“Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?”
Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating

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I worry about the fate of our environment under the Trump regime.  His choice to head the EPA is appalling, as his is disavowal of climate change.   Will the small steps we have achieved over the past 8 years be systematically dismantled?  We will continue to poison ourselves and future generations?

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While the political decisions may be out of our hands, my hope is that the organic and small farm movement continues to swell; that individuals continue to delve into the reality of agribusiness and the atrocities of factory farming; that we continue to push for less toxins in our diets and more humane treatment for our animals; and that the interest in permaculture and small backyard gardening continues to grow.

Inspiration

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I still consider myself a fledgling gardener and as such, I’m open to ideas and inspiration from other, more experienced gardeners.  I admit I have an aesthetic preference for gardens on the wilder end of the spectrum — country and cottage gardens, woodland walks, open meadows.  I’m not a fan of the contemporary or modern look with its straight edges, manicured shrubs and often minimalist plantings.  Instead, I love mixes of color and texture and lots of it.  I love the tried-and-true cottage plants: shrub roses, climbers, hollyhock, foxglove, sweet rocket, daisies of all types, pinks, and peonies, all interspersed with herbs and other edibles.

My goal is to create a garden that melds into its natural surroundings, not one that is in a constant battle with them.

To that end, I have a couple of go-to favorite gardeners.  I’ve written about both earlier in this blog.  The first, Tasha Tudor, an eccentric, American illustrator who spent 20+ years creating a wondrously wild garden on a mountain top in Vermont.  The second is a more recent discovery – a fortuitous one – that added the concept of permaculture to my vocabulary and introduced me to a new way of gardening for nature, not against it.  Colette O’Neil, owner and creator of Bealtaine Cottage, in Ireland, has also created her own little slice of heaven from 3 acres of once barren, over-worked land.  Follow the links to learn more about both.

Thoughtful Tuesday

“Garbage did not exist until there were humans.  Everything in nature easily goes back into the earth.  Humanity needs to learn to re-consume.”   – Michael Reynolds (creator of the Earthship)

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Late summer – Echinacea and rudbeckia hirta  growing wild at the edge of our wooded path out of a pile of cut “weeds” and deadheaded plants.  Nature will always carry on when left to its own devices.

 

 

Climate Change

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Most of my close friends are concerned about climate change and the impact these changes will have on their children and eventually, grandchildren.  Several have taken active steps to make changes in their lives to reduce the impact they have on our beautiful planet. 

But there has been little in the climate change literature, until somewhat recently, about the impact the consumption of meat has on the climate.  This growing, global phenomenon is having catastrophic effects. 

For example, according to an article in the Guardian, in 1982, the average Chinese person ate just 13kg of meat a year “and beef was nicknamed “millionaire’s meat” due to its scarcity.”  The average Chinese person now eats 63kg of meat a year, with this amount expected to increase another 30kg per person by 2030 if nothing is done to divert them from this path (China is in the midst of implementing guidelines that will attempt to reduce the national consumption of meat by 50% both to aid the environment and to improve the health of their people).

The fact is, globally, 15% of greenhouse gases emanate from the raising and consumption of cows, chickens, pigs and sheep — more than the emissions from the entire transportation sector.   Factory farming, from the raising of the toxin-laden, GMO corn that feeds most of these animals to the methane the animals themselves produce in the way of gas and waste, not to mention the energy needed to slaughter, process, freeze and transport this meat around the country and the world, contributes greatly to this problem.  Factory farming — one of the most grotesque and inhumane forms of business in existence — has made it possible to make most meat afforbable to most income classes, thus increasing demand and consumption.

And yet, the public remains largely, woefully, ignorant of these statistics (thank you powerful meat and corn lobbies)  – even among people fairly well-versed in climate change literature.

If people simply scaled back their meat consumption to once or twice a week — a diet by the way that was the norm for all but the wealthiest of families in America a mere 60-70 years ago — we could reduce the production of greenhouse gases by more than a 1/4 (according to the Chatham House study out of the UK).

