Fields Without Fences

oaks,mint,elderberry

I love my friend Minca. Now that we’re no longer college classmates, we cherish the rare opportunities to spend time with one another. A little over a year ago she happened to be in New Jersey and I insisted that she and I visit one of my favorite farms of all time, Fields Without Fences (FwF). The farm was started by Lindsay and Johann Rinkens in 2012 with the intention to develop an ecologically appropriate land management strategy for growing certified organic food and medicine. The farm’s story is much more involved, but that day I learned about a new development: 2014 would be the first year with paid apprentices. That’s all I needed to know. I was in.

My body, mind, and emotions were tested this summer in ways that I didn’t originally anticipate. My body is no worse for wear, but a summer of farm work, along with hiking, biking, and swimming around the Delaware river, has definitely tuned me up (thanks to stretching and chiropractors for mechanical help). There’s something I love about the feeling at the end of a productive day outdoors. My body loves to do what it evolved to: walk, bend, pick, pull, plant, scrape, shape, peel, pluck, dig, rake, make, and mark. This is the third full summer I’ve spent working on a farm and, though at times I’d like to deny it, it makes me really happy. Working in and with the elements undeniably agrees with my heart and bones. And farm work, strenuous and stressful as it may sometimes be, connects me with my ancestors—to my great grandparents who immigrated with family from Austria to farm in Minnesota and Nebraska five generations ago. Working on the farm is my heritage. And I’m glad I inherited their work ethic.
James&Katie in FieldLindsay and Johann have tremendous work ethics, and I appreciate how they turn tedious labor into strength-training exercises. Their attention to detail and proper technique made repetitive tasks multi-functional—weeding, seeding, transplanting and harvesting with good posture, sensitivity and body-awareness also increased our efficiency, making work as effortless as possible while building balanced body strength. That’s permaculture! I mean, it’s one thing to say all that, and another to actually do it. Especially on a farm where dozens of different species of herbs are sharing bed-space with fruiting ground-covers, berry bushes, fruit and nut tree saplings…not to mention the volunteers. Physically performing at a high level at a farm like theirs requires an equally high level of mental effort.

The mental edge I gained working for Lindsay and Johann is a reflection of the mental level at which they work, as well as the complexity of the polyculture systems that they’re establishing. As a farm that seeks to mimic the ecological architecture of regional native plant communities, they’re ahead of the curve. Being ahead of the curve also means not relying upon experts to tell you what to do, and relying heavily upon your own observations to make adjustments as the systems grow. As the season progressed Johann and Lindsay challenged us to start thinking and acting more like managers. They challengsoutheastfield_0728ed us to take responsibility for our learning curves and move beyond the introductory hand-holding. It wasn’t until they brought this up that I realized how much easier it was to just follow instructions and do what I was told. They challenged us to increase our productivity and make more of the “little” decisions for ourselves. Up to this point I had thought I was working hard. I thought I was slowly starting to get a feel for the systems dynamics. But midway through the season it was clear that I wasn’t challenging myself enough. That was a spicy pill to swallow; it’s always more fun to get a pat on the back than a kick in the ass. That’s when I learned what Field’s Without Fences is really about: The fields are our minds, and the fences are all the self-imposed limitations we put on what we believe is possible and what we think we’re capable of. The fences are all the excuses we make up to hide our true genius. We fence-in our creativity, and fence-out our power of will. I guess I thought I was just keeping the deer from eating my vegetables. But I had to face the reality of the situation. I needed to take the challenge personally and accept responsibility for my full capacities. That’s the mental edge that Lindsay and Johann put to work. I’m still working on it.

