Linda Hendrickson
Tablet Weaving and Ply-Splitting Books, Tools & Kits

Home & Garden

In Fall 2004 I read Toby Hemenway's book Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. This was the beginning of a life-changing journey of learning to live more in tune with nature's ways.

We have made a lot of progress in transforming our yard. We started with removing English ivy and arborvitae, and by Fall 2008, we finally had also removed all of the grass, mostly by sheet-mulching. We now have over 100 species of plants, focusing on Willamette Valley natives, plants that attract beneficial insects, and some edibles. Our yard has been a Gold level Certified Backyard Habitat since July 2011.

The shady part is the mostly-native area, complete with a constructed dry creek bed which handles overflow from some of our rain barrels in Winter. We now have ten rain barrels scattered all around the house!

The small sunny part of our back yard has vegetable beds, plus a spiral herb mound. John and I enjoy gathering and eating food that we've grown ourselves.

Click here to see our entire plant list. Please contact me if you would like a tour -- I love showing people what we are doing!
Here are some of the things we have been doing. I will update this section occasionally as things evolve.

  • Getting started with gardening in the front yard
  • Collecting and using rainwater
  • Collecting and using graywater
  • Learning to grow some of our own food
  • Building outdoor compost bins
  • Removing a sidewalk and creating a meander path
  • Removing and replanting trees
  • Sheet mulching the front yard
  • Participating in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program
  • Changing our bathroom habits
  • Worm composting
  • Plant List

    Getting started with gardening in the front yard. In Fall 2004, I started sheet-mulching by covering an area near our front steps. This was the beginning of the transformation from monoculture (grass) to diversity. John called it my "crop circle". On the far right, a view of the same area in Fall 2006. The plants in this photo include lavendar, thyme, chard, burning bush, calendula, red osier dogwood, oxalis, yarrow, gingko, and arctic willow.

    Collecting and using rainwater. In November 2004, we installed our first 50-gallon rain barrel next to the garage, shown here with our Tibetan terriers, Spike and Jones. As of March 2009, we have 10 barrels scattered around the house. For the first eight, we bought food-grade barrels from The Yoshida Group in Portland for $5.00 each, and installed fittings that we got from Division Hardware. The last two, in the front yard, are deluxe models from the Rainbarrel Man in Portland. We use the rainwater for watering vegetables during the summer, when it's hot and dry, and also occasionally for flushing the toilet during the rest of the year, when we have plenty of rain.

    In 2009, I took the Master Gardener training in Portland. John and I made a video about our rain barrels to show on the last day of class. Click on the photo below to view the video.

    Collecting and using graywater. We started collecting gray water in a very simple way -- in plastic containers in the kitchen and bathroom sinks. We pour water from these containers into buckets to use for toilet-flushing, and also carry graywater in buckets outside to water our trees and ornamental plants. I consider the water-carrying a great way to get exercise and to maintain strength in my arms. I also enjoy inviting visitors to participate in our water conservation practices!

    Learning to grow our own food. In 2005, we took Connie van Dyke's "Introduction to Permaculture" at Luscher Farm, and then Connie's "Urban Farming" class at Portland Community College. Books we have been reading include Gaia's Garden, Square Foot Gardening, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, Gardening When it Counts, and The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide. (photo taken August 2005)

    Building outdoor compost bins. In Summer 2005, a neighbor who was replacing her deck gave us enough cedar to build our three-section compost bin. John also built the flower cart! (photo taken June 2005)

    Removing a sidewalk and creating a meander path. The photo on the left shows how it looked on March 26, 2006, after Beth Fox and Jamie Sajovic started taking the sledge hammer to the sidewalk. We discovered two layers of sidewalk! We used the the larger pieces as stepping stones in the meander path. The photo in the middle shows our progress on the meander path as of May 1,2006. We now have sword ferns, evergreen huckleberry, meadow rue, oxalis,and other Willamette Valley shade-loving natives in this area.

    Removing and replanting trees.
    The hawthorne trees on our median strip were suffering from a chronic fungus, which left them almost leafless most of the year. The "before" photo was taken when we had them removed in December 2005. In January 2006 we planted a scarlet oak and a ginko. The "after" photo was taken in November 2011.

