Posted in 1 Garden, 2 Home, 3 Chickens, 4 Patio

Free Workshop: Introduction to Permaculture

DSC04421Introduction to Permaculture:  How to Plan to Have it All:  environmental responsibility, free energy and water, food, medicine, comfort, ergonomics, social space, privacy, beauty, and more – a one-hour presentation of beautiful photographs and diagrams to inspire you to PLAN get the very most from your yard.

Tues/Thursday, August 19 & 21, noon – 1 pm, at the old Yada Yada Yarn building on 8th and Bullard, hosted by the Silver City Food Coop, Silver City, NM.  Presented by Jean Eisenhower of Home and Garden Inspiration, a certified Permaculture designer since 1989.

Free and open to the public.  No reservation, just arrive!

Posted in 1 Garden, 3 Chickens

One Year Anniversary: Every Garden Still Needs Chickens

It’s our one-year anniversary of having chickens, and we still can’t believe how fun they are, how easy they are to take care of, and how much they give us in eggs, compost, entertainment and even friendship.

"Minerva, Goldie, and Polly," copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014

“Minerva, Goldie, and Polly,” copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014


Almost all our visitors are impressed by the coop, so I’m reposting this article about building it and bringing in the girls.


After two solid weeks of hard (desert summertime!) work, planting posts in rocky ground, building, insulating, creating and installing windows and doors, and building a predator-proof cage over everything, yesterday we finished the chicken house and coop, received the livestock inspector’s approval (“state of the art,” he said!), paid our fee ($25), and picked up the chickens at night when they would be calm.

Our friend Polly has told us, as do most of our chicken-owning friends, how much they love their chickens and often spend time with them; Polly often has coffee out there in the mornings with her “girls,” she told us.  And so we didn’t feel too weird this morning when we also had the urge to pull up our chairs to drink coffee in front of the coop!  And I took video.

Afternoon note:  All three hens laid eggs the first day by 1 pm!  See the video here, and hear me speak quite stupidly.

(Now, don’t get us wrong.  Both Greg and I have each kept chickens twice before in our lives, but this is still exciting.  And we’ve also both had children, so that’s not it.  Maybe we’re getting old and easily amused, I don’t know….  )

Chickens are important!  Chickens are a very important part of a sustainable home and garden, mainly for the excellent manure they produce, not to mention the eggs, meat, and entertainment.  Read my Permaculture page, or just scan down that page to the diagram about The Egg to see how important they are in our world, evolving (though slowly) toward sustainability.

Below I recount how we designed and built the coop, designed to meet the needs of chickens and the needs of humans who keep them.

We used mostly recycled materials, but the materials we bought still cost about $200 for a half-dozen 2×4’s, 50′ of 6′ poultry fencing, boxes of screws, OSB [God forgive me], and corrugated steel.

chicken coop pieces

Here’s the start:  an old hollow-core door became the chicken house floor (3′ x 6 1/2′), laid on top of landscape timbers in front and bricks on the existing stone terrace in back.  Raising the house like this gives the chickens more space to scratch on the ground, and more shade; and being higher makes gathering eggs and cleaning the house easier for us humans.  We placed the house on the north side of this area so it would get as much sun as possible in the winter; being high also helps solar gain.

Two walls are ready to put up next, fashioned of scraps of 2×4 made into 2×2’s (to go twice as far), with old pieces of house siding and left-over exterior house paint.


Next we made the east wall with window glass scavenged from an old screen door.  The large window serves the birds’ need for light in the morning, but may be a little too much on summer days – so I will shade it then.

Beneath the window, we planned a vent with screen and hardware cloth (and three other vents besides this one).  Later we learned, too late, that the chicken house floor “should” be covered with 4-6″ of straw or other bedding (according to one writer at least) – deeper than I’d thought.  On this first day of chickens, we have just 2″ of bedding on the floor, and it seems sufficient.  We’ll report back later on this detail.  Still, it seems important for air flow to not only be great enough but also have equal amounts of vents located low and high for optimal circulation, so I hope this vent won’t be blocked by straw.

(Our driveway doubles as work space, with the van serving as lockable storage – very workable and space-efficient for living on 1/10th acre!)


Next steps were installing the screen-and-hardware-cloth vents (both materials I’d actually gone to the trouble of saving from old projects) on the east wall and high on the west wall; stapling left-over bubble-foil for modest insulation; and installing “nailers” where we’d later need to attach roosts and nesting box/es.  The books we borrowed (Thanks, Jacque!) told us that chickens want to roost a couple of feet off the floor and have a couple of feet above their heads.  And they like their nesting box (1 box per 6 birds) raised a little off the floor, in the darkest corner, and not beneath roosts, so we placed a nailer in the back corner for that.


