Monday, September 7, 2009


I spent quite a bit of time this week--the first week of my month off from driving the bus--cleaning up the farm for a permaculture farm and garden tour that was this afternoon. A good excuse to tidy up and get around to dealing with a few eyesores and inconveniences I've been stepping around for months (or years).

I've sort of re-invented "permaculture" independently, and I tend to resist using that name for what I do. But I don't mind showing off the farm a bit and helping out the local permaculture folks. I don't really care for the name or the hype and structure/process I've come to associate with the permaculture "cult".

I've just taken my lifetime of camping, being raised by biologists, gardening, various life experiences, and observation, and applied it all to how I listen to God and to the piece of land He plopped in my lap about 12 years ago. Mostly, I've just let Nature have its way with the land, most of which was a corn field when I bought it. The rich, diverse ecosystem is a wonderful testimony to the difference that 12 years of leaving things alone can make.

Not entirely alone. We did plant trees (redbud, walnut, pecan, others) and seed the tallgrass area with native grasses (big and little bluestem, Eastern Gama, Indian grass, others) and forbs (pitcher sage, Maxmillian Sunflower, penstemon, rattlesnake master, others). And I've pruned and weeded and "edited" a bit. The pasture (in better condition than ever) is shaped by the sheep and my gradually improving grazing management.

I haven't really even read much about permaculture...and much of what I read seems economically not viable to me, or else pretty general. I also see people thinking they can replicate stuff from one region to another, and I've learned that some of what I'm doing here can't even be done a mile south on the other side of the river! As I looked at one diagram of how a swale can be built to help store precious water, I laughed at first. In my soil? When I wanted to build a pond instead of the wilderness area, the soil experts who tested the soil said, "Wow, you have great drainage! No way can you get this soil to hold'd have to line a pond with rubber." And water's no problem...all the groundwater I want at about 17 feet.

But as I thought about it a little longer, I realize I do use a swale...a pre-existing not built by human hands. The Kansas River Valley is a super-sized swale hoarding water for me from the hills on either side. Now THAT's permaculture!

Around 20 people enjoyed a walk around the farm. Unlike most "lamb visits" and "garden tours" that I do, I decided to take this group for the grand tour...around the west edge of the farm to the north pasture gate, then back up the main lane under the Torii, through the sheep pens and garden, and back to the yard. Partly, it was a good morning for mowing with the BCS walk-behind sickle bar mower, which I've gotten proficient enough with to feel comfortable taking it for a long hike. It took just under an hour to mow a trail along the west margin lane, throught the shady pasture north of the neighbor's horse pasture, along the slope between Maple Grove Tributary and my CRP (USDA Conservation Reserve Program) Riparian Protection buffer strip, through the Baby Forest (now very woodsy), acrosss the tallgrass prairie, through the north pasture gate, along the fences to the "keyhole" hub of the rotational grazing system...and just under an hour to walk it with the tour group, pausing to note the various ecosystems and improvements, and answer questions.

Now that the trail is mowed, I invite my readers to come follow it sometime. But is it a permaculture trail? Not really. It's a deer trail where the grass has been cut back to accommodate human passage. The grass will grow in again, if it isn't kept mowed, and no trace will be left. I'm not planning to build a boardwalk or pave it with wood chips anytime soon--it would be nice, but way too labor intensive...not just the building, but the maintenance. The life expectancy of 4 inches of wood chips on this soil is less than a year.

I think the term "permaculture" is actually a bit misleading. Even I was fooled, thinking that eventually I would get the farm "built" and it would stay that way. But there is nothing as sure as change. There isn't much that's truly permanent in the natural landscape, except sky and earth. All else changes with the years, the seasons, the days and nights, the wind. All this I've planted, pruned, built, placed on the farm will pass away.

And that is as it should be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I grew up on a large 2.5 acre piece of land in Oregon where my parents raised most of our food in a huge garden. After college I moved down to California and learned about "permaculture". To me, it was irritating to be told how to grow things for yourself by a bunch of urban dijurido players who had gravitated to this cultish approach to re-learning how to farm and produce things for yourself. I grew up growing my own food, and being told by condescending people how to grow stuff by those who had never really never done it for themselves was odd. As if re-using things and not using chemicals is really that radical. Great post in bringing some sense to this trendy buzzword: permaculture.