasional sheep, goats, chickens, cows and a pony; planting and harvesting hay, oats and corn; and nurturing the land with large-scale tree planting and forest maintenance projects.

More recently, I bring leadership experience gained from four years leading my workplace employee community garden. As a leader, I organize, coach and encourage gardeners to maintain and improve our community garden and orchard. I regularly teach organic gardening practices and develop the next group of garden leaders. I am a long-term planner and short-term doer—qualities that will serve me well in a graduate program.

I also bring eight months of study for the Permaculture Design Certificate, which I received from the Madison Area Permaculture Guild in 2013. To say this course changed my life would be an understatement: my life path was indelibly altered thanks to the reading, videos and hands-on work, and the students and instructors I met. I bring systems thinking, which reinforces what I learned on the farm—people, plants, animals and place are deeply connected.

Finally, I bring the support of my family and my workplace. My husband and I have discussed how my participating in the program will require changes in our lives, both in terms of time for classes and study; and funds for tuition. I have his support for this endeavor. My employer, American Family Insurance, and my manager also support my participation. My company’s employee education reimbursement program will cover a portion of my tuition.

Balancing what I bring to the Sustainability Leadership Program, there are things to take—or perhaps borrow, as my dad would advise me. One spring day during the very early years of our being on the farm, my dad met a man new to the area. Rikardo asked Dad how he had gotten to know so many of “the locals.” Dad replied, “Ask your neighbor to borrow a tool, and return it in better shape than you got it.” Two days later, Rikardo came to our farm and asked to borrow a tool; this began a 30-year friendship.

Image credit:
Text: Members Syracuse Cultural Workers Community
Artist: Karen Kerney, watercolor. SCW© 1998
Throughout the program I will borrow new ideas, theories, facts and opinions from instructors, books and classmates, add my own thinking and share them with others. I will also take the challenge to read and hear these ideas with an open mind. Some things I learn will be big theoretical ideas, and others will be practical and immediately useable. I look forward to incorporating them into life.

During the last year, I interviewed seven graduates, and they all mentioned that one of the best parts of the program was building new relationships. Some connections helped them throughout the program; others turned into lasting friendships or professional relationships. I’m very excited to forge new relationships and strengthen existing ones during the program. 
Professionally, there are many opportunities to take and apply what I learn. From my community garden leadership to the people and projects I currently work with at my job, there are ample ways to incorporate further sustainability practices.

There are many ways I will incorporate what I learn into my personal life as well. Have you read the poster “How to build community?” My 2015 New Year’s Resolution is to do each of the suggestions on the poster, and write about the experience at

I’m curious to see which of the suggestions I’m drawn to and which I’m apt to shy away from. Since the Edgewood College Sustainability Leadership Program starts halfway through this year-long effort, I’m interested to see how I can apply what I learn toward accomplishing my resolution.

Finally, I’m interested in incorporating what I learn and the relationships I build  into my long-term vocation. While the actual details are uncertain, I know that what I give to and take from the program will benefit me and others for the rest of my life, much as being raised on a farm in a community of alternative thinkers did 30 years ago.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Permaculture design course

Regular (and not so regular) readers know that the 2013 permaculture design course I took changed my life - and it could change yours too. A new design course will start in June this year. If you've even thought about learning more about permaculture, read this, talk with me and let's see if it's a good fit for you!

MAPG’s PDC Training will be from Saturday, June 13th through Saturday morning June 20th, 2015.

It will be taking place at the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainabilitylocated at 2299 Spring Rose Road, Verona, 53593.

We will be having Classroom and at least one Hands-On Project on the property and then of course the big design project to culminate the whole experience.

We will be covering Permaculture Ethics, Principles, Patterns, Soil, Water, Energy, Natural Building, Systems, Food, Animals, Trees, Plants, Social Permaculture, Observation and more.

Lead Teacher will be Founder and Coordinator of MAPG, Kate Heiber-Cobb.  She received her PDC through Midwest Permaculture in Stelle, IL in November of 2007.  She received her Advanced Certificate through them in Custer, WI in the Summer of 2008 and received her Teacher’s Certificate with Peter Bane and Sandy Cruz in November of 2014 in MI.  She has trained in Radical Urban Sustainability Training, Transition Town, Placemaking, Art Of Hosting, and did trainings with Toby Hemenway and Brad Lancaster.  She also has trained in Watersheds with Osprey Orielle Lake and Grey Water with Penny Livingston in CA in 2012. She also teaches at Madison College and Olbrich Gardens and various other venues.  She co -taught two PDC’s at Kinstone Academy in 2013.

We will be having guest instructors Marian Farrior, Drew Carlson, Sean Gere and more to help give you a more diverse learning experience.  We will have a Tour mixed into it and lots of fun.  The first 3 years we collaborated with Midwest Permaculture to bring the PDC to the Madison Area and the last few years we have taken it on ourselves with a total of 98 people receiving certification over 6 years.

Cost is $950 with the option for payment plans if you register far enough in advance. Please contact Jean Schneider to register at with PDC in your subject line.

