Wow, we’ve been busy! So busy, in fact, we’ve neglected our blog for over a month. After fencing in the vegetable garden and the goat/pig pasture, and the ongoing project of the vegetable garden which Tasha is very aptly managing, we thought we’d focus in on some smaller scale projects. So, here’s what we’ve been up to in the latter part of spring…

  • Water garden in upper pond
  • Herb spiral in vegetable garden
  • Hanging tomato vineyard
  • Hugelkultur in vegetable garden
  • Earthen pizza oven
  • Small ornamental/drainage pond at front entrance of vegetable garden
  • Massive fruit, nut and berry plantings
  • Shiitake inoculations (50+ logs)

And lots and lots of annual vegetable planting, mulch and manure spreading, and more planting!

In an effort to clean the water in our upper pond, in hopes of making it swimmable, Tasha has been planting lots of aquatic plants to filter the water and provide habitat for what sounds like thousands of frogs. She built a sandbag bunker at one end of the pond and filled it with soil and mulch, which will eventually become a floating garden of sorts (once the pond recovers about 8 inches of water, which I accidentally drained during an epic downpour sometime in early spring).

We ordered a bunch of building materials from our friends at Farmers’ Rock and Mulch in Dobson with an eye toward improving our outdoor living area and the adjacent vegetable garden, and improve we did. With about 90 granite blocks, I built an herb spiral, which is a permaculture design for a space-saving herb garden that starts with south facing/heat-loving herbs at the top, and expands to provide micro-climates for all types of herbs, ending with space for north-facing/shade-loving types at the bottom of the spiral. Tasha planted it with lots of rosemary, oregano, basil, dill, sage, and other herbs we love, and it’s doing well so far. And it looks really cool, too.

Tasha covered the hanging tomato vineyard in our last post, so if you’re interested, check it out. After a month or so, the tomatoes have adjusted and most are growing up towards the sun and starting to set fruit.

Hugelkultur. Hugelkultur is an old German farming technique that is now receiving a lot of attention in permaculture design. The idea is to build a mound–a larger than average raised bed, really–out of decomposing logs, stumps, or whatever brown organic matter you have on hand, and cover it with a layer of soil to plan on. The mound provides more surface area to plant on, builds soil through the decomposition of the woody matter comprising it, and provides microclimates and wind-breaks for plants, depending on where they are planted in relation to the huglekultur. It also generates heat due to the deomposition of the woody mass, and stores water, also due to the absorptive, mulchy properties of the many layers of woody debris below the surface. Huglekulturs made from pine or evergreens are a great way to create beds for growing acid-loving berries like blueberries or some strawberrries.

The earthen pizza oven was inspired by reading Michael Judd’s excellent “Edible Landscaping,” in which he takes a lighthearted and very accessible approach to home-scale permaculture. Except for the form stone base and the fire bricks, all materials were locally sourced. Particularly, the cob that was used to build the insulation ring and the three layers of the dome housing the oven were all made from the sub-soil I dug out and filled with gravel to provide drainage for the oven. Our Carolina red clay, usually a curse, here proved a boon in that it needs almost no admixture of sand or clay or other ingredients (except for straw) to form a perfect cob for building.

Since last year, Tasha has been working on a couple small ponds outside of our vegetable garden. The larger one, outside the main entrance to the vegetable garden, serves as drainage from the garden and the last stop for runoff coming down the trail that goes up the mountain to the top of our property. Here she addes some pond liner and lots of flagstone to cover the rim. She built an earth and gravel filter layer that water must pass through before settling in the pond. She’s planted Carolina Gold rice here as an experiment. If it does well, we’ll consider planting the seed in a larger rice paddy we’ll create on the banks of the lower pond.

Tasha ordered a lot of trees, berries, and perennial plants over the winter, and the orders finally started arriving in April and May. In addition to seaberries, which we’ve been trying to get our hands on for a while, Tasha planted improved mulberries, hazelnuts, chestnuts, pawpaws, aronias, hardy kiwi, and several others. This is in addition to all the work she’s done in and around the high pond and the garden ponds. Whew!

A few weeks ago, my friend Ted and I cut a whole lot of red oak for inoculating with shiitake dowels, which had been sitting for a few weeks till I could marshal the resources (human and otherwise) to inoculate them all. Finally, with Tasha’s family and my brother coming to visit on successive weekends, I was able to get them to hlep with the tedious but not very difficult process of drilling, filling, and sealing 4,000 wooden dowels in more than 50 four-foot logs.

To further expedite a laborious process, I invested in an angle grinder with a special aluminum adapter for an 8.5 mm bit, imported from Japan, where they really take their shiitakes seriously. I’m happy to say the rig was worth every penny. I also built an inoculation table, as seen on the excellent videos Field and Forest provides on their website.

Field and Forest have the most comprehensive library of shiitake spawn I’ve yet seen, with strains available for most every season and geographic location. Moreover, they’re the only place I’ve been able to find the angle grinder adpater and bit, manufactured by Okuda of Japan. We inoculated logs with fast yielding warm-weather, cold-weather, and wide-range spawn of four varieties, so hopefully we’ll see the dividends as soon as this winter. Between the angle grinder and the inoculation table, which made it possible to quickly rotate the logs without bending over, I was able to inoculate a formidable pile of logs in a couple days of easy work, with some help from Tasha’s family and mine.

In the more immediate term, we’ve finally gotten some yields from our Oyster mushrooms that we’ve been cultivatingin 5 gallon buckets on coffee grounds…I drink a lot of coffee.

Next up: a Viking-scale outdoor dining table, made mainly from some beautiful and sturdy 3 x 10’s of locally sourced pine that we purchased from the good folks at Noonkester Lumber down the road.

Did I mention, our pigs are getting bigger? They’ve been doing a great job tearing up the paddock we have them in. We’re going to rotate them this week or next and seed where they’re already done the tilling for us. Thanks, pigs!