Permaculture zen

After Land of Plenty left, as I mentioned, we had two huge piles of brush, taller than a person, in the yard.  The original plan was to rent a chipper to turn this material into wood chips for paths, figuring it would take one work-day with Ruby – Ruby is our wonderful live-in intern/woofer, who helps out two days a week in return for room and board.  Unfortunately, it turns out, you can’t rent chippers of a usable size for us.  So, what to do with two gargatuan piles of brush?

I have read a fair amount about permaculture, including how to create hugelkulturs and terraces and swales.  I spent a day in a class at my earlier permaculture course just on this stuff.  But none of this prepared me for the practical question of dealing with enormous piles of brush.  How do you turn it into something you can use?   I did not remember any information about this very practical, and sizable, problem.

Ruby and I discussed our options.  Get a company to come and chip it with a big machine.  Get a big machine to stomp the stuff down.  Start a long, manual process of cutting the branches – sorting them into 1/2 – 2″ straight sticks, and then a pile of very small branchlet-duff.  Sticks can be piled fairly densely so they can serve as further material for the hugels and the terraces/swales, while the duff can be used to fill in gaps.  In the end, we reasoned, this manual labor would be creating a useful material we would otherwise not have.  Plus, in the spirit of permaculture, we’d be re-using what is on-site with minimalist tools.  It would be zen.

And so we went at it.  Six hours of clip, clip, crunch, throw, clip.    We talked about life, work, society, permaculture.  The sun came and went.  The big messy brush piles got a bit smaller.  Our organized piles of sticks got a bit bigger.   We did not finish.  The next day, I did three more hours.  I did not finish.  I started to wonder whether this is a sustainable solution – really, who in the world would ever pay you to do this long, slow labor even if it is rather nice to do?     The next day, Charlotte and I did a few more hours and were joined by her lovely friend Dana.  The day after, I did four more hours.   We are really near the bottom of the piles, but still not done, and we are 24 person-hours in.  Then came another 20 inch snowstorm, burying the piles for a week.  True zen.

Charlotte and Dana creating neat wood piles


Moving the woods – trees

I mentioned we are moving woods from the back of our property to the North-east side in the previous post, To say “moving the woods” is somewhat deceptive, as trees are not easily moved.  What you end up doing is you you re-move the woods, by cutting trees, and then plant new ones elsewhere.   Our woods consisted of many Norway maples, which are not particularly beautiful, or edible – they are a non-nitrogen fixing, colonizing tree (great for taking back deserted human waste-land).    We also have two Elms, a treasured suburban tree that was decimated by Dutch Elm disease, and a Catalpa, which fixes nitrogen and produces pods, which we decided to leave as canopy trees over the planned hillside with hazels.

I spoke with a couple of companies about re-moving our woods — both companies that love trees, and doing things right.  Talking with people who really know trees is immensely enjoyable – they can see so much about the trees’ health, future, past, relationships.   I find it amazing that people can have learned so much about trees – beings that are so different from us (even while being such a part of our world).  I engaged Land of Plenty.   The day after the fiddlehead transplant, they came for two days to take down eleven Norway maples, a few other small trees we wanted to replace.   There was a team of three: Ben, Luke, Brad.  Below is a photo of one of Luke up in one of the trees.

By removing the Norway maples, we will create space for hazelnuts and honey-locusts (which fix nitrogen, provide lots of nectar for pollinators, grow pods for livestock, and can be coppiced for young wood).  We will also get more sun in the southern half of the site.  A third use of the cut Maples is to store their carbon.  All of the wood from the Maples will go underground to form the core of hugelkulturs, swales and terraces (the latter two on the hill).  There, the wood will decompose into humus, and the carbon in the humus will remain underground for a long time.  Yeah, goodbye carbon!

Luke from Land of Plenty cutting one of the larger Norway Maples