The fourth wall we would build in place; it entails a large south-facing window for winter solar gain, a door for the chickens, and a door large enough for us to lean into for egg-gathering and house cleaning, and inside that door another large window for solar gain, also openable for ventilation.

Above, you see the finished interior walls – maybe not necessary, but not uncommon either, according to online photos we consulted after the fact, discovering that plenty of folks have built darling “doll houses” for their birds.  (We didn’t mean to do that – really!)  We created finished and painted interior walls to fulfill one writer’s dictum of making the house easy to clean in the event of disease.  You see I caulked every seam and painted every surface inside for easy cleaning, should it ever be necessary.


Here are the two windows on hinges, the large one (also salvaged from the same screen door) held open by a short segment of a tree branch, the other glass (purchased new), hung in the door, held open by a huge nail that also doubles as a locking device with two eye-hooks.  Behind both windows are window screen and poultry fencing, trimmed with interior siding overlapping the window opening 1/3″ all around to serve as a stopper.  The sliding chicken door is on the far left, held open with a dowel that can also hold it closed.  The ramp is an old 1×8 board, with old paint in two colors, crossed with 1/4″ x 1″ strips.


The books say one box per six birds, so we only installed one, but might add another.  On the other hand, another friend said all her birds like to lay in the same place for some reason.  Greg copied the general pattern from one we found in a local feed store.  Notice the “roof” (mostly hidden in this photo) which hens seem to like.


For roosts, we used salvaged handrails.  (Yes, we both have a tendency to save “everything!” – and saved many of these items over the last few years, anticipating this day.)  We suspended them with clothes bar suspenders (also saved in our huge collection of junk) which were a little too small, so we shaved the ends of the bars to make them work.  We attached the bar holders to 2×2’s ripped diagonally down the middle and screwed to the wall and into the nailers.  The angle of the bars into the corners wasn’t a perfect 45 degrees, but it is close enough to work!  (The books we read said that chickens like bars about 2″ x 3″ in diameter- which seemed far larger than we’d imagined and thought necessary.  We felt very fortunate to have saved these old handrails.)


Okay, now for the serious predator control.  We erected a cage over the entire thing, using the existing fence, adding a few 2×4’s to make it tall enough for comfort, and poultry fencing.

(The door came from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore – perfect 2-foot-wide, perfect height, with hardware cloth on the bottom half, a handle, and self-closing hinges – on the one day Greg went to shop!  What luck!  And a great price!  Thanks, Re-Store!)

Love my east window shading!  The cane (saved, yes, for years!) has turned gray, but is still useful for so many things in the garden.  I can see the entire inside of the house without going into the enclosure.

But that’s not all.  To deter animals from digging under the fence, we dug 2″ down 2′ out from the fence, laid down poultry fencing which goes under the fence and is secured inside the coop up about 1′.

DSC03866  DSC03867


On the outside corners of the fencing, to keep it from flipping up in some places, I used tent stakes to hold it down (see my finger pointing), then covered the fencing with 2″ of gravel.  Other places, I coerced the gravel to stay down without stakes.


Now it’s a pathway again, with an invisible barrier under the ground!


Not easy work, but essential – and easier than the only other remedy I’ve heard:  digging 18″ straight down.  No thanks.  I did this all the way around except on part of one side that had plantings too close, and there I piled large rocks until I feel like doing more of that digging.


Finally, we had these great branches (remains saved from my natural plaster work in the house, previously used for trellises in the garden), so we attached them securely to the fence, so the girls could exercise what remains of their wild natures.


Sure enough, on Day One (today), the boldest was up there on every branch and the roof top!

DSC03948 DSC03950


Most amazing, each bird used the nest box to lay an egg their very first day here!  Three eggs!  Here’s video of the “harvest.”

And here’s a video of our cat’s response.





I hope I’ve inspired everyone to get chickens.  Get back to the Earth.  Get sustainable.  Support your garden.  Eat good food.  

Have fun.

Posted in 1 Garden, Spirituality

Dragonfly Birth Day

[This photo-essay was first posted on my (MK) Garden Healing Church site:]

My partner and I are supporting a friend in the process of dying.

I’ve been feeling myself drawn toward this sort of work for a decade, and now the time has arrived.    

I’m amazed at how calm I feel and comfortable with the process.  (Ten years ago, I was invited to attend the dying of another friend, and I had to decline.)

