Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday, Sunday

I woke up this morning to the sound of Rob building a fire in the wood stove and soon after, the smell of Maple and Oak burning. There is nostalgia in the smell of burning wood. It reminds me of the years of Girl Scout camp and 4-H adventures, camping with family, camping our way across the US with the youth group/singing group I belonged to in high school. And now, it is how we primarily heat and cook. There is also a basic instinctive security in knowing that we can be warm and cook and provide those things with our own hands.

I felt the pull toward the computer, on-line news, social networks, email, etc. and decided that today I was going to spend the day the way I would have before all of those things became so entrenched in my life. 

Beginning with breakfast: I cooked Swedish Pancakes  and ate them with a little grape jelly and some fruit. I am planning that next year I will be making my own jelly with the Concord Grapes that will be growing in the garden. After breakfast, I cleaned up and sat down to read Countryside Magazine. I have been reading it for years and for each year that passes, the articles and suggestions have become more relevant to changes we have been making in our home and garden.

This is the pace of the day – do a project and then rest. The balance of this approach makes it possible to get so much done without physical strain and stress. It also allows for the flexibility to change the “plan” mid course if something more interesting or useful presents itself. There are some “have to” things that need to get done today, such as eating, showering, laundry, gathering kindling, etc., but all of the rest is flexible and allows for creativity and inspiration, should it appear in the course of our work.  It also allows time to rest and enjoy the things we have completed. 

So I start the laundry, and take a shower and get ready to go on a hike. We did our Ranger walk through of some of Crow Hill – the area that was burned is evident, but already starting to green with new plants. We worked on clearing out some Oak, gathering kindling and some wood for fires for the next few days. Crow Hill is part of a conservation land – with the Greater Worcester Land Trust – and we asked and have permission to clear the trails and remove firewood (only Oak because of the Asian Longhorn Beetle). Our work to clear the trails and remove the wood, especially in such a dry Spring, helps to prevent more fires. I used two old belts to bundle up kindling and carried it back to the house. Rob carried two larger branches to cut up into firewood. It feels good to work in this way! There are blueberries growing everywhere as a result of the burning. I am looking forward to foraging in a few weeks. It makes me so happy to be in the woods .

We returned home with our gatherings and had some lunch and relaxed. 

The next task was to build the 4x8 bed that will hold Sunflowers, Corn and Squash.  We didn’t dig this one – but instead built it up with soil, cow manure and vermiculite. Once it was finished, we covered it with straw and it waits for us to plant.  We also did the daily watering from the rain barrel and looked over the plants that are growing, did a little grass mowing and trimmed the grass around the flower beds.

Measuring out the Area

Supplies - Hay, soil, cow manure, bed frames

Added Cardboard to kill grass/weeds below.

Added Hay

Soil over the hay, and vermiculite

Added cow manure and the rest of the soil

Completed Bed - Waiting for planting of Corn and Sunflowers

The day was super productive and fun! 
When it is paced in such a way, so much can be finished, 
as well as enjoyed.  

The day ended after dinner with a glass of wine and looking over what was completed. 
It is so important to work and then enjoy what you have labored for.

There are signs all over the garden of growth - the fruit trees are budding and getting leaves,
almost all of the herb seeds are sprouting in the herb spiral and soon more of the perennial plants will arrive and we will be finding homes for them.

I find myself often standing in the window - looking out over the backyard and
imagining what it will be like when the trees grown in and the vegetables grow.

What an incredible life to live...

Indoor Fruit Trees

We have six fruit trees that we are growing indoors....Tangerine, Orange, Lime, Lemon, Olive, Banana.  This is an experiment to see if it is possible to grow these and have them produce, it is so beautiful to have so much green right in the living room!


Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I would spend the entire day sitting and watching things grow
nature does the most amazing magic - flowers appear overnight and seeds germinate in days
and all we can do, really, is promise not to miss it or take it for granted.

The Chive, Marigolds and Blue Poppy seeds are pushing through the soil, 
the peas are growing like crazy and the Clover is sprouting in rings around the fruit trees - 
which are already showing signs of green. 

Like every year since we moved in, the violets take over every space they can. 
They just volunteer to be here and line the driveway and fences and 
pop up randomly in the yard.

In what seems like minutes - all of this happens, and I am changed.
Every time I go away and forget, and then come back and am amazed again. 
If only I could call these miracles to mind when I am in difficult situations, 
so I can hold to my promise...

this is my life's work.

Monday, April 16, 2012

To make a deep mental path....

