lessons from the field of life

  • Posted on: 1 January 2016
  • By: Previous Farm

by Chappell on our previous farm

the end of the year is a time for reflection, a review of triumphs and failures, and the beginning of the year is geared toward moving forward with lessons learned. i offer up this post as a new year's resolution of sorts, to remain on task with blogging more for our site.

i asked my husband last night what the primary lesson he learned from our work on the farm was for this past year.
he took a long pause before delivering his response.
he stood upright from where he had been stoking our woodstove and dramatized his thought with a pantomime: 
crossing his arms over his chest while donning an exaggerated face full of pride at whatever the accomplishment, he slowly said, "just when you think you have it under control--" and quickly doubling over, as if receiving a swift kick in the rear, finished with, "nature comes along, turns everything on end, and kicks you in the ass!" 
it's never ending. always a new battle or series of disasters mixed with successes in our experiential practice of farming and stewarding the land.
i laughed and asked what lesson was learned from all the ass-kicking.
he stood erect, lifted an eyebrow and said, "even when you sense it's coming, there is no knowing. you can't fight it. you have to just wait, let it happen, and then deal with it, make adjustments." 
so we are learning, and that's the adventure, the constant state of discovery that comes hand in hand with the agony of defeat. we simply double up, make adjustments and corrections and continue to have the elements teach us! 

i smiled to myself reflecting on my biggest lesson this season: everything wills toward life. 
it was and is a constant struggle between the cultivated seeds and the wild weeds. it seemed to me that each time i cleared a bed of weeds, the undesirables would cleverly spring up again, in areas where the wild undomesticated plants most closely resembled the cultivated seedlings! as if they were actively practicing mimicry to buy time and win a place among the prized cultivars. in our philosophy, the weeds have a niche to fill. many of them are nutritious or healing plants, and i have deep respect for their resilience and fortitude... but i don't like them competing with cultivars that can be quickly outpaced. ragweed would cleverly pop up where marigolds had been. morning glory would mimic beans, and the list goes on and on.
the other example of this was the willow, growing profusely on hugle island, our raised bed permaculture site where we have focused on perennials. in the 2014 season, we had girdled selective trees in the spring by stripping back the bark around the trunks, about six inches from the ground. at the end of the year, we cut these trees down. by mid summer this year, there was a flourish of willow at the base of each tree, and it was difficult to keep up with cutting them to the wick. when i would have success, a new willow would sprout off the roots running underground. while i am still in a struggle to lighten the shade of their presence in the crick garden, i have come to accept that the white willow's persistance is signaling to me the strength of it's medicine.
akin to this was the lesson that came from trimming back the bushes and trees in early spring and sticking their sprigs in the ground as a means to contain or protect other plants, only to find these cuttings had taken root to become new bushes and trees. the rose of sharon which i had considered to be dead sticks took on green buds, as did a couple of fruit tree prunings. we now call this area of the garden, whip hill.
and last, but not least, my echinacea bed which had been decimated by voles who consumed their roots from the tip to the corm, sprung into action and regenrated amongst the new seedlings i had planted in their stead. so my echinacea was thick as theives and this year, i opted not to put down the straw mulch which provided cozy nesting for the vermin vole last winter. we shall see come spring how the echinacea fairs through the winter freeze. i am trusting in the lesson of the will toward life, and feel pretty certain she will turn her blooming rust brown cone toward the sun and spread her pink petals in the summer once again. 

our hopes for this year is another adventure of raising good, wholesome food while graciously learning the lessons the natural world has in store for us and maintaining the sense that our long term goals in stewarding this project can come to fruition. we hope that each of you can maintain a sense of wonder and accomplishment with all you undertake as well. here is to a sweet '16 for all of us.



What you are doing and learning down in the hollar is so beautiful, full of life and spirit. With all the love and care you bring to your project there is no way that it will not succeed! The photos are beautiful! Your writing is eloquent and full of love. I'm certain with all your love and care you have a fruitful spring and summer to look forward to!

thanks for the compliments, michele. hopefully we have luck on our side this growing season.