Although recycling, walking more than driving, limiting air travel to all but the most essential, building energy efficient homes and offices, consuming less material goods, growing and eating locally, adopting permaculture methods for our gardens and yards, composting, etc. all aid our planet, the mere act of reducing your meat and egg consumption will have a much greater and more immediate impact.

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An Early Morning in the Veg Garden

Thankfully, a brief thunder-storm and some much needed rain arrived last night around 10pm.  Everything has looked so sad and brown without our usual, weekly rain fall.

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Note the brown grass everywhere, although the sheep still manage to find the green stuff

 

I woke up this morning and brought the dogs out to the orchard area while I tended to the hens, ducks and sheep.  Although they have a rather large fenced in “dog” area to call their own, they love to roam around the orchard and, when allowed, in the sheep pasture.  So many new smells for them, since the bunnies, deer, wild turkeys and whoever else, pass through this area on their treks to and from our woods.

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Magnolia and a Corgi bum (Tilly) sniffing around the compost pile.  Every year we seem to have sunflowers and often pumpkins that grow in the waste of last year’s veg garden.  I even dropped some extra potato sets I had into the compost this year and they’ve done marvelously.

The grass felt marvelously cool on my sandaled feet after the rain, and there was a light mist dancing among the tree tops of the wood line.  The sun was breaking through some of the remaining clouds, and everything glistened in the early morning light.  Even though it still felt humid, there is something wonderful about an early summer morning after a rainfall.IMG_5559

 

Despite the lack of rain, the vegetable garden is doing quite well.  The “three sisters” produced a bunch of pole beans (so many that I had to remove many of the plants because of the weight on the corn stalks), acorn squash (I just harvested 2, with plenty more in the vines) and even our corn is beginning to form cobs.  The “Contender” green beans are beginning to flower for their second round.  IMG_5555.JPG

The zucchini and cucumbers are in full swing, as our the delicious cherry tomatoes.  I’ve already pulled the majority of the onions and shallots (which are now curing in the barn for 2-3 weeks), and the first planting of beets (roasted and frozen for later use).  The zinnia, cosmos, borage, scarlet runner beans and nasturtium are all flowering beautifully as well, and fulfilling their purpose of adding a splash of color and attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.  I’m even daring to hope that the Japanese beetles might be on the downswing.IMG_5558.JPG

The pumpkin patch, although a bit weedy, is doing well despite the early attack of squash beetles this year.  I had planted 4 rows of different types of pumpkins.  Two rows survived – I have no idea which types, so it’ll be a surprise.  But the vines are loaded.IMG_5544.JPG

I had several “volunteer” sunflowers pop up throughout the patch thanks to the resident crow family.  I had to remove most of them, but I left the large one you see above at the head of the patch.  Nora says it looks like a scarecrow from a distance.

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The “scarecrow” up close and personal; she does look kind of ominous
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The new arch covered in scarlet runner beans and snap peas (done for the year); you can see the corn stalks in the distance.  This is the first year we’ve gotten this far with our corn; usually the crows beat us to it.  As you can see from the brown foliage on the front right side, the potatoes are getting close to harvest time as well.  Hard to believe we’re already in early August.

Edges

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One of our entrances to the woods – the arbor has been taken over by grapevine and Virginia Creeper.  The woodland edge is a mix of sumac, dogwood, grapevines, goldenrod, oxeye daisies, joe-pye weed, wild parsnip and I’m sure a host of plants I haven’t identified yet.

 

The use of the “edge effect” is one of the core principles of permaculture.  From an ecological perspective, the area where two distinct ecosystems overlap — the edge — tends to house greater diversity and energy than either of those ecosystems do individually. 