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, 
so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. 
To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. 
To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over 
the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."

It's 85 degrees outside and this taste of Summer is intoxicating. It's what I needed to spur on the personal projects I have been thinking about. The garden is always there with its list of things that need to be done - at least for this first year or so, but after that, it won't require as much structural what will I spend my time on then? I cannot put aside life to become identified with the garden, I am gardening to become more in touch with this life. This is so much more for me than planting a garden. It is a process of discovering what I value, what my beliefs are, what inspires me, who is on this journey with me in a positive way, and who is not. It's about investing my efforts where I work - to the end of being able to be at home more and enjoy this space that is being created in me and around me.

At any given moment - when inspiration hits - I have a few projects that I am working on. Guitar lessons, writing songs, making jewelry, downsizing and de-cluttering my home (and myself), continuing to develop the story I am writing, the garden plans, cooking and being creative with the wood cookstove, and this blog to document the trip.

I have some short term projects - putting together a 6 x 3 freestanding greenhouse to start seeds. Sawing up the remainder of sticks into kindling sized pieces to dry out - weeding out clothes, etc. to bring to consignment, etc. etc.

What has changed is my approach. I work on something, take a rest, move to something else, take a rest. Resting involves music, gaming, writing, sitting outside in the garden, spending time with family and friends. This pace allows me enough time to get to everything that *needs* to be done (clean clothes, dishes, and so on) and it allows enough time to get to the *wants* (spending time with people, different projects, etc.) but the resting also creates this space that has become miraculous for me. Space enough to just be and I find that when there is room in my day to sit and be still  - the ideas come fast and furious - such as outlining a complete story - designing a front garden - figuring a creative way to spend time with family and friends - or something as simple as an answer to "what are we going to do with that pile of logs near the fence?".

The logs became something useful - a garden border to keep the dog out (at least until things grow in) and a place where we (and others) can sit and rest - as well as defining the area where we generally work on wood, chopping, kindling, mulching, etc.

Log pile near the fence and mulch pile in the driveway.
All that is left of the Catalpa and Mulberry that we took down...

The log border (seats) and mulched path 

Mulched path (cardboard and straw) and the beds of peas.
Bark paths between the beds and the herb spiral.
There is also this realization - this craving of community that exists inside of me, and of everyone, I would imagine. We are so disconnected in this world and lonely in large groups of people who are in constant contact with us through technology. I imagine that we all need each other in a greater way than we even realize. It brings me great joy to know that there are people who understand the happiness of putting your hands in the soil and waiting until that first green appears, or that moment when the perfect phrase in a song or story comes together or the moment when you see your child or family member succeed or overcome in life. The benefit of technology is that we have access to people we may not have ever met in the past and the whole world has the potential to become part of our personal community. We also have the opportunity in a greater way to share ideas and long as we remember to share our personal stories and make connections that are real.  I am finding that my physical neighbors have so much to teach me - about life - about myself.  It seems there is always something to I am grateful for each of the people who have been part of my life, for however long,  and make it such a rich and amazing story...

I love the view from my changes every day!

A tale of two Potato beds...

The seed potatoes arrived and we decided to try two different methods of growing.

last october we put down newspaper, cardboard and straw to prepare the bed.

the newspaper and cardboard were broken down over the Winter

we added topsoil over the newspaper/cardboard mush

5 lbs of potatoes from Johnny's Selected Seeds
The first method is to move aside the mulch and add soil.  Plant 12 inches apart and cover with soil and straw mulch. We were working around stumps and roots of the trees that were removed. They should feed the garden as they break down.

planted 12 inches apart

covered with soil and replaced the straw - added extra straw
and watered in

bed as it was

Seed potatoes - same 12 inches apart and covered with thick layer of mulch.

Around the potato beds, I planted African Marigolds from Seeds of Change.  They are tall bushy Marigolds that grow 3-4 ft. high and are great at attracting insects that are beneficial as well as distracting harmful pests from plants they would damage.

The second method is to just place the seed potatoes on the newspaper/ cardboard straw and cover with another thick layer of mulch.  So we have the two types of beds and an experiment to see which will grow first - if there is any difference between the two, etc. 
 One thing I have already observed is that the thick layer of mulch does retain a lot of moisture and will provide what the potatoes need to grow. 

