Since my tree-trimming birthday in mid-September, work on Sweetgrass Farm has been non-stop. Each day I mentally chant my “little by little” mantra to prevent overwhelm as I watch permaculture progress being made, slowly but surely. I remember the legal pad my Dad kept by the kitchen table in which he made his lists of what needed to be done upon our very large farm. At any given time, his list went on for at least 6-8 pages with 300-400 chores and projects needing to be done. I visualize those monumental lists whenever I feel overwhelmed by my list of 30-40 projects that dwarfs in comparison, and breathe a sigh of relief. I maintain both my perspective and inspiration for this land’s bigger picture by seeing it as a blank canvas upon which I am slowly and steadily painting a prolific permaculture landscape.
The initial tree-trimming was followed by an extensive cut-back of all the invasive Brazilian Pepper trees along the east boundary. Two days with a rental chipper produced multiple piles of wood mulch with one pile dumped on the grassy location for my first, big broad bed, while the remaining six loads were dumped along the southern fence line for the foundation of awaiting food forests. I raked the intimidating pile of mulch over the area for the broad bed where it sat for several weeks, effectively killing the grass. I then designed the bed, raked all the mulch aside, aerated the soil with a pitch fork, added lime, blood and fish bone meal, watered and let it sit for a few days. Then I added a foundational layer of soaked cardboard followed by multiple layers of seedless green hay, mushroom and cow manure compost, worm castings, organic peat with the last layer amended with kelp and alfalfa meal, rock phosphate and bat guano. The final layer was a truck load of top soil after several days of watering my garden layer cake. The mulch was then returned to the top of the bed as the pathways to navigate a sun ray design with a herb mandala in the center. This is a permaculture no-dig bed in which the symbiotic relationship of the mycelium fungal network underground and the mycorrhizal fungi have been preserved. The result is now a growing and thriving bed of herbs, greens, fennel, leeks, tomatoes, beets, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, squash, peppers, beans and garlic along with a dwarf avocado, figs and edible hibiscus. This broad bed is part of my kitchen garden in Zone 1, and four long, narrow, terraced beds will soon complete my kitchen garden once the new patio is installed. It will be a short walk from the kitchen through the new screened lanai/porch to pick my healthy, homegrown food for dinner.
The newly discovered and uncovered waterfall is at last flowing after replacing a malfunctioning pump with a new one, though it now requires a waterfall expert to adjust the rocks for a more even flow of water over the two walls. The pond water level was chronically low with the original flow well in the woods no longer working. Rather than repair that well, we replaced the dead irrigation pump connected to yet another well, and ran trench piping from that well over to the pond. After about 4 days, the pond filled up beautifully. Prior to filling the pond, Panta and his crew removed the majority of the cattails that are now strewn out as foundational mulch for the future kid’s garden and another food forest. The pond is slowly coming back to life, and it is a delight to sit on the back patio and north portal to the sound of flowing water.
Yet another delight was to discover an extensive irrigation system already in place. Upon the installation of the new irrigation pump, all kinds of sprinkler heads popped up along with gushing rivers and fountains due to broken parts. My wonderful irrigation man, Kenny, capped off the leaks, replaced sprinkler heads, redirected some lines and viola! My laborious hours of watering are now running on automatic timers. The irrigation system is now in place for easy additions as the garden grows.
I decided to turn an area of neglected banana and chaya trees into a small orchard as part of my Zone 1 kitchen garden. I relieved some fruit trees I already had from their potted life, and planted my blood orange, pomegranate and Barbados cherry along with some pineapples under the banana trees. To this mix I added a loquat, guava and dwarf papaya tree and two red muscadine grapevines that are growing upon my homemade arch made from a 16 foot long cattle panel and t-posts. My next project is to morph this little orchard into a food forest as I connect all the trees together via a meandering no-dig bed that will be filled with a rich diversity of root plants, herbs and berry bushes. Trees are kind of like people: they grow best in the company of others.
The old, barbed wire fences have now been replaced with 2×4 galvanized wire fencing along with some new wood posts. The southern and western fences are lined with 26 Leyland Cypress trees that will reach 15 feet in about 3 years to provide a strong windbreak for the main garden. The chicken coup is enclosed with a new, big yard for the chickens to roam and a new Barred Rock rooster has joined my small brood of 4 Rhode Island Red hens. The rooster integrated seamlessly into his new home as a good watcher and protector of the hens, though egg production was down for a few weeks after his arrival. I guess the hens were quite enamored and distracted with his presence, and true to a rooster’s job, he sounds the alarm every morning at daybreak.
Lastly, I added a much needed screened porch, called a lanai here in the tropics, off the dining room that is quickly becoming my new hangout spot. It is an expansive 375 square feet with 4 large screened windows, ceiling fans, tile floor, tongue and groove ceiling and base wall along with a custom made stained glass window depicting the sun, moon and the Earth star…for me, the true trinity. It was completed just in time for the holidays for my visiting family and I to enjoy.
Subscribe and stay tuned to the continuous unfolding of Sweetgrass Farm and Garden. The new year projects on my list are the food forest orchard, two narrow beds along with two long terraced beds, retaining walls and a new patio. I am grateful for the permaculture zones knowledge that serves as my guide for what to do next. My goal is to complete work in Zone 0, the house, and Zone 1, the kitchen gardens so that I can move on to Zone 2, creating the food forests, and enter the arched gate to Zone 3, the coming market garden and greenhouse.
Little by little…