Thursday, February 23, 2012

Permaculture and our Hugelkultur Beds

Last Summer I was on vacation and came across a video of Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison speaking about Permaculture and for the next 7 days (and many days since) I have watched, read, and absorbed everything I could about this topic. What is this Permaculture? It's a fairly complex idea that can be stated as simply creating the perfect situation for permanent agriculture, permanent culture. I have heard and read so many things now, but what it boils down to, in my understanding, is

Care of the planet...Care of people...Distribution of abundance.

I don't have a soapbox. I have a 50x100 ft lot in the middle of one of the biggest cities in New England, and I believe that we can supply at the very least all of the vegetables, fruits and nuts that our family needs. If they allowed chickens and goats...we would have all the protein and milk too.  I do think it is crucial that each of us thinks about where our food, clothing, etc. comes from and what it is costing other people, nature and our resources for us to have these things. I don't think it means giving up anything, but just being aware and grateful for the many gifts that this world gives us.

Two things that are always in the forefront of my mind: Plants want to grow. It's what they do! And all they need is the perfect environment to do so...and Nothing we do is failure, it's all a learning experiment and we just try until we find what works.

Our experiment this week:  Hugelkultur Beds. Sepp Holzer is one of the leaders in practicing this method. He has a few great books and some videos on-line.

It has been such a mild February that we were able to dig and prepare one of the beds this past weekend. We have a bunch of stumps from various removals of trees on our property....stumps and sticks not useful for the wood stove and that have already started to decompose. So we decided to use this resource to raise a few smaller beds.

The first step is to dig the up the sod and put it aside.

Our less than marvelous "lawn" becomes useful!

Once the sod was up, we replaced the bed frame.
The frame isn't necessary, it is just part of the design we have chosen.

After digging out some soil, we placed the rotting logs in the hole. 

Then we filled in and left the sides of the bed free from logs.

Next we turned the sod upside down over the logs.
This, along with the logs will retain the moisture during the hot months.
The goal of Hugelkultur is to not have to water these beds.

We soaked the entire bed with water.

Then we replaced the soil that we dug out of the hole.

Covered the bed with a thick layer of bark and mulch.

Watered it all down again and left it to do it's magic.

The purpose of the Hugelkultur bed, in my understanding is to hold the moisture in the logs and sod and help restore the soil to a natural state. It also takes many years to break down and gives these seemingly useless pieces of rotting wood and "yard waste" a purpose.

The plan is to plant shallow rooting plants - such as lettuce and beans in this and the other two beds - so  there is a food also grown here and the soil and mulch will be held in place as well as aiding in the growth and watering of the plants.

This is all an experiment, but the very next day I saw birds  in this bed picking out bugs and the mulch is holding the soil in place. It is creating/restoring an ecosystem.  It is restoring a natural process that we have changed by clearing out our land of what we consider waste, but what is actually the necessary ingredients for the next year of growth.

There are two more beds to be dug, and with the way this "Winter" is going - at least one should be finished this weekend.  

Plants want to grow - all we need to do is provide the environment for growth! Observing nature around us - I see that all that is needed is right before me.  

In my mind I see these ideas and imagine that all the world was once a garden of Eden. There was food everywhere and nothing was lacking. I believe if we all do just a little, we can reverse this culture of consumption and have a better quality and more sustainable choice of food, clothing and life. Just on a small scale, where we are, we can all make a difference for our own lives...even just a small change in a new direction.

Life, after all is all an experiment! Try something new :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Don't Worry.

During our walks in the neighborhood around Highland Street, over the past few years, we often stop for lunch at the Boynton and more recently, dessert at WooBerry. For many years, when the weather was nice, we would continue our walk and visit Elm Park to hang around for awhile and hope to catch a glimpse of the ever present Blue Heron. I have visited and played in this park since I was very small and it has a magical quality for me.

On one afternoon, we sat down and shared a bench with a man named Spiro. He introduced himself, he lived in the neighborhood and had for many years. He was almost 90! He had a lot to say about life and at first I wasn't listening. He would always tell similar stories, but each time we spoke, he would have something to share that was a little different. I started to listen.

What I learned from Spiro is that you should have a home and pay it off as soon as you can. You have to be willing to work hard - he told of us his different jobs he worked. Full time, and in addition he did work in  the Greek community during a time when very little music and not a lot of literature was available, he had a radio show and played Greek music. He was always dressed and went to church. He believed in being generous and that if you weren't - even what you had would be taken from you and given to someone who would appreciate it.

As time went on - we would stop and look for Spiro in the park and sit and talk. The most important thing I learned from him - was what he always said "Don't worry". Life is too good to worry.

I opened the newspaper this weekend and saw that Spiro had died. There was a large obituary detailing the stories he had told to us over all of our Summer talks. I didn't feel sad to see the obituary, but rather, I am so grateful to have had a chance to meet him.

My biggest concern for our society is our lack of connection. I think we are starving for it and filling that need with a constant connection electronically, but eating and consuming and never feeling many other things that will not replace our need as human beings to belong to each other. It isn't a weakness to need someone - or to be needed. I needed to know Spiro.

I have collected a few people in my travels in life that are vital to me. They show up at different times for awhile and  I am better off.  I hope that they are also left feeling better about life.

I love this crazy city, and all of the ways it is trying to be beautiful and unique - just like the people who live here. Just like the people that live in every city in every country. We have to put down our phones and shut off our computers and televisions and realize that what we need is each other. Whoever that other is - we need to find that out and build the community that has been lost. Please, take a walk and meet your neighbors and participate in the city you live in!

I won't see Spiro again on the park bench, but I will remember him every time I walk past it. He is part of me now.  He's part of all of us.

Don't worry...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dragonflies and Fireflies

Our little lot doesn’t seem so small when I think of all that will grow here and I realize that I must be in good company with all other gardeners that work hard during the year and wait patiently through Winter for the next season.  So much of gardening is just thinking and planning.

Standing in this yard for hours, I envision the future…

 As if they were already grown, I can see the apple, pear, and paw paw trees – grown and green and full of fruit. I see the ancient posts of the clothesline as the support it will be for Concord Grapes and Hardy Kiwi vines just over the dry riverbed.

Planters will hold mints and other plants that may need some control or special care, and I can smell and taste the fresh mint in a tall, cold Mojito with Indian Rum, and the jelly and jam that will be made.

The current raised garden beds will be full of lettuce, tomatoes and peppers, and more. The herb spiral will be built on the side of the house and the front yard will bloom with 200 bulbs yet waiting underground for warmer weather. A few have shown a little green with this mild Winter, but they are waiting, as I am, in anticipation for the coming Spring.

There are Jerusalem Artichokes in a bed where they cannot spread and take over – will they really be small sunflower-like flowers that smell like chocolate? We’ll see. It’s all an experiment.  A neighbor has a fig cutting for us, from his gigantic fig tree. The tree doesn’t know it isn’t supposed to grow here.

A good lesson to learn: With a little care, impossible things are possible…

What I have observed is that I am a different person in a garden than I am in an office. There are no pretenses and no airs…just hands in the dirt and plants that want to grow.  With dirt as the only makeup on my face and hands that grow stronger every day, I am closer to the girl who made mud pies, chased dragonflies by day and fireflies by night. The one who believes in the good in the world and that magic still exists.

I prefer to be her.

If I could find a way to keep this understanding throughout the whole of my day, I would consider it all a success.

Simple. Beautiful. Purposeful. Fun. Giving. Abundance.