We have arrived back to Missouri for the spring, this year greeted at the end of a long drive by a wonderful sight: our house frame and roof still standing, cheering us home again! It feels good to be back with one heck of a season's tough work behind us, and one exciting season of work before us. Now that we have been here for about three weeks or so, I can say that our activities for this first month seem to be organized around a central theme--and that is digging. Digging drainage ditches, digging in little tree saplings, shoveling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of top soil and woodchips to add to our swales, turning up the soil in our one small garden bed, etc. Spring seems like a time for robust digging in, literally and metaphorically, into new projects. Not that I am complaining, because despite somewhat sore backs and tired bodies, it is all work that we are excited to be doing: each shovelful seems to bring our dreams that much closer to becoming realities.
|Our little home away from home...|
|May Day, with last year's may poll ready to become this year's campfire|
Although we are eager to start putting in the first floor of our house, what lies beneath comes first and tackling all the drainage issues has required a solid week or more of digging. Putting in perforated black drainage pipe and gravel around the perimeter of the house, and building little retaining walls out of "urbanite" (chunks of broken-up old concrete) around the banked earth of our north and east sides has been quite a bit of a work, shovelful by shovelful. We have also started thinking about how water is going to move in and out of the house, and we have dug in a ditch under the house for "greywater" (which is waste water from kitchen and bathroom minus "blackwater" from a flush toilet) to drain away and out to a greywater garden planted to absorb it close by. As we have muddled through these steps, I am once again struck by how much work and expense a basic house is to construct! Still, the creative process of it all is rewarding and in the end, I am sure we will value it all the more for all the work that has gone in.
The spring rains this year have been much more paltry than last, and so our pond has not filled to full capacity. We thought we would be spending more time this spring planting out native wetland plants and starting to introduce fish into it, but instead we have opted to focus on planting out our hugel-swale system. You may remember this swale system from posts from our first year if you have been following the blog, but if not, they are basically ditches dug on contour on a south-facing slope on our land, about fifteen feet apart, and we added some rotting logs into the downhill mounds under the dirt relocated from digging. Last year they were looking a bit weedy, but we didn't have much time to pay them attention. This year they have been lavished with weeding, compost and topsoil, seeded with a mix of clovers to pull nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil, and they are getting their first plantings! We ordered eight cultivated pear and apple trees to start, and added in twenty-five nitrogen-fixing shrubs, called false blooming indigo, available from the conservation department. We also are planning to add in some more nitrogen fixers (to be discussed in the next post)and what, in the permaculture world, are called "dynamic accumulators," which all have long tap roots to draw up deeper levels of nutrients and make it available at the surface level. These are things like comfrey, burdock, horseradish, and jerusalem artichoke. Finally spending time to get these planting "guilds" established has been very exciting, and so work that it has taken has flown by fairly easily.
Among our native "neighbors" that are becoming more and more familiar to us--treefrogs, inchworms, monarchs and swallowtails, hawks and vultures, songbirds, mice (not such a welcome one), snakes, herons, migrating geese, wild turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, and many more--we have some new human neighbors down the road. After considering it for a year, John and a very pregnant Regina moved on to thirty acres down the road to start, or perhaps relocate, a Catholic Worker farm. They have been running The White Rose CW for years in Chicago, juggling both some farming and lots of hospitality and activism, but lacking a real space for it all. Here, they hope to have room for several more singles, couples, or families to join them in running a farm and providing hospitality for folks who need a temporary space (and all of this non-electrically!) I think they are up for the challenge, as they have already tackled quite a bit and seem pretty resilient to the challenges of our off-the-grid lifestyle and location. They purchased a pre-built cabin in need of some repair and have been focusing on fixing it up and getting it livable for the baby soon-to-come, with lots of help of volunteers and community work parties. We are very excited to have them joining the community and hope to partner with them in their vision in future years. Once again, our wonderful neighbor Don Miller helped move a cabin into place with his tractor, making it his fifth house moved/raised in our community in as many years! Thank goodness for the help of community!
Well, spring edibles beckon me in the forest--morels, wood nettles, and the black locusts are blooming (we have been making delicious sweet fritters with the edible blossoms) so I had better leave off here... A delicious spring to you all!