Sustainability: Gardening

Sustainability >Gardening

Our approach to gardening has evolved over many years. We tried it all: row gardening, square foot gardening, bio-intensive (Jeavons), permaculture, and no dig. Each of these has informed our philosophy, practices, and principles. Each of these has also been practiced under the umbrella of organic/natural.

Here are some of our guiding principles. I would like to explore these more in separate posts. Our gardening principles are just that, principles not rules. We have experimented enough to know what each plant likes, doesn’t like, and where we can “fudge the edges.” The only time we use rules is if we are planting something for the very first time or trying again after repeated failures.

  • Compost
  • Grow what you eat
  • Eat what you grow
  • Plant perennials and things you can save seeds from
  • Store your surplus wisely
  • Stay out of the growing beds
  • People power not petroleum power
  • Close the circle

Time in the Gardens:

In March and April, we tend to spend a couple of hours a week in the gardens. Our gardening season begins in earnest on the Spring Equinox. This is when when we prune the blackberries, thin the strawberries, clear out the stalks in the pollinator garden, move manure and bedding to the compost, and start harvesting asparagus. Michael begins mowing the lawn and we use it in equal parts for compost and chicken bedding.

May and June are the months when we spend the most amount of time in the kitchen garden. There are beds to prepare, compost to turn, compost to spread, seeds to start, and then the near constant weeding. Our last planting day is the Summer Solstice. After that we tend the plants that are already growing. During these months it is not unusual for me to spend a couple of hours doing garden work each morning. Kelly then spends most of Saturday doing the jobs that he is better at than I am. Michael is still cutting grass for compost and chicken bedding. This is also the time for building projects.

By July and August, we are simply weeding for about a half an hour on weekdays and maybe a couple of hours on Saturday morning. Kelly takes over the primary Saturday weeding job because I am harvesting daily and processing the foods. Harvesting hours in the kitchen garden are hard to calculate because I do it as I move through each bed weeding, checking for bugs, and diseased plants. Somedays I bring in huge baskets of food, somedays a small container. The orchard and herb garden begins to fourish with herbs hitting their peak just about the same time that the blackberries are ready. It is utter chaos at times.

September, October, and November are the months when my enthusiasm wanes just a bit. I’ve been weeding for 5 months and there are 3 more to go. Some garden beds begin to look empty as the plants complete their lifecycle and die back. Some beds have huge flowering stalks that will become next year’s seeds. By the Autumn equinox we cover the compost so the winter rains don’t wash all the nutrients away. The chicken house gets cleaned out down to the bare earth in late October and the bedding added to the new compost pile. The rabbit manure is collected and added to the new pile too. This is also the time for more building projects.

Late November is the time to make sure all the produce is out of the garden, the seeds are safely stored, and all the pots are clean and waiting for the start of another gardening season.

Sustainability

“If Harmony is my Abbey, then simplicity, stability, and sustainability are my vows.” — Me

Sustainability is the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level and avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. *source: Oxford dictionary

So, maintain or grow, but don’t deplete — balance. A couple of things to note here, I don’t think we can buy our way to sustainibility and I do not believe in commodifying that which should be free. That about sums up my definition, but what does it look like in practice here on our farm? Stay tuned. I hope to have a whole series of posts about how we strive to live sustainably.

Here are just a couple of examples where you can see how principles and questions lead to our practice.

A Sustainability Practice: We do not till or plow our garden.

  • Why? It requires petroleum. We prefer people power.
  • Why? It kills organisms in the soil. We prefer strong healthy soil.
  • Why? It requires nearly perfect weather. We prefer to admit that Spring in southeastern Indiana is wet and deal with it.
  • Why? It requires packing down the soil as it turns the soil. We prefer loose, crumbly soil.
  • Why? It requires a purchase and maintanence. We prefer a cheaper solution and maintanence that can be done on the front porch. IE: a spade, a hoe, and a pitchfork.

A Sustainability Practice: We do not buy commercial cleaners.

  • Why? It requires petroleum. We prefer to use less non-renewable resources.
  • Why? It pollutes the waterways. We prefer our water clean and drinkable, not just for us, but for all those downstream too.
  • Why? It kills organisms in the soil. We prefer strong healthy soil. (See above, the soil has a lot to do with most of our reasons.)
  • Why? It is hard on a septic system and/or a grey water system. We prefer not to replace our current septic — the cost is prohibitive and the concrete is not a renewable resource.
  • Why? It requires a purchase that can only be used for one purpose. We prefer to use multi-purpose ingredients.

Stability: Aging, and Retirement

*All pictures have been taken by me using my iPhone 8 with no filters* I took this one as I was taking dry laundry off the clothesline. I noticed this dragonfly, which was on the other side of a cotton dish towel. I thought it made an interesting picture.

Stability > Stability, Aging and Retirement

Our vow of stability means we plan to grow old here. We like to think of it as our retirement plan and safety net for Michael (and Hannah) when we are gone. Thinking in these terms means that as we grow older we are transitioning our systems to make it easier for agin bodies to do the work. We are also making sure we document our best practices. We strive to teach our adult children they whys and wherefores of the decisions we have made. In fact, I envision this blog becoming a sort of how-to for our property.

