The six month Permaculture Design Course (PDC) I enrolled in this year is now done. Which of course means I am now ready to redesign the state of Maine into herb spirals and swaled edible forests. Or rather, it means I now have hundreds of pages of notes marked with big stars, oodles of inspiration, and more ideas than can fit into our 17 acre plot.
I came home from every PDC weekend full of excitement for all of the possibilities for this bit of land. But every weekend I also came home to the giant piles of rocks and logs waiting to be moved… and was reminded: not yet.
Our original plan was to hire an excavator this fall to come dig out stumps and move rocks. And then once I could see what that left us with I’d map out a plan for our clearing along the lines of what was worked up for our PDC final project (albeit with my far less superior artistic skills):
A treasure map that would show where every last fruit and nut tree would be planted, where living fences would run, where pond would sit, where yurts would rise, where paths would flow along keyhole garden beds full of perennial foods… Caden had no difficulty coming up with his own layout plan…
But me, I was kind of stumped, looking out at this chaotic clearing, trying to see beyond the wood mill, the brush piles, etc. to gauge contour lines, space, flow.
By now we’d planned for this all to be cleared out of the clearing and to be focused on the next steps. But as this year has shown us, the best laid (or drawn) plans are not always meant to be.
Recently our original master plan has had to change dramatically. Between the fire loss of our storage unit and unexpected medical expenses (how does one ever really plan for such things?), our building budget was shrunk by tens of thousands of dollars within a few short months. Meaning things like excavator rentals are now wayyyyy down on the priority list. At this point building and planting ourselves into the wooden yurt is the priority, with all of the costs it will entail (the slab, the windows, the insulation, the roofing). To us this is more important than landscaping, even if that landscape will be feeding us. Even if we desperately want to be growing our own food again, more than just the little raised bed we had this year.
Thankfully, a particularly perfect bit of advice came on the last weekend of the PDC. When permaculture matriarch, Julia Yelton, was asked what her advice would be to us as we set off after the close of the course, Julia said:
Just do it.
Her Australian accent making the words stand for what they really mean again, separate from the ubiquitous slogan. She was telling us to just get out there and start applying our permaculture learning in whatever small ways we could. That mistakes are learning tools. That the most important thing is to get started. To just do it.
Now I admit this took me back a bit. We’d spent the course focusing on how important planning was, having a full vision before taking action so that everything is accounted for in the master plan. Julia’s advice took me by surprise, but it also suddenly gave me an opening, a garden path forward.
Freedom to just jump in. Freedom to just start doing it, sans master plan. Josh pointed out a swath that was mostly free of stumps and rocks, between the fabric yurt and the outdoor shower. A southern slope perfect to make some swales on once we moved aside the table and dismantled the raised bed.
I drew a picture of a simple A-frame level like we’d used in class and Josh reconstructed it for me – just a few boards with a level tied on by fishing line – to be able to find contour lines.
We would mark out the contour lines by walking this A-frame level along them.
We would dig trenches on each contour to catch water just above where the garden beds would be.
We’d do the digging with the mattock I found for $3 at a yard sale from sweet old farmers down the road who no longer had a need for it.
Here was our new micro plan. I was beyond excited. But of course even micro plans can go awry! The morning we’d planned to start, free firewood was suddenly up for the taking and Josh headed off. Thankfully my old gardening partner was more than ready to dig in with me.
And dare I say this 7-year-old is already teaching me a thing or two in the garden? When the rocks we dug out were piling up and I was mulling over where to wheelbarrow them away to, Caden started neatly lining them up along the garden edges, in a very permaculturally-minded way of seeing a surplus as a resource. So I followed along!
After digging the swales and marking out the beds, we get to do garden magic: sheet mulching to make soil. This is particularly exciting, this method of layering all manner of available organic matter onto the beds and letting it compost in place over the winter to be transformed into soil for next spring’s planting.
Magical, but somehow far less mysterious than our previous garden where we bought loam from a local garden center by the many yards and picked bricks, bones, nursery plant tags out of it (where DOES that loam come from, anyway?). This time we will know just where our soil came from.
From hay that happily grew at this seaside farm across the water:
From seaweed that washed ashore here:
From sprinkles of granite dust left over from when our well was drilled.
With paths covered in cedar woodchips, a new incarnation of the bountiful bi-product of milling that is slashwood (the parts of the wood that can’t be turned into boards or posts – see towering mountain to right in picture below).
If only those diggers were a bit bigger… 🙂
Now we’re just waiting for the time to go pick up some horse manure from a friend’s neighbor to get all of the sheet mulch layers applied (along with some fresh compost) before winter.
In the meantime, we’re all back in “the garden” again, digging out more swales in any little nooks of time we have.
Since these pictures, we have two more rows in progress and will end up with about 450 sq ft of growing area (ironically about the same amount of growing area we live in inside of our fabric yurt).
When life hands you lemons…take the seeds and plant a lemon tree… 🙂
The more likely Maine scenario occurred recently when life handed us 40 lbs of ripe, delicious, peak-ready peaches. I had hoped to make this lacto-fermented peach salsa when the peaches came in, but it was mid-week and there was no time for ingredient gathering. So we just did it, what we could at that moment, despite any more ambitious original plans. Before work we cut and froze and jammed. Before bed we cut and froze and jammed.
One thing I learned was to not make jam right before bedtime in a yurt. The sporadic loud popping as the jars seal over the next couple of hours are not conducive to a – yawn – good night of sleep. 🙂
But at least we do have plenty of that Peach & Honey Jam now, for a certain 1st grader to eagerly pack his lunch with.
A boy who also needed a rest blanket to lay on during 1st grade story times.
When I saw this on the start-of-school supply list I thought of the three “rest blankets” he was given at birth – one quilted by my good friend Meaghan, one knit by his Aunt Janel, another needle-pointed by his Gram. They’d been in storage, waiting for a time like this.
Without those (sniff), clearly it was time to make this not-at-all-a-baby-anymore boy another special blanket! To just do something somehow around the three days away at PDC, the garden making, the peach putting up, the wood gathering and all…
And to be thankful our little yurt has just enough quilt-sprawl floor work space for this mini one.
“Just do it.” The last time this motto was in our lives we were running in circles, but somehow still getting where we needed to go anyway. After all, without running around all of those tracks in our school years, Josh and I wouldn’t have ended up on this path together.
Now we find again that we are not on a straight path, no matter how much we try to plan and make it a linear process. Yet it still seems that this meandering track we’re on will get us where we’re headed, partly because it feels like we’re already THERE in so many ways already. Thank goodness…because who knows just what will come next!