Category Archives: Permaculture Design Process

Dream a little (big) dream

photo 2I’ve started my new job in New York, from Michigan, which makes for a nice transition to a new house in a new community within a new state. We leave at the end of the following week for closing on the house and we’ll make a few trips out prior to the big move with the kids in June.

This whole process was kicked off by a series of events in the deep of winter early in 2015 with a serious evaluation of our long-term goals.

Chris and I have similar goals across the board, save for the one about opening a burger joint (though the food would be fantastic, I can attest), which made the envisioning process easier. Some things were immediately clear: 1) We were not living the life we dreamed of in the way we hoped to live it, 2) We could not alter the situation without a change in location, and 3) We have two kids quickly approaching college-age and one not far behind those two.

It was early February of 2015 when Chris showed me a farm for sale in Western Massachusetts. I said, “There’s no way I’m leaving Michigan.” And he said, “I think you’d really like it out there.” The rest is history. Eastern NY is very similar to Western Mass. And the land is affordable, the soil profiles are outstanding, and the people are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

After five trips out East, we finally located the right property in line with our five-year plan, right in the middle of the Schoharie, with an agricultural college just minutes from the front door, and universities scattered within a three hour radius in every direction. It isn’t a farm, but there’s enough land to grow food and a large field adjacent to the property, so who knows. We will keep chickens and bees, tend the Shiawassee Beauties, and continue gardening, while growing our savings to accommodate dreams of opening a fiber mill in Upstate NY.

Moreover, I hope the girls can finally feel the satisfaction of being part of a community, rather than living in the outskirts. Apart from college, there is so much to experience in New England, from the history around every corner, to the natural features of this old, old land, to the simple joy of riding your bike to the movie theatre on a summer afternoon.

And you bet, I’ll still be processing and spinning fiber. It likely won’t be local Michigan fiber, if you can forgive me, but I can promise some local Schoharie Valley fiber to keep our friends in beautiful northern Michigan warm.

This is succession.

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

A Perfect Pairing (or Plant Polyamory)

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These two have been inseparable since germination.

We often think of plants as singular entities, selected for those virtuous traits we admire about them, like beauty or flavor. In the permaculture garden or any ecological design, we need to think of the relationship between plants (and/or other elements), not the individual elements.

You know that saying, it takes a village to raise a child? The same is true in the garden space. Each neighboring plant plays a role in the development or detriment of the neighboring plant. Understanding how these plants function can help you place them in roles benefiting their neighbors.

It can be as simple as inter-planting strawberries with carrots (the two exchange essential micro-nutrients and never compete for macro-nutrients, sunlight, or water at the same time/depth) or as complex as introducing animals and additional plants into the scene to maximize yields and resources, while reducing inputs.stacking

Determining those elements which may be stacked or overlapped to increase efficiency can be time-consuming at the start, but will create far smaller feed-back loops in the long run allowing for better management of a farm or outside project.

The chickens on our farm quickly adapted to life within the confines of the alpaca enclosure at night, because predators craving chickens had no interest in going to battle with a fully grown and enraged alpaca. The alpacas benefit by having natural pest control in the barn. Both animals create a rich manure which can be applied to neighboring garden beds. And egg collection now happens as I take care of alpaca chores in the barn (they’ve chosen to lay behind the barn door, the safest place in the barn).

We must also nurture our relationships withing the larger community. The perfect pairing may be great for wine or marriage, but there are other important relationships we must foster for the sake of maintaining our own sanity in the larger picture. Not only are these relationships important in helping us stay grounded, focused, and supported, but we can hopefully pass along some of the information that has been lost to time in the last 50 or more years, while gleaning other tidbits from those we know and love.

Garden flowers for my partner in this life.
Garden flowers for my partner in this life.

In the end, nature teaches us to surround ourselves with those elements that play an essential role in supporting and nurturing us. It also highlights the need for us to take a kinder approach to how we treat others, whether it be our neighbor or the land. I’ve often wondered what is whispered when the wind stirs the high canopies of trees. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s these two words repeated: “Be kind, be kind, be kind.”