It’s been wonderful seeing the fruit trees and berry bushes come back to life. They have so much more vigor this 2nd year compared to the 1st year when they were dealing with transplant shock. There are even a few plants I thought died last summer that are setting out new leaves.
I’ve been doing some serious sheet-mulching around all the perennials I planted last year. I’ve laid out about 5 cubic yards of compost I get from the composting operation the city runs in Columbia using people’s yard waste. I’ve been putting it on about 4″ thick, and it I’ve made about 500 sq. ft. of raised beds with it.
I planted bird’s foot trefoil on most of it, which is a nitrogen-fixing ground cover. Tick trefoil, another kind of trefoil, grows here natively but gets to be a couple of feet high and makes these burrs that stick to clothes and fur. The bird’s foot only gets to be a few inches high and makes a really beautiful yellow flower the bees love.
Dr. Greenthumb or: How I Stopped Weeding and Learned to Love the Plants
In all the paths I’ve thrown down some dutch white clover seed, which is a really low-growing clover, and like all kinds of clover it fixes nitrogen. There’s a ton of wild mustard, some kind of parsley, and a kind of deep-rooted plant I haven’t identified yet, growing in all the beds and paths. I’m in the process of re-wiring my brain not to see them as weeds. I’ve been pulling some of them out and throwing them in the compost pile, but to make it seem less like weeding, now I think about it as harvesting nitrogen.
For instance, wild mustard has edible leaves, makes a small flower that looks and tastes exactly like broccoli, and it does without me even having to do anything. But the thing I’m most excited about, which I recently learned is that it’s a trap crop for flea beetles. A trap crop is a plant that a pest prefers to the one you’re trying to grow. Last year the flea beetles shredded my radishes, turnips, eggplants, and did quite a bit of damage to my potatoes. After I thought about it some more, I think there were already flea beetles here before, I just sheet-mulched on top of their previous food source.
The flea beetles really liked my turnips too, which was fine with me since I really don’t like turnips. I didn’t even harvest several softball sized turnips last year and they were starting to grow again (turnips are biennial). They’d gotten woody and weren’t good for eating, but rather than composting them I just replanted them near where I’ll be planting my potatoes this year so they’ll act as another kind of trap crop.
I’ve also planted comfrey roots around a lot of the major fruit trees and berry bushes. They put down deep roots and pull up a lot of subsoil nutrients, and then I’ll come by maybe 3 times a year and chop all the leaves and spread them around the base of the plants I want to fertilize. It’s basically like growing your own fertilizer.
Since I plan on making beer for awhile longer I’ve put in a raised bed for hops. Hops are a vine and can grow a foot a week. They need a really big trellis, and in one of the books I have it says to put in a 13′ cedar pole and put string coming down like a tent around it that the hops will grow up. So, what I did is just cut the tops and some of the branches off of a couple of living cedar trees. I’d already cut the lower branches flush or I would have left stubs on them as well.
Cedars don’t coppice so these should die now and be resurrected as hop trees. I think I can train them to grow up the fence and then into the structure of the cedars. It might be kind of a pain to harvest, but it’s worth a try, and if I have to I’ll just cut the rest of the branches flush and use string.
I’ve done my first real pruning after reading up on it in a couple of my books. In some ways it’s kind of painful to cut off any of the precious growth. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t a huge loss, because it still has a lot of stored energy that it’ll now go where I want. I’m just telling that grape vine, “hey, look there’s this awesome fence for you to grow on over here.”
I pruned back the large wild russian olives that border the eastern side of the garden. They’re not really olives, but they do make a small edible fruit that birds like so they’ll act as a trap crop for my berries. They also fix nitrogen, but nitrogen fixers don’t share much of the nitrogen they store until the roots die back. Basically, when you prune the top of a plant, it automatically prunes it’s roots. With a nitrogen fixer that means I’ve just freed up the nitrogen nodules on its roots for other plants to use, such as my grapes, and in essence I’ve fertilized them.
Permaculture Design Certification
I started expanding the garden before I left for the permaculture design certification course I took in Wisconsin last week. I already knew a lot about permaculture before taking the class and had a good idea of what I was going to do in the garden already, but I’m looking at things slightly differently now. Things are starting to click faster, and I’m seeing more of the relationships between things. It was really kind of the perfect time to take the class because I get to come home and immediately put it into action while it’s fresh in my mind. I also just generally feel energized from all the great ideas and people I met in the class. I hope some of them are reading this and come visit when they get a chance.
