Reflections from the Garden

Uncategorized

This summer has been a great year in the gardens at Mountain Jewel. We’re seen the effects of a wetter year and ever increasing fertility; our gardens are bursting with life. Our first season of growing in our high tunnel  has yielded hundred of pounds of cucumbers and tomatoes already. While our main focus is on perennial agriculture we no doubt grow plenty of annual crops. Some crops are of course hardier and more willing to thrive under neglect than others, and as such we’re always open to feedback from the natural world to guide our gardening habits.

Ini with Delicata squash


Before moving here, folks told us we couldn’t grow food in the rocky soil of the Ozarks. While the fertility and tilth of the soil didn’t draw us here, claiming our food sovereignty is a major impetus for our lifestyle choices. We are keenly aware that with enough observation, experimentation and effort, food can be raised anywhere. Those who garden know there is always some element of uncertainty or struggle to deal with in the gardens, but what can we do to ensure high quality nutrient dense produce to feed our families and communities without being overtaxed?

We focus on feeding the soil food web and considering the life in the soil in our practices.  I’d like to share some insights and observations from the short time that Wren and I have made while raising food on our homestead. 


In years past we’ve seen hornworms defoliate dozens of tomato plants, cringed as squash began setting luscious fruit only to be killed by the toxic injections of squash bugs. Brassicas reduced to skeletons and so many plants struggling to get their needs met in dry low fertility soil.

We could baby some of the plants along, but we prefer to practice what Mark Shepard (a prominent force in restoration agriculture) dubbed S.T.U.N (Strategic Total Utter Neglect).

The point is is finding out what can survive and even thrive while being exposed to S.T.U.N. The next step is taking this feedback and putting it into action. 


This approach does not mean completely forgetting about plants, but rather creating conditions and choosing the right plants. This approach often means loss and while this can be hard after babying seedlings for weeks and seeing the succumb to this or that, but it also illustrates what works and how to shift efforts in the future. We’re lost plenty of trees and countless veggies to this practice, but we’re better off for it. 

Boysenberries thrive here. More, please!


In past years the only winter squash that yielded any fruits were the ones that volunteered in the compost pile. This year we’ve planted many squash family friends from a variety of species; moschata, maxima and pepo. Some of each have already succumbed to an early death due to squash bugs. What we did notice is that the plants that are least affected have the highest moisture and fertility and are notably more vigorous. By far the healthiest of all squash received the grey water from our outdoor kitchen.

What this tells me is that rather than laboring to exclude the bugs, applying natural pesticides or hand picking them, I can create better conditions for them, practice S.T.U.N. and hope to still gather a harvest without too much work. We are also experimenting with ranging chickens to see if they can knock populations down. 


We all know potatoes are a great way to grow a lot of calories with little effort. While we love our spuds, we diversify our staples by growing sunchokes and skirret that also provide delicious tubers. These plants not only thrive with little to no inputs, they also multiply year after year and provide beneficial insect forage and habitat. In fact they grow so well that you’ll be up to your eyes in them before you know it. So choose the place to plant them wisely. 


While we’re waiting for the hundreds of trees and shrubs we’ve planted on our land to start yielding, we have some time to dial in what works for our diet, our landscape and our labor budget.

Many of of brassicas got devoured this year, but the abundant wild greens offer nutrient dense fare with nearly zero effort. Plants like purslane, lambs quarter and chickweed have kept us in greens at times when our domestic crops failed or were between successions. Practicing S.T.U.N. is a lesson in letting go, but it is not a truly passive approach. Each time we lose a plant, we have a chance to learn more about its needs. It also allows us to take a step back and see if there’s a better way to meet our needs as in the wild green example above. We are evolving with our gardens.

The indomitable purslane… thrives in any heat


I’m not afraid of hard work, although it’s great when you realize that hard work isn’t needed.

Lay a heavy layer of mulch and you’ll soon forget about troubles with weeds (well mostly). Prioritize wild greens and encourage their spread and attending to finicky leafy crops may seem less important. Plant hardy and well adaptad tree species and in time you’ll be glad you did. Plant more of everything than you think you’ll need and be more OK with loss. Cultivating a thriving garden takes patience and hard place-based earned wisdom. It is a co-evolution- of soils, saved seeds, letting go of some endeavors and leaning more heavily into others. It’s a wild journey that I’m glad we’re on!

Paw Paw Grafting: Photo Log

Uncategorized

Paws paws have quickly become near and dear to us at Mountain Jewel.

Upon moving to the Ozarks, we were so excited to find oodles of wild paw paws on and near our property. Last fall we harvest a lush bounty of wild fruit. It’s safe to saw were fanatical about paw paws!

