This coming season marks another major step in our journey towards a self-sufficient and sustainable life.
Although we've grown a multitude of different fruits, vegetables, nuts and even some grains, this season we have prepared for a large-scale crop. Now when I say large, its not commercial large, as in mono cropped fields. However it is large in the context of what we need to feed our family.
Last season we planted enough potatoes to yield about 50kg worth. In my feeble mind, this was a great success, until what seemed only months later, my beautiful wife informed me that we were almost out of potatoes! Righto then, best I start planning to correct that.
So this past winter, I sectioned off an overgrown area about 25 x 30m that was full of grasses and blackberry. I then brought in our 7 Boer goats along with 9 chickens and together they got busy clearing and fertilising the soil.
Once the animals had kindly done their work, there was still an extensive root system to remove. The soil was rather compacted too so we leveraged the blessings of fossil fuels and used a rotary hoe to break it up. I only like to use machinery once within the lifetime of each garden bed. I usually use the No Dig method that I learned from UK garden guru Charles Dowding. However when something is this extensive I like to leverage our modern privileges, but sparingly only. We use a walk behind rotary hoe and its still hard yakka. We use hand tools to mound up the beds with cardboard and mulch laid down the pathways to retain moisture and save on water. These are small details, but they have a big impact.
Now as crazy as this sounds, it was actually a great family activity. The kids got involved with the hands on tasks and despite being tired at the end of the day, they were extremely proud of their efforts. Our 8 year old managed to fill and move over 50 twenty litre buckets of mulch for the pathways. Child labour you say? Hell no, she worked hard, she was around her family all day and ended the day with an enormous sense of achievement. Over the following weeks we made more beds and got stuck into the planting which they assisted with also.
In our modern society, such an activity is simply not available to children, or for that matter, most adults. There is no end of electronic engagement, paid entertainment, plastic toys and sugar filled treats to keep us occupied and motionless. There is no end of studies that highlights how our modern sedentary lifestyles and food systems are unhealthy, leaving us lethargic and depressed. There is also plenty of research that highlights how working with the soil is beneficial to both our physical and mental health. Many community organisations recognise this and institute programs to provide people alternative opportunities to the work, consume, repeat, cycle. The Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross runs Australia's largest roof top garden. Many of its participants are the homeless and downtrodden. The garden provides them a sense of purpose and self esteem.
"In many languages the word for human and the word for earth are the same. To be human is to be connected to the earth. Too many of us live lives disconnected from the earth - when we reconnect - get our hands dirty - we reconnect with ourselves and the world around us - a session in the soil is worth at least 10 with a psychiatrist" — Jon Owen, CEO and Pastor, Wayside Chapel, Kings Cross Sydney.
I encourage you to study the before and after images of our potato area. As a family we took something rough and made it both beautiful and productive. The kids have assisted in shaping, mulching, and planting into the bed and laying out the irrigation. Together we will harvest the bounty, cook and consume it together. The kids have been able to take ownership of this process, they are super proud of their efforts and keen to do more. Next project for them, a flower garden!