What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Saturday, 26 June 2010

AKG #5 - Hickory at last

Robb - After almost 3 years of pondering and planning, debating and deciding, we have at long last come home to Hickory North Carolina. Or to put it more accurately, we’ve come to Hickory to make a home. From Seattle, to Bermuda, to England, with several visits to Hickory over the last 12 years, we have not yet had a real place of our own, a place to settle, a place to put down deep roots. Now, finally we have a home to practice the basic permaculture principle of long thoughtful observation, in our rocking chairs, on our front porch.

Jacq - But we’ve found our house, rented for the last ten years, trashed. The gutters were non functional which meant the crawl space was getting wet.  We found all the carpets ruined, the laundry room a moldy wreck, and every surface in the house caked with grease and grime. The landscaping around the house was littered with plastic bits, cigarette butts, screens from the windows, and beer bottles. A portion of the lawn had been used as an extra drive and the grass was destroyed, the earth compacted and topsoil washed away.

Robb - But there were also happy discoveries, most of the gardening tools and and other equipment left with the house are still present and functional. The stove, ceiling fans, refrigerator, plumbing, while filthy, all still work. None of the double glazed windows we installed are broken. As our managing agent says, “the place has been hard lived in”.

Jacq- It goes without saying that Hickory is very different from England, we have already had temperatures ranging from near 90ºF or 32ºC to 48ºF or 9ºC, blistering sun and driving rain. We’ve seen violent thunderstorms with close lightning strikes as well. America is a dangerous place!  Having visited many times before, the deep South held no fears for me, but life is always full of surprises.  Within two days I had almost stepped on a four foot Black Racer snake, I had been stung on the belly by a hornet and was dodging bees the size of helicopters!  Within three weeks I disturbed a snake by my front steps, albeit a non-venomous garter snake; said snake ended up in next door’s bird box up a tree later in the afternoon chomping on a chick; our neighbour casually climbed a ladder, caught and relocated the snake and laughed at my alarm.  Next, taking in the laundry from the line at dusk a week later, my alarm turned into terror, as a pair of Robb’s boxer shorts came alive as I began to unpeg them, flapping violently in my face!  Robb heard my squawks of astonishment as a large bird exited one of the legs at speed, expostulating at having its roost disturbed.  I await the next assault upon my person and have recently succumbed to paying out for health insurance.  But we’ve also seen bluebirds, baby rabbits, and my favorite, hummingbirds, all from the comfort of our rocking chairs on our front veranda. But don’t believe that sitting around in long thoughtful observation is all we’ve done, we have been hard at work.

Robb - So in the first month, excepting the few hours we slept, bathed and nourished ourselves, we have created about 500 square feet of growing area about 80% of which is currently planted. Here is how it breaks down:
We’ve built 4 raised beds, mostly from timber sourced onsite or scavenged, and filled them with 6  cubic yards of compost enriched topsoil we had delivered and 1 yard of well composted horse manure we scavenged at a friend’s barn. They’ve been mulched with hay we scavenged as well.  Following the permaculture principle of stacking functions, each raised bed is carefully planned to create terracing in our sloping site and thereby reduce rainwater runoff and increase absorption and storage in the soil. The biggest bed has been built behind the first major terracing project built out of upright sawn pine logs. We will construct a stone wall in front of the logs as they rot over the next year or two.

Jacq - We’ve  created a nursery area under the carport where I’ve brought on over 500 plants in various recycled pots and scavenged seed trays. Robb also built a small wire enclosure for protecting vulnerable seedlings from the local bunnies.

Robb - I planted a bamboo bed with a barrier to keep it contained and Jacq added some veggies to share the space. Nearby, under an aging dogwood tree we’ve established the herb bed which is close to the kitchen.

Jacq - We’ve put in 80 feet of corn, beans and squash  in 4 sections out by the road and on the west boundary. The corn will support the beans and also screen the road and the ugly cinder block wall beyond. The squash will provide ground cover and keep down the weeds while the beans will provide nitrogen to both.

