Asparagus Drama

Asparagus Crown

Asparagus Crowns positioned

I am trying to catch up on my blogging about all the garden excitement last week, but then we had some more drama this week.  On Saturday, I was able to plant the second asparagus bed, along the side of the garage.  (Sylvia and I had planted the first bed last Wednesday and then started digging the trench for this one.)  Saturday, I finished digging the trench–which also involved pulling out lots of big and small rocks.  Then I added compost and a bit of rock phosphate and wood ashes.  I positioned the crowns on little mounds, spreading out their roots in a star shape around the center.

Asparagus Crowns buried

The part I couldn’t photograph was me trying to lean over the big pile of dirt on the side, to actually reach into the trench to position all those crowns.  It was pretty funny.  After that, I covered them with more compost, and then soil.  As the spikes emerge, you are meant to keep covering them so that only a couple inches show, until the soil is even with the ground again.  So this next photo is rather boring, just a trench of dirt really.  But now you know what is hiding underneath.

 

THEN, on Monday night we had torrential rain here in Maine.  Tuesday morning, when I woke up, this next photo was what I saw out my window.  The rain barrels and their foundations had toppled over.  I had extended the trench a couple feet beyond the garage wall, along the side of the rain barrel, thinking that the asparagus would be lovely next to it.  And all might have been well once the trench was filled in again.  But when the rains came pouring down, the soil was weakened, and the barrels were at their heaviest.  The cement block near the edge must have sunk down, destabilizing the balance of the barrels, and the whole set-up collapsed.  The cement blocks fell into the trench.

Rain Barrel calamity

I was able to pull out the blocks, and move the barrels, but will have to wait until the ground dries out a little to set them up again.  I guess I had better fill in that end of the trench before I do it too.  Margy always is reminding me that mistakes are a part of this process–that I am learning as I go along.  Yep–don’t dig a hole next to your rain barrel foundations!

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Planting Peas

Planting peas

Friday, March 30, on the day before the full moon, I planted 32 sugar snap peas in the garden bed that I created last fall.  It seems early, but the ground was workable, and I set up the string trellis for them to climb, and re-attached the rain barrels near the back of the garage to make it easy to water them.  (And today it is raining!)  We’ll see how they do.  I will plant more a couple weeks later so that we get peas ripening in stages.  And we’ll add lettuce and carrots and spinach which like to grow with peas, and maybe other things too.  Last year I focused on perennials, but this will be an annual bed.

We noticed last spring that this area was free of snow before other parts of the yard, and got some good sun.  In permaculture, observation always comes first!  So we put this spot into our plan for a veggie bed.  Then, as I was starting to dig out the pond late last summer, I needed to put that top soil somewhere.  So I laid down cardboard over the grass in this spot, and then added layers of soil with compost and grass clippings and other amendments to create a raised bed.  There is still a long ways to go before the pond will be done–who knows how many more raised beds it will inspire?

By the way, that long black hose you can see in the photo is an overflow from the rain barrels, and eventually will be attached to another length of hose to be the water source for our pond.

 

Too much water, too little water

I have been thinking about the flooding in Houston, and all the other devastating ways the planet is adapting to our carbon in the air, with changing weather patterns, intense storms, different water patterns.  Thankfully, my sister and other family members in the Houston area are safe.  Meanwhile, we have drought here in Maine.  It hasn’t rained for over ten days. I don’t have answers for what to do about the new reality of flooding in our land, but I thought I could talk about what we are doing to address drought here in Maine.

So, last week, we were able to finish the rest of our rain barrels!   One of the useful aspects of rain barrels is to preserve water in the landscape to be able to weather the ups and downs of water flow.  We now have rain barrels gathering the run-off from each roof on our land.

IMG_2823

The final rain barrel is finished!

Measure the downspoutI want to post about the learning session that Dave led on the 23rd to finish our rain barrels and teach a few of us more about how to install rain barrels.  I will talk today about how to attach the barrels to the downspouts of our gutters.  Once the rain barrels themselves are positioned, you can measure and mark the downspout about 8 to 12″ above the top of the barrel.

Unscrew the downspout attachment

 

 

Then remove the downspout by unscrewing the fastening screws on the wall and to the gutter.  Once those are unfastened, you can pull the vertical downspout apart from the connectors to the gutter.

Unscrew the connector

 

 

The fun part is cutting the downspout itself to the right length with tin snips, using both right-handed and left-handed snips.  (Right handed are red-handled, and left are green.) The basic idea is to mark the downspout with a pencil line all around, and be aware of the part you are going to keep, and the other part which will not be part of the finished downspout (the scrap side–but you can save it for other uses.)  Then punch a hole with the point of the snips near your line, but in the scrap side, and start cutting around the marked line.  But, also, about an inch further into the scrap side, you start another cut, so that you can work both those cuts at the same time.  It makes it easier to go round the downspout.  If you are right-handed, you use the right hand snip for your “good” cut, and the other snip for the helping cut.  This picture shows a left-handed person making the good cut.  As you go around the pipe you can cut off that little strip so it doesn’t get in your way.Cutting the downspout

Once the downspout is cut, you reattached it to the gutter, and reattach the screws, or make new ones as needed to attach it to the wall.  Then, attach a plastic downspout extension piece that you can buy at a hardware store in large or small sizes, and position it to end over your rain barrel  (see first picture).  Hurray!

