Harvest Is Here!

In the heat and long days of July we really start to reap what we have sown: beans, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplant, basil, garlic and more. Now the challenge is to keep up with bringing the produce in and preserving it.

By this time of year, I hope to have planned well enough that we are focused on maintenance and harvest. Big projects and expansions are best done in the cooler weather of spring and fall. This year hasn’t quite worked out that way. Even when it does, it’s just a busy time of year for northern food growers. I try to stay calm and not waste energy worrying about what I haven’t done yet – but there are days that my to-do list brings me to tears I admit!

Lots of Eggplant

 

Have you seen The Biggest Little Farm yet? I highly recommend it and Seacoast Permaculture plans to bring it back to our area this winter 2020. There’s a scene from their early days on the farm when co-owner Molly Chester tells us that it seems to her like every time she checks something off her list she adds ten more items. A lot of us can relate to that, right?!

It’s also a beautiful and satisfying time of year, especially when our lack of drought has led to healthy productive plants. So, I’ll share photos here – a virtual tour of our annual garden in July. Then… back to work for me!

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The Miracle of (Plant) Birth

“As I kneel to put the seeds in
careful as stitching, I am in love.”

(excerpt from The Common Living Dirt by Marge Piercy)

Every time a seed sprouts in my garden I am amazed.

This year’s cold, wet spring delayed planting and germinating making it even more of a thrill to finally see my plants coming alive and growing throughout June.

Carrots Are Up!

Most people are more excited by the birth process in animals which is a more dramatic moment for sure. It also stresses me out. Whether it’s the goats laboring or the poultry hatching, it is loud, messy and takes time during which my attention is held and I can’t help but wonder about everything that could go wrong. In comparison, I appreciate the restful quiet of the garden, and the surprise of the seeds suddenly germinating. If it doesn’t work, I try again, without having to dispose of any bodies – literally.

When it does work, I feel triumphant because my planning and care succeeded! I also feel humbled by recognizing how little I really had to do with it and considering what else was involved in bringing me to this moment. The evolution of flowering plants, thousands of years of plant breeding by our ancestors, the work of pollinators and spring actually coming again, to name a few.

Working with rather than against nature is a foundational concept in permaculture and I experience a sense of that collaboration in this process.

Knowing the science of it only makes it more wondrous. Here’s a glimpse at that…

Sunflowers Sprouting

A seed is a method that plants developed to reproduce, sort of recently. As far as we can tell, seeds first appeared about 400 million years ago while land plants have been around at least 700 million years. Currently, over 220.000 plants – 90% of those we know – make seed. Every seed contains a living embryo with its first leaves and root in miniature. Most seeds have a protective coat and a nutrition pack that will last until its roots function. Seeds can be as tiny as dust or as big as 50 pounds with many different shapes. A seed is in a kind of suspended animation until the conditions align for it to burst into life: the right amount of water, oxygen, temperature and light for instance. Seeds can survive, waiting for the right conditions, for years, with the oldest documented living seed being 2.000 years old! Most of our garden seeds are in the 1 – 5 year range.

After 20 years of growing, maybe I should have gotten used to it but I’m glad I haven’t.

Now that we’ve hit July, there will be less seed starting and more watching the plants grow and harvestng. I’m preparing my food preservation equipment and looking forward to the abundance!

More from The Common Living Dirt by Marge Piercy in her book Stone, Paper, Knife

Beets Emerging

As I kneel to put the seeds in
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we ate, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you.

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Filed under Gardens, Soil, Uncategorized, Weather

An Early Fruit Tree Yield & Stacking Functions

Nanking Cherry Blossoms

We are currently receiving our first yield of the season from our fruit trees and bushes – nectar and pollen much needed by our bees and other pollinators!

In permaculture design we have a concept called “stacking functions.” We ask for multiple benefits from each element added to the system – we want to do more with less. Rather than narrowly specializing, we ask more from everyone, build on the relationships we create this way, and aim to decrease our workload in the process. The system becomes more efficient by way of complexity.

Honey Berry Blossoms

Oftentimes the various functions are already there, we just need to open our minds to seeing them. Once we identify them, we can then work to better use and enhance them or more deeply understand their value.

When I choose plants to bring into our landscape, there are numerous jobs I’m looking to fill, such as insectaries, pest confusers, dynamic accumulators, nitrogen fixers, fodder and, of course, food for us. Fruit trees and bushes are an obvious choice to give us a great yield later in the season, and a huge boost to nectar and pollen eaters in the spring (video: Bees Visit Nanking Cherry Blossoms).

Peach Blossoms

And they really need it. To make one pound of honey, it is estimated that more than 550 worker bees will be needed to visit 2 million flowers. They will fly the equivalent of once around the world to make just that one pound. After the winter, my bees have consumed most of their resources and need the mass blooming of trees and dandelions to get off to a good start. 

Jostaberry Blossoms

Here are other reasons to love trees… like all plants, they are the true producers on our planet, creating the energy that runs the whole food chain. Then, like all long-lived, woody plants they clean pollution from the air, stabilize soil, cycle water, moderate temperatures, sequester carbon out of the atmosphere, and give oxygen in return. They can offer shade and habitat.

Stacking functions is a useful permaculture lens to develop.

In a mechanistic view of a farm, each aspect is reduced to one use. You have pigs for meat, cows for milk, veggies for human consumption, cover crops and fertilizers to feed the soil, machines to manage the land, and waste products to grapple with.

Clove Currant Blossoms

But in nature (meaning in reality) complexity and relationships are what create health and resiliency.

Understanding that animals also make soil-feeding manure, and that their behaviors can be used in healthy land management leads to systems taking them out of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation) to go back onto pasture with rotational grazing. Increased soil life, better crops, fewer fertilizer inputs needed, and no waste.

A reductionist mindset is often applied to our lives as well – school is to learn information, work is for making money, home is for raising a family, vacation is for relaxing. But, we’re better off when we realize it’s not that simple.

Red Currant Blossoms

When work is seen as a critical place of social connection, programs strengthening relationships increase satisfaction and performance. Remembering that our homes can also be productive work places can inspire us to develop skills in our gardens, woodworking shops, and sewing rooms. Integrating fun and relaxing activities into our lives rather than just waiting for vacations can make our communities and lives more vibrant.

Meanwhile, I thank my plants for the many ways they feed and support life!

Peach Blossoms

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Filed under Gardens, Honey Bees, Permaculture principles, Uncategorized