Autumn Olive: the herpes of the permaculture world.

Permaculturists, stop this!  Stop recommending that people actually plant Autumn Olive on land where this evil, invasive, non-native, destructive, allelopathic plant has not yet taken hold!

I don’t know why, but environmentalists always seem to want to import plants and insects from Asia to solve some problem here “naturally.”  Now, I’m all about doing things naturally and avoiding chemicals, but have you ever noticed that the plants and insects that are imported from Asia always end up wreaking havoc? From the aggressive, biting Asian Lady Beetle (imported by environmentalists to kill aphids without the use of chemicals) that ended up killing all our own cute, non-aggressive lady bugs, to the Tree of Heaven that sprouts like foul-smelling weeds in every untended suburban or urban area, to the vile Autumn Olive planted by the Forest Service to control erosion – these plants and insects are adapted to the ecosystems in Asia, not North America.

Here they destroy everything in their path, reducing diversity to nil.  Perhaps environmentalists do not care about eco-diversity, but one of the tenets of permaculture is supposed to be about encouraging ecological diversity!

Anyway, this is why I am a gardener and small-hold homesteader who uses permaculture practices but am not actually a permaculturist.  When your attachment to dogma overrides good common sense, you might want to stop and reevaluate your goals and the reasons you are putting your hands to the soil in the first place.

I believe the people who are encouraging young, naive gardeners to just give Autumn Olive a try once, what can it hurt to try it once, go on, kid, all the cool permies plant it…fall into two camps.

  1. the ones who may or may not have planted it but don’t yet realize how evil the plant is.  These are analogous to freshman girls on campus who are just learning about feminism but haven’t yet experienced all the glorious empowerment of following in Lena Dunham’s slutty footsteps and
  2. the ones who’ve already planted it and secretly know how evil the plant is.  These folks are analagous to sex-positive feminists who have already contracted an STD like herpes and want every other girl to catch one too so they don’t feel so bad about their awful, life-long, incurable, diseased state.

Let’s say you, the permaculture virgin, have just decided to avail yourself of Autumn Olive-positive planting.  You’ve done the deed, you’ve planted one, harmless little bush.

Next year, it’s grown.  A lot.


But it has berries on it in the late summer/early fall, nice red berries that actually don’t taste very good.  You decide to let the birds and wild creatures have the berries.  They eat them with gusto and poop out the seeds all over your land.

Next summer you notice it’s getting difficult to walk through your forested areas because of all the thorny Autumn Olive shoots popping up EVERYWHERE.


A pasture you’d let lie fallow has shoots coming up too.

Well, you think, I’ll use them as chop-and-drop for soil improvement.


Hmmm, that’s an awful lot of chop-n-drop…

You try to chop and drop, but it’s hard to get near the shrubs now that they’ve quickly grown to ten feet tall, with multiple, thorny branches tangled together and arching over, making it difficult to get at the thick shoots, which by now can only be cut with a saw.


You get stabbed in the arm with one of the thorns…


…which is when you learn that many people have a strong reaction to Autumn Olive scratches.  The scratch swells and is hot like fire for several weeks after that.

You run the branches through your mulcher and spread the wood chips around some new saplings you planted to take the place of the Autumn Olive. All the saplings die. That is when you learn a new word: allelopathic.

Oh man, I’m done with this stuff, you think.  I’m cutting it all down come spring and burning it.  And you feel satisfied with this eradication plan.

You manage to get it mostly all cut down, but it sends up suckers faster and faster the more you cut on it. Horrified, you sneak to Lowe’s wearing big sunglasses and a hat to conceal your identity before engaging in this most shameful act…you are going to buy some…some…oh you hate to confess it but you are going to buy some Round Up to spray all over the Autumn Olives. You cannot believe you have been reduced to spraying chemicals all over your organic land. You feel great shame but also great relief.

You spray and spray and it all dies.



Ha ha ha!

When the next spring comes, you cannot believe your eyes. From the dead Autumn Olives are springing…new shoots!  This plant…it is literally an unkillable zombie eating everything in its path!

And at that moment the realization suddenly dawns on you…just like the herpes your hairy-legged, sex-positive feminist college roommate has for life, just like the zombies from an apocalypse…

Bitch, you are never, ever getting rid of it.



Thriftiness is a life skill AND a political statement.

We’ve been slowly trying to build up a cash savings sufficient to cover six months’ worth of expenses.  Just the other day, I was remarking to Philip that we were doing so well, almost there.  Just when you’ve gotten prepared for a rainy day, doesn’t it seem like the rain always comes?

Continue reading

Women can be hard-working and innovative in their proper sphere.

