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 www.SavannaInstitute.org, 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.