The Gigantic leaf pile

Many people groan when it comes to raking leaves in the Fall, but I don’t get it.   I wait for a beautiful, sunny day after all the leaves have fallen.  Then I go out with my rake, and enjoy being outside, the rhythmic swoosh-swoosh of the rake, and the crunchy rustle of the leaves.  We like leaves so much, we typically collect the leaves from two or three neighbors in addition to the ones from our own trees! Today, I was alone, but there have been years when a group of neighbors ended up working together to do multiple yards.  Once, when our girls were younger, it turned into a spontaneous garden party with kids jumping in leaves and hot chocolate at the end!

Leaves have all kinds of benefits.  We put them under our trees, where they provide nutrients, protection, and maintain soil moisture.  We put them on some of the garden beds and paths, where they keep down weeds.  We have a big pile next to our compost bin, and every time we put out the kitchen waste, we add some handfuls of leaves from the pile.  This accelerates the the composting process and completely eliminates odors.   Ideally, we might shred the leaves so they compost more quickly — but, I just corresponded with Mark about getting a mechanical shredder, and we nixed the idea: chickens would do the work better, with zero-waste and electricity, so let’s get chickens!

For number geeks: Druidgarden, in a detailed post about leaves, provided a calculation for leaf nutrients by pound.  I figure we got about 150 pounds so far.  Using the Druidgarden numbers, our pile has: 70 pounds of carbon; 1.5 pounds of nitrogen; 0.15 pounds of potassium and phosphorus each; 2.4 pounds of calcium.   That’s at least a couple of bags of premium compost from the store.  There is also a little climate benefit.  There are 5.5 lbs of carbon in one gallon of gas, so by composting this leaf pile we can offset one 12 gallon tank of gas in our Toyota Matrix.  It won’t change the world in a day, but hey, it all adds up!

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Me and the Gigantic leaf pile

On another note, other day, I went out and winterized our blackberries, grapes, and currants, which grow around our deck.  Each plant has its own particular needs.  The blackberries need to have this year’s fruiting canes entirely cut back, and the new canes trained up the deck frame.  The grapes, which grow like crazy, have to be very much reined in, with 20-foot spurs cut back to tips of 1-2 buds on the leading branches.  The currants, which grow more sedately, still require thinning out the older branches to leave room for the more vigorous younger growth.    All of this is gratifying.  The end result – with a sweeping of the deck included — is a tidy look, where all the plants feel quiet, ready for a restorative winter-rest.

Community connecting

As I said, one of the exciting aspects of this new endeavor is that there are so many people who are trying to figure out how to grow food in a healthy, equitable, restorative way.  Yesterday, I went to a Meetup hosted by the Boston Food Forest Coalition to work with some fellow farm folks at an Audubon sanctuary in Mattapan (two weeks ago, I attended another BFFC Meetup in Dorchester to plant a food forest on an urban waste plot with about 50 other volunteers and had a lot of fun).  The BFFC is a very active organization that works with neighborhoods and neighbors to plant food forests all around Boston.

At the Meetup, I met: Michael, the older Audubon groundsman full of knowledge and energy; Betty just back from Barbados; Mesquita a student from UMass; Gail who has a small apple orchard in Vermont; Alex from Germany, consultant to FIFA and organizer of the pro-soccer league in India; Ginny, a young autistic woman, eloquent and proud of her identity; and Orion, the director of the BFFC, who, as I found out, was a former international development expert (sound like a familiar story?…).  I mention all of these folks because the sheer diversity of people interested in growing food in new ways is something to celebrate.  Our tasks were to put mouse protection around the fruit trees (Alex and Gail in the photo) and mulch the blueberries and raspberries with wood chips (Orion below).

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After we were done, Alex, Orion and I ended up standing around and chatting for another hour.  All three of us came together at this garden from various degrees of high-power international careers.  So interesting…  Topic of the conversation: the very local acts here at the BFFC on the one hand, and a global awareness that this all needs to be linked into much, much larger social shifts.  Alex talked about grassroots soccer organizations that ballooned into strong forces of social change.  Orion talked about his vision of green cities, with lots of areas for trees and people.   I brought up that to have an impact, you need to have an organized network — and we talked a little about what exists already.  It was the beginning of a conversation, but I expect I’ll run into Alex and Orion again, and we’ll continue!

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Why I want to be a farmer

We all eat.  In fact, producing food is humanity’s largest endeavor. Every year, we produce almost ten trillion pounds of food  — vegetables, fruits grains, meat, fish, mushrooms, eggs…   It swamps other huge industries like cars and trucks, of which we produce a mere 400 billion pounds per year.  According to Toensmeier in The Carbon Farming Solution, about half of the greenhouse gases we produce come from growing, processing, and transporting food.    But there is a flipside: in the wonderful book, Drawdown, we find that changing what we eat, how we grow food and plants can help to restore the planet.  Really: we humans can be part of the solution!

But we don’t yet know how to get there.  Isn’t organic and local food way too expensive?  Doesn’t it take too much land?  Doesn’t everyone everywhere eat more meat as soon as they can afford it?  Who wants to be a farmer anyway?

There are thousands and thousands (millions?) of small and medium farmers all around the world who are working on these questions.  Families in Africa implementing a water collection system with swales.  A farmer in Quebec growing seaberries next to apples to supply nitrogen naturally.  Ranchers in Australia using rotational intensive grazing to sequester carbon in the soil. All of these things improve harvest and income and the planet at the same time.   I love this win-win situation.  I also love the feeling of this gigantic, simmering grassroots movement working on profound change.  I want to be a part of it.

I also love being outside, where life is, and interacting with life as well as the swirl of sky and clouds and weather.  I love projects.   I want to get out from behind my computer screen and do something with my hands.

Farming is supposed to be very, very hard work, but people say there are ways to make it easier.  So, I am going to try out a new way of farming, which is a permaculture orchard, a food forest, a self-sustaining edible ecosystem that mimics nature.  If you do this right, a lot of the typical farming work – planting, fertilizing, weeding – goes away, and you are left with management and harvesting.

We’re going to start with a little incubator orchard behind our house on 1/4 acre for the first two or three years.  In this blog, I want to document the process of how this farm grows — starting from scratch.  I hope you’ll find this entertaining and informative!

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