The paw paws on our homestead haven’t set fruit in the past few years and this may have to do with low genetic diversity. 2 or more varieties are best for pollination. Grafting selected cultivars onto wild rootstock will increase productivity and boost diversity.

The distinguished Paw Paw, Asimina triloba. A wild specimen on our land

As with all our permaculture endeavors we seek to witness and observe the natural processes before intervening. After seeing heavy fruit set on a nearby patch, and discovering more and more patches on our land, we wanted decided to take action and marry select paw paw genetics onto our wild patches.

Tools of the trade:

Here you see the complete grafting kit. We made a video of the process & share it on our  blog likely tomorrow. Pictured: paw paw scions (Mango, Wells, Prolific, NC-1 & Overlease varieties), sharp pruning saw, secateurs, masking tape, grafting film, fresh utility blade, & a pen 🙂

Sharp blade cutting the Paw Paw at an angle so water doesn’t settle on the base.

In the past we’ve attempted whip and tongue but had no success. I’ve since learned the importance of wrapping the scion with grafting film to maintain moisture. On past grafts, the scions dried out before leafing out. Since visiting a university fruit station and seeking out information online, I’ve honed in on a few tidbits that will hopefully increase our success. 

Scion cut at an angle on the base (with at least two buds remaining) which will go into the base.
Scion placed “just so” into the Cambium of the wild paw paw root stalk. This is a Bark Inlay Graft.

We are choosing to focus on the bark inlay graft. This comes recommended from the paw paw master himself Neil Peterson. The advantages are numerous. Firstly scion and rootstock don’t need to match and large diameter stock can be used. The cuts are simple and a strong union can be ensured with tape. Lastly, vigorous growth results from using established trees. 

Mango variety scion inserted and wrapped. Watch for tomorrow’s video to see this done live with more explanation.

We are pleased to be in connection to an ever evolving landscape and all the skills associated with managing and increasing productivity of the landscape. Hopeful for a lifelong horticulture journey and increasing abundance.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s How To Vid! 

Keystone Species in Action: The Beaver

Uncategorized

In college I remember learning about a very cool phenomenon called Keystone Species.

While all creatures have an impact on their environment, keystone species take this to the next level. If a keystone species is removed from their environment, the ecosystem would change drastically.

As we interact with our homestead ecosystem and the larger landscape, we undoubtedly see the ways in which we humans have the potential to be keystone species. We create and destroy habitat as a matter of course. However, today I want to talk about a real example of how the beaver has created and shaped an ecosystem in my neighbor’s landscape.

Beavers are notorious for felling trees and making dams.

Take a walk by your favorite creek or stream and you’ll undoubtedly see signs of the beaver, if they live in your area. The telltale sign of gnaw marks near the base of a tree. This can frustrate land owners who are trying to grow certain plants near streams, but the beaver serves an important function within the ecosystem. My neighbor’s experience is a perfect case.

My neighbor bought his land about 40 years ago. Though he hasn’t lived there continuously over the last 40 years, he has witnessed the changes in his landscape. We were taking a walk along one of his lower fields the other day and he showed me the beaver pond and he mentioned that when he moved here, it didn’t exist! He also mentioned that when he first saw the beavers moving in, he didn’t want them there because when creating dams they obviously have to cut down a lot of trees! They drastically change the landscape. Such is the level of transformation the beavers have on a piece of land.

My neighbor Gene by the beaver pond

To give you a palpable example, as we went toward the beaver pond, about 200 ft away I noticed that the plant habitat changed drastically. There were countless small Sycamore saplings and the understory was covered in ferns! It was lush, moist, and cool – a far cry from the field only a stone’s throw away.

The rest of the landscape surrounding this area was tall grasses and scrubby understory. There were no other areas with ferns.

As we approached the area, it was apparent that the beavers had drastically changed it. From small feeder springs, the beavers had slowly but surely damed them up, creating a pond. Where no pond existed before in a flat field, the beavers had successfully created one. Anyone who has ever tried to start a pond using nothing but what is naturally in the area knows how hard it can be to trap water. Water notoriously finds areas to escape and leak and unless one has very clay rich soil, it can be difficult to keep water in ponds. Yet the beavers did it!

Walking along the bank of the beaver pond, I was truly amazed. The water was about 2-3 ft deep and clear! An ecosystem had been created and life was thriving because of the work of the beaver’s hands, teeth and ingenuity. There were even fish in the pond, likely brought in as eggs from the feet of shore birds.

My neighbor mentioned that the beavers had long since left their creation because the trees they fell for their food source had become scarce. However, the legacy of habitat for many that they left behind exists long after their departure. It made me think about the effect that I have on a landscape and what will be left after I am gone. How will the efforts of my human hands carry on when I am no longer around to tend it? Is what I’m doing able to create habitat that will outlast me?