    We also removed a row of arborvitate that had grown to over 15 feet tall along our property line in the back yard. I cut up the smaller branches of the arborviate and spread them out along a new walking path, and we sawed up the larger pieces for firewood.

    Sheet mulching the front yard to convert grass to space for plants. The wood chips are from the branches of the two hawthorne trees that we removed. We cut the hawthorne trunks into a nice stack of firewood (photos taken December 2005). Eventually we removed all of the grass. We are adding plants, especially Willamette Valley natives.

    Participating in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. When I took the OSU Master Gardener Training in 2009, I learned about this wonderful program for residents of Portland. The volunteer training that I took at the Audubon Society clarified the importance of native plants. When you sign up, someone will come to look at your yard, and will point out any invasive plants that should be removed, and discuss the variety of options for planting natives, stormwater management, and wildlife habitat. We soon received our certification at the Silver level, and in July 2011, our yard was certified at the Gold level. I highly recommend signing up for this program through the Audubon Society of Portland or Columbia Land Trust.

    The "before" photo was taken in April 2006 and the "after" photo in November 2011.

    Changing our bathroom habits. Well, this is a favorite topic among permies. John doesn't even want to think about it... but I have read The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure , and highly recommend it. My own attitudes have changed slowly over the years, and are continuing to evolve.

    Our first step in learning to change our bathroom habits was to follow the saying "if it's brown, flush it down; if it's yellow, let it mellow". Flushing with graywater was the next step. But now instead of flushing the yellow, I collect the free source of nitrogen and either put it in the compost, or dilute it 5:1 with rainwater and use it to water leafy plants.

    The photo shows the water storage unit John made for water recycling. There is a grocery bag full of dried leaves and buckets for storing water. Beneath the containers is a towel, with a plastic liner underneath. When the lid of the storage unit is down, it makes a roomy place to put things while you're in the bathroom, and a good seat to use while putting on socks and shoes.

    We were surprised when we saw our first water bill after we started using gray water -- it was about half the amount for the fall of 2004 when compared to the same period of time in 2003. Some of this decline is also due to our raised consciousness about water -- when you start collecting it, you notice how much you waste, and start making small changes to cut down. For example, just letting the water run while you wait for it to change from cold to hot can be as much as a gallon. We have far more than enough water in the winter -- the rain barrels are almost always full -- but the barrels didn't quite get us through the summer. We had to use tap water for the garden for about two weeks.

    After I read The Humanure Handbook , I was convinced that I wanted to do humanure composting. But I was still afraid. I took a workshop from Ruby Bloom here in Portland, and went home with my own bucket toilet. Then my neighbor said he needed to get rid of a couple of composting bins, and suddenly I had everything I needed. So in May 2008, I started using the system. So far, so good.

    Worm Composting. After 20 years of worm composting in two bins in our basement, we decided to give away most of our worms, and and put the rest of them in a Metro composting bin outside. We now add rough-chopped food scraps to this bin, and cover with shredded leaves. The worms are thriving there. Here's the story of our experience with worm composting in our basement.

    We have always been good recyclers. In July 1999, we decreased our garbage pickup from weekly to once-a-month. I started worm composting simply as a way to help reduce garbage. Thousands of red wigglers lived in two bins in our basement. I gave away worms to many people so they could start their own composting bins.

    This is the method I used for worm composting. I started out with a combination of leaves and dirt in the bins, which I guess is a little unusual, but has been very successful. I never had a problem with bugs or odor. It just smells like dirt. If you put an ear close to the bin, you could hear a lot of activity in there! I suppose this is a combination of the sounds of decomposition and the worms moving around.

    I rough chop kitchen scraps and store them in open containers in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator.

    About once a week, I put the scraps -- including torn-up coffee filters -- through my food processor and mix everything together into a big bowl. This takes about 10 minutes. The food processor is "on" less than a minute, and this effort speeds composting and keeps everything nice and tidy in the bins.

    The worms lived in the basement in two plastic recycling bins. The bins have holes in the bottom, and are on wood blocks to allow for air circulation. I put half of the worm food in each bin, and then very gently use a hand rake to thoroughly cover the food with dirt and worm castings (some worms get moved around too). Each time, I put the food on the low side, and then mound the dirt up on that side, over the food.
    (photos taken December 2005)

    This page updated March 17, 2022.