gardening

Spring

spring

The snow gave way quickly and just as quickly came the green.  The greenhouse went up just in time; the plants, some of which I thought must have died, buried under several feet of snow for months, poking their green sprouts out of the yet still cold earth.  This is no miracle; it is Spring.

The frogs in the back pond reappeared after a long hiatus, and frog eggs line the shallow pools in the back “roads” on the property.  I’ve seen moose tracks and more deer and turkey tracks than I care to count.  The fox is about and I hear the hawk’s screech almost everyday.  The garden is waking up and the plants stir in their pots anxious to get in the dirt.

As always Spring brings anxiety: some plants got burnt up in the newly built greenhouse (my bad).  But, most are fine and I kick myself for not putting spinach in a month ago.  Every Spring I forget what I remember the previous year.  Perhaps this is part of Spring too.

Small buds appear over night on the Birch, the Maple, the Oak and the Cedar and Spruce trees seem even greener than normal.  The fireplaces are cold and everyone is outside.  The wind blows the glorious warmth around and the leaves, freed from the snowy prison, take flight.

We all feel a bit more free in the Spring.  Perhaps Spring is when happiness gets a chance to shine, just for a little, to fly around with the leaves and rid itself of the heavy weight of winter worries.  A new start for an old, old cycle.

Spring into the Past

dirt

Sometimes we long after times that are gone, things that will not come to pass, and futures that are certain.  But we all know that these things are illusions.  Time passes and we all have different ways of noticing this.  Some of us stare at clocks on the wall or time displays in the corners of our screens.  Some of us count the nights and days, the weeks and perhaps the months.  I used to count time by the summer breaks I had.  It all works.

But time passes no matter what we do and we can only do with time what we decide to do with time; time will pass.  In the past I’ve watched time start with new seedlings and time continue with new plants in the garden.  I’ve watched time pass with the coming cold in the air and with the smell of beer brewing; kale boiling and the smell of canning the summer’s crop.

Those times are past and are yet to come.  Those times cycle through even if we do not notice them.  Sometimes our time is spent in the past, looking out over the horizon that darkens with every waking day.  That does not help.  It does help to think of the possibilities that the future holds.  Perhaps that we people garden.

With a small container and some soil we seed the future; the past seems not to matter.  With water we nourish our hopes; regrets seem forgone.  With soil we reminded that the past is nothing more that possible futures.  It is, after all, where we come from and where we eventually will come to.

After Death

life-afte-deathAfter years of living in cities, longing for the country; perhaps some peace and quiet, I look out over twenty two acres of forest and a half acre of tilled earth to become garden next year.

A dream come real is no longer a dream; a reality in the form of work, wood and wonder.  Reality offers it all and reminds us with the birth of reality comes the death of a dream.
Simple needs become clear and concise.  They are many reminding me that a simple life does indeed necessitate complication.  Work is the key word, the kind of work that goes beyond a scotch in the evening listening to music and imagining and composing wishes.
Happiness, the quality of contentedness that so few find is possible, but the road is long, and comparisons begin to take the joy away from the reality.
For those who wish to live their dream do not compare, do not wish for more.  The dream as reality will not be what you think, but it will be life as it is, not as we wish it to be.
The future is still clear, the present is all encompassing and the past is full of memories, if not regrets and happy times.  Perhaps it is age, but most likely it is the realization that a dream come true is the death of the dream.
Self sufficiency has been and will continue to be the goal, it is now only a daily endeavor, a clarity of mind and a soreness of the body.  The dream perhaps lives more clearly now…after death is the life that I have dreamed of.

An Update on the Experiment

experiment

This particular post is two things: an apology and and explanation.

First, an apology.  I realize that blogs are particularly important to those who write them, and less so to those who read them.  That being the case, I must still apologize for not being consistent, if only to myself.

Secondly, an explanation.  I have embarked upon an experiment in self-sustainability that involves moving from one side of this country to the other.  Such a move takes time and effort which explains my apology above.  This experiment involves buying a small (22 acre) plot of land with a house, a barn foundation, and a full woodworking shop.  This is the result of several years of contemplation and contrary thinking that has cost comfort and security, I hope, to a good end: to see just how self-sustaining an individual can be.

To this end I would like to invite anyone interested to visit two new sites that will be up and running this fall.  First, I will have a podcast called “The Philosophy of Gardening” and at some point and time a youtube channel called Trollcastle Works.  These endeavors will simply be a video/audio blog of ongoings around the property that will include forestry work, woodworking and of course gardening.