Next the sweet potatoes should be arriving!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

We don't grow food

We did dig the hole, and build the Hugekultur bed, and put the peas into the ground...but we did not grow the plants.  I think this is one of the most important things about Permaculture and the thinking around restoring the will grow, and we have to understand our place in this. We aren't supposed to mono crop fields, strip the already deficient soil of nutrients and replace them with chemicals. Plants already want to grow and just need the right set of conditions to do so. It does take some work in the beginning, but plants want to grow, and we want to eat. It is really a very simple equation that gets way too complicated.

Peas planted in March - frost resistant and restore nitrogen to the soil for the
lettuces that will grow in this bed in a few weeks.
We planted four different types of peas - four different beds. Two Hugelkultur and two regular raised beds. All mulched with straw or bark mulch and they are all growing just fine with frosts and not much rain. We water them when we need to and it's good to know that their little roots are restoring the nitrogen in the soil. Again, we don't know where this will lead - or what will happen over the next few weeks, but as long as the soil is ready for the kitchen garden (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, etc) that is all we need. We could just add nitrogen to the soil, but isn't this way is much more interesting? Letting the plants do what they are meant to do...

Planted Herb Spiral

On Tuesday I took a day off and planted the herb spiral with a variety of herbs and flowers. It is in the center of the kitchen garden beds to attract predators and beneficial insects, and I think it looks beautiful. The greater the variety of plants in an area, the more confused pests will be and the plants are less likely to be damaged.

Herb Spiral with a Hardy Mum on the top - this will be replaced with a planter of Peppermint for tea. Each of the white labels indicates a different herb or flower.
Planted: (from the lowest point and circling around) Chive, Lemon Balm, Marjoram, Cilantro, Chamomile Dill, Marigolds, Parsley, Thyme, Thai Basil, Basil, Sage, edible Nasturtium and Echinacea are planted at the 3 corners.  Peppermint will be the top planter and I am still deciding on a water container for the beginning of the spiral.

I also have several medicinal herbs and lavender to plant - but haven't decided where yet.

Our garden has many different purposes and right now we are focused on restoring the soil and creating the levels needed to sustain the ecosystem in our yard and provide a complete circle of growth,  compost/replenish the soil,  regrowth. If the conditions for growth are in place, plants will grow.  The beds will be annual vegetables and will need to be planted each year, but the bulk of the other fruit and nut trees, and plants that are arriving in May will be perennial. Once they are planted, and the plants that support them (green mulch) are growing, they will need only to be watched for pests and for pruning if they grow too quickly (only because of the size of our yard).  One of the other purposes of the garden is to have a natural place to sit and enjoy, so in each vegetable bed and around trees we have planted flowers and nitrogen fixing plants that will feed the trees and produce flowers and green mulch, as well as shading the ground and capturing moisture and keeping it close to the trees, vines, etc. Also - they will fill in the spaces with color and be beautiful. I have several pieces of decoration that I will be putting out into the garden for people to find and enjoy. Some I bought, some are gifts. These little touches are what makes it fun and whimsical.

The side effect of restoring the soil and creating an ecosystem and completing a full circle of the cycle of plant growth, is food. One of the things we have to accept with these projects is that the food may not happen this year. All of this is an experiment, so we focus on the soil and the correct conditions and pay attention to things, hoping that the food will follow at the end of the Summer, but this is truly a journey experience and not just for the food. 

One of the things we observed today is that it is very dry here right now and the insects and birds are looking for water. We watered the beds early and put water in a small cast iron bird bath. Right away, the fuzzy bumblebees were in the straw - getting out of the sun and getting the moisture, the hornets and other insects were landing on the straw and getting moisture.  The lack of rain will be one of the greatest challenges if it continues on this way.  
We have mulched and prepared as much as we can - we just need a rain to fill the rain barrel again. We will be getting two more rain barrels so we can gather rain for dry and hot times during the summer.  We do all of our watering by hand with watering cans. It is relaxing and keeps us in touch with each of the plants we are growing. 

The bulb flowers continue to grow and bloom in the front garden.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fruit Trees!

Some of our fruit trees arrived from Stark Bro's last week.
Here is the process we used to dig through the cement-like sod and plant them. And by we - I mean...I helped with two of the apple trees and then I was done. I was fairly pleased to help with that much. Rob finished the digging and planting which took 5 hours in the dark and somewhat rainy night to complete.
Soaking the pear trees for an hour before planting
Soaking Apple trees
Garden soil to bulk up the roots once the holes were dug.

Digging around the hole where the tree will be planted.

