We had a rough go of it this Spring and Summer with a wide range of garden pests, fungal outbreaks and diseases.
Squash vine borers
Tomato horn worms
Blossom end rot
and the list goes on…
My understanding is that this largely due to the fact that our soil is completely lacking in organic matter and is relatively lifeless. We harvested a small amount of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers a lone pumpkin and a single butternut squash. Everything else suffered destruction at the hands of one problem or another. Healthy soils yield healthy plants, and healthy plants don’t suffer these problems on nearly the scale that we’ve experienced this year. Continue Reading…
In an effort to get an early jump on things, we started our seeds on February 15th this year. We planned to start them in conventional trays in the house, but when we got to the big box store, they had these pre-packaged peat discs in a tray on clearance. Each tray holds 72 starts, and the cost was about the same as the empty trays. So we decided to go for it, and see how they work. We bought two for starters.
The seed trays are sitting by a south facing window in our living room. We use a motion sensing device called the “Scraminal” to deter the cats from digging in the peat. It makes a VERY loud noise whenever they approach the flats.
View of the North field as seen from the home site after clearing Fall 2013.
By the summer of 2014, we were finally situated on the property. We rented an excavator and installed the basic framework for our food forest. We buried the bulk of the remaining brush piles in 200ft of raised hugelkultur beds on contour and dug an additional 75ft of swale. These earthworks were designed to store a tremendous amount of water in the landscape and serve as a reservoir for the fruit trees and support species that would one day inhabit the forest garden.
The earthworks were quickly planted with iron clay peas to protect the soil and begin preparation for the eventual addition of the fruit trees and support plantings. Continue Reading…
Last night we got more than three inches of rain. It was the first time I’ve seen the swales completely full of water. The rain continued through most of the day and into the night. Ultimately, the ground absorbed as much as it could, and then the swales began to fill.
All of this water would have simply run down the hill into the ditch on my neighbor’s land north of the Ant Farm. Instead, it’s soaking into my soil and hydrating the stumps at the bottom of the hugel mounds… Nice! Continue Reading…
Since we completed the hugel beds and swales back in June, there hasn’t been much for us to do with the earthworks.
Shortly after we completed the project I seeded the beds completely with iron clay peas. The earthworks consist almost completely of subsoil due to my inability to separate out the topsoil during the excavation work. As a result, we’ve got a lot of work to do to build the soil into something that is productive. Iron clay peas were my choice for several reasons. I needed a crop that would create biomass for the soil while adding nitrogen and protecting the soil from drying out in the summer’s harsh sun. As with all of my other planting, the seeds were simply broadcast onto the swales and hugel beds a day or so before a light rain.
The iron clay peas did awesome for such a short season. The crop is a perfect fit for our climate, and we gave them LOTS of clay to enjoy! They’re currently in the flowering process, and we’ll probably see a pea harvest before the frost comes, even though that wasn’t part of our plan.
In a few months we’ll begin planting the trees for our future food forest, but for now we’re focusing on building the soil and getting some type of ground cover on all of the interswale areas. We’ve still got a lot of compacted, bare soil exposed in between the beds, and reconciling that is a top priority before winter sets in.
As we were planning the winter ground cover, somehow we decided to jump the gun a little and play with some actual winter crops. However, knowing that the odds are pretty good that the crop is going to fail, I really didn’t want to put too much time, energy or money into the experiment. As a result, we’ve decided to take a play out of Masanobu Fukuoka‘s book, and utterly neglect the winter crops. At least we’ll know exactly what we can grow in the native soil. Continue Reading…
Brush piles have pretty much been a fact of life for us over the last year. It didn’t matter where you looked on the property, chances were that a brush pile was the back drop to your view. If you were looking for us on the weekend, all you had to do was follow the smoke. All of that changed last week with the installation of our first bit of permaculture framework at the Ant Farm.
While a photo can’t do the insanity of our brush piles justice, this picture gives you some idea of what one of our piles looked like. There were approximately 30 giant stumps in this pile alone, and we were becoming convinced that they would be with us forever… We even thought about renaming the place, but “The Stump Farm” just didn’t have the same ring to it. The above image shows one of the five remaining brush piles. We had already burned three of them over the course of the year, and something had to give.
Lately we’ve been plagued by an obnoxiously loud mystery bird that we affectionately call the “koo-koo bird”. The racket usually begins right after the sun goes down, and it’s insanely loud. We learned last weekend that it has been roosting right outside my neighbor’s bedroom window and whooping it up at all hours of the night.
I’m calling out my bird-loving friends… What the heck is this bird?
The story I’m about to relay might be a little shocking for some of you. I apologize if it’s upsetting, but I feel compelled to share the good stories along with the bad. The weekend before last brought a lot of excitement to the Ant Farm, but very little of it was the good kind.
Leigh was out of town on a beach trip with some friends from college, and I was “batching” it with the kids. After a hard day of picking up brush and seeding the field, the kids and I were out late Saturday night consuming insane portions of fried goodness at Top o’ the River.
At 6:15am I was awakened to a very strange sound. It was one of those groggy instances where you question whether you actually heard it or not, but then it happened again. It was a loud “BAGOCK!” Instantly I knew what was happening, and I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.
The Ant Farm began as 16 acres of forest in unincorporated St. Clair County, Alabama. My wife and I bought the property in 2013 with the vision of raising our two kids here. As we're learning, we're also teaching our children about sustainable agriculture, the land, self-reliance and freedom. Society has a tendency to produce grasshoppers. We're raising ants.
Go to the ant, O sluggard;consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.