Monday, June 27, 2011

A Keyhole Garden in Lesotho

We had to pass this along to you. This is a fabulous video from OrganicConsumers.org showing how keyhole gardens are being constructed in Lesotho. In difficult terrain and climate, they are growing beautiful vegetables, and it is the young people who are learning how to do this. Much fancier than ours (click here)!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Recycling in Limerick, Maine

This week a piece of mail arrived addressed to "Postal Patron." Normally, our being addressed as "postal patron" wouldn't appeal to us and the offending piece would quickly end up in the recycling bin. But not this time. The return address said, "Limerick Transfer Station & Recycling Facility, so we were intrigued enough to remove the staple from the folded sheets. 
Our dump is a one-stop facility for a lotta stuff. And I do mean Stuff. Besides the regular household recycling, there are sections for construction waste, appliances, used-up furniture, grass clippings and leaves (they compost this for residents to take home for their gardens) and rechargeable batteries and compact florescent lightbulbs. And, there's "The Take-It Shoppe." We love this- although we mostly drop things off (yeah, that funky plaid shirt that never got worn, and the funny-scented candle that wasn't allowed into the house), but we also found some nice glass vases that we used for the Francis Small flower arrangements. The shoppe serves a genuine purpose. 
One of the arrangements
We are very fortunate that our town dump has single sort recycling. No need to load half a dozen barrels into the pick-up truck for glass, cans, cardboard, paper, and plastic. Just one is all it takes, and unloading it is a quick tip of the barrel. Not that we have a lot of garbage- we don't and more about that later.
Anyway, the whole point of it is this. According to the “Postal Patron” letter, the recycling facility saved this little town $45,000 in 2010. Over 1000 tons of materials were recycled. Separating demolition debris saved tipping fees. The single sort recycling, started 2 years ago, resulted in 118 tons of voluntarily recycled materials. The Take It Shoppe reduces the quantity of materials that would otherwise be added to landfills. Thirty-eight tons of leaf and yard waste didn't go to the landfill. Without recycling, Limerick residents would have to deal with the cost of disposing of 275 additional tons of waste per year.
Now, that is respectable. The savings goes straight to our property tax bottom line. Our town's population has increased 29% in 10 years (including myself) and the fees for handling the town's waste have gone up. In spite of this, the cost of Limerick's trash removal for 2010 was $30,000 less than it cost in 2004.  Wow. 
Recycling is alive and well here in Limerick. Our Transfer Station motto is "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle". Since that fits right into our own homestead lifestyle, we'll soon be posting our own experience of reducing our consumption of energy and waste, reusing what we can and recycling what we don't reuse. -G.H.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Keyhole Garden

...whats happening with it now
Last fall i wrote about starting a keyhole garden. The term, keyhole, refers to the garden's shape- it's designed to maximize growing space while minimizing pathway. Specifically, a continuous three sided bed wraps around a central pathway. More growing space means you can grow more plants, and less path translates into easier maintenance.
Last fall's post gave step by step instructions for creating sheet mulch. The sheet mulch becomes a growing medium for plants. This is a way of starting a garden bed on top of sod, or sand and rocks as we have here. No digging, no tilling. We've done this many times to make our raised beds.
Anyway, I ended the post with no idea of what to plant there. And since, I've thought about it. In a series of three posts: Perennial, Vegetable, Forest gardens I noted a few differences about these three different areas. For me, it stands out that the annual veggie garden is really unsustainable. I want things to be simpler- gardening is not my only passion! Wouldn't it be great to grow food plants in a way that is simpler, less fussy, easier to maintain? Like, say, the perennial flower garden which, here, anyway, seems to thrive on total neglect. And so, an idea hit me: the keyhole will be a perennial food garden.
Well, this was either revelation or inspiration, not sure which. Or maybe both. So off I went with a shovel and a bucket digging up pieces of food perennials that we already have- chives, perennial onions, lovage, and rhubarb. I'm not putting asparagus in this garden because the layers of mulch may not be deep enough.
This is one side of the keyhole- as you can see there's not much happening here yet. 
And, I'm putting in some reseeding annuals to scatter themselves in and around the perennials. I figure that if a plant is hardy enough to be there from one year to the next, then it qualifies for this garden. On that note, I scrounged for whatever is coming up and found upland cress, giant red mustard, claytonia, mache. Turnip, rhutabaga, kale, and parsnips are some more options I may add later.
The keyhole from the stone wall in the back of it. 
And, finally, I planted seeds for Good King Henry, perennial kale, and New Zealand spinach-  plants that are suggested for permaculture. These are new to us, and we'll keep you posted on what transpires with them.
The plants and seeds were stuck in with no particular plan. I'm very sure that plants will be arranged and rearranged until it all gets right. And that is a big difference from the veggie garden- those nice neat rows do not fit this space. -jmm

