Picture Dad put on Facebook of a rocket
from Gaza being shot down over Be'er Sheva.
I was gone from Songaia for a long weekend at the Oregon Country Fair, and it’s incredible how much the garden has changed in so little time. All the blueberries are ripe, the beans are surging up their trellises, and the tomato plants in the hoop-house are finally looking big and strong. The keyhole beds, whose rounded edges and serious inter-cropping, have looked to this point like not much more than a mess of dandelions, but with all the vegetables finally asserting themselves it now looks like a mess of delicious abundance. When you’re working in the garden every day these changes are hard to see, but even a few days at this time of year and it really is incredible. I tend to approach the garden as a problem-solver, on the lookout for things that need fixing: the fungus on the pear leaves, the struggling blueberries in the north food forest, the four successive plantings of carrots mowed down by slugs. Pulling back then from daily work let me appreciate how well it really is doing, despite all the work it still requires (and always will).
Alongside the growth in the garden, coming back to Songaia also meant realizing how normal life has come to feel here: Tuesday morning breakfast ( / philosophical roundtable / Songaia history lesson) with Nancy, the beautiful grounds, eating at communal meals, adventures with Brent to acquire free exercise equipment from Craigslist… The day is filled with countless small and not-so-small positive interactions, and coming back to Songaia helped me to realize how much these have become normalized as a good part of my life.
Picture Dad put on Facebook of a rocket
from Gaza being shot down over Be'er Sheva.
Because of some things going on at home (including the fact that my dad is currently visiting family in Israel and is consequently spending a lot of time in bomb shelters), I need to return to Oregon again for about a week. I am sorry to lose more time with the community, and sorry to leave the garden at such a beautiful and abundant time. But I’ll bring my maps of the food forest and Hugelkultur planning materials, and am excited to see how much the garden will have grown by the time I get back.
If you live at Songaia or have been reading the garden blog there is a good chance you know about the vertical lettuce planter that Ugo completed before leaving. After a suitable spot was found, “The Ugo” as Helen christened it was filled with soil and planted. After seeing the lettuce tower in all its glory, I wanted to start a project of my own.
I had been curious about herb spirals, a technique in which a mound is formed with a terrace-like ramp spiraling from the base to the top. The idea is to create some diversity of sunlight and soil moisture conditions for a variety of herbs in a compact system. One of the drawbacks of this technique is the amount of soil (a precious commodity for the completion of the hugelkultur beds) needed to construct the mound. A worth-while herb spiral may also take up more space than is available in the garden, where many herbs are growing fine as it is.
When Patricia suggested I prepare a section of the southwest quadrant for planting blueberries it sounded like a larger endeavor that would create a more utilized and enjoyed outcome than an herb spiral. The previously untouched bed lay between the cob bench and the fence of the garden’s south edge. It was uneven, overgrown, and a part of the cob-bench-restoration construction zone.
I weeded the area between cycles of checking irrigation, and Patricia showed me how to use bindweed—yes bindweed—as mulch. To me the idea was at first like slipping a noose around the neck of each little plant; I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea until she showed me some beds where she had already done it! We unfolded a tarp over the weeded plot to sit for a week and smother the roots of the unwanted weeds. I spread the “harvested” bindweed on top to begin drying as an extra precaution before using.
Alongside this project is the enhancement of the bench and construction of the patio around it. Together, these changes will have a big effect on this area of the garden when complete. As of now the next stage is to dig the entirety of the bed, thoroughly removing any malicious roots; until then, there’s work to do on the bench.
