2 Videos on Restoration Through Farming

These two videos, from completely different sources, showcase ways that people are taking the environment and stewardship for the earth into their own hands and being God’s restoration on the earth.

Community-Fueled Agriculture


Mulching with Seashells

I know it’s been a while since my last post – travelling, visiting friends back home and generally taking a break from farming/gardening has kept me from the typed page and, more specifically, information for the terroir-tracing blogosphere.  But now, on vacation at my parents’ beach house with them on the Outer Banks of N.C., I have both topic and time to report.

Two-year-old Vern's Brown Turkey

Ocracoke Island, N.C., is rather known for its fig population; grown here since the 1700’s, most old-time islanders have a few sitting in their backyards, fig preserves are among the most rampant of local fare and nearly every local church and restaurant recipe book contains a recipe for Ocracoke Island Fig Cake (with a Buttermilk Glaze).

Last winter while on vacation for the Christmas holiday with family and friends here at the beach house, I brought with me a Vern’s Brown Turkey fig tree that I had purchased from a local plant nursery in Asheville.  Figs are best transplanted in the late fall/early winter when they are dormant.  And so my fig tree has been in place for nearly one year and produced one fig over the summer (so I’m told) that became a local snack for a local bird.

But my spirits continue to press on and I’m trying to take care of the tree the best I can in hopes that one day, I’ll be able to whip up my own backyard fig cake.  And one of the ways I’m caring for the fig tree is by mulching.

Mulch has come to mean so much more to me than when I was younger and dump-truck-loads on the side of the highway boasting chips and slivers of wood and bark was all I thought of as ‘mulch’.  But mulch encompasses so much more; from wood and sawdust, to cardboard or newspaper, to uprooted weeds or mown grass, to broken pottery to leaves and pine needles, to even plastic.  And out here on the island the most prevalent, handy and useful mulch item is seashells.  Clams, mussels, oysters and a host of other sea-dwelling creatures retire their shells all the time, and they can be easily found on the beach, on the shores of the Pamlico Sound, even in the woods and on paved parking lots in the middle of the island (flooding tides are a norm here on Ocracoke, where tropical storms and hurricanes are known to ravage through, mostly from August to October).

Seashells offer calcium in the form of calcium carbonate and are a fairly balanced (if low source of) fertilizer, offering about 1.5-1-.5 (N-P-K).  They can be crushed for a more uniform appearance and duty, or left in broken bigger chunks; I chose to leave mine larger because a) it’s a perennial fruit tree that I’m mulching and will therefore benefit from a longer, slower, constant release of minerals, and b) because of the inherent sandy-ness of the soil, anything to weight it down will help hold moisture and ground better (whereas, if I was mulching with seashells on clay soil, I’d want to chip them up as much as I could and maybe even mix them in so as to offer more aeration to the clumpy, heavy clay).

Fig trees do so well on the island because they can thrive in the sandy soil conditions, like a bit of winter chill but prefer the more moderated climate of a coastal location and the naturally more alkaline offerings of an area surrounded by mineral-rich seawater and seashells (I’ve also read that powdered or crushed seashells can be a substitute for lime in the garden as they raise and moderate a higher pH level).

Depending on the weather extremes between now and the next time I visit the island I may have to reapply the mulch or do some refreshing to it, and probably over the winter or some time next year I’ll have to do my first pruning job on the tree – mainly cutting off any new growth that threatens to grow towards the inside of the tree or one of two branches that may rub up against each other.  But for the most part, there won’t be a lot to do except wait and have patience; and perhaps explore some of the many options for keeping pesky and hungry birds at bay (or, Sound :).

I am an Elberta Peach

There’s a gardening term known as ‘heeling in.’ It refers to temporary planting of a plant to protect it from the elements until it can be more permanently rooted. 

variegated vincas

 Natalya recently brought back bunch of transplants of Variegated Vincas from her parent’s greenhouse, for use as an eye-pleasing ground cover for the front of her suburban property.  As she’s not able to get them into their permanent home ground right away, she used a temporary vessel (aka, kids’ sandbox creature) as a heeling in home for the Vincas, covering their bare roots with rich compost and mounding them in in tight rows.
In a similar fashion, during this year of WWOOFing, I’ll be constantly heeling myself in, being fostered by many communities and families as I learn and experience their techniques and unique practices and lifestyles.  Until I’m settled in ground of my own, I’m just temporarily giving my bare roots some nutrients to strengthen them for their more permanent future home.
But in some ways, little bits of my roots will cling to the soil I’m fostered under.  Little bits of legacy will touch the dirt in various places and remain there.  In Lawrence, I’m an Elberta Peach tree planted in the up and coming orchard just East of the garden beds.  Natalya took me to Pine’s Garden Center early Friday morning before we began work to let me pick out a perennial fruit of my choice to leave behind as a tribute.  As I’ve always been rather partial to peaches – and being from the South – the hardy Elberta I found at the back of the stand of fruit trees outside seemed to reach its buds out to me.  It’s tight green buds of promised fruit were numerous on the branches, and though normally one wouldn’t choose an obviously fruiting tree as a first-year transplant, in hopes of solidifying my return to Lawrence sometime this year we chose that particular tree.  Perhaps in late July to early August, Pinwheel will be rewarded with succulent, yellow-fleshed, sweet fruits to eat in my honor. 