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Francis Small Heritage Trust

Imagine a totally green event. The Francis Small Heritage Trust is a local land trust actively working to preserve areas from development and allowing public access to wilderness. Last week the organization held a fundraiser consisting of dinner, concert, and silent auction. Singer and acoustic guitarist Mitch Alden, of Now Is Now, provided the entertainment with great songs and some virtuoso finger picking. 
The food for the event was provided by members. An emphasis had been placed on using local ingredients as much as possible. There were delicious lasagnas, salads and desserts- all fabulous. I contributed a pasta salad using chives, perennial onions, arugula, lovage, upland cress, lettuce, red giant mustard, carrots and kale from our garden.  
We ate from compostable plates and bowls, and after eating dropped them and leftover food scraps into a barrel labeled “compostables”. A large selection of totally unmatched mugs were brought by members for coffee and water. A member contributed a stack of cloth napkins. Tables were attractively covered with contributed fabrics. Marsha made a floral arrangement for each table consisting of flowers, ferns, and other interesting flora gathered from woods to garden. The glass containers for these we had gotten from the “Take-It Shoppe” at the town dump. The guests were encouraged to take an arrangement home with them. 
A silent auction featured products and services contributed by local businesses. I ended up with a gift certificate from Nature’s Way, our favorite local plant nursery, and Marsha hovered over a salt-fired piece of pottery until she was sure it was hers. The auction seemed like a great way to involve the community in a cause.     
We have become involved with this group because we totally agree with the philosophy of preserving land. The idea of placing an easement on a piece of land appeals to us. There are many land trusts in Maine, and we have done some research to learn about easements. 
An easement is a legal means of insuring that property keeps the use that the owner wants. Rather than having a piece of property covered with buildings and pavement, and thereby taken out of nature, it can be protected to prevent development. An easement can be subject to certain criteria from “forever wild” to simply “not build-able.” Some are farm easements that keep land in farming. Land protected by easements is not taken out of the real estate market. These lands can still be bought and sold. But unlike deeded restrictions, the easement stays with the land. 

We love this idea. And the dinner and concert was a wonderful time. It truly amazed us that an organization can put on a fun evening with great food, excellent music, and local products to bid on, all at little cost to the very environment it works to preserve. We were impressed. Very, very impressed. -G.H.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


...The Forest is Not a Garden
In two previous posts I talked about some differences that I've observed between two types of garden- a perennial flower garden, and the mostly-annual vegetable garden. One type of garden is food for the soul, and the other provides actual food. 
Another place where plants grow is the forest. The forest seems to be nature's idea of a garden. It is an entire ecosystem consisting of trees of varying heights, shrubbery, bramble, ferns, fungi, etc, all supporting a whole gamut of wildlife. It is a complex and intricate place.
I found in the book, Gaia's Garden, (by the way this book is stuffed with you-gotta-read-it info, and I'll blog about it another time), the author talks about "features of natural landscapes" , meaning forests, as having "deep soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter."  But this is not the case in our forest here. 
"Deep rich soil" does not exist in these woods. The "topsoil" is not soil at all, but is instead a blackened layer about an inch or two thick topped with fallen leaves, and intermixed with rotting logs in places. This layer lies atop sand and rocks. The trees seem to be rooted into veins of sand that keep underground rocks from bumping into each other. In some places, ledge forces roots to run along the surface of the rock making a tree liable to fall over in a strong wind. 
The forest thrives regardless of what it is rooted into. Its mostly perennial plants are uniquely suited to the climate. It is persistent- forest will eventually take over a neglected yard or field. 
The forest is more like the perennial flower garden than the mostly-annual vegetable one as described in my two earlier posts. But there are still major differences. The flower garden does not have the continuous forest floor- if you dig out a plant you are not struggling with a mat of intermingling roots. Compost can be made in the flower garden. In the forest compost takes on the texture of dry airy fluff, and myriads of tiny roots begin to pin it down and then it becomes indistinguishable from forest floor. I know this from having tried it.
The forest bears no resemblance to the mostly-annual veggie garden. And planting veggie seeds in the woods, I can tell you for a fact does not work. There's no mixing of the two types of "garden". Even fruit trees do not thrive in forest areas without completely hacking up the ground, adjusting ph, and adding soil amendments. This I can tell you for a fact also.  
The forest has continuity, and the annual veggie garden does not. The individual rows of vegetables do not appear to mesh- one row is isolated from another, and many plants are not hardy enough to continue from one year to the next. We do not till, but many gardeners do, completely disrupting the soil life, further shaking things up from one year to the next.