I hope to have several projects going that include: a small fruit orchard, vegetable garden, furniture making and carpentry, hops and grain fields, and brewing beer.  The podcast and videos, I hope, will be of interest to anyone that might consider self-sustainability as a way of life.

I call this an experiment, because I see 100% self-sustainability as being the speed of light, and the experiment’s goal itself being to see how close to this ideal that I can get.  There will be failures and there will be accomplishments, and I hope to share both.

The reason for this experiment is, of course, personal, but it stems from a belief that self-sustainability for individuals and families is the only moral option.  What better way to test this belief than putting it in practice!

I hope that some of you consider following me on this adventure!

The Foundation of Life

soil

Soil is the foundation of life, and so in my quest for self-sustainability I have chosen to start at that foundational point this year. On my quest to be self-sustaining, this year started with building my own seed starting soil. With $8 worth of vermiculite I have about three wheelbarrows full of starter soil, and the vermiculite was optional. I think a little sand would have done the trick. Nevertheless, the path is clear.

Self-sustainability is becoming more and more important as the industrial agriculture machine slowly chews up its gears and we are left with fewer and fewer moral options. But why stop at not buying industrial food products? This is just a beginning, and a beginning that ironically ends at the very soil that all of our food eventually comes from.

I started with well composted manure, grass and food scraps collected all last year and turned regularly until winter set in. Before putting the soil in my homemade boxes, I ran it through the chipper/shredder. This fluffed up the soil and chewed up some of the bigger chunks. I then filtered it through my homemade soil colander (four 4×4’s with ¼ wire stapled to the bottom) into a wheelbarrow and added vermiculite.

I have started my leek, onion, cabbage, and peppers in this mix and have watered (so far) about four times with no sign of compaction. I have yet to see if my little seedlings, after sprouting, like their new home. Tomatoes go in this weekend.

It is difficult to explain the satisfaction of not buying products in order to be self-sustaining. Although I have a long way to go, this new starter soil is a further new beginning on the road to independence.

The Choices We Make

 

choices

When I chose to get a dog from the pound about five years ago, little did I know of the ritual that would soon become my life. Every morning up at 5:30 and after the coffee cup hits the coffee table for the final time, a nudge (toy in mouth) and off we go for our morning walk. In the afternoon after work another walk, work in the woodshop or in the garden, and some playing in the yard until it is time to eat. Then, off to the favorite bed she goes watching the house from her favorite perch.

The choice to get a dog from the pound has obvious implications. My life has changed, but so has hers. I made a choice, and that choice has brought me as well as my dog a great deal of happiness. These are the choices we make, and we continually make. Other choices that we make do not always have obvious implications.

When I choose to go to the grocery store (the walk of shame as I call it), or to buy something at the local hardware store the choices we make there also have implications. However, those implications are not always as clear as bringing a dog into your life. There are animals that pay a high price for the choices we make. We make choices for many reasons, but those reasons should always be clear to us as well as the consequences of the choices we make.

An easy choice is not always the right choice, and those choices that we deem as difficult should not always be difficult. We can choose to do the right thing, but to simply do the right thing takes time, it is a habit that we must acquire. I believe that most of us know what the right choice is but are often tempted by the easy and swayed by the convenient. Our choices become others and not our own.

Perhaps it’s time to take our choices back, but this too is a choice; at least for now.

Freedom of Food

canned food

When I first began finding the joys and understanding the necessity of growing my own food, I hurriedly began finding the necessity and understanding the joys of canning my own food. After all, what good is a garden if what it produces goes to waste.

Canning is pretty straight-forward and does not rely upon refrigeration. The basic principles are the same no matter what you can, but I really enjoy canning tomatoes, red cabbage, and beets. It’s a nice feeling to open the cupboards of your kitchen and look over the summer’s work. Also, it’s a great thing to look forward to all the freshly canned food that you will have when you are working on those hot, summer days in the garden.

So, get your canning on!

  1. Grow your own food without pesticides or artificial fertilizer.
  2. Pick, eat what you want, and save the rest.
  3. When ready, get some heat-resistant bottles for canning
  4. Boil the lids and bottles for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Prepare the food to be canned.
  6. Always, always make sure everything is clean, clean, clean.
  7. After canning the veggies, boil the newly bottled veggies for about 10 more minutes.
  8. Take the canned food out and listen for the wonderful  “pop” of the lid.
  9. Try different recipes, or just can some veggies.
  10. Mark the tops with the date including the year.

