I had only been at the new property for a few weeks when it was time to begin work at Sweetgrass Farm. No rest for the weary after a tedious move under the hot, Florida summer sun. I was excited to leave the story of stuff behind, and begin my intimate connection with my natural surroundings, starting with the trees. My upcoming September birthday became a tree trimming birthday with a waterfall gift.
My wonderful, Mexican landscaper, Panta, and his hard-working crew, arrived at 7:45 am. They began trimming a plethora of dead-hanging fronds from all the palms along the road, and rescuing a Crepe Myrtle tree being swallowed by overgrown Oleanders. I happily discovered a few more coconut palms along the way. We then moved into the expansive lawns where a variety of both known and unknown trees awaited beautiful new shapes. As Panta began to free the trees from dead limbs and downward growth, I began to research the unidentified trees on my phone that would be added to the known trees: a lovely Magnolia, two expansive Poincianas and another Crepe Myrtle. A great shade producing tree with its branches touching the ground turned out to be a Mimosa. A nearby tree with gnarly, rough hewn bark took me a few days to identify as a Caribbean Trumpet Tree, which will be covered in late winter or early spring with golden flowers. An unusual tree by the front gate with beautiful variegated leaves is an Indian Coral tree that will bloom intense coral flowers on its bare limbs once all its leaves have dropped. I was ecstatic to have more colorful, flowering trees to accompany fragrant Magnolia blossoms, the bright orange flowers of the Poincianas and the Crepe Myrtle shades of pink and red.
My high about blooming trees was further highlighted by the uncovering of an old waterfall above the pond. Panta and I had discovered it earlier, but today we would free it from being buried under layers of weeds and debris. It did not take the crew long to build a pile of debris under the nearby large oak tree, that would later be chipped and become compost layers in my garden beds. The lost waterfall began to emerge, revealing three stone walls and lots of flat rocks displaced from the sides where the water once flowed. I envisioned the water flowing again, the sound echoing across the property, the pond being happily circulated and the flow of water attracting more water-loving birds to dwell by the pond.
The view from the pond to the north side of the house shows cattails that need to be thinned out as well as needed pond edge maintenance. A big Brazilian Pepper tree above the waterfall is blocking some exquisite red and black bamboo and a little grove of Oleanders. Panta and I strategize our attack upon the many invasive pepper trees, and decide for his crew to return the end of October with a chipper so that we can cut back and remove some of these unwanted trees. While the Brazilian Pepper tree produces small fragrant flowers that butterflies love, followed by little red cherries that the birds love to eat, these trees grow, spread and overtake native species at an alarming rate. I will welcome these trees as wood chips that will help build the bed layers for my food forests and edible garden beds. The beauty of the permaculture principle involving “no waste” allows me to build my beds using whatever is available to me here on the property. I will not be laboriously digging any beds, but building them right on top of the grass.
The final project of the day is to drop a tall, dying palm tree, which probably got decapitated during Hurricane Irma last year. I was surprised when Panta began to cut the downed palm into pieces to see the softness of the interior pulp. While my “no waste” mind was thinking we could add the palm to the chipper pile, Panta said it was too soft to go through the chipper. I hesitated to ask him and his crew to chop it all into smaller pieces for use in building my beds, as the work day was now approaching seven hours. I later researched uses for palm tree pulp to find that while we did not have a lot of uses for it in our culture, the indigenous people use this fibrous pulp to make thatched roof coverings and hammocks. They beautifully uphold the permaculture principles by using every part of the palm tree for something. This is my goal here at Sweetgrass Farm: to mimic nature’s wisdom by reusing, reducing and recycling everything I can. I let this palm slide this time onto the truck headed to the dump, but next time, I will find a way to use it all.
It was a good birthday of initial work on the farm, including my waterfall gift. I wandered over to water the plants in my temporary dome greenhouse, and found the chickens at work happily aerating and fertilizing the big Mango tree. While work on a farm, even a small one, is constant, I am grateful for Masanobu Fukuoka’s concept of “do nothing” natural farming that support the self-regulating and regenerative principle of permaculture. While work here has just begun, I intend to trust in nature’s guidance for easy, natural abundance rather than imposing laborious, unnatural limitations upon the wise spirit of the Earth.