Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Busy busy... fueled by community!!

ShooEEY! Have we been busy settling in! Just in the past 4 days, a LOT has happened. We have moved most of our stuff into the trailer, decorated the interior, rebuilt the bed (it was previously 2 twins—quite the honeymoon suite), built shelves in the closet, battled the trailer “plumbing” system at least 6 different times at all hours of the day and night, 
The pump is not supposed to pump water OUT of the system, this is where you are supposed to connect the hose..but, eventually, when we hooked in to the well water via this input, we had running water.
pruned some very old (and allegedly very productive) highbush blueberries as well as 2 fig trees and a small herb garden, watched Batman Rises (my first Batman experience—awesome!), cut all of our veggies for meals with a pocket-knife, started working part-time in the restaurant (me as dishwasher and pizza-man, Paige as hostess), started and nearly finished cleaning out a greenhouse-turned storage area, cleaning out a workshop-turned storage area  then started and nearly finished reorganizing it into “my” workshop, weeded and forked half a 40’ bed and started planting a some Austrian Winter Pea (more on this process below), and of course with all that one could assume that there was the natural development of a few tussles and so, we also squeezed in several good lessons on partnership and communication.

 While all of that is very exciting, I would have to say that the highlight of the past few days was definitely this morning’s Friends of Agriculture Monthly (free) Breakfast, put on by the Mill Springs Agriculture Center, which is one of the most amazing ag-centric community networking organizations I have ever seen, and it is located only about 2 miles up the road from us in a converted old school building!! Yee haw!!  I tell you, these people in Polk County are the NICEST! The director of the Mill Springs Ag Center, Lynn Sprague, called us up last week, showed up on our trailer doorstep with a smile yesterday, and publicly introduced us to the 70 or so folks there this morning, pointing out many of the old-timers and local specialists that we should know here in the area. We couldn’t feel more connected and supported, and we’ve been here less than a week! 

Each month at the breakfast there is a different speaker or speakers, and this morning’s speakers were a farm owner (Dawn of Restoration Farms) and her resident “homesteader” (Jason) who spoke about the importance of forming those kind of relationships (sound familiar?) especially for beginning farmers as a crucial transitional step toward owning your own land. Given Lynn’s opening introduction and explanation of our new role, and given the fact that our current residence (“the trailer”….we still need a better nickname for it) is visible from the main road, both Dawn and Jason pointed out several times that Paige and I were perfect examples of this movement and commended us for it. We were a little humbled by all this attention, but also appreciated the folks who came up afterward introducing themselves, inviting us to potlucks, taking down our phone numbers.. WE MADE FRIENDS!!!

There was even a very sweet herbalist woman who made a special trip to our place to deliver a Mammoth Sunflower head (for seeds), some great resources that the Ag Center published, as well as some “Polk Fresh” bumper stickers! SO nice! 

Well, we are chomping at the bit to start some of the various seeds that we bought in bulk from Sow True Seeds in Asheville last week: Chiogga Beets, Arugula, Cress, Orach, Lacianato Kale, Kohlrabi, Cabbage, Fingerling potatoes, as well as experimenting with micro-greens production of radish, sunflower, mustard greens, and broccoli, but we HAVE to get the greenhouse cleaned up, replace the plastic on a couple sides, remove the existing raised beds, and replace them with potting benches…that’ll be next week (or maybe this weekend’s agenda). 

Today, when Paige had her fill of cleaning out spaces and relocating my tools for the 100th time, she jumped on my suggestion of hoeing up one of the beds, clearing the clover and Bermuda grass that moved in over the fall and winter. She had recently read that when dealing with an insidious plant such as Bermuda grass, it is best to replant a cover crop immediately after removing the weeds. 
The other day we had bought some Austrian Winter Pea at Fifth Season Gardening in Asheville along with some inoculant (used to increase the Nitrogen-fixing ability of legumes) and so she sowed a fairly dense seeding of those (pre-soaked in the inoculant for about 30 min) with the intentions of selling some of the shoots to the restaurant as a delicious, nutritious salad garnish.  

Prior to spreading the seed, we had used the famed broadfork to aerate the soil. This is an awesome tool, and luckily the one that was here on the farm was the Elliot Coleman approved design with the parabolic tines (as opposed to the straight tines which require a less-ergonomic prying action). We prefer this tool to the tiller, 1. because it uses no petroleum, 2. because it aerates without disturbing too much of the soil strata therefore theoretically still making the nutrients a little bit more available to the plants while giving increased access to the roots, 3. it seems to reduce the chances of bringing weed seeds to the surface (however, it does nothing to uproot or really suppress the rhizome-spreading Bermuda).  It’s all a learning opportunity though. We’ll see how it goes with the broadfork.