There are some important things to be aware of. First, some of your canning endeavors will fail. This is called compost in the canning world. Secondly, some of your recipes will not taste as good as you’d like. You have two options: compost or creativity. Mix some of these with other foods and sometimes you’ll be surprised.

I have read that growing your own food and putting it up is the ultimate revolutionary act and have found through the years found this to be true. So, if you want to taste true freedom, true self-sustainability, and experience what I would equate with being human, grow and can your own food!

It’s an amazing sense of freedom and the food, well, it tastes great!

Perma-mess

perma mess

This year I tried a permaculture approach to the garden. I have hops, viola, and tomatillos vying for space in a single bed while across the boardwalk, there’s squash and red cabbage throwing around with tomatoes and potatoes. Walk a way down and I find asparagus poking through the long tendrils of the leek bedded down for winter. I look over the garden from the asparagus and notice the peppers peering around the eggplants and what’s left of the cauliflower. One bed has a few kale plants readying themselves for winter; the rest of the bed being laid fallow, compost and manure being soaked in by the soil and the worms wiggling around in it.

The garden is unorganized, unplanned and well, messy looking. But a walk through it and I find that the plants are thriving, healthy, and somewhat natural looking in their environment. However, this is not the English garden that so many have in mind. Recently, I’ve been reading about permaculture and the idea that we should learn from nature. I’ve found much of permaculture is permeated with types of new age thinking, but this is not the permaculture that I recognize.

There is nothing new about permaculture. In fact, it is as old as the earth itself. Permanent agriculture, the full name, refers to a train of thought that is Zen like in its simplicity, but takes the patience of a saint and the wherewithal to understand that such agriculture is not measured by profit or product, but by quality and produce. It may be that this way of thinking is not profitable. But, it is sustainable, which in this day and age we are finding to be more and more necessary.

One thing that I must come to be accustomed to is the aesthetic of permanent agriculture. First, I learn that I must relinquish control. Secondly, I must learn that such agriculture is time-intensive and in a time when attention spams are measured in minutes, permaculture can seem very unappealing. Lastly, I am learning to take chances and to trust what I have put into motion. Put in and step back is my new motto.

The consequences are messy and disorganized. However, at this late date in the season I’ve found a certain beauty and even pride in the necessity of stepping over vines and cabbage leaves to get to the tomatoes buried among the basil and asparagus. Time, I think, is something that we have available to us, but to take the time often messes up our lives. We have come to like efficiency and modern cleanliness. Permaculture is not that efficient and is certainly not appealing to the hard line English gardener. However, the permanence of permaculture is an acquired taste; a taste that given our environmental problems and looming changes is necessary.

So, give up the ghost to a natural and often fun way of gardening: permaculture. I think you’ll find that permanence is a lot more fleeting than you may think!

Permanent Culture

permaculture

We want something permanent and permaculture seems to offer the certainty that we search for. The answer, like so many answers that we find, is difficult to accept and at first glance we often sway away from it. However it has grown patient, being accustomed to our ignorance of it. It waits patiently, knowing we do not have a choice. We ignore it and it sits back down silently awaiting our return; we will return. We must return.

Permaculture does not begin with digging a hole, planting ground cover, planting bushes, fruit trees, and finally large, slow-growing giants. Rather, permaculture starts with an understanding that we can be a part of something greater than ourselves. It is almost religious, but without the reliance upon religious doctrine or dogma. Permaculture relies upon time and our acceptance that it is beyond us and at the same time makes up the core of what we, as agrarians, really are: stewards, renters of the land that we love.

We strive in so many ways to be remembered, to leave a legacy but these ways are bound to fail. Children forget and businesses crumble; blood is thin and love is short lived; people are irresponsible and the greatest of natural places fall to ruin. Permanence comes at a cost and permaculture does not let us forget this fact easily. Plant a tree that you know you will never see come to full fruition; be a part of an ecosystem that is not anthropocentric. Be a part of an infinite system that you somehow love and that cannot love you back. Pay the price to protect the one thing that can protect you.

The permaculture that we work toward now will become the permanent culture that lives after us. Permaculture is progress, but it is progress that stretches beyond the borders of desire, of economy, and even of human imagination. Stretch the limits of abilities and see what happens. Make permaculture permanent in our culture.