Our Blog...
About our adventures,lessons learned, and the things that we find interesting each day at the Farmstead.                                        

The Whys of Winter?

posted Dec 4, 2016, 5:58 AM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

One of our Sprouts students asked us this week why the trees lost all their leaves. We answered with a question - why do you think? And she already had the answer. "Because it's so cold!" The cold, believe it or not, is actually another effect - not the cause. The true culprit is the decreasing sunlight, due to the Northern Hemisphere tilting away from the sun during the winter months. The shorter periods of sunlight each day and the decreasing intensity/directness of the light clues plants and animals to go dormant.

While only some animals (mostly mammals) truly hibernate, many species enter a dormancy period that slows down their metabolic processes and saves energy. Reptiles "brumate," which is similar to hibernation except that they wake up to drink water on occasion. Some animals, including insects, delay the attachment of embryos to the uterine wall, thereby ensuring that babies are born in spring - not winter! This is called diapause. 

Many plants also experience winter dormancy, dropping leaves or dying back until termperatures warm up again. Indoor plants can be tricked into staying green if given enough light and warmth but most temperate-climate plants will eventually go dormant, no matter the temperature. That's one reason why many house plants are tropical plants.

Humans are no exception to winter dormancy. We slow down our lives, cuddle by the fireplace and spend time reflecting on nature's wonders.

Understanding Permaculture

posted Nov 28, 2016, 1:51 PM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

Here at Two Sisters we try our best to be stewards of our land. Part of our approach includes using the principles of permaculture. Permaculture is an agricultural approach that is intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient ("permanent agriculture"). It works with nature to solve problems in ways that minimize effort and maximize yield. 

Here are a few examples:

Deer grazing in your garden and eating your food? Put in a natural berry boundary - perhaps some naturalized wineberries for the deer to eat. They are also tall and thorny, thereby preventing the deer from entering your garden bed.

Too much water at the downhill section of your garden and not enough up top? Install plants with deep roots at the top so they can reach down low, and some water-hungry plants at the bottom.

Want to manage pests naturally? Try companion planting and intercropping. Instead of planting a row of tomatoes, a row of corn, and a row of carrots, mix them together to confuse the bugs. Some plants actually benefit from being grown near each other, like tomato and basil, onions and carrots, and the Three Sisters: beans, corn and squash.

Check out the 12 Permaculture Design Principles here and think about how you might incorporate them into your garden.

Naturally Grateful

posted Nov 21, 2016, 2:06 PM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

As we approach the time of year where many of us pause for reflection, I want to take a moment to draw your attention to nature's gifts to us. In ecology, we call these naturally-derived benefits ecosystem services. These are the ways that nature provides resources and processes that benefit us. There are four main categories of ecosystem services. Provisioning services provide food, clean drinking water, and fuel. Regulating services control climate and disease. Supporting services are all around us, but often go unseen, like nutrient cycling and pollination. Cultural services are the aesthetic and recreational benefits we get from being out in nature.

The trick to really appreciating ecosystem services is two-fold. First, it takes a shift in perspective to think of food, climate, pollination, and wilderness as goods and services provided to us by the natural world. We might be inherently grateful but also uniquely unaware of the energy and materials required to support life on earth. Secondly, valuing these services is a problem. It's as if economics took over for Mother Nature and now we have to pre-order what we need in order to survive. Scientists have been able to put value on some ecosystem services, but just like in the free market agreeing on a standard bearer for value is tough. Of course each type of ecosystem provides services of differing values. Wetlands provide the most value, at $10,000 per acre per year. Upland forests are valued at $1,000 per acre per year. Of course we don't actually pay nature for her services, but it wouldn't hurt us to be naturally grateful for what she provides. Perhaps instead of paying back the value of ecosystem services, we should be paying them forward.

