I've been tossing around the word 'permaculture' to describe some of the activities Anthony and I are engaged in here on the suburban farmstead. As it's not a mainstream way of gardening (and way of life) yet, I thought it might be helpful to define it.
If I had to sum up my first real vegetable garden season here at Dragon Flower Farm in one phrase, it would be this: It's all information, and information is good.
They look like life forms from another planet. But they're very much terrestrial. Cedar-apple rust is a fungus that is very common throughout North America. Remember that row of evergreen screen trees we planted along our fence line? That was in the fall of 2018, when we had a little help installing a row of nine mature eastern red cedar 'Taylor' trees. This past spring, I discovered massive galls attached to the twigs of many of the trees.
Every food plant you see pictured here in this post was grown from seed. Unfortunately, for every one of those, there's another plant that was supposed to have grown from seed but did not.
We're not at a loss for daylilies, AKA 'ditch lilies,' here at the Cat in the Flock farm. They're overgrowing a sidewalk near the house in one area and have obviously spilled over a circle in what is now the orchard, where they'd been planted with hostas. They're also popping up seemingly of their own accord in a back corner.
Anthony and I have spent a lot of time and consideration on how much of the garden we want to allocate to native plants that aren't a direct food source for ourselves vs. traditional orchard and vegetable plants that do feed us. So far we've tried to learn as much as we can about native edibles and have designed the garden to include them. But it was exciting to learn through the Shutterbee program (read more about that here) that native bees can make great use of traditional vegetable and herb flowers as a pollen source. That's right: As part of our training as citizen scientists conducting bee studies in our own yards, we were instructed to include the flowers in our vegetable patches and herb gardens.
We inherited three 'knock out' rose bushes, well established by the time we moved here in 2017. Three is a more than enough for us, especially considering this ridiculously common ornamental doesn't produce rose hips, and most pollinators don't seem to take much notice of it, either, except for the domesticated European honeybee. We removed one of the rose bushes last fall and trimmed back the remaining two, and lo and behold, this spring they exploded with more blooms than we'd ever seen before.
We've latched onto the idea of "permaculture" here at Dragon Flower Farm, drawn to the movement's emphasis on independence through a garden stocked with human-use plants. So rather than only enjoying the sight and smell of the spring season's plethora of petals, we challenged ourselves to make use of them as well.
My father is a very handy man. He's the type of guy who sees a brick patio and thinks, "I could do that." And then he figures out how to do it. And actually does it. And it looks awesome. As his son, it is both heartening to see what can be done and discouraging when you see how often your attempts at doing something awesome falls short. But as my grandfather used to say, "It's good enuf fer who its fer." It took me years to translate that from his Oklahoma twang to my more prosaic American standard into, "It is good enough for whom it is for." I always liked Grandpa's attitude towards life.
It's been a strange spring in a lot of ways. The season has seemed to last a lot longer than usual - our utility bill was cut in half over the last month because we've needed neither the furnace nor the A/C. Spring here in Missouri can sometimes go by in a blip so that you barely have any windows-open days before it's time to shut the place up and turn on the A/C. So a long spring is a welcome thing. But up until this week, it's been dry, unlike last year's mushroom-encouraging daily deluges, so we've been grateful for the rain barrels to water the direct-sow seeds going in now.
Ye olde farm yarde is exploding with blooms this spring, and the photo above is a good cross-section example. Here you see a native serviceberry in the foreground, with our vintage lilac behind, and a carpet of violets on the ground. Breaking up the floral hues is that smattering of electric-green hostas beneath the lilacs. Those will bloom later in summer, white flutes on tall green stalks. Here's a closeup of those gorgeous lilacs. Our neighbor next door says he gets strong whiffs of their intoxicating aroma clear up to his balcony.
As we work on the Dragon Flower Farm, we are also developing our philosophy around what we are doing, and why. At this point (and it will likely change) I would say it is a philosophy of the mean––the middle way, if you will. One aspect of that philosophy is the role of chaos. In Jungian thought, the forest represents the primeval, the chaotic, nature red in tooth and claw. The home represents order, civilization, humanity's dominion. The garden is the place where the two intersect. It is ordered, but it is still influenced by the power that resides outside of its walls.
The flora is waking up here at Dragon Flower Farm after a long sleep. I wish I could say we are, too, but the truth is we're merely shifting from hard-work-inside to hard-work-outside. It's the same with the fauna. As I mentioned in the post on bird baths, our feeders were super active all winter. In addition to the usual flocks of house sparrows, house finches, and European starlings, we experienced frequent visits from cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, woodpeckers, and even the white-throated sparrow, a treat to watch for its two-footed, back-and-forth dig move in the dirt under our feeders. Like the birds, we're flush with motivation to make the most of springtime; while we marvel at the awakening garden, several projects are keeping us busy during this shelter-in-place.