I read a comment from a man recently on a blog that asserted, possibly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the goal of most women is to never work a day in their lives.  All joking aside, while it is no doubt possible to find real life examples of such women, I would assert this is not generally true.

Continue reading

Grow your own: helpful tools for getting your vegetable garden seeds started.

My kitchen has three large south-facing windows in a sort of bay window configuration.  This area gets lots of sunlight, especially when the leaves are off the trees, so it’s where I start my seeds in late winter.

I’ve gotten basil and parsley started in my toilet paper roll seed starter pots, and I’ll be starting peppers soon.   Continue reading

Preparing for Spring: sowing seeds, planning for poultry, and dissuading the dogs.

We’ve had some strange weather here the last few days – it warmed up from below-zero temperatures midweek to the 50s on Friday and Saturday, resulting in a fierce wind that sent dried leaves swirling and dancing through the forest, driving our Shiba Inu Ruby mad with delight as she chased them hither and yon.  Earlier in the week it had snowed and even the snowflakes were worth chasing and snapping out of midair:


Spring is coming, and we’ll make a second attempt at raising poultry; we shall not be deterred by last year’s failure!   Continue reading

First garden order of the year: fruit trees and shrubs.

I went grocery shopping yesterday and was a bit startled by the increase in food prices, fresh produce in particular.  One of our purchases was garden seeds, which I’ll be starting in my little toilet paper roll seed-starter pots soon:

Last year I ordered cedar-apple rust resistant cultivars of apples — Empire, Enterprise, and Liberty — and a peach tree from Stark Bros, which I believe is the oldest nursery in the country.  I ordered these at the end of the summer when they were having a clearance sale.  I ordered the larger sized (“supreme”) ones but was shipped the smaller-sized trees because they ran out of clearance stock.  No problem, but they still charged me for the larger trees.  I emailed them to ask why and they replied they still felt I was getting a good deal since it was a clearance price.  I was a little startled by that response but I didn’t care enough to raise a big fuss.  The trees were good quality and arrived healthy and well-pruned, so I give them an A+ for their products but I’d have to give them a C for their customer service.

I’ve been planning since fall to do this year’s spring order from Raintree Nursery.  They are a well-respected nursery in Washington that carries many unusual cultivars.

Here is what I am ordering:

1. One cherry tree.

How to Grow Sweet Cherries, found on the Vegetable Gardener website, was an extremely helpful article for deciding what I wanted to buy.  Based on the author’s experience and recommendation, I’m choosing a semi-dwarf self-fertile called Lapins Cherry / Gisela 5.  Gisela rootstock was developed in Germany and requires a license to sell, so these trees are not easy to find.  Raintree is currently the only place I’ve found offering them.  The tree can be kept at about 10 feet tall and is resistant to cankers.

The rest of the items I’m ordering may sound a bit unusual to you.  However, the reduction in the diversity of our diets, a by-product of large-scale industrial monoculture farming, is concerning and my little way of fighting back is to plant a wider range of less-common fruit and vegetables.  If this interests you, the Unusual Fruit Plants for Gardens in the North-Central Region from the Michigan State Department of Horticulture is a wealth of knowledge.

2. Two huckleberry shrubs

Huckleberries are mostly found growing wild in the Pacific Northwest but can also be found in Michigan (see: Michigan huckleberries: small berries, big local history for more information plus a tasty-looking huckleberry pie recipe).  Sadly, wild huckleberries in Michigan aren’t easy to find due to habitat destruction.

Because these are mostly found in the wild and are impossible to plant from seed and are difficult to transplant, very few nurseries other than Raintree carry them, which is why I’m willing to pay nearly $20 per small plant.  I’m ordering Tall Mountain (some varieties of Huckleberry won’t survive our chilly Michigan winters, but this one should).

3. Serviceberries (also called Juneberries or Saskatoons):

My reason for planting serviceberries is because they are a fruiting shrub (or they can be pruned as small trees) that can grow in somewhat shady conditions, making them perfect for the second layer of a permaculture food forest guild:

I’m ordering the cultivar Thiessen.  I’m tempted to buy more, but serviceberries are in the same family as apples and thus are also susceptible to cedar-apple rust.  We’ve been working on cutting down all cedars on our property, but neither of our neighbors has done so, which means we can’t totally eliminate the problem.  I am planning to spray Immunox on my two non-resistant apple trees and will also spray my serviceberries.