So, why this comparison between our perennial flower garden, the mostly-annual veggie garden, and the forest? The answer is simple. It's about observation. It's about what can be learned by slowing down just a bit to think about those things we might notice in our own spaces, if we do in fact slow down and take note. And then we may come to notice how one area of a yard may be different from another. 
Observation is a first step in adopting and using the principles of permaculture. And permaculture is all about creating a healthy, sustainable, food-providing environment.
It is interesting to think about how different types of gardens are distinct from one another, how they function differently, and how the forest does not resemble a garden. Have you thought about how "gardening" may be functionally different from one area to another in your own yard? 
The keyhole garden we started last fall is one of our forays into experimenting with permaculture. Next I'll fill you in on what is happening with that. -jmm

Monday, June 6, 2011

Vegetable Garden

...compared to the perennials garden

In the previous post I went on about how great the perennial flower gardens have done over the years. This is not bragging, its just something I happened to observe. I noted how the plants are thriving in spite of the fact that they were originally installed on top of fill (soil-less sand and stones) with bucketfuls of composted wood to cover the roots. Nothing fancy; plants have thrived and the gardens require very little upkeep.
The vegetable garden, on the other hand was an entirely different matter. Nothing easy about it. It's been ten long years getting this garden going with the earliest years almost a total washout. We are now getting a decent harvest from most things, but it's hard to forget the struggle. What seems clear is that this type of garden requires deep, rich, composted and manured soil. The plants are fussy about ph and specific nutrients that are not apparent without sending out your little brown carton of dirt for testing.
This has led me to think about how the two types of garden compare. One grows handsomely in builder's fill, and with little fuss. The other must have ongoing pampering to get it started and keep it going.
What are the differences?
Perennial garden: mostly perennials with a few reseeding annuals. Plants stay in place year 'round. Mulching and composting take place by virtue of natural leaf-fall in autumn. Almost no work to maintain except for some pruning. There are no major pests or problems except for Japanese beetles which do not kill the plants.
Veggie garden: mostly non-hardy annuals (some of which are actually perennials in tropical climates) with some hardy reseeders and a few hardy perennials. Plants are in neat rows with (usually) one type of pant per row. The rows are cleared of the annuals in late fall, and reseeded in spring. The unused parts of plants and weeds go into the compost pile. Compost is shoveled onto the rows throughout the growing season, with manure added in fall. Work involves planting, composting, mulching, some weeding (weeds are not horrendous), manuring, some watering (mostly only to get transplants going, and in droughts), and harvesting. Some plants are susceptible to air borne funguses which can be deadly. This requires fungicides approved for organic gardens that do not always work. Young plants are a food fest for slugs, requiring ongoing slug control measures until the plants grow large enough.
As you can see there are enormous differences between the two types of garden. One is entirely undemanding. The other sees a flurry of activity in spring, another flurry in fall, and some routine maintenance in between. "Perennial" means never-having-to-replant (unless of course you WANT to fiddle with the plants), and "non-hardy annual" seems to translate into a pile of W-O-R-K. No serious pest problems with the perennials, but the foody annuals sure do keep us hopping.
In the next post I'll relate my observations about yet a third type of "garden". Stay tuned! -jmm