Summer on the Homestead: Reflections & Planning Ahead
Autumnal Equinox 2018, Microstead Report
With the recent Autumnal Equinox and Full Moon, I’ve taken some time to look back on the first quarter of work in my backyard and also ahead to what I hope to accomplish in the coming year.
Establishing a closed loop or self-sufficient permaculture system here is ultimately my goal. I want to collect and reuse rainwater, regenerate soil health and biodiversity, and cultivate plant species that can help me and my family become less dependent on industrial agriculture and medicine. I want to supplant the monoculture of toxic chemically sprayed lawns with a more permanent bounty of complex life. I want to rewild my medicine, eat in harmony with native pollinators, and pioneer veganic living.
Most permaculture projects I’ve seen so far seem designed for larger spaces. I literally have just a tiny backyard to work with. But the size constaints of my living space—my micro-homestead—have given me an excellent opportunity to think creatively about the space I use indoors, my roof spaces, and how small living spaces such as mine can function in relation to others in a permacultural community network.
Dreams & roots
Since I was a teenager, I’ve dreamed of organic vegetarian gardening, read what I could find on permaculture and sustainability, and hoped to one day be one of the folks who gets to explore these ideas in practice. The dream came closer to reality when I moved into my new house a couple years ago, but with going back to school for a degree and the necessary upgrades to the house, designing and planting hadn’t really been a possibility until this season.
Perhaps that was for the best though. Because it was over the last year that I recommitted myself to veganism, got in several months of experience with small-scale farming, and painfully came to be aware of how at odds those two ideas can be to each other.
My backyard garden was born out of this tension. In Winston-Salem, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in veganic or stock-free gardening yet, although I imagine part of that is because most people here are not vegan, and most vegans who are here don’t want to think that deeply about what their food grows in. It got to me though. The idea of trying to follow a plant-based vegan diet and realizing that my options were either non-organic crops grown in toxic chemicals or organic crops grown in by-products of animal slaughter left me seriously contemplating starvation in protest.
I decided to stick around as a stick in the mud instead. I planted my backyard garden without much planning at all. The only thing I really cared about was getting roots in the ground and tending a garden in ways I find ethical. I needed this growing space more than anything I can think to compare it to. And now that I’ve got it, now that my work here has begun, I want to more carefully plan what the future here will look like not just for myself but for other people looking for alternatives to both mainstream industrial and permacultural food systems.
While it’s true that I planted without much of a plan this summer, a few goals did quickly develop, and I’m happy to report that I accomplished each of them. Primary among these was to fence in the backyard. While I appreciate being a space that at least one wild fox likes to come and visit, putting up the fence was the only way I could take back ownership of managing the landscaping on the property to prevent the HOA’s landscaping guys from spraying it with god knows what.
My second major goal was to record some initial observations on chemistry, biodiversity, and what all I have added to the space. My hope is to eventually be able to organize and present some of this data in meaningful ways here to showcase the ecological resiliency and regenerative power of low-tech, veganic work.
Read more about decomposer biodiversity in my garden: Vermiculture posts
Lastly, I just wanted to experiment with what grows well in the space. This summer, I planted: Cherokee purple tomatoes, bell peppers, okra, long handle gourds, bumpy pumpkins, lavender, aloe, cooking sage, lemongrass, rosemary, begonias, tickweed, vervain, and echinacea. Of these, the rosemary, lemongrass, and okra seemed to thrive the best in the conditions they were planted in. The gourds overtook the backyard at one point before being destroyed in the hurricane, but could be grown again with a more established trellis system. The lavender, pumpkins, sage, peppers, and tomatoes needed much more attention to water and sunlight they received than I provided them this season, but might work in future seasons. And everything else is still alive, but hasn’t taken off as the other plants have.
Although it stays warmer here in North Carolina than in other areas, I’ve got my eyes on getting a cover crop in the garden before any frost sets in. I’m interested in perfecting a good green manure system here that can partially be harvested for personal use as well, but this season I’ll just be planting what I can manage to collect in time to get in the ground.
I also hope to spend this ‘off-season’ getting a better handle on the compost systems I’ve established this summer. I need to clearly define the garden beds in my backyard and potentially create walls that can help them hold form as soil and green manure develop in mounds above the ground we are working from.
It makes sense to me to keep posting these updates every quarter to better document what I’m doing for folks who may be exploring similar projects at home. In the future, these posts will be more organized, but fittingly for this past season, this reflection is a bit chaotic. To close out, I’ve started making a list of goals for 2019. I’ll keep working on these to have them more fine-tuned by my winter update.
2019 Growing Season Goals:
Establish rainwater collection system
Establish small greenhouse for more controlled cooking herb cultivation, seed sprouting in future years, and possibly year-round veggie cultivation
Make some videos on cool veganic stuff
Thanks for following along, readers!
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org