We have 12 years until retirement age (67). We have a list of projects that will need to be done. Each project has several pieces.

  • Housing: convert to rainwater collection only, reduce electricity usage to below 500 kWh/month (currently at 500 kWh/month), continue to find non-electric solutions, build rocket mass stove, build rocket mass heater, solar hot water tank, summer outdoor shower, dry pit/outhouse, re-insulate exterior walls to 12”, re-insulate roof and floor, build solar food dehydrator.
  • Gardens: add 4 beds, raise all beds to 2 foot high, beehives, add more soft fruit, permanent culinary herb bed, permanent medicinal herb bed, build 4 more chicken yards and another chicken house, build 4 rabbit runs, all plants either perennial or home saved seeds (increase diversity each year)
  • Yards: plant 5 trees per year, mow paths to scythe width, plant yard/meadow/paths with clover, vetch, and rye, increase pollinator garden space, add second clothesline, outdoor screened sleeping room.
  • Transportation: bikes, cargo bikes, and bike trailers
  • Finances: get debt free, stay debt free, save as much as possible, redo wills and trust for land/Michael/Hannah

 

 

Stability & Autism

Stability > Stability & Autism

This is Michael. He is 31 and on the autism spectrum (ASD). We have known since he was 9. We consider ourselves very lucky to have him in our family. He brings hardwork, joy, and “preciseness” to our family.

We learned early on that Michael does better with precise instructions (preferably no more than 3 at a time) and structure/stability. His routine very rarely changes. He likes to eat the same things, wear the same things, etc. He also has some pretty intense sensory issues — especially texture/touch, and hearing.

Our committment to stability means that Michael has spent most of his youth and young-adulthood here on our farm. He knows this property. For the past few years, he has taken over a lot of the caretaker jobs. He mows (with a pushmower) our front yard, the strip behind the house, and the paths are entirely his doing from design to execution. He carries the dead tree branches to create brush piles that protect wild saplings and a host of critters. He carries up the largest of those branches to chop into firewood to heat our home on the coldest of days. He dug all the cisterns/run-off ponds and trenches to carry the flooding waters away from the house foundation and back into the woods. And this year, he built a chicken house and yard almost entirely by himself with materials that we had laying around. He let me know how many additional 2x4s he was going to need and how many rolls of fencing would be required. He also turns our compost beds over each fall.

All of this has taken years for him to learn to do. Years he has had because we are committed to stability of place. This place.

*All pictures have been taken by me using my iPhone 8 with no filters*

Stability

Stability is the state of being resistant to change and not prone to wild fluctuations in emotion. When used in the Benedictine vows it refers to the importance of community and commitment in life.

In connection to our life and our land, I use this word to mean allowing a deep connection to develop between me and the actual land. I remember what it was like to stand here in my 30s with small children; I remember what it was like to garden here in my 40s with teenagers and a menegerie of animals; and I anticipate what it will be like as I move through my 50s, 60s, 70, 80s, and 90s. All while staying put in this place.

And so, I plant trees. Trees that take a long time to grow. Trees that will shelter my hammock now and someday will shelter my ashes.

And so, I design systems for caring for chickens and rabbits that take into account an older body. A body with limitations that still knows that to mimic nature is best for my critters.

And so, I start building raised beds so that the land can continue to sustain and nourish me as I strive to continue to nourish it.

And so, I ask Michael to mow wider paths through the back so that tired legs and failing eyes can still walk and enjoy the beauty that is present here on this land.

And so, finally, I practice gratitude that this is my home.

*All pictures have been taken by me using my iPhone 8 with no filters*

Harmony

Harmony: 1) the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole, 2) living together peacefully. *Credit: Collins Dictionary on-line

I am not a musical person, in fact my singing is pretty awful. But there is something that happens in church (or I suppose wherever groups of musically inclined people gather) when we are singing a simple melody and someone slides in with the harmony. It changes the whole feel of the music and it transports me into deeper levels of worship. Now, I am going to show my age and my weirdness in one sentence — The Osmonds do it too. They can be bubble-gum rocking away and boom! They hit that sweet spot where their voices meld and I become the human equivelent of goo.

If I didn’t lose you with the Osmonds reference . . . I want my life, home, and farm to be like that. A sweet spot of wholeness, where all the parts are working together and becoming more than just the sum of the parts.

I said before that harmony is like a talisman word for me. When I’ve got it right, it feels magical and miraculous. It is nearly tangible . . .almost like I can hold it. I suppose that is where the Greek telesma comes into play. It is a religious rite that I am striving to live. I see this on display at Canterbury Cathedral each morning. I love to tune in for morning prayer and in these days of COVID the dean has been doing Morning Prayer in different spots in the Cathedral gardens — he, his prayer book, his tea, a cat, chickens, and beautiful designed and tended gardens. It is like my own little abbey.

If harmony is my abbey, then simplicity, stability, and sustainability are my vows.