 

Layers of Community-Rain Barrels

Barrel Spigot Trial Dave & Margy

[Margy and Dave testing the spigot height]

Part of the work of our Permablitz on Saturday was installing rain barrels.  How is this a layer of community?  Because water creates a link between all living beings.  When it rains, water washes over the land, and also pours from our roofs into gutters and downspouts.  By installing rain barrels, we have the capacity to slow down the flow of water–to bring more of it into use for the community of plants we are cultivating.  So when it rains, it waters our garden twice–once during the rain, and then once more when we use the water in the barrels to water plants on the dry days.Mike & Sharon hauling cinder blocks

 

AND: we had a community of people helping to install the rain barrels.  First they had to haul cement blocks to the five sites for the barrels.

Rain barrel team-Dave, Chris, Carla, Harold, Mike, Sharon (hidden)

Then David taught everyone on the team the process of the installation.  I wasn’t able to be a part of that team, but some things I observed.

Rain barrels Carla & Chris

The land at the site was cleared of mulch and grass, and leveled off.  Then sand was added, and tamped down and leveled.  The cement blocks were positioned on the sand base.

 

Rain Barrel Spigots Dave & Carla

 

 

Meanwhile, another part of the team was drilling correct size holes in the barrels for spigots.  These spigots are able to be removed in the winter, so the rain barrels can stay in place. So the spigots were installed.  Holes were also drilled for connecting tubes for overflow and to connect more than one barrel per downspout.

Rain Barrels Dave & SharonWith all that done, the barrels could be positioned on the concrete blocks.  Then, the downspouts were cut short, and a curvy connector was attached to bring the water to the barrel.

 

 

Finally it was possible for it all to be hooked up.  The team was able to complete the hook up for four rain barrels, and do everything except the hook up for two more.  We have two more rain barrels that we hope to install later.

After- Rain Barrel close-up

 

Rain Barrels

Rain BarrelsThe Portland Water District offers inexpensive rain barrels each year, so Margy and I ordered four barrels to supplement the few we already have.  We picked them up amid dozens of barrels at the East End Water Treatment Facility.  These are repurposed olive oil barrels so we’re glad to recycle rather than buy something created with new plastic.

One of our projects for our permablitz will be to create wooden stands for the rain barrels, so they are high enough to fill a watering can from the spigot, or get a little pressure for further away in the garden.  We plan to install them under all of our gutter drains.  In fact, under the drains closest to our gardens, we are hoping to have two barrels side by side, with one feeding overflow into the other.

It is also possible to construct your own barrels, with olive oil barrels, and parts purchased separately–I helped to do that at another permablitz maybe last year.  But these were easy, and installing them on stands and adjusting the down spouts will be enough for us to try to accomplish.  Each time it rains, I wish they were already installed.

Rain barrels are one way we are honoring the water on our land, using what we can that falls from the sky, rather than needing to buy more city water for our gardens.

Permablitz!

We just found out that we were chosen to be a Permablitz site this season, on June 24!  Permablitzes are organized by the Resilience Hub in Portland, and as described on their website:

Permablitzes are essentially the mother of all work parties, permaculture-style.  With permablitz events we tap into our own local “barn raising” ethos to help each other install edible landscapes, renewable energy, water collection systems and more all in one day.

Our hopes are to install several rain barrels, create a frog pond and a fire circle, maybe help with our bittersweet control, and do more soil enhancements and aeration.  We think of these as structural components of our garden, and it is also suggested by permaculture experts to do any earth shaping projects near the start of your work–the frog pond is in that category.   Also, depending on where we are in our planting process, we might get help with sheet mulching and plantings for our cherry tree guilds, and Sylvia’s herb garden.  Our friend Sylvia, who helped us plant our cherry trees, has studied herbal healing.  She doesn’t have land where she lives, so we invited her to create an herb garden here at our home.  We are so excited about this collaboration!

I have been to several Permablitz work parties over the last few years, and while there is a great benefit to hosting a Permablitz, there is also a lot of benefit to participating as a worker. Along with the joy of helping someone’s garden grow, I have learned a little more each time about the principles of permaculture, about strategies for water collection, about soil health, about growing gardens in general, about ideas for edible landscapes that I might never have heard about.  It is also a lovely way to meet folks who care about the earth, and our relationship to it.  So if you will be in Portland on June 24th, you are invited to come to our  Permablitz.  When the event is posted with all the details, I’ll share it.

