Category Archives: Natural

Thinking of Spring

Waiting for spring.We’ve now had two days above 55 degrees! Yesterday was fantastic with full sun all day. The bees were out of their hive scouting around. The chickens and guineas were happily taking dust baths and scratching through mulch looking for bugs. We’ve had snow cover over much of the ground for most of January and February. It has finally melted off with only a few spots remaining in the deep shade. I’ve started a tray of broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi and will be starting another of tomatoes and peppers. Oh, and eggplant as well. Basically, I’ll have seed trays on every flat surface in the cabin and greenhouse. Last night, right on que, the Spring Peepers began singing just after sunset. There is nothing more beautiful than the early spring song of these amazing frogs. Listening to them sing in the cool evening of late winter/early spring is magical.

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You were saying?I’m not sure how to say this. I think I’m in love with a goose. Is that strange?

I kid. Really though, she is quite a sweet goose and I am very fond of her. She started hanging out here in early August and has been here every day since. I started calling her Loretta the second or third day she was here. It somehow seemed to fit. She leaves every night to sleep somewhere else, not sure where but she flies off towards the lake and I lose sight of her so my guess is she’s fairly close by. I don’t know where geese prefer to sleep. In any case, she is here most of the day and the little darling has stolen my heart. She follows me around when I’m out doing chores. When I bend over towards her and say her name she smiles. I kid you not. Well, not exactly a smile but she opens her mouth sticks out her tongue and squeeks. And no, this is definitely not the defensive hiss that geese use when threatened. This is something else and it is entirely adorable. She also has decided that I am edible and will nibble on my legs, ankles, toes, etc which tickles unless she get’s carried away and starts pulling hair or a grabs a bit too hard on a toe or two.

One day during her first week here I was in the outhouse doing my business and up she came. She can’t step up so she did this funny little hop up the two stairs and proceeded to come into the outhouse and then sit on my foot. Literally sat down on my foot and remained there. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing.

I have no idea where Loretta came from or how long she’ll stay but I hope she stays around for a good long while. With characters like her around the smiles come easily.

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Rooted in a place

Several weeks ago I finally made the short journey down to see Roger’s place. I’d met Roger this past fall through Ruth Ann and the Cowboy Coffee. It’s funny actually, the first or second time I’d gone into the coffee shop Roger was at the far end with Ruth and Juli and they were dancing and goofing off and it was at that moment that I knew that the coffee shop was going to be my favorite reason to drive into town.

Since then I’ve had some great conversations with Roger and he occasionally mentioned his farm south of town in the foothills of the Ozarks. It was obvious the very first time he told me some of the story of his family and this farm that this was a connection to the land far deeper than the norm. Of course, really, that’s not saying much is it? We live in a time when the norm seems to be constant migration with little to no connection to the land. Family farms and land based living has declined steadily for many decades. The norm today is the suburban subdivision or a place in the city. There are rarely any kind of long term connections formed to these places as they are simply meant for relatively short term occupancy by any one family, often 15 years or less.

Roger and his family have woven a different kind of story which is based on an intimacy with a landscape that is hard to really understand. His family first began living there in the mid 1800s and have been there ever since. Roger grew up there and continues to live in a house he built in the 1980s. The house he grew up in, built around the turn of the last century, is a stone’s throw away and is his son’s home today.

On the day of our trip my time was a bit limited so I got the “short” tour. I think we were there for maybe 1.5 hours and having seen what I saw in that time I know that it was the short tour. One could easily spend a day there. Or a lifetime. This is no ordinary place. As we walked and drove around Roger narrated with fantastic detail the various stories of the generations of his family.

The farm is deep down in a valley and feels protected, cradled by the hills. It stays cooler down here. The soil is pretty rocky too though there are quite a few areas which have been cultivated over the years.

We started with the beautiful white two story turn of the century home that he grew up in and then slowly moved further into the landscape and as we went the stories he told went further back in time. There are three springs on the property which, over the years, served as the family’s primary water source. In fact, the proximity to the springs was a primary reason for the location of the homestead. At one of these I bent down and for the first time in my life cupped my hands to drink the sweet water from a cold, natural spring. It flowed from under a tree into the rocky creek gravel. Fantastic.

