Goodbye, Marcia! Hello, Kevin, Therin and Abby!

I want to let everyone know that I am planning to move to Clearwater, Florida, in mid January. I thought I was in Illinois to stay, but various factors came together that caused me to change my mind.

The next phase of creation to make Lockie Farm a demonstration site for restoration agriculture (a la what Mark Shepard, author of “Restoration Agriculture” is doing) is to add in livestock (cattle, pigs, chickens, etc.) grazing between rows of woody perennial polyculture (chestnut trees, fruit trees, hazelnut shrubs, grapes, and various kinds of berries). I do not have the resources for this next step, but, more importantly, I do not have the interest to do it myself. My basic purpose is more to bring sanity to government and help raise people’s spiritual awareness.

I recently attended, as did 320 others, an awards dinner for the Prairie Rivers organization where Mark Shepard was the keynote speaker. During the cocktail hour before the dinner, I managed to speak with Mark for over five minutes. When I told him I was Case Study #1 with the Savanna Institute, he shook my hand and gave me a great acknowledgement–and then acknowledged me publicly during his speech! Cool to now personally know “The Man”!

Therin and Abby Bradshaw
Therin and Abby Bradshaw

I have found a young couple who are passionate about restoration agriculture and interested in furthering the creation of Lockie Farm. Therin and Abby Bradshaw (see photo) will rent the house and continue to nurture the 5 rows of Woody Perennial Polyculture and 323 hazelnut shrubs around the perimeter. They will be growing food on the 1/2 acre around the house, including planting into the hugelkultur beds. They’ll also be getting chickens going in spring.

I will be leasing the surrounding acres to Kevin Wolz, my Savanna Institute mentor, who will plant more rows of trees/shrubs/berries leading to the creation of silvopasture, with livestock grazing between the rows.

Kevin Wolz
Kevin Wolz

In Clearwater, I’ll be able to work more closely with the computer person for The Affinity Exchange (dating service), plus there are more chances for expanding that business by living there.

When I was in Clearwater in 2011, I started a choir. I look forward to working again with them (singer, director, arranger).

The Libertarian Party is pretty strong in Florida, so I would volunteer with them to further my interest in bringing sanity to government.

And, hopefully, it will be easier for me to find a “mate” while in Clearwater.

My nephew and his family is down the road, and my sister and her husband are around the corner, so there are a bunch of people to help me further the evolution of Lockie Farm.

Love to all, Marcia Powell
Owner of Lockie Farm

The Summer of Superweed Hell!

In July 2014 my mentor from Savanna Institute, Kevin Wolz, came to visit, checked the plants and informed me that they were being stunted by the weeds. Furthermore, the weeds happened to be “superweeds”—weeds that have become resistant to Roundup. Turns out these plants (the species I have is waterhemp) can grow 1-2 inches A DAY (!) and each plant has some 500,000 seeds per plant!! Eeeeeeek! Conventional farmers are indeed freaking out about them because Monsanto’s herbicides do not kill them.

The war started by my paying a couple of guys to come in with their weedwackers and fell the majority; but they could not get to the ones right in the rows of plants. These I had to pull up by hand, or, if they were too big to pull, sickle them off at ground level. Then I had to smother the ground with 4-5” of wood chips to (hopefully) smother the stalk root and kill it. Plus, I found that a few weeks after the weeds had been “wacked” (instead of pulled), they grew new sprouts and so needed to be sickled. Thus from the 2nd week in July up until the first snow, I spent from 2 to 4 hours a day weeding and mulching! One positive by-product: I’ve lost over 10 lbs and am really buff!

While I battled the superweeds, my garden did its thang, producing a bumper crop of cucumbers, squash, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, carrots, beans. Somehow I went through life not realizing that pickles come from cucumbers. Duh. Anyway, I got a recipe for breaded pickles, which Bob made, along with some relish.

