Barefoot Permaculture: Spring 011 Update

Barefoot Permaculture Spring Update

We are enticed in Permaculture training with the statement “The purpose of the designer is to become the recliner”. It’s a great image, and belies the idea that proper placement of the elements of our site design eliminate unnecessary work. (Note the word “unnecessary”).

Front paw track from a Bear

I do love being in my hammock, under the flowering crab apple in full bloom, amazed by the fragrant wafts of scented air, and the vibrating buzz of pollinators — both domestic and native— attending tens of thousands of nectar and pollen rich flowers overhead. The days are warm and the shaded hammock space cool: too early in the season for biting insects: perfect!

This time of year, whenever someone asks what I‘ve been doing, I truthfully respond  “ spending a lot of time on my knees”. Before they can ask about worship, I add “in the garden”.

There is always work to be done, especially in the spring! In a similar way that Inupiat Eskimo have many words for snow, we need at least several for “work”. There’s the work we have to do to pay our bills; leaving what we may love to do to perform tasks that we may not especially enjoy. There is maintenance that must be performed to keep our living spaces upright and dry; our bicycles and cars operable, our bodies well nourished. There are tasks that must be done, that with a particular frame of mind, can be enjoyed. All these (and more) are forms of “work”.

Adding lettuces to a bed.

In my classes, I define work as “if you do not have enough people to make something fun, its work”!

Although when in the garden and orchard, I often am without other humans in proximity, I deeply enjoy connecting with earth and her natural systems; especially on the one acre that I have been caretaking for 20 years. The currency of this connection is often work: this work I deeply enjoy!

Small hand tools mean one is on one’s knees working. Every dry day, I am doing that: rooting out rampant grasses, chopping down other plants for mulch and leaving their roots to feed the soil foodweb.

Preparing the beds for occupancy. Leaving every flowering plant until the honeybees can gather its nectar and pollen.

Plants Walk Around the Garden

In our Barefoot Permaculture Garden, many plants move around at will. For instance, mustard greens appear as small rosettes in autumn, stay green throughout winter, then explode into waist-high towers of edible greens and yellow flowers in spring; performing multiple functions: as visual greenery; food —both raw and steamed; greens for our late winter, green starved hens; nectar and pollen for our sisters (honeybees); a trap crop for attracting Harlequin bugs (a pest insect); mulch; compost; and finally, a seed source for the next season’s greens.

We have not planted mustard greens for at least 12 years!

Walking Mustard Greens

These types of useful plants I love to have in my landscape! I did my work in introducing them 12 or more years ago: they now do the work of moving themselves around. True, I must perform some work in managing them: harvesting for food, mulch and such, and I must go out on occasion with a pail of soapy water to harvest the accumulated pest insects, but that’s hardly work.

Two weeks ago, while grubbing up a stoleniferous, invasive grass that specializes in entwining its wiry roots with the roots of other plants, at the garden center (which hosts a gazing ball, crystals, and special plants, my fingers closed upon a flint arrowhead. I rubbed it clean, and wondered about the person who made it, and either gifted it to someone dear, or used it him/herself. Did they drop it? Lose it in a runaway animal? Was their life joyous?

I am carrying the worked flint in my pocket, and feel a connection with its maker. I send wishes back in time for a healthy, happy, fulfilling life…

The Origin of “Lovely” is an Orchard in Springtime!

As I move through our home orchard in bloom, all that I can think and feel, is Lovely, Lovely, Lovely… Its really pure delight to care for a home orchard, and keep company of the trees and shrubs throughout the seasons, all the while traveling together on earth around the sun. I’ve made the journey 20 times while caretaking this acre: many of these fruits have journeyed with me 16 or so times: we are seasoned travelers!

Messengers of Love: Bees (Natural Beekeeping)

Spring is a time of delicious fragrances: from the fruit blossoms to the intoxicating scent of the native holly (filled with Cedar Waxwings and pollinators), to the spice viburnam to the lilacs. I stumble around in a state of “Yum”!

Our three honeybee hives came into full swing earlier than usual, due to our incredibly early spring: we have not had a hard frost since early February. The queen’s laying began in earnest earlier than availability of nectar and pollen. What this means for the beekeeper is that the hives are in danger of running out of food, and thereby starving to death. Even as the orchard is in full bloom, as well as the spring wildflowers, maple trees and such, the hive too is in full operation. The demands of the new larvae and rising populations use up all the stored reserves as well as what is being brought in.

I checked my hives last week, looking through each hive body, lifting out individual frames, hefting the boxes to get a feel of how much stored honey was left, and checking for queen cells: the sign that either the hive is replacing a queen, a queen has perished, or there has been a swarm (how new hives are created, without any help from the beekeeper). The hive populations were so high that I was unable to locate any queens, though I did find a fully developed queen cell in one hive. Without having knowledge of the queen, I felt the need to close up the hive and just let it be. If the queen had perished, this was her replacement. If a swarm was in process, it may have already departed and this was to be the new queen. Since I had not spotted the queen, I had no way of knowing, much less knowing what to do.

I closed the hive, feeling frustrated and wondering how, after 4 seasons of beekeeping, I knew so little! These days, with all the pressures on bees, working with honeybees is a complicated affair.

The mantra that rolled through my head was “… leave them alone and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them”. (Short for: Let them be, most likely they know what they’re doing).

Shiitakes & Stinging Nettles

Our hoophouse is filled with our from-seed starts. The hens are laying, bees are flying. I’ve been a mad grafter, grafting several pear varieties onto our pears, several apple varieties onto our apples, (including heritage varieties onto our hawthorn) and a few grafted American persimmons onto our male rootstock. Just when I thought there was no more available space!

The hammock still beckons!

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About goodheart

Education: Warren Wilson College (BA Environmental Studies) 1987: University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (MSc. Natural Resources) 2005 Permaculture Design Certificate (The Farm, TN) 1994 Presidential Volunteer Award: 2005, 2006, 2007 Experiences: National and international Permaculture teacher and practitioner since 1995; Sustainable land use and permaculture consultant; International consultant for small plot sustainable agriultural projects; Home orchard consultant; Endangered species observer for sea-turtle and whale projects; Field biologist and naturalist; Gourmet natural food chef and teacher; Home baker (artisan breads) brewer & fermenter; Home orchardist; BeeKeeper; Ecological gardener; Broom-maker in the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and general bio-philiac...
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