My partner and I spent a couple of hours each day the last few days and watched our friend decline to sunken cheeks, faint gestures, and occasional phrases turned to whispers of single words or phrases not understood.

We scheduled our volunteer time for late afternoon, and have spent our last few mornings cleaning out our shop which had become a nonfunctional store room.  (Perhaps his dying made us want to put our things in order, bring new life into our lives, get energy unstuck, and keep things functioning at home.)  

This morning shortly after we’d gotten back to work, Greg noticed something strange hanging on the wall of the house right next to where we were working and called me to come with the camera.  

Almost the first thing that came to my mind was Alien, as in the thing that sprung from Sigourney Weaver’s chest.

copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014.  Taken August 13, 2014.
copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014. (Click and zoom for detail.)

– though first I’d thought it was one insect eating another.  It took a few moments to realize, it was not death, but birth.  One being was not being consumed by another; one was emerging from its own former shell.  

Death and rebirth.  We thought of our friend, and how frightening death is to so many people – as frightening as this monster-looking creature.  But that was just a bad first impression.  This monster would become absolutely beautiful.

Greg noticed what he called “umbilical cords,” white threads that connected the new dragonfly to its shell – even after she removed her tail, righted herself, and let her wings emerge.  Now she looks like a faerie in pink and lime green lace and ruffles!  (Please click and zoom to see amazing detail!)  

Faery-like dragonfly emerged, copyright Jean Eisenhower 2014
Faery-like dragonfly emerged, copyright Jean Eisenhower 2014
cords down
copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014

Eighteen minutes later, her ruffles are smoothed out, and her cords are disconnected.

I came in close for this “smile”:

Smile, copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower, 2014
Smile, copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower, 2014

Here she’s looking mostly like the dragonfly we know:

copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014

And then she spreads her wings, an hour and a half after her birth:

Open Wings, copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014
Open Wings, copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014

I’ve always loved dragonflies, and once called on Dragonfly for a healing ceremony.  They are said to be guardians of the portals to the dream world, allowing in healing, or allowing the soul to pass to the next world.

Since we’d talked with our friend about death as a passing into the next world, a rebirth, we couldn’t help but think of this dragonfly birth as a herald of our friend’s passing.

In a moment, the old shell was left behind…

copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014

and she began her life, anew, in the garden.

copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014

Can you see her?  

in the tree cu
copyright Jean Ann Eisenhower 2014

This afternoon, our friend was far less responsive.  Faint smiles, apparent sleep, fewer gestures.  

When we told his wife about the dragonfly, she said it had always been an important totem for them.  

Our world is so powerfully magical!  (If we invite it in.)  It answers, “Yes!” in case we forget, that we have friends in spirit all around us.  (Yes, there is powerful grief in our world also, but the Magic is here still, just waiting for us to recognize it.)

The portal is opened.  Happy travels, Friend.  

Posted in 1 Garden

Beauty, Art, and Garden Alters

DSC04416One of my favorite aspects of my gardens is the surprise of modest “altars” here and there, and the delightful art and serendipity of discovering ways to arrange them.

I used to have some unconscious fear of altars.  When a friend once called my collection of candles that had accumulated on a dresser top along with a few pretty stones and other natural objects my “altar,” I immediately corrected him and scattered the items around the house, thinking “I’m not Catholic or Buddhist!  Why would he think I had an altar?”

But they bothered me scattered everywhere, and soon I’d re-created the “altar” unintentionally.

Then a book entitled “Alters” came into my life.  I wasn’t sure where it came from, and I’m not sure where it went, but it had a profound effect on my life.

The author was a big fan of alters and claimed she had one in every room of her house and around her garden.  She used them to sanctify every space for its intended purpose.

In her kitchen, she gathered her prettiest kitchen tools into her prettiest pottery vase and surrounded that with a candle and items that spoke to her of nutrition, healing, art, and love.

In her office, she gathered instruments of writing that were especially pretty, a nice fountain pen, pretty scissors and letter opener, and placed near them favorite books of quotes and others about writing.

She also used altars for healing, and I tried one of her ideas to heal what I’d recently felt keenly – my lack of female friendships.  I didn’t think I had anything in the house to remind me of female friends or acquaintances, and was about the give up the task, when I saw a scarf my daughter had given me, then a candle a woman acquaintance had given me, then a crystal another woman had given me, and then a book, and in no time I had gathered – to my profound surprise – quite a few items that had been simple but lovely gestures of friendship, which I had failed to recognize!