Now that the 2014 season has come and gone I can say, without a doubt, that living and working at FwF has permanently altered my outlook and ambitions. I like to rationalize my work as a farmer and analyze it’s impact on civilization and the biosphere. But I’ve come to learn that my propensity for abstraction is not as meaningful to me as what I actually do. As much as I love the mental stimulation of ecological and philosophical concepts, this season on the farm has strengthened my emotional bond with the ecosystems that I am a part of. Living and working at FwF helped me see the necessity of being in relationship with the ecosystems on and beyond the farm. And that requires commitment (gasp). My life is moved by thoughts and emotions, and my inner landscape is mostly comprised of feelings. Lately I’ve been asking myself, “How do I want my life to feel?” A big part of the feeling that I want in my life comes from being in relationship with the biosphere and it’s ecosystems. As a producer, I am reliant upon the web of relationships that make plants and animals healthy. So I must be in tune with the reality of life on the ground, which is work. Committing to working with the land in some way, shape, or form requires me to exercise will-power to do something….And stick with it! There’s no way out of it. Accepting that challenge makes me a field with fewer fences. I want my life to feel un-fenced . As I commit to farming, I commit to being un-fenced.

North field at the end of the summer, prepped for cover crop and tree plantings

The Art of Composting

Wooden Road In Forest
“Everything is a process, even the [farmer].”

– Michael Phillips

Maximizing the soil food web for your farm and garden ecosystems is not only possible, but inevitable. As topsoil continues to be depleted and lost at record rates worldwide, farmers are feeling the pressure to adopt new strategies for ensuring the long-term productivity of the land. The agricultural community at large is becoming more aware of the ways in which plants depend on healthy soil, and the soil food web is coming into the spotlight. Those who treat the soil as a living ecosystem are experiencing breakthrough success, as their farms demonstrate more resilience to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events. Farmers and gardeners who treat their soils as a living ecosystem are tasting the results; more vibrant, nutritious, and abundant yields than ever before. And the ecosystem of beneficial insects and pollinators are coming back with authority. (citations)

An increasing number of farmers, gardeners and scientists alike are adopting this new paradigm of “living soil.” It’s not like adopting a child or even a family. When you adopt the living soil paradigm you adopt an entire community; in reality, this shift in understanding is an acknowledgment of an entirely new world. It is changing people’s entire relationship with the process of farming, gardening, and scientific study. The time has come to reform our notions of superiority in the web of life. Nature is not an inanimate resource bank awaiting our plunder. It is an ever-evolving dance of mutuality, collaboration, and adaptation. Time has come to see ourselves as part of this dance, not separate from it. Our roles as participants are many. The integrity and health of the niches that we occupy are largely the result of our attitudes and approaches to management.

Thus, the art of composting has as much to do with your approach as it does your execution. When you approach composting (and farming as a whole) with a sense of reverence and respect, your relationship with the process changes. If you can let go of the assumption that you’re the only intelligent life form on your farm, you can access an even greater ability —a greater sensitivity— to the process. The art of composting is the art of transformation, the art of succession and evolution. If you’re willing, you can begin to tune yourself to that process and become sensitive to the relationships between plants and the living soil. If you’re bold, you might even begin to treat your soil and plants as legitimate business partners and listen to their ideas about how the farm should be.

“Organic gardening is complex and simple, a blend of good science, fact, experience, intuition, experiments, play, speculation.” -Robert Kourik

Please remember that the science of compost, the science of the soil food web, is all metaphor. Cation exchange capacity, the nutrient cycle, carbon to nitrogen ratios – are all metaphors. The reality of the soil food web is something beyond our ability to express in words, which is why plants don’t grow in books. All the information up to this point in the paper, especially in Part 1, has been expressed in linear terms. Nature is not linear; nature is non-linear. The intelligence in the soil food web goes beyond our maps and diagrams, and cannot be explained by our facts and figures. The reality of life (and composting, farming) is not easily predictable. And this is the difference between living soil and dead soil, between an ever-depleted soil from which we extract life, and a regenerative soil that is teeming and overflowing with life. The paradigm of living soil acknowledges the vital interconnectedness between microbes and plants, air and water, sun and people. What we do to the web we do to ourselves, the earth is not a machine. And even the tiniest changes in one place can change everything in ways we wouldn’t expect. Living systems cannot be reduced to their component parts; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is already well-established. This is the glory of natural law; this is the genius of creative intelligence. We are meant to live in abundance, but we need to drop our arrogance and learn how to listen again.

