Online Garden Planning



Jessica and I normally do our permaculture design plans the old fashioned way, on paper, but this year I wanted to try software based planning (along with paper.) I ran across an online garden planner called Smart Gardener which seemed to have many of the features I wanted to see in a garden planner.

I don’t intend for this to be a comprehensive review of the program since I’ve only been using it for about a month, perhaps a more detailed review will come next fall after I see how our gardens did. I mostly just want to point out some of the features I like, and my initial impressions about it. They offer the basic planner for free, and then have paid add-on’s such as: Smart Shapes, Shade, Succession Planting, Harvest Calculator, Vertical Vegetables, Berries, Smart Squares, and Notes & Calendars. I paid for most of the add-on’s so some of what I mention here aren’t available in the basic free version.

As you can see from the image above, the planner allows to you specify your total yard size, draw your garden beds, and add in other objects like your house, garage, bushes, trees, etc. It also allows you to mark areas of partial shade (with a paid add-on.) I believe the shade add-on basically just allows you to mark where you have shade, and then the software can offer suggestions on which plants are shade tolerant.


What drew me to this online garden planner is that it offers a harvest calculator, succession planting, and it calculates the available garden space and tells you how much planting space you have left as you plant things. During the setup for your garden plan, you can even enter the number of adults and children you wish to feed.

Planting space is calculated by the plants in your plant list, and not the little icons you drag & drop on your layout. That confused me at first since I assume it was calculating when you dropped a plant icon on the garden bed. In the image above you can see I’m using the Smart Squares add-on and planting my Arugula more tightly per square foot. You adjust the number of plants you want, which then adjusts the number of square feet required. This is where the planted space is calculated. Pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

In the image above for Arugula, you’ll also notice that there is basic planting calendar which shows when to seed, when to succession plant (with the paid add-on), and approximate harvest dates. This info is based on your location and frost date info when you set up your plan.


This screenshot shows the Journal section where you can click on a plant in your list and get a good deal of information from the various tabs. You can also see the additional dates for seeding later in the season for fall and winter harvest. I haven’t really looked into this part enough, but it is a nice option since we grow in a low tunnel in the fall and winter.

Since I bought the Harvest Calculator add-on, that shows up in my tabs. The add-on offers info on: ripening, when & how to harvest, suggested plants per person, approximate yields per plant, and some basic nutrition info.


In the notes section of the journal you can enter your harvest information, and if you sell at market you can add your market price to keep track of the value of your crops. This was another reason I chose this planner, and look forward to using it to track our harvests this coming season.

So far I like what I see with this planner. It has most, if not all the functions I would want, and since I’m a more visual person I like the garden design function.  I believe it has size limitations, so it may not be viable to use on for a working farm, but it could work for a small market gardener. It is also pretty easy to use, although I did need to ask support a question or two, and check the forums for other answers.

Since I mentioned using this as part of our permaculture design tools, while I think this could be a tool that permaculture designers could use, it is not permaculture specific but could be a helpful tool for parts of the planning.

More on this after growing season begins!


A French Influenced Country Stew


I was recently feeling like making a French-influenced dish for Jessica and I, and ended up combining a few ideas after reading through La Bonne Cuisine. I worked with what we had in our fridge and freezer, as one should instead of running out to the store all the time.

We had picked up some goat stew meat over the summer, and also has some grassfed beef  brats. While the dish turned out good, I’d opt for a  better quality stew meat over the goat meat, and a decent pork sausage instead of the grassfed beef brat. With better quality meat this stew would have been fantastic… but as it was it was still good, albeit a little chewy.

I used a Dutch oven to both brown the meat, and then cook it all in the oven. One pot meals are the way to go! The ingredients below are what I used, but feel free to substitute.

  • 1 lb Goat stew meat, or better quality meat
  • 4 – Beef brats, or decent pork sausage
  • 6 – medium carrots, cut into disks
  • 3 – potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 – lrg Red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 – cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 – shallot, minced
  • 1 tbs Lard
  • Fresh Thyme, Rosemary, Tarragon, Oregano tied together as bouquet garni
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 2-4 cups water

Preheat oven to 350°. Place Dutch oven over medium flame, add lard, then add meat and brown. Add onion, garlic, shallot and sauté. Add carrots, potato, herbs, salt & pepper. Mix well, and sauté 5 minutes or so. Add water and place Dutch oven in preheated oven for 2 hours, or until done.