 The area around the trees was cleared of sod and prepared to plant Nasturtium, vetch, clover, perennial Lupine around the trees to feed and shelter them and then they were mulched to keep the water we do get in one place and to help them grow.


buried and watered in

Dwarf Pear is furthest away and then two apples.

After the trees were watered in, then more tree soil and mulch we have been "making" by our work in the yard was added on top of the mound.  A ditch was also added around it to hold the moisture and prevent grass from coming back into the circle. 

Two more Apples and a dwarf pear in the far distance near the house.

All of the pear trees are dwarf (8-12ft) 
and the apples are semi-dwarf (10-15ft)

They are all from Stark Bros :
Moonglow Pear - Dwarf
Stark Honeysweet Pear - Dwarf
Staring Delicious Pear - Dwarf

Starkspur Golden Delicious Apple - Semi-Dwarf Supreme
Starkrimson Red Delicious Apple - Semi-Dwarf Supreme
Starkspur Arkansas Black Apple - Semi-Dwarf Supreme
Starkspur Red Rome Beauty Apple - Semi-Dwarf Supreme

Next: Blueberries, an Almond tree, potatoes and planting seeds in the Herb Spiral. It's all an experiment and this is the busiest time we will have for planting and preparing and setting up the foundation.

Fun stuff! =)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


One of the most beautiful gifts I received is this blanket that my Mom made for me. This is the quality of skill I would like to have someday in my life. So beautiful! I will always treasure it. 

Queen Size Afghan - Made by my Mom :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Herb Spiral

Yesterday it was finally time. The pieces and parts of things came together and the time was right to convert one of our raised beds into an herb spiral.

An herb spiral is basically a round herb garden with the height to give more growing area. Plants that love the sun are planted on the south side, and plants needing shade are planted on the north side. Those needing less water - near the top and those needing the most at the bottom. Also, a main reason for the herb spiral is to have a space near to the house that is easily accessible to pick herbs.

I will be adding some sort of water pool at the bottom for water plants and critters and creatures that are thirsty.

We started out with the bed and removed the framing to reuse on another raised bed.

Raised bed in the center will be the herb spiral

With the frame removed.

We dug a hole in the center to put a log in to stabilize the middle. Also, my thinking is that it will take many years for the log to break down and will give the warmth and nutrients to the herb garden.

Hole dug out of the middle

Log in place.

And then we started to use the cedar edging to form the spiral...taking off the corners and creating a gradual raised path around the log...

The beginning of the spiral.
Finishing the spiral.
View from the other side.

So now this combination Hugelkultur/Herb Spiral/Raised bed awaits planting at the end of April and beginning of May. We have 20 or so different herbs, both culinary and medicinal to plant. Also, the 4 corners that were eliminated will become 3 flower patches and a small water pond. There is still much to do, and having the foundation of spiral done brings us a little closer to getting the seeds in the ground and seeing what this experiment brings.

Birthday Month & Twisted Trees

March is the month of our birthdays. I am always a big fan of consumables like chocolate and alcohol, but this year, we both wanted something different.  

Renee is one of my co-workers who has an incredibly talented husband. His business is making walking sticks out of found wood. I wanted so much to get one for Rob for his birthday, and when I saw the variety to choose from, I knew I had to have one too!

Our new Walking Sticks

The one on the left is Rob's - there is a face in the knots near the top that is really cool. The one on the right is mine.  I really liked the way the vine wound around it - it reminded me of a druid staff I had once in game I played...

The most important thing is that these are super practical with the hiking that we will be doing this summer with the ranger work and reporting. And they are beautiful!

If you want one for yourself - here is the information....

The Man with the Twisted Trees

The surprise for my birthday came in the form of new garden tools that I really love. The quality of the Hori Hori (the dagger looking digging/cutting tool) and the Hand Saw make them beautiful and super easy to use.    

Japanese Hori Hori, Felco Hand Saw and Felco Pruners

Today I had a chance to test out the hand saw - cutting kindling from branches that we have gathered and need to clear out (and use)to make room for the next round of collecting wood.

Our gifts have become so much more practical and useful and the quality is very important. I have tested all three of the tools out that I got and they are amazing. I expect they will last a long time and help with many projects.

As always, we were spoiled by our kids with gifts of our favorite drink and gift card to our favorite coffee place/bookstore. 

Spring is here, and the flowers are blooming. Work is also here, in abundance.  The fruit trees arrive soon, and the herb spiral is built and waiting for herbs to be planted. With each project, we move steadily along to the next...

Stronger for the work and happier in the doing of it.