“When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
― Masanobu Fukuoka

I understand that if you’re committed enough to have sought out the information in this paper, you probably already consider yourself a natural farmer or gardener. Let this be an appeal not to reason but to intuition. As you take the information, the compost pile recipes, materials lists and instructions, and prepare to apply it to your current operations, do your best to carry yourself more as a midwife than a chef. Realize that with every compost pile you make you’re giving birth to an entire community of new life forms, and your farm will be a stronger community because of it. Like any good community organizer (which you are), you’ll need patience, compassion and understanding, as you already know. Engage in the process of growing more abundant and healthy plants so that you might become more healthy and abundant in spirit. Farm so that you might create more harmony on earth. Your job is not easy and you know it, and it never ends

Exerpt, taken from the full paper: The Art and Science of Compost: Maximizing the Soil Food Web For Your Farm and Garden Ecosystems

The “Soil Food Web” Paradigm

Healthy soil is built and maintained by a universe of soil organisms. These organisms make up the soil food web and are the key to unlocking fertility in the soil. The soil food web forms the basis of a healthy farm ecosystem. Without them, farmers and gardeners are required to do the extra work of fertilization, pest/weed and disease control. It doesn’t need to be this way. Healthy soil and healthy plants can happen without our endless toil. But this all hinges on a sound understanding of “soil food web science.” Over time, healthy communities of life underground have been devastated as a result of annual tilling, compacted soil, mismanagement of organic matter, and relentless applications of chemical fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides/fungicides. Various farming practices such as no-till, cover cropping, and chemical-free organic farming are all effective ways to support the soil food web. Gardeners and landscapers can utilize similar strategies to promote the vitalizing force of the critters below. However, nothing has been demonstrated to be more effective and important than compost for establishing the vital, regenerative and chemical-free growing power of the soil food web.

From: USDA's "Soil Biology Primer"

From: USDA’s “Soil Biology Primer”

“Viewing the soil as a regenerative living system is one big kick in the pants for anyone who has been taught that NPK fertilization is more relevant than soil biology.” 
-Michael Phillips

“Soil food web” science includes the following components: Sun, water, air, plants and their roots, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, micro and macro-arthropods, earthworms etc, humus (decomposed organic matter) and the mineral components of soil – sand, silt, and clay, as well as humans and their management decisions. The web starts with and is governed by plants, who use the energy of the sun to make carbon chains (photosynthesis); much of these carbon compounds are used as root exudates to attract and develop beneficial microbial communities in and around their root system. Exudates are simple sugars, proteins, and carbohydrates released by plant roots to feed and stimulate populations of beneficial microorganism. They do not feed pathogens. (Lowenfels and Lewis 23-24). Understand that the energy going into roots is not only used to build root structure for stability and fertility; in general, about half of a plant’s energy that goes into its roots is released as exudates (Kourik 10). Why do they do this? Because the energy they give away comes back to them many times over.

The strange reality is that while humans garden plants, plants garden microorganisms. They do this because of the crucial role microbes play in the nutrient cycle. Whereas humans are fed by plants, plants are fed by microorganisms. Microbiologists have found that the number of microorganisms in the rhizosphere – a zone immediately around the roots, extending out about a couple of millimeters – is far greater than in the surrounding soil (Ingham, “Living Soil” 2011). What’s more, studies on foliar dynamics have revealed that living leaves produce exudates through their phyllosphere that attract microbes just as roots do through the rhizosphere (Lowenfels and Lewis 25). All this “life” competes for the exudates in the rhizosphere and phyllosphere. At first glance it would seem like the microbes are the ones being fed, but if you look a little deeper things get much more interesting.

“Soil organic matter is the storehouse for the energy and nutrients used by plants and other organisms. Bacteria, fungi, and other soil dwellers transform and release nutrients from organic matter.”
-Dr. Elaine Ingham

Soil life creates soil structure and produces soil nutrients. The activities of its members bind soil particles together into microaggregates as they create air and water pores. The chemical and biological activity in the thin layer of moisture around aggregates convert nutrients into soluble forms that roots can absorb via ion exchange. Unlike applications of fertilizer, soil nutrients in living soil releases slowly over time; they are available when plants need them. As compost, mulch and other organic matter is added to the soil, their nutrients become immobilized in dead bodies and subsequently mineralized (made available to plants) through digestion or decay. The proximity of microbial action in the rhizosphere is what makes mineralized nutrients far more bioavailable than soluble fertilizer forms.

