Sustainability: Soil

Sustainability > Soil

Grow soil, not food.

I read that somewhere, years ago, and it was probably John Jeavons. Jeavons’s gardening system is unique in that he has you using a good bit of your space to grow compost. Or rather, to grow things to be composted.

All in all, it is a very necessary thing to consider. When you eat from your land, you are only eating as healthfully as the soil is healthy. If you are lacking certain minerals in the soil, you will end up lacking them in your body. This is one reason why my family doesn’t strive to be 100% eating from this land. We know there are gaps —I mean, it was an industrial agriculture corn and soy field.

Growing soil: We compost religiously — I have already done a post on that. We don’t walk on the soil — I have mentioned that. We don’t till or plow the soil — I have mentioned this too. We have permanent garden beds — I have mentioned this too. We have grass paths between our garden beds — yep, already talked about this. We plant trees so they can pull up deep minerals. — I want to talk about this. We have animals for their manure — I am going to talk more about this in a minute. We try not to leave the soil bare — but we need to do better with this one.

Trees for the garden: I love trees. Plain and simple, and I would plant them for no other reason than for the simple joy they bring me. These beauties sink their roots deep into the earth and pull minerals up into their leaves . . . And then they drop those leaves, conveniently, within my reach each autumn. And so, I thank them, marvel at their beauty and thoughtfulness, and then gather up about half the leaves. I leave the other half to return minerals to the soil that is supporting the tree. The leaves I gather are added to the compost pile or tucked up around other plants — like the hibiscus, or a new little tree just getting established. Since we also heat our home with wood, the ashes are added to the compost as well. The ashes are another source of minerals for the soil.

Animals for manure: We have, in the past, had animals that we intended to eat (chickens, goats, sheep, and cows), or milk (cows and goats), or collect their eggs (chickens), or harvest their wool (sheep).

  • I have to tell you, I can’t do it. I can’t raise a creature, love that creature, and then kill and eat that creature. So I choose to be mostly vegetarian
  • The second great revelation was with dairy animals. I can’t do that either. First of all, you need a male (or have access to the male). Then you have to decide if you are keeping all the babies, if you don’t you’ll have to sell them or find homes for them. Babies come with tiny little horn buds. Some people have no problem burning them off with a very hot iron. I do have a problem with that. So I let their little horns grow. But most people don’t want an animal with horns. And finally, we learned that our family is highly lactose intolerant. So no more dairy animals.
  • My favorite animals (other than rabbits and chickens) to have on the farm are sheep. I adore them. After learning to card wool, spin wool, and knit — I also learned that I am very allergic to lanolin. Like in, it looks like I took an acid bath. Not good. So we sold my beloved sheep.

After all these experiments and failures, we decided on keeping animals for what they can add to the soil. And what they can add to the soil is POOP!

  • We have a hutch of very spoiled rabbits whose sole duty in life is to poop. Michael collects this poop and adds it to the compost pile. I couldn’t honestly even tell you for sure if our rabbits are boys or girls. That’s because their sole duty is to poop not repopulate the planet. Our rabbits all have names from Watership Down.
  • We also have a handful of laying hens. These hens have two duties on the farm. The first is to eat our scraps, our lawn clippings, and our garden weeds, and scratch through it repeatedly while pooping to speed along the compost process. Their second duty is to give us a few eggs a day. Really, this is just a bonus. Our chicks are named after Ogham trees, although really their names are “the ladies.”

No Bare Soil: This is an area where we have lots of room for improvement. What we will strive to do better with next year is succession planting — which means I need to start seeds in containers that can be put into beds when another crop comes out.

I also need to spend time this winter learning more about mulching techniques for the garden beds. This autumn we started mulching the bed with grass clippings from the chicken yard. The clippings have been scratched at for several weeks, so no seeds, and has a little bit of manure in it. So far I’ve covered about half the beds and they seem to be staying pretty weed free. We’ll see how that turns out.