The act of sowing! (Trailer, greenhouse, restaurant in background)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

tools of the past, from generation to generation

This past weekend, Paige and I drove up to Pennsylvania to help my family move my Grandma Bubby out of her house and into a new apartment. And, as a bonus, I was permitted to cherry-pick for the taking, all of the marvelous tools left in my late Pap-Pap’s workshop.  It was a moving experience that brought to mind what my teachers Tao Orion and Abel Kloster explained to us as a strong underlying theme of the school of Permaculture, which is, in essence, “looking backward to move forward.”  

The only way we learn is by trying, observing, and adapting. Permaculture draws many of its founding principles from the life ways of indigenous cultures and groups of people who live(d) with the land in such a way that integrates the humans into the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth. In these ways of life, there was usually an unspoken dedication to the long-term preservation, or better yet proliferation, of resources for the sake of future generations. The people belonging to the tribes all over the world that match this description, (and those which existed in this country until the intrusions of Europeans in the 15th Century) did not learn how to follow nature’s patterns, maximize yields, and sustain the richness of life overnight, it was of course a process of looking backward, of trying, observing, and adapting over the course of many, many years. 

As one result of colonialism, imperialism, and many other Eurocentric-isms, we are here today with incredible accessibility to historical information regarding the life ways of these people. Had medieval Christianity prioritized Christ-like compassion over Manifest Destiny, we may have had actual populations of these folks still around today instead of museum exhibits of the black and white photos of their ancestors. Nonetheless, we as gardeners, caretakers, can seek out ethnographies, memoirs, and other documents which reveal the myriad lessons of ecological stewardship that were implicit in these life-ways, and we can do our best to learn passively from the remnants of history, and humbly attempt to see the world the way they saw it, without romanticizing or ignoring the context from which it came. 

 Similarly, we can find lessons in our own ancestry by asking our elders what life was like for them growing up, how they kept their soil fertile, how they made the most of what they had. This is what “appropriate technology” is all about. It was there long before Bill Mollison (the “initiator” of Permaculture) gave it a name, it was resourcefulness, and in many cases, survival tactics. 

The last photo taken of me with Pap-Pap, summer 2011.
This past weekend, the looking backward to move forward came for me in the form of removing the wrenches that have hung on Pap-Pap’s pegboard for as long as I can remember, and packing away the well-organized coffee cans and margarine tubs of precisely labels nails and screws of every size that he had been accumulating since the time my Dad was in middle school. Each item I packed away emanated his spirit and the decades of intentionality, of acquiring, giving, and finding purpose for these things.  Though he was not there in person to pass on his collection, I felt honored to be trusted by my family to continue his legacy, to take up this treasure that others may have put in the scrap metal pile. 

By the time we left Pittsburgh, my little 92 Toyota was packed to the absolute max with tarps, folding aluminum lawn chairs, shovels, picks, iron bars and several of his old wooden boxes filled with a few of your common files, wrenches, and hammers (the screw drivers had all been scavenged by my father’s generation) but the majority of what filled the 5 old and new tool boxes I found were things that you need every once and a while but you always wish you had, specialty tools, soldering irons, glue guns, and plenty of his homemade inventions. He had saved nutpickers, Tic-Tac containers, hunks of lead, popsicle sticks, toothbrushes, bits of garden hose attached to old saw-zall blades and created tools. He had had specific purposes for these items, and use them to fix things that I can’t even imagine. It was great to have my dad there to reminisce and explain how and when Pap-Pap had used many of these self-creations, but there were other things that surly, only he could have explained (e.g. a drawer full of peanut can peel-back tin lids). 

After seeing the sagging truck bed, Paige, I know, was a bit worried about starting my own trend of accumulating, but I defended the duality of utility and heirloom, but she says the former is subjective. But I also know that she is just as excited as me to have Pap Pap’s resourcefulness live on to inspire us as we begin our journey together.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Giardini Gardens Design Process, Part 1

Paige (my love, wife/partner, best friend, fellow gardener) and I are now officially in the beginning stages of the design process for Giardini Gardens, the "farm" part of a farm-to-table restaurant called Giardini Trattoria. Oh, and the best part:  we get to live there, implement the design and hopefully watch it evolve while working with the land for years to come!!! Thank you UNIVERSE!!