As I watched the bumble bees and other pollinators flying around our homestead yesterday, I was delighted to note that I am already creating habitat and food sources for many creatures to come live here. In the pond, there are hundreds of toadpoles and each day I notice new species of pollinators swooping in to dine. I even noticed a handful of Zebra Swallowtail butterfly larvae on the Paw Paws within our forest gardens (their young leaves are the only host plants for the young larvae to eat.)

Many of these cycles happen naturally and it is my goal to be a beneficial human within my environment, looking beyond the bounds of my flesh and needs to create habitat and provide ecosystem services for countless other creatures. At that point, I’ll consider my efforts a job well done.

If a keystone species can simply be defined as an organism that makes it possible for other species to live in the ecosystem, I have to think of all of the habitat destruction that humans are doing. Pesticides and herbicides released into the environment are killing off species, making water unclean and having untold effects for all organisms. This is short term thinking and while creating a healthy thriving ecosystem does take time and perhaps more effort and management up front, we can do this and set things in motion which can benefit future generations of not only humans, but other organisms as well.

Unbelievable Stats on Climate Change

Ecotrain, Homestead

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets. We are literally taking over the earth and causing animals our grandparents grew up with to go extinct. 40% of insects have already gone extinct. This is due to conventional farming practices (read pesticides and herbicides), deforestation, habitat destruction and warming air and waters. Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.) As everything is interconnected and human reach is so vast, our actions intimately and more and more quickly impact all of life on the planet. Now is the time to simplify & drastically scale down consumption, buy used durable goods we can use for a long time, grow your own organic food or know your farmer who does, stop using plastic in favor of wood, glass or metal and simplify simplify simplify. Downscale. Share. Barter. Create. Rampant consumption is not a sign of wealth or progress, it’s actually more quickly devastating our planet and everything on it. Throwaway culture is the death of us all.

Yesterday I shared this soundbite on Instagram with a picture of our little cabin the woods. (We finally got a wee bit of snow!)

I was surprised at some of the “backlash”. Multiple people found the facts I shared unbelievable, one even going so far to call them delusional, and while the gram isn’t link friendly, writing a blog post sure is.

Perhaps you all will find these statistics on climate change and human related impact hard to believe as well. If so, keep reading and I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Breakin’ It Down

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets.

This stat came from this article in The Atlantic, Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

Our destruction is so familiar—so synonymous with civilization—in fact, that we tend to overlook how strange the world that we’ve made has become. For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland.

40% of insects have already gone extinct.

This stat was from this article in The Guardian, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.


The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

So it seems my statement that 40% have already gone extinct was incorrect. Rather, they’re on the verge of going extinct. Either way you slice it, news like this is not positive and we need to start creating pollinator habitats while we stop destroying the wilds and curb pesticide and herbicide use.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.)

You all already know about the Mariana trench from an article I did earlier in the week and the egg yolk fact came from this article Plastic chemicals discovered inside bird eggs from remote Arctic.

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet.

Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects.

These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food.

The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive.

“These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher.

Conclusion

While I misrepresented the statistic on the insects, the rest of them stand affirmed. I find these stats unbelievable as well and it’s shocking to have people who read these demanding that I prove the veracity of my writing simply because the stats themselves are so controversial.

Yet on the other hand it’s not shocking at all. A large group of humans remain “climate change deniers” and they make it a political issue obfuscating the very realities that we need to heed in order to act accordingly.

It’s always so odd to me that people deny that this stuff is going on or get lost in the minutiae. One could go on and on sharing alarming and disheartening studies revealing the state of things facing our world and all of its inhabitants.

Most of us ignore finding the details out about this information because it’s too difficult to take in.

It really is as bad as the scientists confirming it are now saying. Ask people on the coasts or the people facing increased rates of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, island dwellers with raising sea waters, fishermen with less and less to fish, the list goes on…

We can waste our time arguing about the details or focus all of our energies on the solutions. I do think it’s worth hashing out the details so we can really know where we stand and realize how bad it is (or not if that’s what the facts say)! Yet at a certain point, we just have to start acting.

I found this article, The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future, a very worthwhile read proving that no matter where you live you can make key changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

After all, we are all just reaching toward sustainability. It’s literally impossible in this day in age to be divorced from the system that is killing our earth. With that said, it is very possible to take the necessary steps toward living more lightly and aligned with the earth. If the movement toward a gentler way continues, we can truly make lasting change and turn this ship around.