The volunteers that showed up Sunday morning to give me a final going-away/ planting ceremony all pitched in with the carting, digging, planting and mulching of my tree (which also included a tomato plant and pea plant harboring soil in the same pot; apparently I’m a package deal.) 

Team work makes the dream work

 The weather was glorious, shining rays on us as we worked ground in the orchard, then sending a smattering of rain drops only minutes after we had the tree secured in the ground and under a layer of mulch.  But the rain cloud was quick to pass and the sky remained glorious for my departure after many hugs and farewell letter exchanges.  As an added bonus, the rose bush that normally doesn’t flower until late May, decided to gift me a going-away present with its first bloom of the year!

(To back-track at bit, the public hearing on the CUP for Pinwheel Farm went great! Lots of support was garnered; many people showed up in league with the farm and we as a farm crew constructed small origami pinwheels for supporters to wear to the meeting.  Points were made on both sides of the fence regarding camping allowances and ‘beautification’ of the front of the property next to the street.  After 3 ½ hours of public comment and presentations, the topic was deferred to next month’s meeting with the suggestion of giving more solid verbiage and wording to some of the camping guidelines, and also as a grace period to clean up the front of the farm visible to drivers-by.)

Pulling out of Lawrence headed West, you pass through the Flint Hills of Kansas – small mounds of greenery and pasture-land, reminiscent of the taller glories of my NC home.  Lots of flint and limestone make the surrounding soils slightly alkaline and quite fertile. 

Once you pull farther out past Topeka the plains become flat, spacious and wide open.  Windmills and tiny stubbles of trees dot some of the landscape but it’s mostly the clouds that imprint themselves on your vision during this drive.  The layers and shapes and clusters and varieties of clouds.

I wish I could say the trip proved uneventful, and for the most part it was.  But upon passing the border into CO, about 3 miles past the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado!” sign, I drove straight into a thunder and lightening storm, where my car decided it didn’t want to continue on E any longer (normally I can get away with that for a good while.)  And I had to sputter over to the side of I-70 and call AAA to get some fuel brought to me.  But 30 minutes later I was back on my way, passing through the magical landscape of CO.  Dips and curves of highway, majestic views of miles and miles of rangeland, rolling clouds and rippling landscape conjured up visions of angels descending, centaurs emerging, and unicorns and white buffalo stampeding across the land at any moment.  Just the poignant and righteous panorama laid out before me caused my chest to rise and fall a bit heavier and longer than normal; having to take it all in required not only my eyes, but nose, lungs, ears and imagination.

And I wasn’t left lingering long in this quasi-ethereal state before the distant mountain ranges started whispering their outlines into my line of vision.  First so faint, almost transparent blue beneath the rumbles of muscular clouds above.  But low and behold, they were indeed mountains waiting to greet me as I passed through Denver and through the outskirts into Golden.  Here I am enveloped by rocky, bare and sparse rises in the land.  Sheltered here in the valley is Historic Downtown Golden and Harmony Village – the place I will be staying for the next 7 days while working a few hours a day in the neighborhood’s new Community Garden venture.

Trenching for irrigation and hardening-off of trays of plants along with weeding thistles out of the raspberries, harvesting massive amounts of lemon sorrel and some rhubarb are all candidates for first day tasks. Double-digging and incorporating compost into the raised beds, transplanting broccoli, direct seeding carrots, radishes, onions and basil are also on the agenda. Until then (and in-between!) lots of hiking trails, coffee shops, the library and biking paths will keep me occupied; the rooftop hot tub of the common house where I’m bedding down will help fill in some of my down time as well!

Common house; my abode, and; the mecca of rooftop hot tubs

The community meal we all shared in the common house this evening was great for meeting members of the community – many of which were the pioneers of the project back in the mid-90’s.  They’ve had WWOOFers here for 2 years now and a most of the neighbors are more than happy to introduce themselves and are supportive of the program – but once again, fear of outsiders has a few of the neighbors upset and demanding background checks on all workers passing through and offers a general uneasiness about the nature of people who travel around just to work on gardens or farms.  Do we see a pattern forming here? Let’s hope not, and hope that the vast majority of communities and townships will be welcoming and inviting to someone who wants to come take care of their land and crops by working long hours of physical labor. 

Harmony Community Garden and Orchard

And as a final farewell and thank you to all my friends in Lawrence, KS: You’ve made my time there amazing, welcoming and something to miss.  Picnics by the lake, Reiki sessions, parties and good food, potlucks, dancing, sharing your home and kitchen, an incredible music list (Songs to Shepherd to!) and your smiling faces I will miss.  But it won’t be the last time we cross paths.