Last year a friend told me about Earth Boxes. She said she had a few of them on her back porch and that she ended up with so many tomatoes she couldn’t preserve them all! Since I have left my large raised beds in Aiken, I knew I had to give them a try.
We had to re-home our chickens when we moved to Chattanooga. Chatt is super cool, but it’s behind the times when it comes to having backyard chickens. Plus, until we sell our SC home we are renting an apartment.
The chickens had always eaten well at our house, since they got almost all of our kitchen scraps. They loved anything that still had seeds, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when tomatoes, peppers, and squash started growing in the yard where the chickipoos had been last year. When we were packing up to move, I dug up a couple of tomatoes and a pepper plant to bring with us.
In the photo above you can see the three plants on the right are pretty big – those were the ones the chickens planted in the ground. The three tiny seedlings on the left are the ones I started a couple of months ago. Those poor little things suffered from the instability of our lives the past month trying to get moved. I think the only reason they are probably still alive is that I grew them in pure worm castings. Now that they have been transplanted into the Earth Boxes I’m hoping they’ll really start to grow well. I’d love to have a bumper crop of tomatoes! While transplanting my ‘maters & peppers yesterday, I found that one plant had started growing fruit. I hope this is just the start of a great growing season!
Three years ago my husband and I bought a lovely three-bedroom home on a little more than half an acre of land. If you’ve read my previous posts you know that we have put a lot of work into our land to bring fertility and beauty to an acidic, parched, sandy lot that had been neglected and abused for decades.
We busted our butts clearing scrub brush and overgrown azaleas, and breaking up the compacted soil by tilling almost the entire yard. I planted fruit trees and blueberry bushes, strawberries and asparagus – plants that will produce every year with a little care. I built raised beds and created soil out of yard and kitchen waste, composted manure, and peat moss. I tossed about 100 earthworms in the beds to eat the organic matter in them and turn it into microbe-rich worm dirt, then started heirloom seeds to grow delicious, nutrient-rich food.
We went further in our dream of a sustainable life by getting baby chicks and raising them up. We built them a chicken tractor and moved them to a new patch of grass every day or so. We were happily surprised about how much better the yard looked a couple of weeks after the chickipoos had scratched and aerated the soil, eaten all the plants & bugs, and left a bit of fertilizer behind them. And at the end of the day, we had fresh, delicious eggs! We also built a worm bin. Whatever kitchen waste the chickens wouldn’t eat (coffee grounds, tea leaves, etc) went to the worms. That worked well for a while, but our worms decided to migrate and left the bin one day. It was kinda weird, but other folks I’ve talked to say that worms do that sometimes.
Along the way I discovered fermentation and took to it like a duck to water. I’ve made all kinds of fermented veggies, brined eggs, soft and hard cheeses, bacon, prosciutto, kombucha, kefir, yoghurt, skyr, clabbered milk, mead, hard cider, beer, and wine.
When we bought our home we thought we’d be there for a very long time, but life happens. Neither of us were successful in finding employment that we were in the least bit happy doing. I spent many months trying to get our business off the ground, but after failing to get financing we came to the conclusion that we were simply in the wrong place. We had chosen our town because of the lovely little downtown area, but you know what they say about books and covers. There was really very little going on in the CSRA that we could do for recreation other than tending our animals and our plot of land. Those things were great, but we had left an amazingly rich life back in the Ozarks before moving to South Carolina.
Last summer my dear friend, Hope, and I had taken a trip to see Rock City. Both of us are fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and had always talked about going together to see where the battle scene in the book took place. I fell in love with Chattanooga! It reminded me of my old hometown of Fayetteville, AR, but it’s even funkier. I knew my hubby would like it because of the mountains and the wonderful local food culture. So when the opportunity presented itself, I encouraged him to apply for a job there and since he’s super awesome, he got it!
Now we’re living between two places: our house in Aiken and our rented apartment in Chattanooga. We realized a few months ago that we have a big house that costs a small fortune to heat and cool, but we only live in three rooms. The whole time we’ve lived there we’ve had one guest that took advantage of our guestroom… one! We have decided that if we want to seriously commit to a sustainable lifestyle and stop spending all our time dealing with household maintenance, we have to make a big change. In a few weeks we’ll have an estate sale where we will be selling off at least 70% of our belongings. It hurts a bit, but it’s just stuff. Then we are going to sell our house. I’m really hoping that someone comes along that wants to garden and falls in love with our property. The hard work has been done already, they just need to plant and tend the garden. Once the house is sold, we are buying at least five acres of property outside of town and we’re going to build a tiny house!