One day, working at my computer, I noticed a black sedan slowly backing up down my road, which is a dead end … strange… FBI? CIA? Monsanto? Come to get me…?? So I dashed out and spoke with the driver. Turns out he’s a local farmer who was really curious about what I was doing. I got his number so I can invite him to my open house next summer. Anyway, that prompted me to get a little sign made with my phone number so curious people can call me and stop by. Knowing that little sign would not survive the winter winds, I attached it to a board and some posts. I transplanted a couple of ornamental grass plants my mortgage broker had given me and then purchased some fake red berries and “planted” them in pots to add a splash of color. I’ve come to realize how important it is to me to create beauty as well as a sustainable farm.

The fellow who brings me wood chips brought me some big logs to create some hugelkultur berms. Having placed the logs where I wanted them, I then used my scythe to cut alfalfa, grass—anything green—to pile thickly over the logs. Then I threw a thick layer of mulch on top of the green. Over the many years, the logs deteriorate, resulting in really rich soil! I’ll be planting flowers and/or vegetables in my hugelkultur berms.

Lockie Farm will not have a grass lawn, but instead I’m experimenting with some Irish moss ground cover, and have sown Dutch white clover, which is great food for the bees. “Eat your yard” is the idea I want to convey.

Throughout the winter, as I received more truckloads of [free] wood chips, I would “suit up” and spread the mulch over the ½ acre around the house—my personal “playground.” Got inspired one day after mulching and wrote a humorous essay on the art and science of mulching relating to my B.A. and M.S. degrees.

One very cold day, a new horse-owning friend brought me a trailer load of horse manure. Had to wait a few weeks until the compost in my two big compost bins unfroze enough to add the manure. Manure is like gold to a farmer!

The winter of 2015 was less severe, and, thanks to last summer’s efforts to beautify the property, a little less ugly. Never has the arrival of spring meant so much to me. For the first time (this lifetime), I planted some red tulip bulbs in the fall and was thrilled when they bloomed!

Most of the WPP plants survived the winter. There are some berry rootstocks that are iffy—I’m waiting to see if some root suckers show up. I paid a professional to graft scions (a detached shoot or twig containing buds from a woody plant, used in grafting) onto the fruit trees so that they will bear edible fruit. He then instructed me to pull the mulch away from the rootstocks to prevent fire blight. Yikes!

In May I purchased two beehives and packages of bees. I called out for help to the Central Illinois Beekeepers Club, and they sent Mike Ries to help. Beekeeping is very complex, I discovered, so Mike has agreed to be my beekeeper. He gets to sell the honey, and also gives me some. He’s done such a good job, I now have four hives! So now if someone asks if I have any livestock on Lockie Farm, I can answer yes, as bees are livestock!

Then there was the excessive rains in May and June. The ground got so saturated, it no longer drained (my south border is an irrigation ditch), and I did lose a couple of fruit trees and some berries. The rain also prevented the first cutting of the hay, allowing it to get tall enough to stress the WPP plants.

Dane Hunter is doing some experiments regarding pollination—happy to have him use Lockie Farm for his research. As someone knowledgeable about WPP, he evaluated mine. That resulted in another project—scraping the mulch away from the chestnut trees and sprinkling sulfur around them to improve the pH balance of the soil—another learning experience!

Meanwhile, the hazelnuts that were planted around the border of the farm were being hidden and stunted by the tall alfalfa and grass. I tried to find a machine that could cut around them, but nothing seemed workable, so I am out there with my trusty stainless steel Japanese hand sickle, rescuing them by hand. Japanese beetles caused some leaf damage but did not fully destroy any of them. Next spring I plan to have chickens. I can then knock the beetles into a container and feed them to my chickens!

My first edible crop are the blackberries. Yum, yum! Plan to put up a roadside sign and sell a few. Am also getting some yellow raspberries, also yummy!

The Start of Lockie Farm

I (Marcia Powell) moved into my new modular house on my 20 acres of alfalfa in November 2013. I’m sure you all heard the term “Arctic Vortex” to describe the 2014 winter weather in the Midwest and Northeast. It was indeed non-stop cold and wind and snow. Picture a poor little house and garage surrounded by ugly dirt and mud—no trees, no flowers, no green.

Bob Lawrason, a permaculture designer, arrived on a cold snowy December day. With no trees, there was NO windbreak for the house. Winds up to 55 mph resulted in many shingles blowing off. Anyway, Bob spent a lot of time doing a permaculture design for Lockie Farm. (Lockie is a family name—my grandmother, sister, and niece are all Lockie’s).

