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Our Tastes Are Simple. . .
(Part Two)

Table of Contents

Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Pasture

Scything

Scything

The acre or so of pasture on our property, initially a weed-grown nightmare, is now a priceless resource, providing our flocks food of a quality I couldn’t hope to match with anything purchased (green growing plants, wild seeds, animal foods such as earthworms and insects). The pasture is also fertility patch par excellence: I cut the grass with a scythe when it is lush and growing fast in the spring, and compost it or use it for mulch. (Long stem grass cut with a scythe is vastly superior for both uses to the finely chopped grass from a power mower.) The keys to pasture management for us are: grazing by the poultry flocks, mowing in summer to prevent too heavy a set of weed seeds, and overseeding with mixed grasses and clovers, either in fall or late winter/early spring (or both).

Orchard

Kaki-persimmons

Kaki Persimmons

A top priority in our first year at Boxwood was the planting of apple and pear trees, and we’ve steadily added to the orchard over the years as various fruits have claimed our enthusiasm. We now grow apples (six varieties), pears (four), plums (three), cherry (four), Oriental persimmons (three), blueberries (nine), blackberries and raspberries (eight), plus paw paws and white mulberry.

One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t plant nut trees early on. I am finally correcting that error, having just planted eight filberts (hazelnuts). This year and next I will plant hickory and black walnut, as well as pecan, heartnut, chestnut, and Korean stone pine (a source of edible pine nuts).

Mushrooms

Shiitake

Shiitake Logs

For years we have grown shiitake mushrooms, whose cultivation is as easy as it is fun. I am starting to give mushrooms a much larger scope in the homestead. My next thinning of “weed trees” in our small woodlot will be done with the chain saw lubricated not with petroleum oil, but with vegetable oil carrying millions of spores of Pleurotus ostreatus (pearl oyster mushroom). Every cut of the saw will inoculate trunk and slash and stump, yielding—in due time, and with the blessing of the rains—delicious mushrooms for the table, and hastening the decompositon of the felled trees into forest-floor humus. Lepista nuda (blewitts), Hypsizygus ulmarius (elm oyster), Stropharia rugoso-annulata (king or wine-cap stropharia), Ganoderma lucidum (reishi)—we have just begun our use of these and other species to decompose “wastes” too often hauled to landfills, and for their yield of edible and medicinal mushrooms.

Forest Garden

Orchard-2-forest-garden

Starting the Forest Garden Project

Last year we discovered the concept of the “forest garden,” and already have made a modest start at Boxwood. A natural forest typically consists of three layers: a canopy layer of taller trees that need the full light of the sun; a shrub layer that has evolved to thrive in the partial shade of the canopy; and a (mostly perennial) herbaceous layer that also does well in the shade of the other layers. With judicious species selection, we hope to assemble a forest garden more productive than the same ground would be if planted solely to garden or orchard or woodlot. Note that not all species are intended to produce food for us, the forest gardeners. Some serve to accumulate and conserve soil fertility (so that, once the forest garden is well established, additional inputs of fertility from the outside are not needed), while others serve as food and habitat for beneficial insects (which help keep insect threats to the forest garden in check).

As a first step, I have heavily mulched our orchard to kill the existing sod, and have begun interplanting the established fruit trees with filberts, gooseberries, currants, jujube, elderberry, and many other selections.

Lawns

The lawn is too often a huge net loss of time and labor for the homesteader, producing nothing for all the effort expended. Last year we adopted two alternatives to the conventional lawn, reclaiming ours as a productive asset. Using electronet fencing, I began rotating our ducks and geese over five areas of lawn (now termed our “close-in pastures”). Both species are grazers, and turn all that lovely grass—otherwise just an onerous chore—into winter meals.

Waterfowl-african-saxony-on-lawn

Waterfowl Grazing Lawn

I have also converted part of the former front lawn to a mini-forest garden. Again, I laid down a heavy killing mulch in a generous arc around three established kaki (Oriental) permimmons, then interplanted filberts, gooseberries, and currants. I love the change, if only because I no longer have to be so meticulous with the mower as I cut the lawn around the bases of the persimmons.