The next day, we started this journey...
Consider us lucky and/or crazy, but we have about 6 acres, much of which was wooded with 80' white pines that had replaced the chestnuts around 1920 when the blight destroyed much of the local canopy. We started gathering dead limbs and arranging them in large hugelkultur mounds. It's a great way to use less water and fertilizers.
We got a bees for dummies book about honey bees and ordered our first colony. I've never been too afraid of bees but it didn't help that the local post office was freaked out that my package was rather angry and buzzing.
White pines are pretty, but other than the cambium that you can eat like cardboard if you are hungry, there's little nutritional value, so we stated cutting them down. mostly by ourselves. Occasionally, I'd climb one to see what kind of view we had.
We turned a long stretch of the basement into a seed starting area with LED grow lights.
My goal every year is to have harvestable tomatoes by the 4th of July.
In between the hard work, we took breaks to walk the woods. We looked for what was around us that could be foraged in an emergency: blueberries, chicken of the woods, fiddle heads, cattails. In some of our future workshops, we'll have an expert take us on walks to see all the things we can forage.
Occasionally we came across a hardwood tree that needed to come down. We chopped those to keep us warm in the winter and installed a environmentally friendly, highly efficient fireplace insert.
We had been proud of our old 20' x 40' garden bed. It was surrounded with a picket fence that my wife and daughter enjoyed painting yellow (and themselves). I had dug down about a foot and installed hardware cloth to keep the rabbits out.
But that's not a survival garden.
So, in the name of progress we replaced our weekend garden space with a 200' x 50' area for row cropping in the most open part of the property (our old lawn). We dug out all the rocks and made sure it was rather level (with a slight pitch to prevent pooling).
The month after COVID caused the US economy to grind to a halt, we were ready to give our baby chicks a home (a home that wasn't our bathtub).
Our daughter could be found sitting with the chicks.
It looked like she was trying to set a world record -- 30 chicks nestling with her at the same time.
We want the chestnuts back!
We joined the The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) and support their cause of returning the American Chestnut to our ecosystem. In fact we have several American Chestnuts still struggling to survive more than 100 years after the blight destroyed them. They sucker up new shoots from 200+ year old roots, live a few years, get the blight, and then die back and try again. While we wait for TACF to create a robust blight resistant American Chestnut, we have planted 50 Chinese, Japanese, and other blight resistant varieties in our Nut Forest. We built swales on the hillside to prevent water runoff and make it easier for us to walk among the trees and harvest the nuts.
I'll admit that it wasn't my idea, but we were a month into COVID lockdown with three families living in community and 5 children under the age of 12. They lobbied for some of the federal COVID relief funds to be earmarked for them.
History and family mean everything. As we worked to turn our land into a food forest, I had to save my grandmother's redbud. It's in the same family with other nitrogen fixers and some think they might have some of the same benefits in a permaculture environment. But that wasn't the driving force.
My mother's mother was the first one born on US soil. On her Kansas farm, her favorite tree was this redbud. My mother took a sucker of it and grew it in our back yard where I grew up in Arlington, MA. I took two of its suckers and had them growing in our yard. They ground me and help me give thanks to all those who have come before us.
We're still in May 2020 -- COVID lockdown month 1 -- and our first permaculture plantings have arrived from Edible Landscaping. These are some of the fruits that are now part of our morning breakfasts, that we turn into jams (like Aronia berries mixed with ginger that we grow in the high tunnel and honey from our bees).
It's early June 2020 -- COVID + 2 (meaning 2 months since lockdown). We've finished creating our 200' x 50' row crop space and are planting!
But we need more space for more crops and I've cut down so many trees!
So I used the large excavator to line up all the fallen trees, as if I'm getting ready for a logging truck to pick them up..., but no. Instead, I dig 6' deep holes in the ground, burry them, and take the dirt I've pulled back and cover them in a massive hugelkultur experiment.