I am Case Study #1 (see, Lockie Farm), for Woody Perennial Polyculture. I paid for 2 acres ($5000 per acre—on credit cards, gulp!) of trees/shrubs/berries. Roundup was used in October 2013 to kill the alfalfa, as I was led to believe there was no other way to kill it so it wouldn’t overpower the new plants. But Bob freaked, so we remedied the situation by digging up the top 3” and then putting purchased compost in.

“Restoration Agriculture” by Mark Shepard is a brilliant book published in 2013 about how agriculture should be done. Being on a mission to get farmers enlightened and inspired to start transitioning to this method of farming, I gambled and purchased a case (28 books) so that I could get them into people’s hands—especially local farmers–at a lower price. Sold them all!

The next big event was planting the Woody Perennial Polyculture (WPP—pronounced “wupp”), which occurred on May 10th. I had fun telling people that on Mother’s Day weekend I “gave birth” to 2500 plants! They are hybrid chestnuts (tall trees), fruit trees (medium trees), hazelnut shrubs, grapes, and various kinds of berries mixed in.

I staked out a half acre around my house to be my personal permaculture playground. Ideally I want to grow produce in a greenhouse, but I have to figure out how to finance one. Meanwhile, I ordered a high-quality hand scythe and learned to use it. As I cut a large swath of alfalfa, I wondered how many lifetimes I had wielded a scythe. I then paid someone to rototill the remaining stubble. Next came the double-dig thing. Turns out alfalfa has VERY long roots and is impossible to pull up. So I had to dig and hoe in order to expose the roots such that I could cut them off with clippers. Then I piled a lot of dirt over them in the hopes that will kill them off eventually. Anyway, I counted over 10 steps from starting to dig to actually planting seeds!! Hard work, but I’m hoping it will pay off for this year and years to come. In this garden I planted “CBS” (corn, beans, and squash—the “Three Sisters”–a body can live on these), cucumbers, broccoli, edamame, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and kohlrabi. They produced well enough that I had to donate some to the local food bank.

Given that my poor widdle house has no trees around it, I embarked on the challenge of landscaping. I purchased some evergreens and bushes to be the “necklace” in front of the house. I planted flowers in an old iron kettle and buried it so that it is in my line of sight when I’m working at my computer.

Bob and I attended a number of informal meetings of an environmental group interested especially in improving the water quality of our rivers and streams. Bruce, the leader, had some Bur Oak (native to the Midwest savanna) seedlings to give away to only those who will plant them and turn in a map as to where they are located. They will take 30 years or so to mature, so recipients need to be people who can do things for succeeding generations, which, of course, I can easily do. We received and Bob planted a dozen around the acreage.

Bob took six of the 300-gallon totes we purchased from the highway department at a great discount and transformed them into rain barrels to catch water coming off the roofs. He fixed each one up with a spigot and then camouflaged them with trellis. There were droughts here the last two summers, so it feels good to have these, what with all our plants.

Bob built a special burn barrel in which to make biochar. He sprinkled it around the WPP plants and then we innoculated it with compost tea, which adds microbes and such to the biochar particles, which then incorporate into the soil, enriching its nutrient value.

On Mulching

One of the articles on my Messages from Marcia blog, is entitled “The Summer of Superweed Hell!” It tells about how I have been spending 2-4 hours a day weeding and then mulching with the intention being to smother the weeds so that they do not come up again next spring and throw me into a sci-fi-esque scene of being surrounded by millions of superweeds!

What are ‘superweeds’?” my city-folk friends may ask. Once I found I had lots of them on my acreage, I had to study up on the science of superweeds. There are numerous varieties, mine being Waterhemp, but they have in common that they’ve evolved a resistance to the herbicide Roundup, which most of the farmers (and gardeners) here in Central Illinois use to kill weeds. They can grow 2” in a day (!) and one plant has around 500,000 seeds!! Freaky! Now, even though I’m involved in this intense battle and have killed thousands of them, I gotta hand it to the little devils for their ability to survive. It’s like they’re giving the finger to Monsanto—take that! And that! And that! Anyway, the farmers are freaked out, so I gotta handle mine so they don’t sue me because my plants’ seeds blew into their fields.