150 Years | 7 Generations Thinking: Inheriting Things From Strangers

Ecotrain, Homestead, inspiration

The other day I read that the 7 Generations thinking (originated by the Haudeneshone ie Iroquois Nation) is about a span of 150 years.

That’s really not that long, if you think about it. Those of us who are fortunate to have family records (or some freak down the line who pieced it all together -and I can say that because I’m likely taking on this role for my family), possibly even know the name, profession, or even the face in a rare still black and white photograph.

Were these people thinking about you?

In our day in age, we are very much geared toward the Individual- the rise, the fall, the accumulation and somewhat the passing on. What strikes me so much about the perspective of 7 generations thinking is that it requires a long term view of our actions. What are the ripples into our environments from my actions?

In a world with so many people, too, I think this Individualist thinking is also spurred on because we inherently believe our actions don’t really have that much of an effect.

We wait for others to do things because of this. Certainly I couldn’t be the one to … start a business on the Steem blockchain… make a sustainable invention… solve a puzzling world mystery, etc. These things are reserved for other people, people smarter, more attractive, wealthier, younger, etc. Yet when we start to think about how our actions ripple throughout the next 150 years, we realize that we do have a say about the shape of things.

Is an ancestor thinking about you right now?

I want to broaden the scope of an ancestor through writing this article. This subject has been on my mind a lot lately because Ini and I are talking with a local man about the possibility of taking on a position in carrying on his life’s work which involves a certain forest in our area. This person has been working tirelessly to create a sustainable livelihood in relation with this forest. The forest is too small to employ anyone to sustainably manage it (usually over 30,000 acres are needed unto that effect) and so this man had to get his creative thinking cap on.

On Balancing Wrong Action

Many people know that Corporations make Wrong Actions, especially regarding our ecosystems. Notoriously, driven by capitalistic bottom lines, extract, exploit and devastate more, while adding overwhelming amounts of pollution to the environment. They cut corners, dump toxic waste, and have leaky pipes in the Gulf and through the veined corridors through which they run in this country, which pollutes bodies of water all over the place.

The EPA and governmental organizations make a farce of stomping down this type of action, usually their pockets are lined with bucks, too. One such idea to balance this is the Cap & Trade System. The idea is totally new to me so I can’t write much on it, but essentially it allows those who produce a ton of Carbon into the atmosphere to pay people, essentially trading with them, who are sinking carbon back into the earth from the atmosphere.

What a Forest Does

Forests, of course, through the incredible respiration of trees, naturally act as carbon sinks. This is now scientifically documented at what rate this process happens and a large corporation, that has scientifically deduced the rate at which they are releasing carbon, can invest in a long term trade with a forest to balance out their negative effect.

Our friend has engaged the aforementioned forest in such a Cap & Trade deal, which will last for about 125 years. It is this role which we are talking with him about managing.

 

Could someone you don’t know right now be an ancestor to you?

The fact that this person, who we’ve only known for about 3 years, has worked for the past 25 years setting this up and devising a way to make a sustainable business in our local area – for someone who will come after him! Is incredible. He has essentially worked with the next 7 generations in mind not knowing who would take the work on for him!

Ini and I aren’t sure if we’ll have kids and while we have 1 niece and 1 nephew at this point in time, there’s no telling if a blood relative will want to pick up and carry on what we’ve created here. Fruit and nut trees will be abundant by the time they’re entering college, but who can say what their dreams will lead them to. We’ve often wondered who will carry on our dreams. Could we, like our friend, be preparing something for someone not even born yet who we’ll meet many years down the road?

 

If you can complete your dream in your lifetime, you’re not dreaming big enough.

Winona LaDuke recently crowdfunded a hemp farm that will empower Native American youth and in one of her emails she wrote the quote above. It has sat with me ever since. Am I dreaming big enough? Including a vision which propels and energizes the next 7 generations? Am I dreaming something which is viable or healthy for the next 150 years (and not only of humans, but the entire biosphere)?

Am I thinking of water, soil, income streams, food, shelter, and more? Though it may sound like a lot, I really don’t think it is. It is living in alignment with our true nature which is connected to everything. To be out of balance with this nature creates disharmony and though we may reap short term gains and excuse ourselves for trying to survive, how are we influencing the lives of our great great great grandchildren or even the children of a stranger who will show up one day and fit magically into the puzzle we have created.

I think our friend I mentioned above is the first person I have met who has dedicated so much of his life and toiled to create a sustainable job for someone he’s not even sure will come. He does it because it was his promise to the woman who donated the land into a land trust, which is happening more and more nationwide. How do we not only “preserve” these places, but also allow them to bring in salaries based on good livelihood as we talked about yesterday in our “Putting the Eco back Economics” post? Balancing the negative effects of greedy corporations is one such way.