The restaurant is in the beautiful Appalachian foothills of Polk County, NC about 45 minutes south from our current home in Asheville. We were offered the garden manager positions about 3 weeks ago and were only side-tracked from jumpstarting the transition by a previously scheduled event, our wedding/ celebration of love /commitment-ceremony on Jan 26! Though we did spend a fair bit of time drooling over seed catalogs, we made sure to prioritize this special day which resulted in an awesome and wonderful happening, indeed!
I had to include at least one shot from the big day!!

This weekend, we packed up all the design manuals, plant books, and various pages of handwritten workshop notes that we could find in our current dwelling of 200 sq ft, and we headed to the library and started making lists.

Since there is much already happening on the Giardini ('garden' in Italian) property, we wanted to first create profiles of independent, already existing elements and infrastructure within the 7 acres. For each element (e.g. greenhouse, pavilion, tool shed) we made detailed lists which covered current and potential functions, required needs and inputs, desired/possible augmentations to the present existence, as well as its relation to various "sectors" such as sun, wind, pollution, noise, and marauding hoards. This is much in line with what we were taught in our Permaculture Design Certificate course, as well as what many great designers and theorists often write about.

Though our relationship with the landowners is still very young, we feel a tremendous sense of support and openness from them, which makes the whole thing so much more exciting from the get-go. It is incredible to feel so valued.We are so grateful to them for this opportunity and are really hoping to reciprocate the blessing by bringing earth-care and biodiversity to this land!

I intend to keep account of this whole process via this blog, but I am simultaneously also setting the goal to keep detailed planting, financial, and operations records, so we will see how it all balances out soon I suppose.

It is so great to finally be given so much creative freedom, and to share this experience with Paige! We have a lot of ideas, perhaps too many for the first year, but we are ready to have all those ideas turned upside down. We feel ready to learn and we feel willing to put forth all of energy in the process.

Considering that it is the beginning of February and beds are not prepped, the greenhouse has ripped plastic on 2 sides, we haven't ordered any new seeds, and we aren't even yet moved into the on-site housing, we are realizing that we may have to make some concessions the first year, and we are still doing our best to try to minimize them, and keep our eyes on long-term gains, rather than short-term. Somewhere between the purists and the corner-cutters, you'll find us... but we'll probably be hanging out with the purists, milking their brains.

We are decidedly not tilling the central ( what we have been referring to as the "heart") garden beds. I think at this point, we will keep about 80-90% of them in annual crop rotation, but we will likely end up preparing them by adding some local horse manure, loosening with a broad-fork, and mulching with straw.

The soil seems like premo, floodplain sandy loam, super loose top soil even after several regional freezes, and has been in cultivation for I think nearly 10 years. We had observed these traits and the soil type was confirmed as a representation of the entire site, when I used the GPS coordinates to to a Web Soil Survey (excellent resource from the NRCS, google it friends!).

Anyway, the color and consistency is nice, but organic matter undetermined at this point. I know it was tilled every year, mulched recently, and never harmed by any chemicals. There is, however, a fair amount of bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) surrounding the perimeter of the approx 80' x80' square of about 30, 2' x 16' beds. For those of you unfamiliar with Bermuda grass, be warned. For those of you who know the wrath of this wily plant, wish us luck, or better, offer us advice!

We will try cutting defined edges, planting  different perennial, strong rooted herbs on the caps of the east-west running beds, making for a nice diversified aesthetic, as an attempt to outwit the bermuda.We may also try introducing a hardy ground cover plant that Paige has heard/read, as a nitrogen fixing pathway competitor, Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). We'll see if it can handle the high foot traffic that may come along with our concern for the veggies. Well-irrigation is present, so water will be relatively clean and abundant.

As of now, much thought has gone into many Zones 0 and 1 elements other than the heart garden. We are excited about softening edges, designating walkways, and making the whole place a more plant and fun filled, experimental restorative ecosystem. But tonight, I got the inspiration for jumping online to write this blog from reading (in a book called Soil Fertility by E. Pfieffer) about different soil-friendly rotations of annual veggies, because I realized, until we get those perennial vegetables propagated and pumpin', annuals is all we got! And it's what everybody eats.. for now! I haven't even brought up our micro-greens plan yet... or my exciting encounter at the Asheville Botanical Gardens when I went to inquire about riparian restoration plant lists for the creek running through the property!! So much to say, but alas Paige has been asleep for over 3 hours, maybe I should join her...damn insomnia-inducing enthusiasm!
Area within Zone 1, in front of the pavilion. Before:  bland grasses, weeds, bocce ball court and boardwalk. After (coming soon): diversified herb production, perennial insectary plants for pollinators, color, color, color, and well-defined path (bocce and boardwalk will still be there too, of course. Creek runs to the right of pavilion, north-south).