The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Strolling through the forest garden in spring 2013

Apple blossoms

The apple blossoms are so beautiful, they've been tempting me to take lots of extra strolls through the forest garden.  It's inspiring to see how this waterlogged, terrible soil has turned from a weed pit into a budding forest garden in just a few years.

Forest garden

Broccoli seedlingAdding vegetable beds beyond the trees' canopies is the real root of the current success.  Last year, we grew tomatoes and butternuts in these extra spaces, with broccoli and cabbage taking their place this spring.  My usual pre-crop topdressing of composted manure is helping build soil that tree roots will eventually fill, and the immediate gratification of vegetables prevents the forest garden from becoming neglected.

Hazel and comfrey

Young comfreyAll of my trees and shrubs are planted on mounds so they don't perish during the winter, when lower parts of the forest garden turn into a swamp.  The unkillable comfrey gets to live at ground level, though.

I've taken to planting comfrey at what will be the eventual edge of the fruit trees' canopies.  I've learned the hard way that comfrey can kill my fruit trees if planted too close, and that a bed planted in comfrey will always be planted in comfrey.  The little comfrey leaves in the photo above pushed up through a kill mulch two years ago, had every root I could find transplanted out last winter, and are still coming up copiously.  I suspect this bed will be as full of comfrey as ever in a few months, and it has also seeded approximately 50 new spots in my garden and beyond this spring.

Young forest garden

Rotting brush pilesSince the soil is terrible, one of my top forest-gardening priorities is to add humus to areas where tree roots will soon reach.  Piles of prunings from fruit trees, berry bushes, and brush clearing are rotting down and creating eventual spots of raised, rich soil.  Rye is doing a similar job in the short term.

Discarded tin

Of course, the forest garden still has issues.  For example, the old tin off the barn roof is still sitting in a pile waiting to go to the scrap yard.  If I were a true permaculturalist, I'd say the tin is a protected habitat for snakes that eat the voles that inevitably spring up in heavy-mulch situations, but since Lucy kills snakes on sight, that theory doesn't hold much water.  Instead, I can only say that the floodplain allows hauling only a few times a year, and junk tin has yet to reach the top priority list.  Maybe in 2013....

The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention that brings clean water to backyard flocks.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I saw the idea from the whizbang chicken plucker guy- use a posthole digger to dig down a couple feet, fill it with compost, and plant a pumpkin on top. Then mulch it with tin roofing. Just leave a tiny opening for the pumpkin, and scatter just a bit of straw on the tin to keep it from heating up too much and scorching the vines. I imagine that could work with any crop.
Comment by Eric in Japan Mon Apr 29 10:42:55 2013

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