Myth 1: I've read pine don't make the best hugelkultur substrate, maybe too acidic. I don't buy it. Oak and other hardwoods follow naturally behind pine everywhere in the world, and besides pine needles are only highly acidic right after they fall, then they turn alkaline.
Myth 2: "They'll rot and you'll have a sink hole" We'll see. I'm not building anything on it and it's the entire area that will gradually sink together. I'm not worried.
If my experiment works, this half acre area is our Grain Belt where corn's taproot will hopefully be delighted to find moisture and composted wood several feet underground. We'll need to protect the corn from the raccoons, in a three-sister style plantings.
I buried about 100 trees, but there were 20' tall piles of others.
We "cheated" and hired a chipping company that chipped them all within 6 hours. It was a beast of a machine.
We use the chips as mulch on the farm.
We saved a few trees to position between rows of trees, each row 10' o.c.. One row for walking, next row for trees in the N.A.P. style.
We have named each of the sections of our farm. Let's review some here...
Here we grow semi-dwarf fruit trees, in the NAP style (Nitrogen fixer, next to an Apple, next to a Pear or other fruit tree, then repeat). This puts nitrogen at the feet of every fruit bearing tree. We use Honey Locust as the nitrogen fixer that create great fodder for our goats.
Anchored by our Chestnuts, some of which will reach 100' at maturity and produce between 50 - 200 lbs of nuts per year, we plant hazelnuts under them, hardy kiwi or grapes running up into their branches, and strawberries and nightshade-family plans like eggplant round the base.
For now, we use the area for lots of additional row cropping for our CSA members. If needed, we'll use it to grow grain type products and things like black beans and potatoes. My ancestors primarily grew Red Russian wheat. When my great grandfather came at age 4, he had to sort through 200 bushels of wheat berries for the largest ones and could only take what could fit in his pocket. Kids like him were what turned Kansas into the breadbasket of the world. I'm named after David Kraus, who started the farm (picture above) in 1871 in central Kansas.
Here, in our high tunnel and in the outside beds, we grow traditional vegetables for ourselves and our extended CSA family.
In the high tunnel, we are able to extend the season, the ground never freezes and we can grow things like chard, kale, and spinach through the winter.
Through the center of the farm are the paddocks for our chickens, goats, and bees. Often they co-mingle and have great fun. The red-tail hawks and red foxes are not too happy to see Bonnie and Silly (our two mother goats) playing with the chickens.
Around the animal fencing, we grow everything they like, and what we like too. Black locust leaves are the goats' favorites. Their wood 'lasts a few years less than granite.' Remember the fencepost in my great grandfather's picture above in the Grain Belt? He buried those in 1872. Their seedpods are edible in a pinch, as well. We also plant mulberries. 8x the anti-oxidants of blueberries and our chickens adore them too. The goats love the leaves (which we can eat as well). We also planted Siberian pea shrubs that we can all eat too!
In the deepest shaded parts of the farm, we grow things that love the shade and dampness. Above are shiitake mushrooms growing on an oak tree that we cut down in the Fruit Forest. Their earthy taste, when cooked slowly in goat cream, pare well with ground chestnut flour noodles, sage, and rosemary. Serve that with a garlic, creamed spinach and you have a world-class meal 100% from the farm.
Here we primarily grow fruits that grow in bush form and low fruit trees like pawpaw.
Ever had a pawpaw?
Along with hardy kiwi, my favorite thing to eat. Pawpaw leaves look tropical, but the tree is native to Massachusetts.
We try to waste nothing. Along the boundaries to the street and deep in the woods, we grow things like Scarlet Firethorn - beautiful edible berries, prolific flowers that our honey bees love, and have long sharp thorns on their vines that will eventually become impenetrable to deer and maybe even woodchucks.
We've only listed what we did through COVID + 3 months.
We've got three more years to share.
Goats, Fish (aquaponics), high tunnel, CSA, Fruit Forest, predators, food storage, rice?
Our goal, at COVID onset, was to grow 100% of what we consume within 7 years.
We've got 4 to go. Will we make it???
MORE COMING SOON!
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