“There must always be a perfect balance between the process of growth and decay. The consequences of this condition are a living soil, abundant crops of good quality, and livestock which possess the bloom of good health”
– Sir Albert Howard

An increasing number of farmers, gardeners and scientists alike are adopting this new paradigm of “living soil.” It’s not like adopting a child or even a family. When you adopt the living soil paradigm you adopt an entire community; in reality, this shift in understanding is an acknowledgment of an entirely new world. It is changing people’s entire relationship with the process of farming, gardening, and scientific study. The time has come to reform our notions of superiority in the web of life. Nature is not an inanimate resource bank awaiting our plunder. It is an ever-evolving dance of mutuality, collaboration, and adaptation. Time has come to see ourselves as part of this dance, not separate from it. Our roles as participants are many. The integrity and health of the niches that we occupy are largely the result of our attitudes and approaches to management.

Citations

1000 Words on Purpose

I moved to MUM with an understanding that “purification leads to progress.” Yoga philosophy instructed yogis to give up all impurities, intoxicants, unhealthy food, and other bad lifestyle habits. When my experience in meditation improved after eliminating toxic substances I realized that we really are what we eat! Thus, I became much more interested in good food and learned about all the damaging byproducts of our modern industrial food system. Through food, I found a direct connection between spiritual growth and physical life on earth. I figured if I could learn how to grow the purest food and live a natural lifestyle, then I would be doing something really good! After all, it seemed obvious that humans would never find peace on earth if they were poisoning the earth through their agriculture.

My Sustainable Living degree program has been dynamic and inspiring. Key classes like permaculture design, systems thinking, applied soil ecology and deep ecology have taught me to see patterns in nature. I’ve learned about the strength of collaboration between organisms, which supports diversity and abundance. I’ve learned that we can fulfill our human needs by collaborating with nature and connecting with nature on a direct personal level. Going forward, I intend to participate in the sustainability revolution by working with people directly who want to strengthen their own personal connection with nature and realign their communities to collaborate with nature. This is applied permaculture design, with a heavy dose of forest fairy magic.

During my summer apprenticeship in New Mexico my life was forever changed. I learned first hand how to use the “heart-field” as an organ of perception and communicate directly with plants and learn about their medicine. We did exercises to practice using our intuition to read the character of people, places, and anything else under the sun. We did deep psycho-emotional shadow work during our course, revealing layers of subconscious programs, memories, and beliefs that suppress our uninhbited expression. I learned that we all need to heal by reconnecting with our inner child – this unlocks our extrasensory potential, as does opening the emotional heart and healing insecurities. Speaking of insecurities…I learned that sexual energy is life-giving energy and is as useful for spiritual evolution as its is for procreation.

I feel as good as this woman looks when I'm meditating...

I feel as good as this woman looks when I’m meditating…


The daily practice of transcendental meditation has been one of the most transformative influences of my MUM career. I had experimented with other meditation techniques and had good experiences, but this technique has been the most reliable one for getting a daily dose of inner peace. Closing the eyes each day and transcending connects me with the mysterious inner reality and satguru that guides my life. Doing meditation in the framework of the ideal daily routine at MUM has helped me learn that rest and activity are equally important steps of progress.

Cultivating relationships with people at MUM continues to be the most rewarding ongoing experience next to meditation. From day one at MUM I’ve grown in love and openness with people through deep connection and intimacy. I learned the value of honesty, openness and transparency; self-knowledge can be gained through interaction with others, especially when people are aware of the power of their interaction. At MUM, more people are aware of that power than anywhere else I’ve ever been. This shared intention to grow and support each other in becoming whole has made me realize “Vasudhaiva Katumbakum” – “The World is My Family.” I’ve been able to live in co-housing with other people studying sustainable living, and this has emphasized the importance of community. Living a collaborative lifestyle with other people has given me the opportunity to actually learn how to live together in harmony, which is priceless

GoodFriendsinNYC

Friends from all over the country here together in Union Square NYC. Bonds at MUM strong enough to bring us together wherever we are on the map!