It is really hard to get clean straw around here so I need to do some reading. I have _Practical Permaculture_, _The Resilient Farm_, _How to Grow More Vegetables . . . _, and _No Dig Organic Home & Garden _ queued up and waiting for cooler weather.

Sustainability: Seed List

Sustainability > Gardening > Seed List

Kitchen Garden

  • Ocimum basilicum (Sweet Basil)
  • Beta Vulgaris (Beet: Cylindra)
  • Helianthus annulus (Sunflower: Giant Greystripe)
  • Lactuca sativa (Lettuce: Lollo Russo, Green Leaf, Red leaf)
  • Brassica oleracea L Acephala group (Kale: dwarf blue curled scotch)
  • Brassica oleracea vargemmifera (Brussels Sprouts, Catskills)
  • Cucurbita pepo (Pumpkin, small sugar)
  • Cucurbita pepo (Summer squash, black beauty zucchini)
  • Allium porous (Leeks, Broad London)
  • Cucurbita maxima (Winter Squash, Burgess Buttercup)
  • Capsicum annuum (Hot Pepper, jalapeño)
  • Phaseolus coccineus (Runner Bean, white emergo)
  • Phaseolus vulgaris (Bush Bean, Jacob’s Cattle Beans)
  • Cucumis sativus (Cucumber, Ashley)
  • Raphanus sativus (Radish, French breakfast)
  • Pisum sativum var sativum (Pea, green arrow)
  • Allium schoenoprasum (Chives, perennial)
  • Levisticum officials (Lovage)
  • Majorana hortensis (Marjoram, sweet)
  • Origanum vulgate (Oregano)
  • Petroselinum crispum (Parsley, common)
  • Salvia officinalis (Sage, common)
  • Erica sativa (Arugula)
  • Matricaria recutita (German Chamomile)
  • Marrubium vulgate (Horehound)
  • Lavendula angustifolia (English lavender)
  • Borage
  • Asparagus (Martha Washington)
  • Grapes (concord)
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries, ever bearing
  • Okra
  • Carrot (purple cosmos)
  • Tomato (kimberly)
  • Rosemary
  • Purple coneflower
  • Spearmint
  • adding:potato, welsh onions, garlic, sweet potato, Swiss chard, sweet peppers, sweet corn, sea berry, elderberry, currant

Flower/Pollinator Garden

  • Oenothera biennis, Common Evening Primrose
  • Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Ox-Eye Daisy
  • Lupinus polphyllus, Russel lupine
  • Linum perennials lewisii, Blue Flax
  • Viola comuta, Johnny Jump-Up
  • Digitalis purpurea, Foxglove
  • Mirabilis Jalapa, Four-O’Clocks
  • Liatris spicata, Gayfeather
  • Lupinus perennials, Perennials lupine
  • California poppy
  • <Move the comfrey from the backyard to the front fence line under the sycamores>
  • Move lemon balm from back yard to front
  • Consider adding: calendula, monarda, cosmos, zinnia, bachelor buttons, etc. . . .

Sustainability: Surplus and Seeds

Sustainability > Gardening > Surplus & Seeds

This post could easily be called Closing the circle, part 2. It is the same principle in that we seek to supply the needs of the farm here on the farm. In this case we are talking about the start and the end of the gardening process.

Seeds: Garden seeds are life, energy, and valuable.

I am a firm believer in the fact that we can’t buy our way to sustainability and that we should not commodify (or trademark) what should be free. The current seed and nursery market is dominated by just those things. Seeds that are trademarked (or otherwise held by private companies) just seems wrong to me.

Rather than spend money on something that I believe is morally /ethically objectionable — I save seeds and perennial plants that can be transplated. And I share. I share freely with those who asks for a start of a plant or seeds. There are a few plants that with my climate I can’t easily save seeds from. For those I buy a yearly packet from Victory Seeds.