Want to learn more? Check out the 2003 Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, a major assessment of human impact on the environment and the first time ecosystem services were divided into their four categories.


posted Nov 6, 2016, 4:41 PM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

Each week we receive little nuggets of support that push our farm school along. Every one is meaningful, from the word-of-mouth marketing to our solicited donations. Last week, our ROSE was our impromptu Halloween picnic, which not only had new and old families in attendance but was picked up for a photograph in the Citizen-Times! It was a fun-filled day, capped off by the most epic leaf-pile play. 

Our chickens have really taken to free-ranging, even up into the forest and on our kitchen windowsill. They were a THORN in our sides this week when they discovered the pallet garden and the herbs in pots. They ate some kale seedlings (yummy, I know) and continuously pulled out a rosemary plant that we finally gave up on. Those eggs better be so delicious!

Speaking of chickens, one of them starting "announcing" for our BUD this week! She is practicing for when she does become an egg-layer (in a month or so!). Announcing calls predators away from the defenseless egg and toward the hen. This mama-in-training climbed up high on her perch to announce to anyone who can hear! It was a teaser for what's to come.

This is the Season...Turn, Turn, Turn

posted Oct 30, 2016, 7:47 PM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

Rose? Leaves. Thorn? Leaves. Bud? Leaves!

Just kidding. Fall is here and the leaves are so beautiful out at the Farmstead. The air is crisp and it smells like fall. But there's lots more going on besides the season...

This week's Rose was making progress on the Winter Garden and new Permaculture Labyrinth lay-out of our garden. We raked leaves onto the beds, set out cardboard and landscaping fabric to kill the grass and weeds, and we laid out burlap sacks where the paths will be. It's certainly still in its infancy but I see it all in my minds eye!

The Thorn was adjusting to the early morning cold. Our little Sprouts have to bundle up and keep their bodies moving to stay warm. More of this to come through Winter and we're committed to keeping these kiddos outside.

Our weekly Bud is that we have more kiddos registered for classes! A new Sprout starts next week and we have several Explorers registering for next semester. There's still room for you! Check out our Programs and Register online!

This is the sign for...

posted Oct 9, 2016, 8:06 AM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

Every week at the Farmstead brings new adventures for students and teachers alike!

Rose: More and more evidence of our growing community, from mamas reaching out for support to donations of toys by the truckload! We are so grateful to have a village that believes in nature rich education.

Thorn: One of our little toys, a Fisher Price dog, was lost on an unnature hike and we still can't find him! He must be so lonely out in Fortville by himself. Come home, puppy!

Bud: We are incorporating sign language into our Sprouts program and not only do the kiddos really get into it, but we love learning too! More signs coming next week for these life-long learners.

What will this coming week bring?

Nature Rich

posted Sep 23, 2016, 5:23 PM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

ROSE: The highlight of our week has been two-fold. We have watched two students in our Sprouts program develop a friendship that melts our hearts each day. They are tender and silly with each, both patient and loving, even though they are miles apart developmentally. After another day of ridiculous cuteness, we attended Richard Louv's speech at the EENC Conference where he talked about making "nature rich" learning spaces. Our daily lives are rich in nature, in childhood discovery and in friendship. More about Nature Rich as it seeps into our consciousness.

THORN: On Tuesday, while playing an innocent game of Camouflage, one of our poor students hid himself in a yellow jacket nest. He was stung over 10 times and two other students were also stung. We regrouped inside and debriefed together, with no medical issues as a result. But it certainly was scary and felt so unfair for our little girls and boys.

BUD: Looking forward, we are honored to be presenting this weekend at the annual EENC Conference in Black Mountain. We'll be rubbing elbows with other environmental educators and spreading some of the good work we do around the state. Our session will be interactive, diverse and (most importantly) outdoors. Richard Louv even mentioned that North Carolina is one of the premiere places for nature education in the country - thanks to our committed community of nature nerds

A Bittersweet Summer's End

posted Sep 1, 2016, 10:12 AM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

As summer camp ends and fall programs loom nearer, we are looking back at our first Season here at the Farmstead. Summer is a time for growth, for activity, and for bounty. We have certainly experienced growth and activity -- welcoming new and returning students every week of Camp Farmstead. Our garden's bounty has been shared with campers, tomato hornworms, and some herbivores. As such, we have a bounty of lessons learned and plans to make next year's garden more prolific. We have made new life-long friends, shared memorable experiences, and learned from the kiddos who grace our presence here at Two Sisters. Here is our summer rose, bud and thorn:

The highlight of the summer has certainly been our campers. They discovered a stone step path hidden under the grass. They reminded us of the joys of playing in the rain. They cleared out our creek, built whole villages for our fairies and constructed numerous forts which are still standing! Most of all, they got dirty and they loved every minute of it. 