Serve with a crusty bread.

Save Black Earth Meats


I think this is a worthy cause to support. Black Earth Meats are a 100% grass fed, USDA Organic and Animal Welfare Approved meat processor who are being forced by the village of Black Earth, WI to close or relocate their business. The closing of a business like this will also affect every other business who supplies or buys from them. Support them and help them move their business to a city who will appreciate a local sustainable food business like theirs.

Visit their Kickstarter page to learn more and make a donation.

New Permaculture Design



Being at the permaculture convergence helped spark my interest in some aspects of permaculture, and reminded me of the aspects that just aren’t for me. It is good to see both of those ends of interest and disinterest so that I can find a middle path that works best for me.

One positive point is that I returned from the convergence with a renewed interest in working on a design for our yard. Jessica had done a preliminary design earlier in the year, but I wasn’t feeling excited about adding ideas to the design. Maybe it was because I was focused on my art, or that we think we’ll only be here two years, or that I was feeling disinterested in certain things about the permaculture “movement”.

Whatever the case, the convergence seemed to inspire me enough to spend a day working on design ideas for our yard. The first rough design looks good, but I’m starting another which takes a more serious look at growing more storage crops that we can can, freeze or store for winter. It will be fun for Jessica & I to compare each of our designs, and then merge ideas into one final design.

Another inspiring piece from the convergence came from a workshop session given by Joel Glanzberg. I forget what the workshop was titled (something about patterns I believe), but for me it was a Zen mind sort of experience. He taught us basic tools to help clear our minds and become more present in the moment. That presence opened up awareness which allowed one to gain a deeper understanding of the landscape around them. With the noisy chatter of your mind gone (or quieted), it is easier to use all of your senses to examine a potential design site. His workshop alone made the trip worthwhile for me.

I was also excited to find and buy a copy of Integrated Forest Gardening: The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems. The book has several sample designs specifically for SE Wisconsin near Lake Michigan where we live. For some reason plants guilds have been somewhat of a mystery to me (probably because I’ve been overthinking them), and this book is helping me grasp the concept better.

So whether we stay in this house for another year or two, or decide to stay longer, it will be exciting to create and implement a permaculture design for our yard that will provide abundance, beauty, and privacy.

A New Dipping Sauce Recipe

New Dipping Sauce


The plan was to grill some pork chops for dinner, but I wanted something different than I usually do. (Usually I use my BBQ rub, or my Harissa blend.) Vietnamese or Thai flavors came to mind, but I didn’t have all the ingredients for an authentic recipe.  Well, I love making up my own sauces, so I created my own sauce go with tonight’s pork chops.

We had fresh Thai peppers from the farmers market, as well as garlic and basil from our garden, so I started there to create dipping sauce with Asian influences as well as a subtle hint of Indian flavors.

  • 1 large clove Garlic, minced
  • 1 Thai chile pepper, finely sliced  (can remove seeds if you want less heat)
  • 2  Basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/8 cup Sesame Oil
  • 1 Tbls Coconut Aminos (or Bragg’s Aminos, or Tamari)
  • 1 Tbls Coconut Vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup Lime juice
  • 1 Tbls Mirin (rice wine)
  • 2 Tbls organic sugar (the natural looking kind)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Tamarind paste
  • Dash of white pepper
  • Dash of Cardamom

Chop garlic, Thai pepper and basil as noted. Add the liquid ingredients to small bowl, then stir in sugar until dissolved.  Mix in Tamarind paste, stir until mixed in well. Add garlic, Thai pepper, basil, white  pepper and cardamom, mix  well.  Give it a taste and adjust as needed.

This recipe made enough dipping sauce for two of us, and probably would’ve been enough for four.

We used it on pork chops, but it would go great on chicken, beef, tofu, or just about anything. Hell, we even tried some on our corn-on-the-cob and it was great!