I arranged the items, lit the candle, sat before my new altar, and cried.  After that, I noticed and remembered gifts, didn’t take them for granted or hide them away as meaningless, as I think I had in the past, too afraid to believe that I might have a friend.  Ah, our neuroses!  But I was healing.

Since then, I’ve been a big fan of altars, and I now have them all over the garden.

The main one features Mother Mary!  I bought it at the local hardware store when it seemed to “call” me over a period of more than a year while I tried to ignore her!  Finally, I heaved a sigh, paid the price and brought her home – and have loved her ever since.

She’s had various homes in the house and garden, and recently became the top piece for a waterfall and pond, which I describe fully with photos and video on this post.

Most of my altars are unfinished, “in process,” and that’s half the fun.

DSC04941In this photo, I put together two items that look like birds, one crystal and another common stone.

Below, on the ground, I stacked two rocks to hide a hole in the fence, and topped them with a fossil that might warrant more central placement or a less inglorious purpose, but it’s fine for now, and I’ll move it when I get the notion.

DSC04937This cluster of stones, crystals, wood, and water bowl has changed arrangements repeatedly.  Again, I’m hiding some imperfection near the front door of this old house, and I’ve changed these items quite a few times, recently adding the upright branch with a hollow base.  It’s far from elegant, but I still think of the collection – with crystals and a sphere of crystal – as an alter greeting our guests.  One day, a better arrangement might become clear to me; meantime, I enjoy changing it around.

DSC04966This next is not an altar, but a bouquet of dried stalks of grains that sprouted beneath the bird feeder last year.  I hung it on the fence for the birds to find – a more natural environment for their food, I thought, and transition from bagged bird food (very bad for the environment and the birds) to natural bird food.  And it’s pretty while it awaits discovery.

DSC04963Is it stretching things to call a single stone an altar?  Perhaps, but I made sure this beauty was placed so that its crystal hole would be noticed and appreciated.  It gives me pause, makes me slow down and admire it, a good thing for a fast-moving person like myself.  Small thing, but healing.

DSC04962These two pottery pieces were seconds in need of repair, which I haven’t gotten around to, but which still add beauty and function to the garden.  The large pottery collects rainwater, and the smaller one is topped with an odd piece filled with water and crystals, which serves as a birdbath.  Beneath, I’ve gathered other round dishes, some hidden in the foliage, for the lizards which serve the garden as pest control.  Collecting similarly-sized shapes and colors of items is a basic rule of decorating, and easy.

I chose the center of the front yard for the little circle of four arm-in-arm friends.  It seemed perfect for the entryway to our home.  The largest crystals (one year I bought quite a few) had no place to go, so I found an arrangement I liked, and added a tiny open geode to the center of the hugging friends.

Tell me about your garden altars!DSC04938

Posted in 1 Garden

Keyhole Gardens: Efficient, Ergonomic, and Beautiful!

Classic American gardens are usually arranged in straight lines.

But straight lines are boring (unattractive to me), too convenient for insect pests (hopping from one plant to the next to the next), and anti-ergonomic – hurting our bodies during planting, tending, and harvesting.

What’s the alternative?

Keyhole gardens! – with plants arranged into companions or “guilds.”

From Toby Hemenway's book, "Gaia's Garden."
From Toby Hemenway’s book, “Gaia’s Garden.”

Keyhole gardens offer the greatest amount of garden space relative to the area needed for pathways.  No other garden shape results in this much economy of space.

Check out the designs here, of a simple keyhole garden and two keyhole clusters.  They can be perfectly round or oblong to fit a space.

What’s best, I discovered, is the ergonomics.

I only realized this benefit after volunteering at our local community farm for six weeks.  After crouching down to pick beans or other veggies for hours at a time, scooting my upended plastic bucket seat a foot or two at a time, I realized how good it was to move the bucket farther and then stretch farther to the left and farther to the right.

At home, my keyhole garden does even better:  It allows me the comfort of twisting wonderfully as far as I can in each direction while letting me forego all the awkward clumping down the row with my bucket seat!

My original garden design had no keyhole gardens – though I knew the concept – because I had only a solid-rock hillside outside the kitchen door, along which I was building stone terraces in a narrow space, essentially forcing me to use lines, though they could meander a bit.

My front yard had been designed for drought-tolerant evergreens, minimally planted in a conservative two-foot border around the perimeter.  Years later, with my partner to share the work, we decided we had a lot of unused space in that front yard and decided to expand the gardens.

DSC04421We expanded all of them to fill every bit of ground except for what was needed for a winding pathway and two chairs and a table near an existing bench to catch both summer shade and winter sun.

