Our slow food journey includes our garden here at Three Graces Farm, now in its third year. As with everything else, it’s a work in progress, guided mostly by the same impulse that brought us here to the farm four years ago–to live, eat and play close to the earth. There hasn’t been much of a plan, but more an evolution of one idea after another.
We’ve doubled the space each growing season by covering sections of the pasture behind the house with a deep mulch comprised of wood chips, delivered free of charge from a local tree service. With enough depth, the weeds and watering are kept to a minimum and the soil beneath is slowly enriched as the wood chips break down and release nutrients over the course of years.
I consider the space as an experiment in permaculture, a system that (ideally) minimizes human intervention and maximizes the hands-free role of Mother Nature going about her business. The intended result is a low-maintenance and largely perennial (comes back year after year) source of food, flowers, herbs and medicinals that increases in yield over time.
So how do I know what I’m doing? The truth is that I don’t really know much of anything–but I’m learning! It’s a combination of ideas inspired by various garden gurus, books, workshops, YouTube videos, etc. (many of which I will be referencing), a concept that offers both freedom and challenge. But now with a couple of years under my belt I feel I can legitimately offer a few observations and comments–and perhaps a few helpful guidelines for anyone exploring a similar path.
First of all, there is no way of getting around the fact that it takes a while. Deciding what to plant, where and when is a process that takes place over a succession of seasons. Fruit trees and berry bushes take a few years to get going, and in between are the crazy weather events that can throw you off for an entire cycle. This spring we had a hard late frost that took out all the pears from an already established tree on our property (one that typically yields more than we can even begin to use) and knocked out all of the Gooseberries, Gojiberries, Raspberries, and Red Currants that I’d expected to see this summer. Once I finally realized that no, they weren’t just late– this year they weren’t happening at all–I was able to take the long view. There’s always next year. The good news was that we got some lovely thornless blackberries from our two- year old bushes and the plants are thriving and robust.
So there is lots of trial and error–sometimes feeling more like error than anything else. For instance, when you realize that in some spots the mulch is SO deep that it’s really a LOT of work getting down to the soil so you can plant things–next time you can apply less! Sometimes the squash bugs will ruin your collards and the raccoons will get the corn. The beans just won’t come up, the vine flowers but never fruits, and the apricot seedling that was coming along last spring just up and croaks come summer. You try to find out why and how to fix these things, but mostly you just chalk it up. Yes, we enjoy growing our own food but I’m learning to enjoy what’s working and fill in the gaps at the farmer’s market and grocery.
Fortunately, given a few basic guidelines success in the garden is within most anyone’s grasp. That’s the good news. There are times when we’re able to get our entire meal from our yard (omelets and salad, anyone?) and that’s very satisfying. The challenge is when you find yourself with heaps of tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans or whatever it is that decided to take off that year, enough to feed the throngs. If your goal is to grow food for yourself and your family that’s going to last any time beyond the growing season, this is your moment of truth. You’ve got to do something with it. You can, of course, share the wealth and give it away for others to eat fresh. Beyond that, your choices are to either let it go to waste–or preserve it to eat later by canning, dehydrating, freezing or fermenting. And that’s why we’re here, with inspiration and resources to guide you. All you need is the desire to learn and the willingness to spend a little more time nourishing your body and soul.
Real food is slow food, a gentle journey on our road back to who we are. We hope you’ll join us.