Thursday, August 04, 2011

Now That I Know What I Have To Work With...

First off, let me apologize for a lack of postings; my partner and I went away for a week to see my folks in Northern Ontario. It was to be a kind of working vacation; research, re-con and networking. Let me explain...

We have made plans to move to Northern Ontario in order to help my folks out. This will involve not only help around the house, preserving and baking, but also getting back to a better sense of being self-sufficient. My parents are getting up there in age and health issues seem to be getting the best of them. So they are offering us an out (of the city that is) and we're going to help them out where we can. A part of that is food production, specifically, gardening. We're not in a position to have chickens. My mother had them years ago, but as I've said, health issues and the rising cost of feed phased out the chickens. We will at some point, but likely not in the next 2 years. The gardening will fall to me, no problem there, it's what I enjoy. So while I was up north, I took a good, days-long look at the yard. A decade ago or more, I had a garden there. it was not wonderful, but we grew enough to put some food up. Now though, it is a rutted mass of gravel, weeds, sucker trees and ferns. The surrounding bush is trying very hard to take over the yard, and succeeding with tag alders, wild raspberry canes, goldenrod and a rampant unknown vine. Did I mention it's mostly gravel? So the challenge, as I see it, is a multi-layered one. First, clear back the bush. We, my partner and I, started that this week. I knew in advance that the composter had stopped "cooking", so I took the lid off, not knowing what to expect. The problem had a relatively simple fix; cut the waste into smaller pieces and feed it more regularly. Which was easy while I was there, but I'm not sure the aforementioned health issues are going to allow that composter to be tended as it should, so it may very well stop for now.

I have plans to not only ramp up the composter but also to plant green cover crops, clover and legumes specifically. My folks make clover honey, so the blossoms will be useful to them as well as helping me make the soil a little more fertile. There are some folks nearby who have chickens, so I'm hopeful they'll let me have a few buckets of chicken manure. It's going to be a long time before the soil is dark and crumbly, I know, but I also know that every year will produce better yields. Another thing I'm learning about now is permaculture, which I've blogged about here before. The land has been left to fend for itself, so any positive attention will have benefits. I have lists of what all of us would like to eat, and as I go, I'm planning how to best grow those things in the circumstances I have been given. I know the best place to plant a pumpkin is the compost pile. But since it's still cooking, I can't plant the pumpkin seed there. So I turn to what I do have, and what I can do next year to get pumpkins. I know they won't be the biggest, or sweetest, but they will be more than what we had last year. Which was none. I'd like to grow a variety of tomatoes, peas, beans, peppers, berries, lettuce, carrots, a wide variety of herbs, collards, potatoes, corn, radishes, beets, turnips...and in a couple of years I'd even like to try growing wheat. Now before you tell me I can't, I say, why not? No, I will not be growing enough to avoid buying flour for the entire year. The point of growing things like potatoes and wheat and corn is not to save us money. It is to prove I can, to show the kids where their food comes from, for the good of the land, so that I can build up a store of these things in case the road washes out again, or ever-spiking food prices. (Our milk just went up to $6.00 for a bag of 4 liters!) I would like to grow my own potato sets, my own corn seed and even make a loaf of bread with non bleached wheat. I want to grow as much of our own food as I can for all of those reasons and more. Not the least of which is because I know I can do it. I just have to remember to not expect miracles in one season.

An enjoyable challenge has been trying to decide where to start once the trees are under control. A good neighbor has offered to go over and till the garden for us in the spring, even though we won't be there till the summer is mostly over. I have plans to plant legumes, clover likely. It will grow enough that I can get the green I need, and Mom will have the blossoms for honey. When the end of summer comes, I'll hand till it all under and let it all break down over the winter. This is the quickest way to put some organic matter back, and the nitrogen is sorely needed. I'll be building raised beds so my mother won't have to bend over, sawhorses, cold frames, a large cabinet style solar dehydrator, square foot beds and planning irrigation for the next year. Also in the list of to-do is water collection and storage, even though a river is only minutes away, as is a creek on the other side. So I suppose I'll need to learn how to install gutters, clean out a rain barrel and make another. I also need to learn as much as I can about the well and pump to rectify the crummy water pressure.

Lots to plan and do, but I have to admit, I'm looking forward to the challenge.