Wherever the new gardens were too wide to reach fully into, we created short keyhole pathways to their centers, creating lop-sided keyhole gardenDSC04667s!

In this first, you can see the cat door into the sun room, graced with a pink rose overhanging.

Here’s a side view:DSC04675

I feel very strongly about avoiding straight lines – for one’s psyche.

Think about it:  most of our life has been turned into straight lines:   our rooms, our homes, our furniture, our streets, our books and games – even calendar time!  There’s no reason our gardens, our lovely patches of nature – created just for us! – should be straight!

Let’s get ourselves out of our boxes wherever we can!  Our gardens are our chance to bring nature – and all its wavy, meandering, branching line glory – back close to us!

Yes, I know that rectangles provide some wonderful efficiency:  making standard size shade screens and cold frames to sit on top of multiple beds is easiest when working with rectangles.  But we can also shade our oddly shaped gardens with pruning materials of various plants and use those same materials to hold down plastic in the winter (plastic which can be rolled tightly and take up less space) – and I like those looks much better.

Obviously, I put more value on the psychological healing benefits and the beauty of my garden than its food production.  But it seems I can have both!

How do you arrange plants inside these shapes?  Think of nature:  scatter your seeds.  And combine companion plants.  For ease of access, put tall plants toward the back or outside edge, and place short ones near you.

Like most of life, it’s a puzzle.

Enjoy it!

Posted in 1 Garden, 2 Home, Spirituality

Energy Correction in a Fence Addition!

A good fence can turn a noisy, bright, busy, constantly changing place into a lovely sanctuary.

This is the view we shielded ourselves from, close neighbors and Market Street traffic:

5 stiles neigh view

It took 2 short mornings and 1 long day, and we spent only $240 for 27 feet (using mostly new materials, having spent most of our salvage materials on the chicken coop last summer).

(Harvesting wood in the forest would have been more ecological and saved money, and we seriously considered it, but this fence matches the existing fence, was much easier and quicker to build, and is more private than a rougher-material construction could ever be.  In this neighborhood, it seemed the right choice.)

First, we followed standard fence-building procedure, marking the fence post line with stakes and string.

(And, yes, we’re building our fence right up to and nearly touching our neighbors’ house.  Our houses were built before proper surveys, and our lot line had to be moved from under their house to the edge of their house.  Today, their electrical box and even their most recent stucco job hang over our property!)

1 posts wide

When all the posts were up and the concrete had cured a day or two, we put up the rails.

(The posts on either side of the corner are 4′ from the corner.  The post in between is 1′ in from the hypotenuse of the right triangle.)

In the two sections of the front corner, we attached these scrap 2×8 pieces on top of the rails.  It was a little tricky getting the curve drawn just right.  I held the center of an imagined quarter-circle while Greg cast an arc in chalk across the 2×8’s, again and again til everything lined up just right.

7 corner curve drawn

When the 2×8’s were removed, cut, and replaced, the pickets (alternating 4″ and 6″ wide) went on smoothly and quickly.

8 corner curve cut

A few hours of easy work later – we were done!

9 corner fin med

I have an affinity for the humble globe mallow, so we worked around this frail plant for three days!  I’m so glad we did.  It was in bloom, and they say that faeries especially detest the rudeness of making them move during flowering time.  And since I began to respect that possibility, my garden has been happier and I feel even more loved and supported by it.  So I took the job of digging that hole, right up to the edge of the plant, we were careful in our tasks near it, and it survived and now adds beauty!

Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy, I had to do something different with the gravel, so I sorted out the whitest ones and scattered them in a rough arc around the large stones, then finished the section of earth with the mix which blends nicely with the neighbors’ gray gravel.

(The pickets are not as bowed as they appear.  They’re bent because, inside the fence, as I explain next, I’m bracing the trees upright.)

12 corner rocks cu

Inside, we pruned the drought-hardy shrubs and two desert willows (one pink, one purple, the second an odd volunteer) and braced them to stand more upright, as they’d both been flagged hard by the winds.  With the surrounding fence, they’re beautiful corner trees!  (They were hardly noticeable before, as you can see in photo 2 above.)

13 willows

Here’s the finished design in context:  two matching curved corners, enclosing a driveway – which we think might become a new garden instead!  – in which case, we’ll add ten more feet of fence and a gate.  Not daunting at all!

10 fence fin med

Do you need a fence?

Don’t let mundane things delay you.  I wish I’d built both fences years ago.  They have made all the difference in our experience of this house!  The energy of the yard is indescribably sweeter!  It’s the like difference between how you feel in a parking lot or on a street versus how you feel in a park.  The energy change is powerful!