So Who am I NOW? How have my experiences at MUM changed me? And What do I want to do next?

I’m much more balanced now. Rest and meditation are the foundation for my activities. I’m more sensitive and in-tune with my body and emotions. I’m much more responsive to my digestion day to day and have good control over what I eat. I’m less afraid than I used to be, and more willing to be my honest, open and unguarded self. Thus, I’m more compassionate and loving than I used to be. I’m a more sexual person now….Or should I say…I’m more comfortable expressing my innate sexuality, and I don’t feel as much pressure to be anyone other that who I am in the present moment. When I came to MUM I was inspired, and am still inspired, but now I’ve got a clear direction for the future, getting clearer everyday…except for the days when I haven’t had enough rest. I’m beginning to understand what it really means to be autonomous; I’m taking full responsibility for my life – an empowered, self-referral life. I rarely run away from intimacy because I’m not ashamed to be seen. Naked. I feel prepared to go off into society and offer my gifts to the world!

Its clear to me that my writing skills, public speaking skills, organizational and administrative capacity, and critical thinking ability are all valuable and marketable assets wherever I go. What I really want to do in the immediate future is play a major role in creating a small-scale example of sustainable community living here in Fairfield. The nature of the work I’m getting into is intensely entrepreneurial, and I may need to acquire some good business skills. However, the field of permaculture and sustainable community design is highly interdisciplinary, so I’ll rest on my tested ability to learn on the job and adapt as I go. I know that I don’t know everything, which is important. But I know enough to undertake the project at Prairie Song Farm, which will require computer and media skills, advanced plant and ecological knowledge, practical gardening and soil fertility knowledge, advanced social skills and emotional intelligence, tractor mechanics and machine work, basic and advanced carpentry, electrical engineering, etc.

Wow, clearly I need more than just me to accomplish my goals. I should’ve studied cloning. This illustrates a simple yet profound point: Community is formed by a group of people working together – it can’t be top-down. I see my role as a leader (initiator) who is also a catalyst and connecting agent. My gift is the ability to gather and articulate a shared vision. From that point, a design can be made, and it takes a community of people to bring the design to life. One thing is for sure: If a deeply spiritual, environmentally regenerative and economically thriving culture were to emerge anywhere in North America, it would be Fairfield, Iowa.

To All Soil Professionals…

(Written by Jacob Krieger)

To all soil professionals,

That means the farmers first and foremost. The stewards of our soils.

There are plenty of silly facts about global warming that don’t change anyone’s mind. Especially in the mid-west. Whether CO2 changes the global temperature or not does not change the fact that we have raised the amount of it in the atmosphere. Two primary ways of raising the CO2 levels have been burning carbon based substances and removing or killing the natural “resources”, or the Earths biota.

We can see the cars and factories for ourselves. We can all see the lack of trees while perusing Google Earth. We can all see millions of acres of exposed soil through vast amounts of the year with a short drive. We pride ourselves at the coffee table on our tidy little barren soil beds being prepped and poisoned for next years synthetic crop. Yum, yum, down on the farm, home grown goodness, eh?

Here is a fact that soil professionals should know when preparing beds of soil.

Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University Dr. Rattan Lal has calculated that 476 Gigatons (Gt) of carbon have been emitted from farmland soils due to inappropriate farming and grazing practices (Christine Jones, PhD, www.amazingcarbon.com). In contrast, 270 Gt have been emitted over the past 150 years of fossil fuel burning (Jones, www.amazingcarbon.com).

In their study, “Carbon Sequestration Potential Estimates with Changes in Land Use and Tillage Practices in Ohio, USA,” Zhengxi Tan and Rattan Lal explain that the conversion of natural ecosystems to those managed agriculturally can reduce the soil organic carbon pool by up to 50% in the top 20 cm of the soil and 25-30% in the top 100 cm depth after 30-50 years of cultivation (Tan, Lal, 2005).