My plans for the immediate future are to build a dog house for Kita, my new dog. She’s 8 weeks old now and can leave her mom, so I need to a place for her to live. She’s half belgian malinois and half carolina dog, both of which are herding dogs so she should be a smart one. I got the pick of the litter and she seems to be the most friendly and intelligent one of the group, at least when I’m around. There are still some puppies that need a good home, so if you’re interested e-mail me.
Her main job is going to be guarding the garden as well as the house and livestock(currently just the guineas and chicken). I’ve been reading dog training books and looking into classes.
I’m designing the dog house based on the dimensions of her parents and taking into account she’s a she. I’m going to make the place out of pallets that I’ll stuff with alpaca fiber and wrap in billboard vinyl. I’m even going to insulate the roof. The door will be angled towards the south west so it’ll catch the cool summer breezes, as well as have a good line of site directly to the garden entrance and driveway. The house will also get shaded by the hops trellis in the summer and have good sun in the winter when the hops dies. I’m also considering putting a straw bale compost bin to the north west of the dog house to block the cold winter winds. The house will have a shed roof slanted to deflect those cold winds as well as have a gutter attached that’ll fill up a watering bowl. Does she have a smart alpha dog or what? 🙂
I’m going to try to dumpster dive most of her food, but I also just got a book that shows recipes on how to make an all vegetable feed that provides the right mixture of proteins, nutrients, etc so that I can actually grow her own food rather than raising animals to feed her. If she wants meat I expect her to eat rabbits, mice, gophers, etc. The person who wrote the vegetarian cat and dog food book had a border collie that lived to be 27 years old, that’s 189 in dog years! It was almost a new record, but I have to believe that no dog would live to be that old if it didn’t like the taste of its food.
This is my favorite time of year, when no one’s around yet and I can just wander around observing, thinking, and planning the projects for the year. I’m starting to zero in on how and where to build the summer cabins, and I’m settling on a plan for the cistern at the house. The vision for the garden is coming into focus, and I’ve got spots for the shed/greenhouse and ponds picked to maximize their relationships to the other elements. I’ve got a plan for a small root cellar made out of a 55 gallon drum, there’s a half-built top-bar beehive that needs to be setup, and there’re probably a hundred other projects to work on.
I hope to have at least a couple summer apprentices, which I’ll put to work on any and all of those tasks. I don’t like the word ‘intern’ or ‘work exchanger’. ‘Apprentice‘ says it better, even though I’m no master craftsman. Besides, putting an apprenticeship on your resume sounds way better than an internship or work exchange.
I am starting to acquire quite a bit of useful knowledge and wisdom I can share, and there’s plenty to learn for everyone involved. These aren’t paid positions, although I will provide room and board. I have guest tents on covered platforms with mattresses in them. I’ll also provide all the rice, beans, and potatoes you can eat as well as whatever’s ripe in the garden. Throw in a little spice and excitement in the form of dumpster diving excursions, and what more could you need?
For all the short term volunteers I’ll be holding work parties every month, typically on the second Saturday. However, this next month it’ll be on the third Saturday, April 16th, because this will be a garden work party and the average last frost date here is April 15th. There’ll be plenty of planting, sheet-mulching, and weeding(ie nitrogen harvesting) to be done!
On March 29, I’ll be a guest on Evening Addition. It’s a radio program on KOPN, which is a community radio station in Columbia. I’m not sure specifically what we’ll talk about since he deals with a lot of different issues, but it’ll obviously have to do with everything going on out here. I’ll be using it to schlep for interns and volunteers too. You’ll be able to listen to the archived recording here.
On April 22, Maya Creek will have a booth at the Earth Day event in Columbia at Peace Park. We’ll have the soil blocker out for demonstration and have an assortment of beans and seeds for people to plant and take with them. Our table will be on Elm St. right by the entrance to the park.
On July 9, I’ll be giving an hour long class at Fiber U in Lebanon, MO. I’ll be talking about using waste alpaca and llama fiber as insulation and mulch, as well as giving them some permaculture tips on pasture management.