The thorn to our summer rose is multi-faceted. We have learned a lot about the risks of playing outside, and experienced some of it firsthand. The ever-present afternoon thunderstorms felled a huge tree across our driveway one day, just as kids were trying to go home. JP had a severe allergic reaction to a yellow jacket sting just this week, and now carries an Epi-Pen around the farm. And while we won many battles against our native poison ivy, we both suffered some itchy consequences and know that the war has just begun. For these reasons, we are happy to be moving to a new Season!

Looking forward, we see Autumn just around the corner. It is full of ecological magic, from leaf season to changing animal behavior. We are excited to have students for longer periods of time in order to know them better and affect them more deeply. We are curious to re-discover our forest as it thins out a bit and becomes more easily explorable. And we are itching to re-design our garden with a permaculture lay-out. All these things are coming our way, and we hope to share them with you. 

As a last note, I want to revisit our purpose. We are here to connect children with nature. In order to do that, we are charging for our services and also don't want to exclude families who can't find the means to join us. Please don't let that be the determining factor in whether your kids enroll in our programs. Reach out to us about financial assistance or sliding scale payments and we will do what we can to bring our dream of a village of nature stewards to life.

Rose, Bud, Thorn

posted Jul 15, 2016, 8:16 PM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

Every day (well, most days) we ask the students to share their rose, bud and thorn -- their favorite part of the day, thing they are looking forward to and worst part of the day. In the spirit of reflection, we aim to share our weekly Rose, Bud and Thorn on the blog. Here goes nothing.

This week's rose was certainly empowering our all-girl crew of campers to learn about building. They helped us work on the chicken coop and were so inspired by their success that they built a boardwalk for a section of the creek and then installed it. They worked hard to steward a little section of our forest and really made it their own. These girls left a lasting impact on us and on our watershed.

The thorn was probably a combination of the excessive rain which is wreaking havoc on our driveway and the fact that today's storm blew a tree down across our drive! Our kind and helpful neighbor cleaned it up and got us out, but the reality of falling trees in wet weather is a thorn in our sisterly sides.

Looking forward, we are excited about tomorrow's Family Discovery Day. It seems that we'll have an even better attendance than last month and we're really looking forward to talking about birds. We taught our bird language lesson to two different groups this week, and it'll be great to try it out on some adults too. If you can't make it tomorrow, think about joining us for next month's Family Discovery Day: Saturday, August 13.

Summer Fun! And Things We Do For YOU

posted Jun 10, 2016, 7:59 AM by Jessica Potter-Bowers

We're a new organization, and we know that it takes time to build a community around us. So we are working hard to make it easy for you to join us on our adventures. Here's what's new:

SCHOLARSHIPS: Want to come to summer camp but can't afford it? We received scholarships to discount tuition by $100! That makes summer camp $200 a week.We also have 2 full-ride scholarships for at-risk youth. When you register, mention that you'd like to apply for a scholarship in the medical notes section.

LAST MINUTE DEAL: In order to fill up our roster, we're offering camp at HALF OFF within a week of the day that it starts. Which means that as of June 13, camp for the week of June 20 is $150. We'll roll that way throughout the summer for any spaces that aren't filled. So if you're not sure what's happening week to week, this is just for you!

FAMILY DISCOVERY DAYS: Free family days on the Farmstead for kids and parents alike. We'll hike, play games and learn together about the world around us. We're calling the first one "What's Here?" and it will be on Saturday, June 25. You can find out more on our Family Discovery Days page.

Let us know how we can promote farm and nature education in your community!

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