If you are hankering for a great training at a stunning location, this is it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Presenting at the Wisconsin Garden Expo

I attended the Wisconsin Garden Expo for the first time last year. From a class I attended during the Expo, I wrote a post from my phone where I pretty much yelled at all my friends for not having told me about this AMAZING mid-winter event. I immediately decided I wanted to present at the event, and was encouraged to do so by several of my Madison Area Permaculture Guild buddies.

I sent a proposal in last autumn, and heard in December that my proposal had been accepted! I'm presenting twice, and invite YOU to join me at one of them.

TITLE: Use permaculture principles to design an urban orchard that stores water, reduces work and build community.
DESCRIPTION: Design an orchard on an urban lot using permaculture principles to catch and store massive amounts of water; obtain a bountiful yield from a diverse collection of fruit trees, bushes and herbs; add beauty; build community and reduce waste, work and energy consumption.

Saturday, Feb. 14, 4:45 - 5:45 p.m., Mendota 5
Sunday, 2:15 - 3:15 p.m., Monona/Wingra
Learn more and see the full seminar and demo schedule here.

How Henny Penny Came To Rule the Roost

I haven't reprinted much by others (perhaps it's something I should do more of?) but this one caught my eye - it will be especially appealing to those wondering why/how the modern backyard chicken movement is just so popular

Monday, January 12, 2015

Anti egg-eating project goes all out

If you read the post about our startling egg-eating discovery, you know how distressing this is. If we can't get them to stop, the end result is chicken dinner. No one wants that - us or the girls.

So off to the Backyard chickens and our local Mad City Chickens Facebook group for some help. I got lots of good advice on why they may have started to eat their eggs:
  • boredom, they aren't going out in for yard forays
  • not enough protein
  • nest box isn't comfy enough.
I went to Farm & Fleet and found a hard plastic ball that comes apart. You fill it with treats (scratch grain in our case) and they roll it around. They figured out how to empty it in less than an hour.

I also bought a scratch block (think a cubic food of compressed grain and other yummies that they peck at) and put it in the run.
My brother gave us a chicken toy for Christmas, which we've been putting vegtable scraps in for them to peck at.


Not enough protein
The "layer" feed mix has 16% protein. I read that in the winter they could go as high as 20%. I found a 22% mixture for "meat birds" and after consulting Jay for some math help, figured that 2 parts of the high protein feed with 1 part layer feed got me to 20%.



Nest box
The egg they attacked was laid outside the nest box. This happens occasionally. When an egg is laid in the box, there really isn't much room to get at an egg, AND it's heated so the eggs don't freeze in the winter - two reasons we want them to lay in the boxes.

So Jay got out his mom's trusty Singer sewing machine and whipped up four curtains from an old table cloth and we stapled them in front of the boxes to make them a bit cozier and more private. We really hope they find the box preferable to laying outside in the coop or in the run.
Jay using his mom's sewing machine ca. ???

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A bad chicken day

People have been asking how the chickens fare in this frigid, polar vortex, weather. Frankly, they're fine. They have down coats on, and our job is to keep the draft off and keep them dry. Check. Check.

Today I am home sick, but wanted to check on eggs because they do freeze fast in this weather. Our nest box has a seedling heating mat on its floor, which is on a timer to keep the nest box warm during the day. This is less for bird comfort and more to keep eggs from freezing, but we were hoping it would entice birds to lay in the nice cozy comfort of a warmed space.

Throw that idea out. Today I found three eggs. One in the box, one frozen solid on the floor of the coop, and one - oh shit - broken and being eaten by three of the birds on the floor of the run. I quickly scooped up the runny mess and threw it in the compost.

I returned to the coop to remove the frozen egg off the floor. I could see see it an access window. I went to open the window and the latch broke in the locked position. I literally couldn't get to the egg. I went into the house to get a screwdriver to remove the latch and open the door. By the time I got back, the birds were circling the egg in the coop. I don't know if they had tried to crack it open because it was frozen solid but they were definitely interested in it.

Any chicken owner knows egg eating is one of the horrors of owning chickens. Once they taste the warm goodness that's inside, it's hard to break them of the habit. And one egg eater will teach the others. This is a big problem.

I'm not sure what to do and will scour web pages to see what others have done. Was I supposed to do what dog trainers do when a dog does something bad, scare them and make them think the world is about to end? And how do we get them to lay in the box?

Anyway, thought I'd share with you that it's not all roses over here in The Eggplant, more to come.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A third egg!

While it may not seem like that big of a deal to find a third egg in the nest box, I'm guessing it WAS a big deal for the chicken that laid it for the first time. This weekend I put up a new toy for the girls that I received from my brother for Christmas (think of a wire sphere the size of a softball, that you stuff greens into for the chickens to peck at). I noticed one of the chickens wasn't milling around me, and looked in the nest box to find our black chicken, Mifflin sitting in there. Later in the afternoon I found a second brown egg. This was her first egg, leaving just Olive to produce one for the first time.

I'm also figuring out how to manage the eggs in our fridge. This is my solution so far.

Mifflin is the third bird to start laying.