When Kevin (my Woody Perennial Polyculture mentor) told me last July that I needed to take them down immediately, I paid a couple of his guys to go through the rows with their jim-dandy weed wackers. Two problems with this— (1) they couldn’t use the weed wackers close to the new plants for fear of accidentally chopping them down; and (2) the weed stumps that are left then coppice. (Look it up… I had to… You can probably guess… clue: remember “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from “Fantasia”?)

You no doubt wonder why I do not hire others to do this work—after all, you just take the mulch and put it where you want it, right? Well, let me tell you, it is an ART and a SCIENCE! Without my B.S. (Bachelor of Science) and M.A. (Master of Arts) degrees, I doubt I could do it!

For instance, there is SCIENCE regarding one’s tools. Of the hand sickles I tried, only the one with the Japanese blade worked. Then, it mysteriously disappeared! Weeks later it was found out in the alfalfa. (Playful coyote?) So enter the science of putting bright orange tape on the handle—and buying two more sickles based on the proven scientific theory that if something is really important, one should have two of them.

Note that some of the Waterhemp stems are so thick and strong that I have to use LOPPERS (the tool one uses to prune branches off trees) to cut them off! It only takes me a couple of tugs now to know which I can pull up by the roots and which need to be sickled or lopped.

Then there’s the SCIENCE of wheelbarrows. The little red one was the right one for a little ol’ (71) lady, 5’2”, 110 lbs., but one day the nuts fell off, as did the wheel. Try to find nuts in an alfalfa field! When I went to purchase nuts and bolts to fix it, I did not know the right kind to buy, and bought ones that were unworkable. Who would have thought it—something as simple as nuts and bolts?! That’s when I learned that the big green wheelbarrow someone gave me was hard to handle. How can a wheelbarrow be hard to handle? Well, it has to do with the science of height and weight and angles and force… it’s complex, but all I know is I sure was happy to get my little red wheelbarrow fixed!

An 8-pronged pitchfork works best to pitch the wood chips; but then there’s the SCIENCE relating to the length of the handle. When I found one with a short handle AND a hand grip on the end, I was in heaven!

As for work clothes, now we’re talking both SCIENCE AND ART. You would think in the heat of summer I would want to be as bare as possible. But, no! That would leave my skin bare such that I would get a weird-looking tan (being a girl who can’t just strip naked to the waist!). Also my dermatologist warns to stay out of the sun from 10 to 2. Thus I had to have TWO work bras, morning and afternoon, so that each would have 24 hours to dry out before being worn again. The best pants have a loose elastic waist, loose fit, 4 pockets, light in summer, heavier in winter. Summer shirt is a white/light man’s shirt, big, loose, with collar, and long sleeves whose cuffs I cut off to a length where the shirtsleeve meets the gardening gloves. And, yes, I always wear gardening gloves—ones that are good for both pulling the weeds and for handling the pitchfork and spreading the mulch. Imelda Marcos had 1000 pairs of shoes… I have a dozen pairs of work gloves.

As for proper footwear, thanks to my natively high intelligence, I knew to purchase rubber blog shoes (for summer) and fur-lined work boots for winter. Do NOT try to find these at the mall; search for stores like Farm and Fleet. Then try not to accidentally puncture your boots with your pitchfork! Ha, ha! Your footwear can stay in the garage in summer, but in winter you want your boots (and gloves) to be warm. I had to turn my utility room into a “mud room,” which creates an artistic challenge!

How to keep the sweat out of one’s eyes? A zillion ways, no doubt. But I chose to use a bandana–in my color palette (ART), of course, in case anyone stopped by—properly folded and tied. If it wasn’t too windy, I’d wear my straw hat that ties under the chin, mainly when the sun was low as in early morning and late evening.

There’s an old adage about weather in Illinois: “If you don’t like it, wait five minutes!” Harty-har-har! But, damn, if ain’t pretty true!