Anthony and I tended to be fairly home-oriented even before the coronavirus hit and made us homebound by executive order. Fortunately, this emphasis on the home sphere has enabled us to shift into the shelter-in-place with relative ease because there's plenty of drama going on right in our own backyard. With three bird baths, three platform feeders, and a suet feeder poised within view of our back windows, we've got a 24/7 wildlife study right here.
If you've read the previous two blog posts in this series (here and here), your pan is well-seasoned, and you know how to care for it. Before you start using it, the first thing you need to do is a bit weird, and it sounds like something out of a fantasy novel, but you need to get to know your pan.
Generally, there are a few rules for cast iron skillet care and a few myths that can be dispelled. First of all, there is cleaning the pan. A well-seasoned pan, that is being used properly, should not be difficult to clean up. Hot water and a metal spatula are usually all you need. If you are cooking something that has a lot of sugar or starch (say potatoes), then you may need to break out the non-soap steel wool.
To help promote these ideas, we're giving away a free, signed copy of Bringing Nature Home. All you have to do to be eligible to win is subscribe to our newsletter. If you're already subscribed, you're automatically in the pool, but please do tell your friends! The drawing happens on March 31, 2020, so sign up before that cutoff date.
In order to use cast irons, there are a few things you need to do: You need to season your pan (which I will cover). You need to learn how to care for your pan (covered in an upcoming post). You need to learn how to cook with your pan (covered in an upcoming post).
In this post I'll walk you through some of my most resourceful, DIY sleuth-shopping and decorating moments of the past year. Ready?
Our twofold mission is to plant both natives and 'human use' flora, and the native plants have not disappointed. While the rhubarb gasped and expired, and the blueberries* have continued to struggle, the natives have taken hold and flourished, pretty much without exception. As an added bonus, we've been able to obtain many of them free - either as volunteers or gifted starts and seeds.
One of the best uses of mulch in my experience is in converting an area of turf grass to nice gardening soil. I use what some people now call the "sheet-mulch method," which is basically a decomposable barrier layer, such as an old wool carpet or cardboard boxes, underneath a thick mulch. I've done this three different times at three different homes over the past nearly twenty years, and the result is always amazing. I can't stress this enough. It's an affirmation of the natural decomposition cycle, proof that nature knows best.
First of all, why render fat? Well, fat is a substance that the human body is accustomed to absorbing. In fact, if you take in too little fat, it can have numerous deleterious effects on your health. It can lower your hormonal levels, make your skin dry, encourage you to overeat, mess with your body's natural temperature regulator, and cause mental fatigue. Now, that does not mean you have to eat animal fat. But if you are a meat eater anyway, it is certainly one of the easiest ways to make sure you are getting enough fat in your diet.
I've spent a good deal of time talking about what we had to extricate from the Dragon Flower Farm, i.e., invasive plants like honeysuckle vine, winter creeper, and even autumn clematis. Yes, it's been at times a tragic tale of what the botanists call "disturbed" areas in suburbia/near urbia. But not everything existing onsite when we bought the house in November of 2017 was undesirable. You might be wondering what we're planning to keep. Here's a list by category.
We're still in the throes of a long-term project to replace turf with a blend of plants that are ideally both native and edible, or at least one if both can't be satisfied together. I'll describe the very important turf remediation project in a future post dedicated to one of my favorite topics, mulch. But for now let's talk about the super fun part of gardening: putting in new plants.
I apologize for leaving you hanging--on the fence, so to speak, over the winter, when I mentioned we had another solution in the works to screen the view of the apartment building that looks down into our little 1/4-acre. But here it is: trees.
In its native environment in Asia, I'm sure it makes for a wonderful garden vine. Its dark green, ovate leaves foreground the vanilla cream-to-pale yellow flowers that appear in May. The scent they give off is intoxicating, a heady, thick sweetness you can practically taste. In fact, you can taste it; pull the pistil out and touch its end to your tongue, and it's like a dab of sugar. In fall, the flowers give way to bright red berries.
My friend had recently adopted a vegetarian lifestyle himself, but when I offered him beef made from grass-fed, organic, humanely- and locally-raised cows, he accepted. A nice, juicy hamburger is hard to turn down once you've removed the ethical stumbling blocks.
My husband and I just bought a quarter of a cow. Yep. A whole quarter. It's the meat of grass-fed, organic, free-range cows. These cows are also practically our neighbors, as we drove for, oh, about 10 minutes to get to the farm where they live.
But Generation X has always been on the cusp of an empire in decline. And what that means is that a lot of us, despite our practical idealism, find ourselves in adulthood having to shift from savior mode into survival mode. - See more at: http://www.typepad.com/site/blogs/6a01b7c6dfbed3970b01b8d069b60f970c/compose/preview/post#sthash.SXgGQtOV.dpuf