Permaculture Design, Phase OneThis is a section of our evolving Permaculture Design for our yard.  (It didn’t really work to try to put the whole design into one photo, so this is of the half of the yard nearest the house.) I had started this design by measuring everything in our yard and putting them on grid paper–the grids equate to 3 feet square.  Then we had lots more input with our Intro to Permaculture Design class, and a conversation afterward with the leaders, Heather and Julie.

Last weekend, I went back to the original, and filled in some trees that were already on our land, and then began adding the design elements that are among our first steps in the plan.  I added color!  I haven’t drawn in all of our future ideas.  We are growing our garden slowly, so that we can learn what we need to learn as we go, and not take on more than we can handle right now.  (I am thinking of taking this design and making copies on which to draw our speculations for future ideas.)  I also haven’t yet drawn in Sylvia’ herb garden, which will be near the ornamental cherries, but she hasn’t determined the configuration yet.

I love the design part of the process, and while I sit in the back yard, I am always getting new ideas about where future plants might go.  Blueberries, hazelnuts, apple trees… and then I step back and breathe, and let myself go slow, and enjoy.  Because every step of this process has been such a joy!

All the Water Is One Water #3

In honor of World Water Day, part 3 of my chapter “All the Water Is One Water”from Finding Our Way Home.

At the Earth Activist Training we learned about Permaculture, a science of designing systems that can meet human needs while regenerating the land around us. Its ethical mandates are to care for the earth, to care for the people, and to share the surplus. I especially loved the cheerful atmosphere of hope and creativity that was engendered. Much of the environmental situation is foreboding and terrifying. But at the training I discovered a merry band of folks who sang while they gardened and went around the world demonstrating alternatives that make a real difference.

Permaculture observes natural patterns to create highly productive environments. For example, it uses the model of the forest to create food forests—gardens of fruit and nut trees, vines, bushes, and ground cover that can function together to feed a family while nurturing the land in a sustainable way. Agribusiness narrowly regards one crop as the only valuable entity, and sees all other life forms as weeds or pests. But if we look more closely at the natural world, we discover diversity is the norm and there are beneficial relationships throughout the plant and animal realms. In one example recounted by bio-chemist Linda Jean Shepherd,

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz studied the traditional Mexican farming practice of pruning back, rather than pulling, a weed that commonly sprouts between rows of corn. They found that the roots of the weed Bidens pilosa secrete compounds lethal to fungi and nematodes that destroy corn. Instead of competing with the corn, the weed controls the pests without significantly stealing soil nutrients from the corn. The practice protects the soil and provides more wholesome food.[i]

The more we learn about nature, the more we see that everywhere diverse plants and animals are interconnected with each other, offering mutual benefit and function; modern agribusiness has ignored this to our detriment. To live sustainably, we must learn from nature, we must open our eyes to the lessons it can teach us about how all beings are related to one another.

Permaculture design also offers sustaining and restorative approaches to our use of water. In a natural landscape, water is absorbed and held in place by plants and trees, and advances very slowly through the ecosystem. When the surface of the earth is covered with concrete for buildings and roads, the water rushes quickly over the surface, picking up pollutants it brings to rivers and lakes. When forests are cut down, or grasslands uprooted for agriculture, the drylands can devolve into desert. Permaculture designers have created tools to slow the water down, and capture it for use. These designs can purify water moving through a system, or reverse the process of desertification.

Swale

[Swale creating at the Earth Activist Training]

We learned about and built one such tool, called a swale. This is a small ditch created in alignment with the contour of the sloping soil, so rain washing over the soil will be captured, and can be used in plantings near the edge of the swale. The plantings then serve to keep the moisture in the landscape. A swale can also be used to direct water from one area to another. The goal is to slow the flow of water for as long as possible, and thus restore the fertility of the soil, rather than letting the water wash away into creeks that flow rapidly out to rivers and to the sea.

Adopting another practice, Margy and I purchased two rain barrels to collect the rain-water that ran off our garage roof, for use in watering the blueberry bushes and vegetables and flowers we had planted in our front yard. We learned about how high off the ground the barrels needed to be, in order for gravity to pull the water all the way to the plants. We learned that water in a rain barrel heats up in the hot summer sun. We learned how quickly a rainstorm can fill two fifty-gallon barrels.

It is important to take these small steps toward changing our relationship to water use, even in our comparatively water abundant climate in Maine. Even here we need to learn about conserving water and treating it with respect. We face challenges from multinational corporations who bottle our Maine water for sale around the world. The bottled water industry isn’t concerned about the water needs of local communities or ecosystems. They negotiate contracts to extract the water for almost nothing, and put it into plastics that end up in the waste system causing further pollution.

Permaculture design follows the principle that in nature there is no waste. What one system doesn’t need, another system uses. Our human society wastes an incredible amount of water, even though we know it is scarce. We use it for washing and showering and then let it drain into the septic system or sewer. Why not build gray water systems that take the water from washing and showering and pipe it out for use in the garden?

[i] Quote from an article by Linda Jean Shepherd, “My Life with Weed,” The Sweet Breathing of Plants: Women Writing on the Green World, edited by Linda Hogan & Brenda Peterson (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 200.