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A butterfly (I have no idea what kind) hanging out on some wild parsnip

 

For instance, the edge between the woodland and my “backyard” not only creates an ecosystem for each of those species that make their home in either the forest or the grass, but also creates a unique ecosystem for species specially designed to inhabit the “edge” between these two distinct worlds.

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I don’t know who this little guy is but I caught him buzzing around the oxeye daisies

 

Edges are not often looked upon favorably by the typical American living in suburbia.  Edges are often overgrown, unruly and extremely persistent in their attempts to infiltrate a perfectly groomed yard and tamed flower borders.  Even in rural areas, where we tend to be more forgiving of nature’s wildness, edges require at least annual maintenance to keep them at bay.  A woodland edge left unattended will soon take over and transform the meadow.

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Heading into the forest — the temperature is always significantly cooler under the dense canopy, the chorus of birds in the trees overhead almost deafening, and unfortunately the biting insects to much to tolerate at times…

Our property has very little controlled acreage; the majority of our 135 acres is forest and wetlands.  At the turn of the century, this property housed a sizeable dairy farm and much of the front 50 or so acres was pasture.  From the time the dairy farm ceased to exist to 2008 when we purchased this place, that pasture was transformed – first taken over by brambles, grasses and tree seedlings; then the tree seedlings soon grew large enough to shade out the lower shrubs and grasses and ferns, mosses and other woodland plants arose.  Low spots soon filled with water and, under the shade of the growing trees, remained wet throughout the year creating habitats that became home to numerous amphibians, plants, insects and the birds and other wildlife that fed on these things.  Within 20 to 30 years, what was once pasture was transformed into a young forest and wetlands and the only remnant of grazing pasture remaining is the rusted barbed wire fencing that can still be found along the boundary lines.

As a result, pasture that once may have been home to a few types of birds and some insects now houses a huge number of diverse species in a multitude of mini ecosystems — forest, wetland, meadow, gardens and the edges between each of these.

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Even the “weeds” such as this beautiful bind weed deserve a home in the edge

The “Three Sisters”

And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.  –  Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s TravelsIMG_4700.JPG

It was spectacular over the weekend, so I spent a lot of time out in the gardens weeding and planting.  I was able to get ¾ of the beds planted in the vegetable garden.  I’m still hardening off the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, so they won’t go in the ground for another few days.  But I was able to get most of the vegetable seeds planted, other than the pumpkin patch which I will tackle this weekend.

I haven’t planted corn in the veg garden for several years because it was just too depressing to lose most of it to our very persistent crows.  But with some pressure from my other half, I caved this year and bought some seed to try it again.  I decided though, after my permaculture reading of late (and listening to my youngest brother who’s been using this method for the past couple of years), to give the “Three Sisters” method a whirl.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it was/is a planting method used by some of the Native American tribes to grow their 3 staple crops – corn, beans and squash.  It’s a natural fit for the permaculture crowd because the method makes use of the symbiotic relationships of these 3 types of plants. 

In theory (not having tried this yet, it’s all “in theory”), the corn grows first creating a pole for the beans to wrap themselves around.  The pole beans (they can be any variety – I planted Kentucky Blue pole beans) fix nitrogen in the soil, which in turn feeds the corn.  The squash plants (this should be a vine growing squash rather than a tall sprawling mass like a zucchini or yellow squash variety) provide shade to retain moisture in the soil and keep the weeds at bay.  The prickly leaves also act as a deterrent for some pests.   I planted a table acorn squash.

From a permaculture standpoint, the three vegetables also provide nutritional essentials for human survival – starch/sugar/fiber from the corn, protein from the beans, and vitamins from the squash.

For anyone interested in trying this method, you create a small mound about 8-10” wide and 2” high and plant 3-4 kernels of corn in the center; then plant 3 bean seeds at different points around the mound.  Create each mound 3 feet from the next and plant your squash half way between the mounds.  That’s all there is to it.  I’ll take photos throughout the growing season to document how well it works….if the crows don’t pluck the corn seedlings that is!