From there we worked our way down the creek to the original family house which had been cut into three sections and moved from the original location further back which we also saw towards the end of our tour. This was an old, old house. Roger’s grandfather’s bedroom was left as it was when he died many years ago and given the state of the house and lack of windows seemed surprisingly intact. Roger told me of another spring that had been directed to the house using a pipe and showed me the buried tub that had been used to keep fish after they had been caught and before being eaten. In the cold flowing creek just outside the house a very nice bit of water cress was growing and I enjoyed several bites. I’m going to have to see if I can get some of that growing here because it was very tasty!!

Something else that Roger was sure to point out were the trees. So many wonderful trees were growing here! There was a nice mix of very old and young trees as well and the diversity of species was really fantastic. I’d imagine that it would be very interesting to explore the evolution of the land here in much greater detail. Roger knows trees and he knows the trees growing on the farm with great intimacy. In fact, he seems to know every inch of the land which brings me to the heart of this post. While I was in awe of the beauty of this landscape I think it was Roger’s connection to it that really struck me.

To spend an entire lifetime in one place seems very rare these days. That it is such a beautiful place and one that has served as a home for so many generations of a family only deepens an already profound relationship. I cannot really fathom such intimacy with the land. Those of you that know me or that read this blog you know my current adventure trying to co-create this permaculture homestead. I’ve barely been here a year and I already feel more at home. This is a place I spent many of my childhood summers and so there is that connection too. But my childhood memories and my knowledge of my ancestors includes several states and cities and many different yards and homes. There is no long term base for our family.

From the old family house we passed the remains of an old wagon worked our way down and through various pastures and to the creek where there were many beautiful pawpaws growing. Roger relayed the story of the all-day trip to pick-up the wagon from Farmington which, like another story about his grandfather walking to Mine La Motte (20+ miles each way), really gives perspective to life without the combustion engine. It also serves as a reminder of what the automobile has done to change our relationship to the natural world around us. You don’t see many details, smell any honeysuckle, or hear the song of birds when you travel in an air conditioned bubble at 60 mph.

The creek served as a place to swim, play and get cleaned up and I can’t imagine a better place to spend an afternoon. As we crossed the creek on foot to see the steep hillside opposite of the field I was again reminded of the amazing diversity of species in the area. I think if I were to spend much more time there I would begin getting a sense of the patterns and history of the plants and trees but in such a short time it was too much to take in. On the far side of the field away from the creek was a pine covered hill and small pond, an ideal area for blueberries I’d imagine. It was around this time that we circled back and my tour ended.

I look forward to another trip down there when I have more time to take in the details without feeling so overwhelmed. As I come to the end of this post I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something. I think when you’ve had a glimpse of something like this, something special with a history you also leave with questions. History is a story and an old homestead such as this feels like a window or, more accurately, a door that can be stepped through. Having Roger there to tell the history no doubt deepens the appreciation and understanding even as the stories evoke a sense of the unknown. In a strange way it is also a very direct connection to the ongoing flow of history. Roger is a part of it. We all are.

“Time is an enormous, long river and I am standing in it just as you are standing in it. My elders were the tributaries and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, every song they created and every poem they laid down flows down to me and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, take the time to reach out I can build that bridge between my world and theirs, I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.”
–Utah Phillips from the song Bridges

The Biomass of the Tree

I’ve been slowly working my way through Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Designer’s Manual and really, it is an amazing book. Lots to take in so I’m taking my time and really relishing it. From Chapter 6:

A tree is, broadly speaking, many biomass zones. These are the stem and crown (the visible tree), the detritus and humus (the tree at the soil surface boundary) and the roots and root associates (the underground tree).

Like all living things, a tree has shed its weight many times over to earth and air, and has built much of the soil it stands in. Not only the crown, but also the roots, die and shed their wastes to earth. The living tree stands in a zone of decomposition, much of it transferred, reborn, transported, or reincarnated into grasses, bacteria, fungus, insect life, birds, and mammals.

