My permaculture teacher refers to this gardening methodology as a way of life. The permaculture way of life is ultimately about community wherein we balance receiving help from others, and by giving and sharing our permaculture knowledge and bounty with others. Friends who come to visit here at Sweetgrass Farm are fed bountiful, fresh food from the garden, and their willingness to help me with farm projects is a welcome gift in return. The eventual success of this small market farm will rely upon the permaculture way of community involvement, whereby we work together towards greater sustainability, and most significantly, towards greater health, happiness and harmony with our natural world.
I am delighted when friends contact me about wanting to come visit and help me with farm projects. Recently, an old friend of 45 years, Sally, arrived from flood-torn Iowa to lend a helping hand. Fortunately, her hilltop home was spared, but parts of her farm, most of the surrounding area, including her hometown, were not. The fact that she showed up at this challenging time speaks volumes of her appreciation for all farmers, and her grasp for the permaculture way of community. I was grateful for the laborious help that she offered in spite of recent injuries, and much progress was made as I happily completed projects on my long list.
Our first project was to tackle three flower beds that previously existed here. I had planted them back in the fall, but done little to amend the soil and replace the old, dried-up mulch. We raked all the old mulch off, amended the soils with organic peat, mushroom compost, soil conditioner and organic nutrients, laid down recycled brown paper to suppress weed growth and topped the beds with fresh, Florida eucalyptus mulch. We could hear the flowers singing as we watered, and the new mulch did wonders to increase the aesthetic beauty and color of the beds.
Next, we set our sights upon beautifying the big hill by the waterfall. A large tree stump had been pulled out of the hill a few months ago, leaving the side of the hill bare. This side and the back side were screaming for ferns. After an entire morning pulling all the weeds from this large space, we covered the back and side with 26 ferns: 20 Macho, 3 Foxtail and 3 Artillery ferns. Some Sweet Potato vine and Licorice plants were added to the more sunny spots, filling the gaps between the Liriope, Sedum and Mexican Heather I had already planted on the western slope. Our satisfied result was equally matched by our unsatisfactory aches and pains after a long day weeding, digging and planting on a steep slope.
After some well-deserved time off to swim at the beach, eat out and shop, we returned to the project of weeding, fertilizing and soaking 26 Leyland cypress trees, before removing the soaker hoses for use on forthcoming new trees. A few days later, my wonderful Mexican landscaper and his wife, Panta and Lourdes, arrived with the new trees to be planted along the other end of the road: 2 Southern Magnolias, 2 Crape Myrtles, 2 Coconut Palms, 1 yellow Verawood, 1 purple Tabebouia and 1 Gumbo Limbo for the backyard. These were BIG trees from a tree farm 9 miles north, and it was going to take all of us to get them into the ground, especially in 20+ mph winds.
By this time, I had worked poor Sally to capacity so she smartly chose to lay low. Panta and Lourdes dug the big holes quickly and efficiently while I prepared the soil amendments for the holes. The wind became a factor when planting the Tabebouia. It was in need of a post for support, and as I was holding the tree in the wind while Panta drove in the post, the top of his old sledge hammer flew off and smashed into my right arm. My quick thought that I might be better off standing more to the side was not quick enough. After an hour of good icing and a dose of CBD oil, I was back in limited action testing my left arm skills. By 2 pm, all 8 trees were in the ground, mulched and getting watered with the soaker hoses.
Panta and Lourdes disappeared for a late lunch while I perused the backyard for the right spot to plant the Gumbo Limbo tree upon their return. The great Gumbo Limbo is a fabulous tree with gorgeous bark and expansive, twisting limbs and structure to make it a superb shade tree. It now anchors and graces the north corner of the house, and I cannot wait for it to grow.
Sally returned to Iowa the next day after the big tree planting. She was going home to a changed world than when she arrived. Both online news and her husband’s daily reports painted a grim picture of disaster and painful losses. She, of course, was ready to dive in and help. I am certain that those in need within her community are finding help from this extraordinary woman, the friend I am so blessed to have.
Sally’s departure marked the end of a long stream of visitors since December. I settled back into my routine, the quiet house and contemplated my long farm to-do list. I was making progress, including the receipt of my Permaculture Design Certificate after 10 months of study. Soon, I will begin study for the Education part of the course, but before I do, there are still more trees in need of planting. A Rainbow Eucalyptus tree has been in a pot since I bought it in January, and it was showing signs of needing a permanent home. I spent several days walking the farm to find just the right spot for what will become a magnificent tree. At a certain point in its growth, this eucalyptus begins to shed its bark, revealing all the colors of a rainbow. I chose a location overlooking the pond, nestled between two big bamboos, and where its rainbow colors will one day be reflected in the water.
I think it liked this choice as a few hours after planting it, a good rain came down followed by a rainbow.
This weekend I will lay out the design for a Native forest and my first food forest, and begin building the beds…the permaculture way. I have 11 native plants/trees that will create a forest behind the pond, and the food forest will go partially alongside the native forest with a pathway between them. It is a daunting project for which I might have to recruit help. Too bad I cannot muster any help from my cat, Pica, who prefers to sit and survey all the many changes occurring in her new farm landscape.