Robb - A gift of comfrey and nettles from a wonderful herb seller at the farmers’ market was a boon.

Jacq - And recently we’ve planted 9 bush cherry trees, 3 blueberries, 11 raspberries, 3 blackberries, 1 pecan tree,  25 strawberries, 10 perennial flowers, and 3 grape vines.

Robb - In addition to the all the planting, we’ve trimmed, pruned, mulched and generally tidied up the yard including the first thinning of the magnolia, which we thought was just a tree but is actually a grove. All prunings are either used to build frames and lattices for climbing plants, composted or put in the firewood pile. We are using scavenged cardboard under all beds and as sheet mulching, and around our holly hedge we’ve sheet mulched and  topped it with pine straw in an attempt to lower the soil ph for the blueberries and peppers we will plant there.

Jacq- Robb established a compost pile and a leaf mold pile, which is already full, started a second one and we have a healthy turf pile building up. He has also started excavating clay from under the house to enlarge the workshop and generate clay for cob building projects.

Robb - As our clothes washing machine is currently our of order we developed a clothes washing method utilizing a 5 gallon bucket and a plunger.  There is a rather interesting story behind this that you can read about on the blog at: Almost the lowest Tech Washing Machine

Jacq - We cleaned and reattached the gutters and set up four rainwater harvesting barrels to store around 120 gallons.

Robb - We loaded about 15 van loads of household stuff from the family storage unit into the house. This is all stuff from my parents’ house left over after the yard sale when we sold out. It includes a variety of tools, clothing, books, electronics, furniture, plywood, 2x4s, and kitchen items which have made our lives easier and more comfortable.

Jacq - Robb set up a preliminary workshop under the house where the crawlspace is head high and has managed to get his old car running.

Robb - I’ve mowed the lawn 6 times with my human powered push mower; thankfully every time we add a growing area the mowing area decreases.

Jacq - We purchased some electronics necessary to get a small solar electric system up and running which should soon take all household computer use off grid.

Robb - Oh yes, and lest I forget, I most humbly bow down, Jacqui has done a massive clean up of the house. I helped strip about 350 sq ft of very nasty synthetic carpet and vinyl flooring. But the real work was all Jacqui. And all that scrubbing has done wonders for her arm muscles.

Jacq - We’ve also been helped along the way by neighbors, friends, and family. I arranged a car share with my sister and she has been most helpful in many other ways including a gift of 10 bags of straw for mulch, the next door neighbor has given us all the logs from a tree cut down on her country property and taken us there to pick them up with her truck and trailer. Our insurance agent has become a friend, given us horse manure and hay and helped us transport furniture from the storage unit. We could not have come this far without all this assistance and we are very grateful to everyone. We are rediscovering southern hospitality and finding ourselves welcomed into a community, surely the basis for personal growth and for the growth of our sustainable living project in the years ahead.

Robb - Our permaculture principle for this episode is from “ The Permaculture Home Garden” by Linda Woodrow and it goes right to the heart of what we have been doing since we have been here: scavenging.

Jacq - “In natural systems there is no such thing as waste. Everything is food. Everything is a resource for the next part of the cycle. A major tool in my kit is an eye for the resource value of everything that once lived. Organic matter helps prevent erosion, conserves moisture, provides a buffer against extremes of temperature, and is one of the main forms of currency with which I pay my co-workers. Everything that once lived is food for something that inhabits the garden - either the chooks, the compost micro-organisms, the earthworms or one of the thousands of other species. Through them, and sometimes through a sequence of them, it can be converted back into food for crop plants and thus for me.”

Robb - You can keep track of our project and see photos as well at sustliving.blogspot.com. Thanks for listening and until next time, remember, if it doesn’t forward your personal or community sustainability, it’s probably not worth paying for.

Raised Bed Gardening the Organic Way

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