Many of these tree-lives “belong with” the tree, and still function as part of it. When a blue jay, currawong, or squirrel buries an acorn (and usually recovers only 80% as a result of divine forgetfulness), it acts as the agent of the oak. When the squirrel or wallaby digs up the columella of the fungal tree root associates, guided to these by a garlic-like smell, they swallow the spores, activate them enzymatically, and deposit them again to invest the roots of another tree or sapling with its energy translator.

The root fungi intercede with water, soil, and atmosphere to manufacture cell nutrients for the tree, while myriad insects carry out summer pruning, decompose the surplus leaves and activate essential soil bacteria for the tree to use for nutrient flow. The rain of insect faeces may be crucial to forest and prairie health.

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Orphaned Fawn

FawnMeet the newest resident at the permaculture homestead. Saturday morning my friends Karen and David were using a tractor in one of their fields and came upon this little fawn who ran to a nearby creek and then jumped from a rock ledge into the water eight feet below. David used a chain to rappel down to the water and retrieve her. By the time they got her back to the field she had been handled by the both of them and they were afraid to leave her alone for fear that her mother might not take her back due to any left over human scent. They left her in the care of friends but as it turned out those folks were not able to keep her so they brought her here just before sunset.

She was pretty freaked out as you could imagine. As of late afternoon Sunday she was settled down and fairly calm and starting to drink the formula for baby goats which also works for deer. It goes without saying that she is quite adorable. This morning after feeding she nuzzled up under my beard between my neck and chin and let out a series of squeeks. That’s a moment I will never forget. I could get used to this.

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Garden a’growin

With the recent rain and now very warm weather the garden is really coming alive. The tomatoes have not looked very good due to the flooded soil but now that we’ve gotten a bit of a lull they are perking up and starting to look pretty good. I’ve got four different kinds of basil coming up as well as zinnias and cosmos. Squash and melons are now planted around the corn bed. Sweet potatoes are in as well. I still need to plant more squash and cukes as well but things are moving along. Oh, and I’ve got all of the comfreys from the initial planting out around the fruit trees.

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Chip and the Girls

I’ve now got all of our flock together. 29 birds, five of them are roosters the rest hens. When all the young ones start laying we will have 20-24 eggs a day. It is very nice to have the five that are laying now. We’ve got five guineas ordered and will be getting them sometime next week. Chip

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Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra SwallowtailI’ve been seeing these around but usually while I’m working, hands dirty and no camera around. Went out this morning to work on the path to the kiwi arbor in the food forest and saw one nectaring from the Autumn Olive so I grabbed the camera and got a few shots.

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Food Forest and Garden Update

IMG_3215I’ve got seedlings everywhere: 70 tomatoes of 5 varieties, 40 peppers of 5 varieties, 70 eggplant of 5 varieties and 22 comfrey. The remaining cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi, about 40 plants total, will be getting transplanted into the garden tomorrow. The peas and fava beans are all up as are lettuce, radish, spinach, kale and a few others. The garden expansion is all fenced in and about 80% mulched with cardboard and straw. I’ll finish it off as soon as I get more cardboard. Thanks to Karen and David we have something like 25 straw bales for the rest of the mulching and for use in the chicken coop.

Food ForestThe four Hardy Kiwi vines are planted though two will be getting moved this week as I put them too close together. Two will remain at the arbor at the entrance of the kitchen garden and the other two will go into the food forest, planted on a trellis between the established sycamore trees. I also picked up 6 blueberries but they are not all that healthy as they were not watered in the store. I’ve put them in pots and if they do survive they’ll be going into the food forest.

I also put up a small, 2 foot high fence around the keyhole beds near my cabin to keep the rabbits from snacking every night. I’d rather not have fences everywhere but the rabbits are many and they are apparently very hungry. Last, the lake front area has been cleaned up a good bit. We’d cut the tornado trees all up last fall and I’ve cleared out all the small branches and twigs and have created a bit of lakeside lawn. If it is up to me that is the only lawn we’ll have in any of the common areas!

So, a good bit of progress even with all the rain and cold. A week of warmth and I imagine everything will start to pop into action.

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