It makes sense that more carbon comes out of the soil being tilled than the carbon released making and running the engine tilling it. For, fossil fuels are mostly buried and compressed landscapes of once living organisms. These fossil organisms are no different from the organisms in our soil still. Destroyed, they release the same kind of carbon that was put there by the same photosynthesis.

All exposed soil will lose this soil-organic-carbon. Inappropriate tillage expands the process exponentially. Today we have realized that inappropriate agriculture has successfully released the carbon of a 30 foot thick organism that once covered the entire Midwest, the topsoil and root system of the tall-grass prairies. Bare soil is potentially a more feasible culprit for global warming than even electricity.

What’s more disturbing is that we now farm fuel despite all the free sources of energy. (Yes, free energy. It’s here and being denied)
Farm soil and keep it covered. For better crops, better health, and a cooler planet. Soil is an organism that cannot be disconnected from the plants that it works with symbiotically. It is a single organism. Plants and soil both die when separated. Hence the need for chemical supplements that further the biological selection and destruction. Stop bare soil and start capturing CO2.

AGRICULTURE COULD BE USED TO BUILD SOIL at rates scientists once believed would take thousands of years.

It is being done in most 1st world countries and has been since the 1950’s. It is a shame we don’t take it seriously here. Carbon farming is a concept that pervades the planet aside from the American discussions. Proper grazing, rotation, soil conditioning, reestablishment of proper biology and biodiversity, and the end of monoculture could curb our global catastrophe in a growing season. No-till is a start, perennial poly-culture is a possible future, there are hundreds of solutions to start improving and expanding upon. Regenerating what we have destroyed is first on the to-do list avoiding the next dust bowl.

Row crops and CAFO’s are two ends of the same goat. Putting the cows back to pasture has fixed over 15,000 acres already by way of Darren Doherty Everyone should know this by now and realize it’s a scam. We are down to a few million farmers who bought out all their former cooperation by just playing the market by the rules. We are mostly farmed by contractors and satellites now. Monopoly is not about calories produced per acre. It is about control. It is extremely important for everyone to produce the same thing for the few to have power over the many.

Stop playing their game. Research regenerative agriculture and help improve it. Help revision. You be the scientist. You change the world. Any lawn or large acreage can be a part of the solution. And there are way more solutions than problems, but it starts with a mind change. Learn what science has discovered about soil in the last 25 years! Even in the last 3 years we have completely re-written the book on soil and how plants grow! Get on it SOIL PROFESSIONALS!

If farmers knew anything about the role they play today and what they can change tomorrow, the world would see a revolution by spring.

Prairie Song Permaculture Project (Part II)

By the time mid-November came around I was exhausted from all the grunt work but felt great about the increased growing capacity in the garden from the formation of new beds. All in all, there is about 1500 sq ft. of prepped bed space that will be ready to plant in come spring. Originally, the plan for my senior project was to focus on growing as much food as possible in the garden to feed farm residents and sell at the farmer’s market; in addition, I would do a comprehensive permaculture design for the farm.

However, various conversations with friends and fellow permaculturists inspired me to think about the garden’s growing potential more as a perennial medicine garden than purely annual veggies. Growing herbs for market and certain restaurants seems to offer more of a profit-earning niche for the farm than would annual veggies; also, it seems to be a better use of space, since the price per pound of fresh herbs may yield more dollars per square foot than would melons or broccoli or beans, if you know what I mean…

With this shift in focus for the garden I realized that the garden itself will be an ongoing project beyond the scope of my 2 months of senior project. Thus, the formal permaculture design will be the primary deliverable and focus of my senior project, along with the creation of a website to display and present the design among other things.

Thus, the deliverables for my proposed project are:

  1. The entire permaculture design, with physical base maps, overlays, species lists, etc.
  2. A digital representation of the full permaculture design and a presentation of the design from the viewpoint of the website. This will include a guided tour of the website for Stacy, who will be grading my project.
  3. A 10-page summative/integrative essay (double spaced) to replace the 30-page paper (double spaced) currently required by the official SL Senior Project Guidelines. This paper will integrate the most pertinent principles of SCI that inform and enrich the project, as well as a summary of accomplishments and short discussion/reflection about the significance of the senor project experience (what I got out of it).