In winter, there’s more SCIENCE to be applied, e.g. one needs to know the formula for how many degrees to lower the temperature due to wind chill. It’s also smart to research and know just when frostbite sets in, and at what point your fingers/toes turn black and fall off. You can read about why mittens are warmer than gloves, but there’s nothing like experiencing the difference in real life. Then be glad you live in a high-tech world in which you can purchase handwarmers—little packets with magical ingredients that get warm when you shake them. I can’t pull weeds with packet-mittened hands, but I sure can pitch and spread mulch!

I’m still learning about the relationship between coldness of the air (factoring the wind chill—and there is ALWAYS wind on Lockie Farm!), thermal underwear (which comes in 3 gradients of thermalness), and body temperature. Ya pretty well gotta have a degree in math to figure this out!

Then there’s the SCIENCE of wind. First thing to figure out is the direction from which it is blowing, necessary to know so as to prevent the dirt from the mulch from blowing into your eyes. Knowing this, one then has to figure where to place the wheelbarrow and which direction to pitch from. It didn’t take me very many times of getting dirt in my eyes to figure out that I should close them once I start to make the pitch. That brings up the factor of PRACTICE. By consciously practicing squinching my eyes when pitching, I can pretty well do it now automatically—like automatically sharping the F’s when playing in G major.

Now you probably haven’t thought about the SCIENTIFIC aspect of the control necessary to dump the contents of the wheelbarrow exactly where you want it. One has to lift up the handles and then, keeping the contents balanced, change from a pushing grip to a dumping grip—a bit of fancy “hand jive”! For a “righty,” the left hand and arm is weaker; so I had to consciously send more energy to the left hand when dumping, otherwise I could lose control (happened a few times!) and have the mulch land in the wrong spot—an error not easily fixed given the tiny size of a wood chip!

After making the dump, I carefully spread the pile of mulch into a 3-square foot patch. As a lady, I like to be dignified, but I could never figure out the ART of remaining dignified while bending over with legs akimbo, butt up, pawing the mulch with my hands! But I was good at the ART of smoothing the seams between the 3-square-foot patches.

As for the SCIENCE of the body, more than once I had a few ribs go out, and looks like I have a case of “pitchfork elbow”! Question: if I keep mulching, will it heal, or not? My chiropractor and masseuse work on them and know better than to tell me to stop working. Plus I learned that if I weed/mulch directly after eating a big meal, it tends to come up when I bend over. Yuck! But the good news is that I’ve lost 10 lbs and have developed rock-hard quads and biceps!

It’s good to have a devil-may-care attitude when it comes to bodily functions. When I was working a quarter mile away from the house, I wasn’t about to walk all the way back and forth just to relieve myself. I just put some toilet paper in my pocket, look both ways, squat behind the wood pile, and postulate that the act was not happening exactly on the hour, which is when Kevin’s research camera takes a picture of my acreage.

My SCIENCE physics lesson came one late afternoon when dark clouds gathered and I started hearing thunder. Of course, I kept working. Then I started seeing some lightning flashes. Hmmm… I’m out in a big field, no trees, exposed… plus I’m holding a sickle with a metal blade… and handling a metal wheelbarrow … now what was that experiment Ben Franklin did with the kite and lightning? Damned if I could remember! So when the next lightning bolt occurred, I made what I figured was an intelligent decision and bravely speed-walked back to the house.

Also involved is the SCIENCE of prediction. There are three tree services who bring me free mulch, but I usually only have a few hours (if that) notice of when they will arrive. So the game is to take down a new mulch pile as fast as possible, and also to always know where I want the next one to be delivered. Sometimes there are choices, and factors can easily change, so one must learn how to compute on many random factors, make the right decision, and have the ability to change one’s decision at the last moment. Being female, that last part is pretty easy for me. 🙂

I could easily feel that there’s something wrong with a person who has two college degrees doing manual labor. But I remind myself that I am not just mulching superweeds—I am an Agriculture Activist (ahem), creating a farm that can be a demonstration site for restoration agriculture. Knowing I am “on purpose,” and having figured out all of the above, I can more easily get into the zen-like, be-in-the-moment frame of mind, and just happily mulch away!

I hope you now understand why I’m so glad I got a B.S. and an M.A. and am doing my own mulching. Hire a teenaged hunk who only thinks about you-know-what to do this complex work? I don’t think so!