As I mentioned last week, Dan and I made plans to visit his family's hunting ground last weekend to see what we could do to make a permaculture garden there. Intending only to check out the land and do a little nominal moving around of things, we weren't quite prepared for what we actually ended up doing: building the entire garden framework, digging up the sod and spreading mulch over the bed. It turned out quite nice all the same!
What we had perceived as the biggest challenges of the land - marshy areas, dense forest and supremely sandy soil in the clearings - we decided to work with instead of trying to fight, which I think is the key to not only gardening but life in general.
Listening to the land and looking at what it actually has to offer, we noticed the forest floor was covered in fallen pine needles and underneath this layer, we found the soil to be really moist when we plunged our hands into it, though it hadn't rained in the past week. This was important to notice, as we realized the pine needles could be used as a great mulch for our garden, as it helped the soil beneath retain water so well. Moreover, the pine needles were so abundant and readily available, it was as if they were there waiting for us to use them for this purpose.
Following this line of thought, we figured that using fallen tree logs to form the bed made sense, as they were likewise so available. As chance would have it, though, Dan's grandfather had several 4x4s tucked into the woods behind their shed that he had intended to use long ago for a project he'd abandoned. So since we had these 4x4s and a general idea of how we might mulch, we just got to work and built the garden.
Luckily, they also had a number of tools in their shed for our use. We really only had to cut one board down to size, as the rest were uniform and we weren't all too worried about the aesthetic of the garden in this case. We nailed the boards together like so, and then proceeded to dig out all of the sod within the frame. It was hot, hard work! The whole thing only took about 4 hours to make though and, having not really planned to do this, I think it came out pretty awesome.
So what's next? We're thinking one more trip up to the land before the first frost to bring in some compost, which we'll put in between the sandy soil and the pine needle mulch and then recover with the needles. Bringing in this organic matter should help enrich the soil further for spring planting.
We've been researching the best plants to grow in sandy soil and they are: brambles, herbs and root vegetables. I am hoping to further my lavender pursuits, as the lavender I currently planted I actually bought cactus soil for because it needs soil that drains well. We'll definitely do strawberries and maybe a raspberry bush. I'm hoping also to put in some flowers and wonder about roses, but I believe they require a lot more consistent pruning than we'd be able to do, though I think the soil would be pretty good for them.
I think the important lesson here was learning how to work with what you have, and I mean that on every level, from the soil to the wood to the tools. We just knew we wanted to create a garden and then we just did it. I think this was a really important breakthrough for me because I get hung up on doing things perfectly or envisioning a future state of being where the things I want to do will be easier or somehow come more naturally than they could at the moment, and this is perhaps the least zen I could be. I try to practice consciousness and staying present in the moment, but all of my actions lately have been contrary to this. It's really important to have moments of clarity like that to recenter oneself and practice conscious thought.
I think it's probably natural but also not an excuse at all to let the day to day "struggles" obscure your deeper meaning and the searching of your soul, and even hinder you from pursuing your external goals. Reconnecting to these internal sources is something I try to practice in my daily life, but it sometimes gets muddled until I'm out of my familiar surroundings and able to view things from a distance. In time, I hope to be able to find the source within me to gain this insight.
On our way home from the hunting land, we wound through Southwestern Wisconsin, the Driftless Region, stopping in charming Mineral Point and Dodgeville, up to a farm for sale near Spring Green that we have our eye on, out west to Platteville and down through Monroe, then into Illinois to check out Angelic Organics in Caledonia. We saw so much that inspired us on our drive - so many people living on farms that neighbored one another were each providing a unique service right on their property: from storage lockers to dog kennels to wedding venues and produce sales, it seemed a really interesting type of barter system might have sparked between them for a close knit, self-reliant community of people trading goods and services to one another.
This is the rolling landscape around Mineral Point:
And the Angelic Organics Farm land:
So while that was a restorative and empowering weekend, we continued the momentum yesterday with a visit to the Wisconsin Permaculture Convergence in Fredonia, WI, where we met up with two of Dan's coworkers from The Organic Gardener, and their friend, who is also interested in these sorts of efforts.
It was a supremely invigorating experience, being around these folks who all had similar frames of thought, but with varying takes on the theme and agendas quite different than our own. Thomas, for instance, was really interested in the communal living aspect of the conference, while the rest of us could not fathom that lifestyle. And Mike taught me about the amount of water we waste with reclamation facilities and almost convinced me of the merits of compostable toilets (until I had to use a porta-potty...ugh). Dan and I took the most interest in learning about permaculture on a farm-scale level and thus enjoyed the talk given by Iowa city farmer Grant Schultz.
Mr. Schultz owns Versaland, a silvopasture (whose definition I admit I had to Google), which is a form of permaculture in which one cultivates trees and animals in a situation that benefits both and enhances in the soil. A ton of it was way over my head and I spent the day alternately very humbled by my lack of knowledge and empowered to learn as much as I could. Anyway, it was interesting to hear the story of his farm, as he only began leasing his land 3 years ago, so the orchard is quite young still and his business just beginning. He undertook this effort with such meticulous planning, hiring folks to come do a topographical survey of the land so that he could utilize every piece of it in the most beneficial way.
It was also neat because he was in real Monsanto land being in Iowa City and literally neighbored mostly corn and soy bean fields, so was certainly forging a new path in that area. Another thing that he kept touching on was the high level of bureaucracy that he had to deal with not only securing the land but in the continued efforts to push boundaries of living off the land. His greatest advice was to "move to the Driftless and keep your head down," which is, of course, precisely what we intend to do. It got a knowing chuckle from the audience.
I'm stupid about not getting photos of people, but I do have some of the beautiful land from the convergence, held at Bur Oak Farm in Fredonia. Please enjoy!
I've also been meaning to share a photo of Dan's most recent project with The Organic Gardener, a garden the shape of a dodecagon. This is perhaps more akin to the sort of garden that we'd build on our own property, or should we go into this business together someday, for our clients.