Permaculture principles would dictate not to plant the serviceberries because I already know I’m probably going to face problems.  One tenet of permaculture is to minimize unnecessary effort by thinking through and planning things in a analytical way.  However, I also think it’s sometimes worth taking a risk to see if you can make something work if the pay off could potentially be worth the effort.  So I’ll start with one serviceberry and see how it goes.

4. Lingonberries

The National Gardening Association has a helpful article about growing lingonberries.

The lingonberry is a 12- to 18-inch-high evergreen shrub native to northern temperate, boreal and arctic regions of Europe and North America. In addition to inherent cold-hardiness (to -10°), once covered with insulating snow, it survives northern winters from New England to Minnesota…

Lingonberry plants spread by underground runners to three feet. The glossy, dark green leaves are 1/8- to 1/2-inch long and usually tinged red when new. This shrub is handsome enough for ornamental use — as a small-scale ground cover or informal edging around larger acid-soil plantings, for example. It is also attractive in containers…

hese fruits are tart. Make them into jam for a superb roast goose and venison topping. Pancakes covered with lingonberry syrup are a Swedish tradition. Use them in any recipe that calls for cranberries. Lingonberries are very rich in vitamin C.

I’m ordering Balsgard (developed in Sweden) and Red Pearl (grows wild in Holland).

Gardening is fun and enjoyable, something I would do as a hobby, regardless of any other reasons I may have for doing it.  However, the total for my order including shipping comes to $129.40.  As I put things in the ground, make infrastructure improvements, and set up our second attempt at raising chickens, I’m going to give you the dollar amounts that I’m investing.

The reason for that is because I want to make a point about how difficult this time period that we are in is; we need to start developing small-scale food independence but it’s expensive to do so, in some cases requiring two incomes.  Because I have to work full-time to pay for all this (though I’m lucky because I have much of the summer off), it cuts into my time to work on things around here.  It’s a tough time right now, but our agro-business food supply is simply disgusting and our supply web is only one Serious World Event away from major disruption, so it’s worth it.  Whatever your circumstances are, you can do something to raise food; folks did so during other difficult times in our history and we can do so again now.

Figure out what you can do now and start making a plan for this spring.

Happy gardening!

Making rose hip jam.


Yesterday’s experiment with making rose hip jam for the first time went very well.  Tasting it today, my husband said it tastes like apricot candy.


My rosa rugosa shortly after it bloomed and the petals fell.

Rose hips from rosa rugosa, which was originally a cultivated species that has jumped out of gardens and now grows wild, contain more vitamin C than oranges.  The hip forms in the center of the blossom as the petals begin to fall and ripens to a pretty bright red over the course of the summer.  The inside is filled to bursting with seeds, and de-seeding them for the jam takes quite a bit of time, which is probably why you don’t often find this jam sold commercially.

Rose Hip Freezer Jam

  • 1 cup trimmed and seeded rose hips
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (1.75 ounce) package powdered fruit pectin
  • another 3/4 cup water
  1. Put the prepared rose hips, water, and lemon juice in a blender; blend until smooth. Small bits of rose hips skin are okay.
  2. Gradually add the sugar while blender is running. Blend until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Stir the pectin into 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil hard for about 1 minute. Slowly pour into the rose hip mixture; blend for about 30 seconds.
  4. Pour jam into glass jars and place in refrigerator overnight to gel.

I started by picking a basketful of rose hips off the shrub in my garden.


Hmm…why isn’t my basket getting any fuller?  Could it be that there are little thieves afoot?


Do puppies like rose hips?


Apparently they do.


Cutting off the blossom end, pulling the stems, and removing the seeds from enough rose hips to yield one cup took a little over an hour.  It’s a time-intensive job, but the results were worth it.


I tossed the seeds into our meadow in hopes that more rosa rugosa bushes will grow wild.image

I pureed the prepared rose hips with water and lemon juice in the blender, and then slowly added the sugar.image

Then I boiled the fruit pectin for one minute with more water.imageimage

I blended the fruit pectin water into the rose hip/sugar puree for 30 seconds on high speed.


Finally, I poured the mixture into jam jars and put it in the refrigerator overnight.


I always save the glass jars from store-bought jam; actually I save nearly all glass jars.  Glass has become rare as a packaging material, but I prefer it over plastic, which sometimes leaves an odd taste in food and which may be leaching chemicals into the food.  I use old glass jars for storing things I make or harvest but don’t can.

This morning the jam had set.  The consistency is almost like pudding.


I’ve got a fresh batch of bread dough started in the bread machine; it’s supposed to be very hot today (nearly 90 degrees, which is hot by Michigan standards), so instead of cooking anything for lunch, we’ll just have fresh bread, rose hip jam, and iced mint tea made with mint leaves from the garden.