Since most of my time during this month of self-directed study was spent outside in the garden, it was only toward the end of this month that I really sat and thought about the permaculture design process itself. I chose to do a formal design for the farm because I identified that it will provide a thoughtful and comprehensive basis for the ongoing development and creation of this sustainable living experiment. For a concise background of Prairie Song Farm and its mission see “Unconventional Rurual Permaculture Farmstead with Work-Trade Renters,” posted on February 24, 2012.  As students come and go, this design will be useful to offer a context and common basis for action, with regard to project phases of implementation and long-term goals.

I feel like this process is important for my evolution as an individual, because I’m learning that the key to a successful design is how well I observe. My primary goal is to spend quality time observing and yield to the voices of the land and its inhabitants – plant, animal, elemental, invisible. This place is home to people seeking spiritual growth as a primary purpose for life, and the actualization of material projects, whether they’re called “permaculture” or “business” or “creative,” are a waste of time if they don’t serve the spiritual evolution of the people, planet, and universe. This means that this project is less about what comes to be and more about how it comes to be. I don’t expect to be perfect when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the design. All that I hope to accomplish is a deeper acquaintance (and thus knowledge) of the land and its diverse inhabitants, and that I observe/listen to the source of creative intelligence out of which all things come.

If I can leave behind a permaculture design that is creative and useful to residents in some way I will be happy. If I can learn to be a better inhabitant, a more responsible co-creator, a better son and servant of Mother Gaia during the process I will be happier. And if by some miracle I can remember to keep things simple and not over-think it, I might actually enjoy myself the whole time.

Prairie Song Permaculture Project (Part I)

Today is November 20th, 2012. For the past 6 weeks I’ve experienced something novel: Life at the farm, enrolled at MUM, and not in class. I’ve been blessed with the freedom to create my own schedule with a self-directed study to prepare for my senior project. I’m writing this to reflect on the value of this time, show-off some of what I’ve done, and draw out lessons learned to help me as I continue the permaculture design process.

To be honest, most of the time has been spent gardening; double digging new raised beds, sheet-mulching garden pathways, and putting the existing raised beds “to sleep” for the winter. These are all “grow-biointensive” style gardening practices and i’ll explain their function/reasoning (in a nutshell):

1) Double Digging – this is a labor-intensive method for forming new beds; ideally, a “broad fork” is used to break the surface of the soil and de-compact the virgin soil (in our case, clay) to about 2 ft. dept. Then, a flat shovel is used to dig out the de-compacted soil and pile it on top of the forks-worth that you turned up 2 feet earlier; This allows air, water, and plant roots (hopefully they’re plants of your choosing) to penetrate more deeply, which sets the conditions for healthier plants with more soil and nutrients to gobble up.

Sascha uses a broad fork with 18inch teeth to decompact clay in our garden

2) Sheet-Mulching – this is a labor-intensive method for suppressing grass growth in the garden. A double layer of cardboard is put down to cover the entire area of path; next, a 6-8 inch layer of wood chips are added on top of the cardboard to form the floor of the pathway; this thickness of wood chips prevents light from reaching the soil (understanding that the cardboard will decompose eventually) and prevents existing grass and dormant grass seed from establishing roots. A grass-free garden reduces competition for soil nutrients, root-space, and water.

Straw – the carbon blanket that puts beds to sleep

3) Putting Beds to Sleep – this is a method for adding natural fertilizer to the garden bed before winter; ideally, a biologically active and balanced compost is added across the top of the existing raised bed; this addition of carbon material and microorganisms will add life to the soil and replace some of what was taken out by the plants that grew there during the spring, summer and fall. Super-ideally, a layer of cardboard is put down on top of the compost to cover the entire bed like a blanket. Finally a 6-8 inch mat of straw or leaves is added as the final top layer to hold down the cardboard and provide even more carbon-rich material to feed the soil microbes and add nutrients. Its important that the compost and cardboard be wet or soaked with water during this process so the microbiology can thrive and decompose everything faster. By spring, the bed should wake up feeling recharged and full of fertility!

Pictures of the Process:

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