When I was a child, my parents — lifelong New Yorkers — rented a small plot of land from the farmer next door when we moved from dad’s post in Detroit to rural Chelsea, Michigan. The food they grew was unforgettable. All summer, we ate fresh corn, peas, beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, corn, tomatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, strawberries… PEANUTS. My mother would have big canning days and we filled a freezer for the year. The whole garden experience has flavored my imagination throughout my life and everywhere I have lived, I have made some attempt at horticulture. My goal for this year is to continue my efforts to reclaim the wasted landscape on my property and convert it into a sustainable garden.
I have had some successes and failures in gardening. Vegetables, in particular, eluded me, though I had built a nice repertoire of wildflowers and native plants. I was working with a pretty awful canvas, chipping away at neglected shrubs and impacted day lilies cast into solid clay. I spent the first winter planning my attack.
Intensive composting, soil moving, worm encouragement, and weed removal over the course of 10 years brought me close to conquering the front yard, but the heaviest infestation of wire grass and turf weeds yet remained, baked into a woody mat woven across the front of the yard to the curb.
I was thrilled when I heard that Bountiful Backyards would be offering a class on Edible Landscaping at Durham Tech this spring. This is where I was turned on to the nuts and bolts of permaculture.
When you do the math, there is no question that conventional farming techniques are not sustainable. The act of pouring petroleum based fertilizers year after year into depleted dirt to yield tons upon tons of modified starches has created a race of obese modern humans and a plague of poisoned rivers and streams. The earth has its own systems in place to sustain life.
Many people acknowledge that they are out of touch with how food gets to their plate. It is easy to conjure up an image of a farm if quizzed on where the food originally came from, but sadly, that is generally where our imagination ends. The truly stunning mysteries about how healthy soil lives and breathes are rarely considered, let alone taught to anyone not specifically looking for it.
So my goals are as follows:
To modify my diet to include a greater diversity of fresh vegetables in order to facilitate my exit from participation in the proliferation of unnatural food sources, primarily monocultured and subsidized wheat and corn products.
To create a sanctuary for beneficial insects and animals that cannot be sustained by conventional agriculture.
To eschew artificial chemical fertilizers, relying instead on the use of composting, cover crops, natural soil amendments, and vermiculture to restore underutilized and diminished parts of the yard.
To include heavy use of perennial fruit trees and shrubs in conjunction with perennial herbs and native plants to achieve symbiotic relationships of mutual nutrition and self mulching, mimicking the self-sustaining qualities of the forest.
Looking ahead, I can see that it is going to be important for as many people as possible act to carry forth a small kernel of un-fucked-with vegetable genetics as corporate food producers continue their assault on nature. The greatest goal is to expose our son at an early age to the art and mystery of growing his own food, because I suspect that nature will not favor the weak in the future.
This year we have completely paved over the remaining stretch of turf with a sheet mulch of cardboard and 8 cubic yards of mulch, followed by a mix of compost and topsoil in the vegetable beds. We have the following vegetables in production on the front yard:
We also have added two blueberry shrubs, a fig tree, wildflowers, sunflowers and basil. A special herb garden contains several different types of oregano, thyme and rosemary. Native ground cover plants (i.e, weeds) have grown to cartoonish proportions, screening out invasive grasses. Everything is growing at at absurd rate and it is all delicious.