By selling most of our stuff we’re hoping to whittle things down to a much more manageable state. We won’t have room for a dishwasher, so we decided to cut down the number of dishes we have. Instead of a set of eight dishes, we currently have a set of four. We are thinking about cutting that down to a set of two. That way, I will wash each of my dishes when I’m done with it and not have a big pile of dishes to wash everyday. And if we do have company, they will be told ahead of time about our kitchen arraignment and to bring their own dishes. With less of our time being spent on things that aren’t really important, we can devote ourselves to the things we really love to do: hiking, dancing, brewing, gardening, raising critters, reading, and hanging out with friends. And hopefully, we will start our business in Chattanooga. The culture here is much better for what we want to do.
I’m sad to think about what we are leaving behind. But I’m even more excited about what lies ahead!
Last year when the big ice storm hit our town a huge tree limb fell on our roof leaving a lot of damage. One of the things that was damaged was the 50′ long gutter on the front of the house. It took MONTHS to get it replaced (if you want to see steam come from my ears, get me talking about dealing with contractors and insurance companies), but eventually we got a new gutter installed. I made the contractor leave the damaged gutter. I’m sure he thought I was crazy, but I’d seen something on Pinterest that I wanted to try.
If you have read my earlier blog post about my raised beds, you know that the soil in my area is nothing but acidic sand. The first year we were here and I started a garden I amended and amended the garden patch with loads of compost with little affect. Anyhow, I’d seen on Pinterest how someone had taken gutters and used them to plant strawberries, so I wanted to give it a try.
I had to cut the seamless gutter in twain and close up the open ends before mounting it to my privacy fence. I also took a large nail and hammered holes through the bottom of the gutter every six inches or so for drainage. After I got all that finished, I put leaves in the bottom of the gutter to keep the soil from running out with the first rain. Then I filled the gutters with ‘Mater Maker compost (made here in South Carolina) and planted the bare root plants I’d gotten from parkseed.com (another SC company). I had 75 plants, so I was only able to get 50 of them in the gutters. I had to put the other 25 in other beds around my yard. So far they are looking beautiful! I’m anxious to see how well this works out. I know I’ll have to run some drip lines up there, but that’s fine. I always have to do a lot of watering here in the summer, but maybe this will minimize the amount of water I’ll need to use on my strawberries.
One of my neighbors recently had to put her 93 year old mother in a nursing home (poor thing is in too bad of health to ever come home again) and decided to tear down the massive wheelchair ramp to her front door. I scavenged some of the wood from her and built a raised bed about 2′ high.
I had heard about lasagna gardening (aka no till gardening) and did some homework. The concept is that you lay down layers of leaves, grass clippings, food waste, etc. to compost into fabulous, nutrient rich soil. I began my layers with thick cardboard to keep all the weeds underneath from growing up in my raised bed. Then I began filling it with leaves, food waste, manure, more leaves, composted food from my compost barrel, and topped it all off with some high quality organic topsoil. I also went to a local bait shop and bought around 100 red worms and gave them a new home in the raised bed. With all that organic material, those worms should be churning out lots of worm castings to make the soil super rich.
Yesterday I transplanted some of the seedlings I started a few weeks ago, like spinach, kale, collard greens, and mustard greens. I have a little gardening stool that I sat on to do my planting. It worked wonderfully! No sore back or knees!
I also figured out the best thing to start seeds in… empty cardboard toilet paper rolls. I think I saw someone suggest this on Pinterest, so I started saving my spent toilet paper and paper towel rolls. I cut the toilet paper rolls in two and the paper towel rolls into four pieces, filled them with organic seed starting mix and planted my seeds. I screwed up a bit, because I planted kale, cauliflower and cabbage at the same time, but did not keep good track of what I planted where. I was using the toilet paper rolls and K-cups in two different plastic bins. Anyway, I transplanted one set of seedlings from the toilet paper rolls (I think it was kale) into the raised bed yesterday and it was so much simpler than anything else I’ve ever used. The cardboard was damp, as it should be, and rolled off of the soil leaving the roots completely intact in the seed starting soil. I’ll be saving all my toilet paper rolls from now on! I’ll just take better care when it comes to labeling things.