Notes from Windward: #70


Garden Notes for Mid-summer


July 22nd‒Fencing and Irrigation

      It's quite common on this south-facing hillside we call home to walk into the kitchen to find people discussing the finer points of philosophy, cultural (r)evolution or the etymology of such words as integrity. These conversations certainly keep life interesting and may even help guide our actions from day to day. But as intellectually engaging as it is to envision a world where people cooperate rather than compete, where our time and the products of our labor are ours to do with as we choose, where the resources we consume come from our biogreion, where people recognize that we are always subject to the laws of nature and so act accordingly, the devil in creating such a world is always in the details.

      However, the details can be just as exiting as the big picture, and often people thrive while focusing on one or the other. But for me, it is the interplay between the two--the juxtaposition of the heady notions of nutrient cycling with those creepy crawlers (be they worms or black soldier fly larvae) or the green goo (which hosts the bacteria that convert the ammonia to nitrates) that coats the pea gravel in the grow beds of our aquaponics system.

Celeste with one of this year's bottle babies

     Or the romantic visions of raising goats adjacent to the abandoned kid that either demands your daily attention or dies, or the image of sitting by the woodstove through the cold of winter coupled with the tedium of splitting enough firewood to prepare us for the worst winter could bring.

      In any of our efforts to produce food, forage and utility through the cultivation of plants we could talk about permaculture and food forests or local food and organic production, but what it really comes down to, or it so often seems, is fencing and irrigation. Regardless of what we want to grow or how we want to grow it, most plants will need to be nursed through the summer drought and protected from grazing cows, sheep and/or goats. So talk of fresh garden produce really means hours spent fiddling with hosing lines and visions of nut trees mean little without the building of fences.

a 5,000 gallon reserve water tank

      As I have mentioned earlier, we have made considerable strides in our water storage thanks to Mary Lou and the pool team. This work started back in February and March siphoning rainwater we collected from the roof into IBCs. Then as we acquired used pools, places had to be leveled and prepared for the pools--and with our our sloping ground this is easier said than done.

      Since we opted to re-use pools that have already had a functional life, many holes needed patching and re-patching. And then finally, we needed to fence in the pools, as a thirsty cow moving the flexible siding of these pools could easily cause us to lose a few thousand gallons of water in a matter of seconds.

      In order to gain maximum benefit from our water, we have chosen to somewhat complicate the route of water flow. When we use water to irrigate the fruit trees or the gardens, water is taken out of a 300 gallon IBC we call the "green tank" which is gravity fed by the duck pond (the duck pond water being enriched with nitrogen). In order to not endanger the ducks with low water levels, whenever the duck pond water level falls below the optimum level, water is automatically pulled from a pool located uphill.

the "green tank" provides "enriched"
water for the garden via a booster pump

     This pool is in-turn gravity fed by the overflow from our 3,000 gallon main water tank, which is filled by the water pumped up from the well. So, before reaching the base of a fruit tree or the bed of beets, the water passes through four different holding containers, with all the necessary hosing and valves in between. This may sound overly complicated, but each step is important in order to both maximize our water storage and usage, and in practice its quite simple to use. However the time invested in setting it up has not been trivial and isn't necessarily what everyone has in mind when visualizing organic gardening.

the permagarden area on the
north side of the dining hall

      Similarly with fencing, we are consistently thinking of new ways to creatively use the materials we have to protect our ever expanding growing spaces. When you are talking about hundreds of feet of fencing, costs can become considerable quite quickly. One of the resources we have been generating as we reduce the fire fuel hazards in the forest is pole sized trees, nine inches in diameter and smaller. So we have started to use these poles as fence rails.

      Behind the kitchen we have a growing space for native perennials, including elderberries, hazelnut and currants, yet the fencing was not sufficient to keep out the sheep and cows, so it has been continually grazed over the past few years and the plants haven't been given much opportunity to grow.

Andrew adding another rail to the fence

     Recently, Andrew and I upgraded the fencing to a far more sturdy rail fence, using pole sized pine as the rails and rebar as the posts. We drilled holes through each end of the rail large enough for the rebar to fit through and then slipped the poles through these rebar in an overlapping pattern. We found that 10-12 feet between each rebar post worked optimally‒trees begin to sag with longer distances and the weight of the tree becomes challenging to work with. Also, since none of this wood is treated and it is so exposed to the elements it will decay. One step we took to slow this process slightly is to not have any of the wood touching the ground. The bottom-most layer of poles are resting on stones, rather than the ground.

Jon takes advantage of some shade
to work on the steps leading up to the Permagarden

      Jon is in the process of building steps to better reach the growing space. Since it is also the ground that serves to earth shelter the back wall of the kitchen there is a rise of several feet at the most desired access point. Once this is complete, we can go ahead and finish the fence line with a gate made with more or less the same materials as the fence.

      It is truly this interplay of theory and practice that makes life here on the plateau so rewarding for me. Without the theory, the stimulating and exciting intellectual ideas of the world we want to live in and how we want to live in it, the details can seem mundane or lack context and meaning.

the rail fence completed

     And without the practice, such ideas simply remain ideas and lose their grounding in reality and thus their relevance in our lives.


July 23: The Garlic Harvest

     Over the past two weeks as I made my daily rounds through the garden, I looked for signs that the garlic was ready to harvest. And while close, and getting closer every day, the leaves were not quite brown enough nor the bulb heads dry enough. Signs of mature, ready-to-harvest garlic include the bottom 3-4 leaves turning brown and the skin on the bulb heads becoming papery.

a bounty of beautiful bulbs

     We had stopped watering in early July (garlic likes to have drier soil for the last 2 weeks or so of its maturation) and I had already harvested the scapes from the hard-neck varieties (an important step to ensure the plant focuses its energy in bulb production--and the scape is such a lovely way to enjoy the flavor of garlic before the real harvest). But then the other morning as I walked by the garlic beds, it struck me that today, right now, was the time to harvest. And so I did.

Oana helps with the harvest

     And what I pulled out of the ground were large heads of garlic that gently reflected the soft morning light off of their white skins. Oana soon joined me in the garden and together we harvested, first losening the soil so as to not break the stems and then giving each head a shake to help it let go of the soil that had nourished it so well over the past 9 months. The garlic now hangs in the relative cool and dark of the freezer room, where it will cure over the next 6 weeks. Now, whenever I go to weigh the veggies (I also keep the garden scale in the freezer room) I am greeted by a mild aroma of garlic.

a really big blub

     We can go through a lot of garlic in the kitchen and since it is a crop that is so well suited to our climate--using the moisture of the winter and spring to grow and finishing its maturation as the rains run out-- and is relatively easy to grow, last fall I decided to more than double the size of the fall planting.

      Our garlic harvest then multiplied further as I discovered in March that there were forgotten heads sprouting towards the sun which I then separated and planted throughout the beds of spring greens and carrots to deter pests.

this spring's garlic sprouts

     Then we also decided to try out some new varieties and so planted even more spring garlic. So, we are now well endowed with garlic, some of which we can use for planting in the fall and the rest of which we will enjoy all winter long.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70