Author Archives: Kerry Brown

It’s late February and I feel like we’re finally rounding that curve towards warmer weather and the ability to coordinate and complete projects without wrestling in the mud. In a lot of ways, this was a quieter, introspective winter. Wintertime can always be a little difficult for me. I probably don’t tolerate the lack of sunshine very well and I’m not well suited to being indoors during poor weather. But keeping in contact with like minded folks with similar goals has been a balm. We’ve lifted each other up when any of us have been feeling a little weary. Seeds have been started, beds are being prepped. I’m working on rooting mulberry cuttings and I’ve made some progress in invasive species removal. A quail aviary is in the process of being framed and I have a plan for housing a breeding pair of rabbits. I’ll also be pasturing chickens via…

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When I head out to do a property/site assessment in order to help someone develop their homestead systems, one of the first suggestions I put forth, and probably my strongest one – is to keep your systems as close to your home as is reasonable. This applies on any size property but becomes more relevant on larger properties. There’s a kind of myth that your garden is supposed to be located far from your home, laid out in long, horizontal rows. If that’s the only space available, that’s one matter, but in my experience, out of sight = out of mind, no matter how well intentioned you are. Weeds seem to know when your back is turned and deer and other critters will wear out an unwatched garden. Of course, I’ve seen deer walk up to my mom’s back porch, so that isn’t foolproof, unfortunately. Systems that need daily maintenance,…

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In Mid December, my wife and I were looking over our budget and realized that we had gotten a little spend-happy during the second half of the year. Our tax refund didn’t arrive until July, (despite filing in February) so by then we had a number of things we wanted to purchase. We used a sizable amount of it for projects, books, (my weakness, I confess) supplies and some back up items such as a propane water heater, extra propane and other preps. While we hadn’t accrued any debt, we didn’t have as much cash stowed away as either of us would prefer. So as usual, I suggested something some people would see as extreme: No Spend January. I proposed that we would live off of our current supplies (including food) and avoid all spending with the exception of insurance, one medication refill and fuel (though we were going to…

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In classic Tennessee fashion, in 24 hours our weather changed from 73 degrees and remarkably windy to torrential downpours that then turned into a heavy, wet snow in the early morning. At our homestead, we had around three inches. I took time to appreciate the beauty of it, then pursued the hassle of clearing it off the solar panels (note to self, cover the array with a tarp next time) and de-icing all of the vehicle doors. As I walked around surveying the various animal tracks and appreciating the snow’s dampening effect of road noise, I realized how much snowfall and it’s melting pattern revealed various microclimates. There’s a long, south sloping hillside that is abutted by about 40 feet of treeline. That area remained covered with snow even while other areas had begun to melt off. Even being south facing, those trees kept the area significantly cooler. The north…

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It’s early December and I just spent most of a windy, rainy morning addressing and writing out Christmas cards for my customers from the past year. It’s an exercise in gratitude and appreciation and while I’m wrapping up my second year of full time business ownership, the feeling hasn’t waned. I hope it never does. I’ve spoken on this before, but even with all of the hurdles, pivots, errors and learning curves involved in running a business, it is absolutely worth it. I addressed over 40 cards. Over half of those were for my regular property maintenance customers, the rest were for everything from simple repairs to larger garden builds and consulting and education services. I’ve made the difficult decision not to offer mowing services next year and to focus fully on design, consulting and sustainable installations, including food forest layouts and pollinator and wildlife gardens. It’s a bit scary…

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The concept of the food forest is an idea that’s beginning to gain traction thanks to the increasing popularity of permaculture and folks like Gregg Lawton, Jack Spirko, Jim Gale and David Holmgren. A food forest is essentially a grouping of plants that compliment one another and don’t compete for resources. This generally entails a ground cover level, a pollinator level, then small bushes or shrubs then topped with fruit and nut producing trees. The possibilities are endless and there are appropriate choices for any kind of site, regardless of size. I wanted to spend a full year here on the homestead before I began adding permanent food infrastructure. Now that the hot weather has passed, it’s tree planting time. I’m starting my food forest with two Moonglow pears and six Powderblue Blueberries. I’ve walked the two acres that encompass my zones 1 and 2 and settled on an east…

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A couple of years ago, a farmer friend who was working on implementing permaculture practices on her land that houses ducks, chickens, geese and goats introduced me to a concept that I’d not heard of before: fermenting feed. She showed me a system of food grade buckets that she kept in rotation. It was simple: she doled enough commercial feed into a bucket for each set of animals. She then added just enough water to cover the feed then lightly capped the bucket. After 24 hours, that feed was ready to be consumed and the process was repeated for the next day. At the time, I was just keeping chickens, but I put the system into place to see how it worked. In my case, I added a handful of scratch grains in addition to the regular feed. First, it cut my feed costs down considerably. The birds didn’t eat…

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A sure fire way to turn a mild interest of mine into a burning desire for further knowledge is to send an unsolicited and dismissive comment relating to that interest while essenially informing me that study of that topic it isn’t worth my time. A few weeks ago, I marked “Interested” in an Intro to Biodynamics event that was posted in a Permaculture group that I’m involved with. A friend saw this and within an hour, had messaged me and said, “Hey, I saw you were interested in a workshop, so I wanted to warn you, Biodynamic agriculture is snake oil.” He then linked a brief article on Skeptoid that attempted to debunk the idea of the practice of Biodynamics. I even read the full article (which failed to give a decent argument) before replying to him. My reply was “Thank you. I find Rudolf Steiner’s work interesting but I…

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A common theme this summer were customers who wanted me to create workable soil so that they could tinker in their gardens as they wished. I was able to use a variety of methods depending on the challenges for each site and I’m pretty pleased with how everything turned out. In most cases, I was rehabilitating compacted soil. One place in particular required tilling then addition of copious amendments. At another location, removal of rocks was the primary goal, along with addition depth and some natural edging. Another homeowner just wanted some framed raised beds to border their patio. Most plants that went in were native or well adapted and chosen for their ability to thrive with a reasonable amount of attention. I generally let the homeowner choose their plants, although I’m always glad to offer suggestions.

Hey folks, It’s early September here in East Tennessee and this is a great time to begin planning and building your garden beds for next year. I’ve got a few different methods under my belt, so I’ll pass along my main method for your consideration: Whether you’re dealing with rocky/compacted/clay or entirely absent soil (some folks build on top of concrete and asphalt) this method will eventually produce rich garden soil with depth and texture that supports your plants while making it easier to weed. You can build a border if you’d like. Lumber, brick, block: any of these will work. It’s your call on aesthetics and budget. I especially like the look of slim, long logs that are stacked and supported by stakes or rebar. They decompose eventually, which gives you further nutrient and carbon density. The most important rule here is to keep your bed size manageable. Three…

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