Each seed or plant is a life, a source of renewable energy, and valuable. Each year I make sure to save enough seeds for the next year. Seed saving is pretty easy. You let the plant/fruit of the plant come to full maturity. Then you harvest the seed pod or the overly ripe fruit/vegetable. The seed pod is really easy; break it open and collect the seeds. The fruit/veg is still pretty simple; break open the fuit/veg, scoop out the seeds, let dry, and then store. I store my seeds in prescription bottles. When the bottles are new they are washed out really well, sterilized as best I can, and then left in the sun to dry.

Surplus: The gardens nearly all produce more than we could possibly eat. The way we handle it is to eat all we want of that day’s harvest. Then we freeze, can, or dehydrate what is left. One day a week we invite others to come harvest for themselves. We are careful to teach them how to harvest properly. Occasionally we will harvest for another and take it to them.

An example: The start of the raspberry/blackberry season. We harvest early in the morning and have berries with breakfast and lunch. Then the remainder are put on a cloth lined baking pan and covered with a cloth napkin. Then they are set on a freezer shelf. The next morning, I scoop them off the tray and into a freezer bag or glass jar.

An example: I also keep “Chicken Bags” going. This is a ziplock bag where all the little bits and pieces of harvest go. Not enough basil to run the dehydrator, put it in the newest chicken bag. Too much watermelon, put in the chicken bag. Just a few blackberries, put them in the bag. A bit of zucchini left, shred it and add it to the bag. Just a scraping of rice, into the bag. A few beans, into the bag. You get the idea. The chickens get their fair share of the harvest when it is first picked, so this is seconds. If left on the porch rail for a bit before feeding, it will have flies, wasps, creepy crawies, ants, and other things in it.

Sustainability: People Power

Sustainability > People Power

People Power: 1) Using human minds and bodies to accomplish the task at hand. 2) Preferring to do fewer jobs well, slowly, and by hand. 3) Becoming proficient in the use of non-petroleum powered tools.

Yard: There is something calm and meditative about listening to someone using a scythe. It wooshes through the grass and leaves behind cut vegetation and a clean smell. You can use it while the grass is wet and the day is still cool. It isn’t hard work once you’ve learned the basics and you have a sharp blade. But it isn’t easy either. You must put your body into motion. You should keep your mind on your work.

An old fashioned reel mower works about the same. But if your ground isn’t even or you have clumpy grass, it is a much harder task. You still get the cut vegetation and you are still free from petroleum and oil smells. You still need sharp blades and to keep your mind on your business.

Or you could wait until almost noon and fire up the gas powered lawnmower. It leaves behind cut vegetation and an aroma of burning gas and oil. You still get the job done, but it isn’t nearly as pleasant an experience.

There’s actually another way that I dream of. . . . This is the front yard of my dreams. Planting enough trees that the grass doesn’t really grow. Encouraging the clover to grow instead of grass. Having enough garden beds, pollinator beds, chicken yards, and rabbit yards that mowing is only necessary along thought out paths.

Gardens: We use the people powered principle in the garden as well. This is a combination of a couple of my garden principles: stay out of the growing beds and people powered.

Our kitchen garden beds are each 5 foot wide by 20 foot long. They are set in a grid that is (currently) 5 beds wide by 3 beds long. Between each bed is a 2 1/2 foot grass path. Our goal is to never step in the garden bed. It is just wide enough that even I (at 5’1” tall) can reach the center. It is just wide enough that you can hoe it up at the start of garden season without stepping in it. If, when planting seeds, you need to be in the middle, we use a wide board that distributes our weight evenly.

We use a long-handled hoe, a long handled spade (rarely), and a collection of small hand held tools (Each is about 12 inches long) that includes a hoe, rake, transplanting spade, shovel, hole maker, and pruners. Mostly we use our fingers. Fingers are made for pinching, pulling, tugging, and you get a lot of practice squatting and changing positions while squatting while working this way.

We have found that by not stepping in our beds and by not bringing in power tools the soil stays loose and we stay flexible as we age.