In my life outside Songaia, I’m applying to grad school for anthropology. At this point, that involves a lot of reading in that field, articles with titles like this:
Tzeltal and Tzotzil Farmer Knowledge and Maize Diversity in Chiapas, Mexico
Peasants, Capitalism, and (Ir)Rationality
The Cosmologies of Coca-Cola and Tesguino: Fluid Signs of Commodity Fetishism
Migration and Agricultural Change: The Case of Smallholder Agriculture in Highland Ecuador
Land and leña: linking transnational migration, natural resources, and the environment in Guatemala
While the retaining wall itself is pretty standard (not exactly a funky alternative permaculture design), it’s a basic necessity for the integrity of the cottage, and the fact that it used a surplus material made it relatively low-impact. Both the element of necessity and the focus on a space that would be inhabited by interns to come made it a gratifying project to work on. It was nice to work with a more diverse group of people outside of the daily garden crew, each bringing valuable experience and input. I’m looking forward to completing the project, and seeing it in its finished state.
This week the cherries are ready. So are the raspberries, red huckleberries, black currants, goumi berries, salmon berries, native blackberries, and strawberries. Several kinds of jam have been made. But in meetings, it seems like all we talk about is compost. Brent has a hook-up for, he tells us, infinite horse manure – picked up carefully by the teenage riding students who work at the stable, and free of sawdust bedding. However, it is believed that, because of their four stomachs, cows produce a higher grade of manure. There is no hook-up for cow manure. But with sub-par performance by the carrots and results we saw with cow manure at Shambala and Anananda farms, there is an eagerness to see what it could do here.
But compost doesn’t end with the horse poop vs. cow poop debate. There’s also the Hugelkultur, which basically at this point requires just a huge labor push to move forwards. The theory of Hugelkultur is that you basically pile up a bunch of wood and brush, then cover it over with soil and compost and keep it moist. The wood breaks down, and the soil that results is rich and holds water well. We have our big piles of wood and brush; we’re still missing that big pile of dirt on top.
But so far the Hugelkultur and the cow manure are both just talk. And, contrary to the message on the ceremonial composting t-shirt, compost doesn’t just happen. And that’s why I got to spend a morning with Douglas, the master composter, chipping a mix of food waste, brush, garden clippings, and leaves saved from the fall for just this purpose. Food compost from a whole community: pretty gross going through the chipper. But I guess that’s what it takes to grow those berries. You can’t harvest every day.
Our first order of business last week was creating a rough map of the west food forest. Although we have yet to use it directly in designing the forest, it helped familiarize me more spatially with the area. While Alex, Katie and I were working on this, possibly the most memorable part of the week was in progress; Susie and Jen’s jam made of freshly picked rose petals. That night we also enjoyed an array of other edible flowers with greens mostly if not entirely from the garden.
We’ve been helping ourselves to strawberries but the ripening of the raspberries and cherries is right around the corner. The earliest raspberries are often picked by passers-by, but a little more effort is required to prevent the first of the cherries from wasting away. After harvesting exactly 200 grape leaves for making dolmas, I grabbed a three-legged picking ladder and plucked the ripest cherries I could find. That premature harvest was a meager one but there are many more on the way.
When Patricia and I transplanted tomatoes from their outgrown seedling pots into much larger ones you could hear their sighs of relief. We also addressed the four rows of carrots, which, out of three plantings had yielded less than a dozen little sprouts. I spread a thick layer of lime over the bed while Patricia raked it in to add some much needed alkalinity to the soil. After that, a heavy fourth planting of seeds was put in, mixed this time with coco coir. I’m hopeful but I honestly think we’ll have some carrots this time around.
When the rain brought us inside we began thinking about design of the Huglekultur food forest. I received a much-needed theoretical introduction to food forests and their layers before helping to make an outline of the area and create a list of plants to use. Ultimately we will draw maps of the garden that depict the planting stage, 15 years after planting, and 25 years after planting. Initially this process has been a stretch for me, and it has reinforced the need for a level of botanical knowledge, as well as constant planning, in my mind. Admittedly I found myself a little restless in the change of pace from working to sitting around a table talking. However work without knowledge and knowledge without work are equally fruitless; I’m learning that the more elusive skill of a gardener is in balancing the many closing windows of opportunity with methodically sowing the seeds of the future.
Garden bloggers are community members, volunteers and interns at Songaia.