*All pictures have been taken by me using my iPhone 8 with no filters*

Introductions

Hi. I’m Kim. I am mid-50s, married (1986), mom of two (31 years and 30 years) caretaker of Jasper (5 year old rescue chorkie), and protector of five glorious acres. I have lived on 3 different continents and found much to love on all three. My favorite, besides this home, was living in the eastern desert of the Republic of Turkey. There is one place left on my bucket list and that is Wales. I want to go someday and walk the entire Welsh Coastal Path without speaking English. It is likely just a pipe dream, but I will continue to dream it.

Mt family lives on 5 acres in the mid-west. Our farm, in its past life was a corn and soy bean field. It had a few trees that lined 3 deep ditches. For the first couple of years we were here you could still see corn stalks and the waste weeds would get 6 feet tall if they weren’t mowed. Water would run off the soil in sheets. It was a sad sight. But I had a dream, a vision, and a calling to restore this piece of land to a more lovely and healthy place.

We fenced in the entire 5 acres, brought in sheep, goats, a Jersey cow and calf, a horse, chickens and rabbits. We fed them good local hay and left most of the manure in the fields. We began composting the bedding. For eight years we spread bag after bag of clover, vetch, rye, and grass seed. I was also known to stop on walks and dig up herbs and other useful plants in the ditches and along the creeks to add to the fields (with permission, of course). After eight years we got rid of all the animals except a few rabbits in hutches and chickens in a fenced run.

Year 8 was the beginning of Idlewild Farm. We stopped mowing all but the front acre and a narrow strip behind the house. We dug a cistern/ run-off pond and a drainage ditch system. Then we left nature to herself and let her heal her wounds. And she did heal. A few trees along three ditches has grown to 3 1/2 acres of woods and it continues to spread to fill the last 1/2 acre. The trees have also grown up along the fence line except along the western border of the garden acre. The three ditches ended up being the runoff of three stream heads. This was a surprise and a joy to discover. We will continue to plant trees and encourage wild saplings until the woods reaches 25 feet from the back door.

Today the acre in front of the house is divided in half. Half is being planted with trees to keep the house cool, a pollinator garden, clothes line, rabbit hutches. The other half includes the chick house and yard, 2 peach trees, 2 cherry trees, a plum tree, an apple tree, 100 feet of thornless blackberry bushes, 20 feet of asparagus, 4 grape vines, a compost bed, and 15 garden beds (5’ wide x 20’ long) with grass paths between them.

Future plans include planting 15 more trees, a new rabbit hutch and yard in the eastern 1/2 acre and a larger chicken house and yard, a green house heated by compost, and the addition of 11 more garden beds in the other 1/2 acre. The additional beds will be for herbs, strawberries, more asparagus, elderberries, currants, and food for the rabbits and chickens.

Nature has moved in and made herself at home. There is nothing as enjoyable as sitting on the porch in the cool mornings listening to bird song and watching the skinks trying to warm themselves as the sun comes up. Or looking out the kitchen window and seeing the mama rabbit with her litter exploring the edges of the mown space. Or walking the woods and seeing deer, foxes, owls, bats, chipmunks, and squirrels going about their lives. Or sitting in the quiet evenings and hearing the coyote chittering, the bats swooping, and the owls calling from their roosts. I was made to love this place.

*All pictures have been taken by me using my iPhone 8 with no filters*

The Ditch List

What have four months of stay-at-home during a pandemic taught me? Not as much as people on social media seem to think it should have. I have not taken up any new hobbies. I have not read a ton of new books. I have not lost weight. I have not gained muscle. I have not even had an introspective revelation.

It has crystallized the things that are vital — as in necessary for life — for me. I have this “intro” that I keep on the blog page Kim and that I use as a social media bio: Enneagram 5 (how I tick), Anglican (how I pray), book lover (how I cope), walker (how I move), tree hugger (how I live), and wife/mother/warrior (how I love). I have decided that only two vital things are really missing from this list: my family home and the Welsh language.

Actually, I suppose the land/home should be included in the treehugger. Each informs the other. Each supports the other. One led to the other. The love of one led to a broader love and appreciation of the other. I am not even entirely sure which came first. It is a chicken-egg kind of puzzle to me. I just know they go together.

The Welsh piece is rather new (October 2018). I cannot explain it, and believe me, I have tried. All I know is that it feels like this language is in my soul and it was just waiting for an opportunity to come out and play. Practicing brings me such joy, peace, and harmony.

If you have visited this blog before today, you might notice that I changed everything. Hence the title of this post — The Ditch List. I started this blog to document my family’s journey from Evansville to overseas, back to the States, and finally to this piece of land. It morphed into a place where I just stuck stuff. You know what? That wasn’t working for me anymore. I don’t feel the need to document things like that anymore. So I ditched all those posts, changed the name (although not the web address) and changed the look.

So what might happen with this “new” space? I am going to use it to document those VITAL areas. Things I would want to leave behind as a legacy. Harmony as shaped by simplicity, stability, and sustainablity. Those are the areas I will be exploring. Harmony is almost a talisman word for me. It holds deep meaning that I hope to unpack in this space.

*All pictures have been taken by me using my iPhone 8 with no filters*