Posts Tagged ‘environment’

As an experiment this year, and partially for fun and curiosity, I have convinced HB to let me devote a small section of the garden towards a “three sisters garden.”

Image from Cordite Country Show Notes

The Three Sisters Garden is a method of planting seeds that has its base in Native American civilization.  Many Native American tribes adopted this form of agriculture, but it is said to have originated with the Haudenosaunee, or the “People of the Longhouse” also known as the Iroquois, of the northeastern United States.

The traditional Three Sisters garden, created by the successive planting of corn, beans, and squash, forms a beneficial mini-ecosystem where the plants rely on each other for nutrients, support, and protection.

From Renee’s Garden:

According to Three Sisters legends corn must grow in community with other crops rather than on its own – it needs the beneficial company and aide of its companions.

The Iroquois believe corn, beans and squash are precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each watched over by one of three sisters spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or “Our Sustainers”. The planting season is marked by ceremonies to honor them, and a festival commemorates the first harvest of green corn on the cob. By retelling the stories and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the Three Sisters through generations.

A Three Sisters garden is made up of three plants, as previously mentioned:  corn, beans, and squash.  The corn (the oldest sister) provides a trellis for the beans to climb and grow upon.  In return, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, not only adding to the soil, but also supplying a nutrient that corn relies heavily upon.  The beans also stabilize the corn plants, making them less susceptible to wind damage.  The squash, often in the form of pumpkins and other winter squashes, provide ground cover, helping keep the threat of weeds to a minimum.  Planting squash also helps prevent erosion, maintains soil moisture, aids in a cooler soil, and provides a ground cover that may help keep out predators (such a raccoons) that want to harvest your garden!  At the end of the season, most of the plant life can be returned to the soil to amend it for the following garden season.

Sounding good yet?  There’s more!

Nutritionally, this combination complements each other.  While the corn helps provide carbohydrates, the beans provide protein, and the squash provide vitamins and healthy oils.

Last week I set up a test plot in our garden, and planted corn.  Once the corn is about 4 inches tall, I will plant the beans.  Two weeks later, the squash (pumpkins) will go into the ground.  I’m very excited to try this!  But beware!  Don’t try to plant all the seeds at once, or else you’ll likely end up with a tangled mess of green growth, and probably not a lot of corn due to the competition.

Want to set up your own Three Sisters garden?  Renee’s Garden has the best format to get you started.

Want more information of the historical value of a Three Sisters garden?  The Bird Clan of Alabama has some of the legend.

Want to read more about how a Three Sisters garden can influence children and how they view the world?  The Center for Ecoliteracy has a beautiful, informative website devoted to this topic.

In late spring, we plant the corn and beans and squash. They’re not just plants- we call them the three sisters. We plant them together, three kinds of seeds in one hole. They want to be together with each other, just as we Indians want to be together with each other. So long as the three sisters are with us we know we will never starve. The Creator sends them to us each year. We celebrate them now. We thank Him for the gift He gives us today and every day.  – Chief Louis Farmer (Onondaga)

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I had Wednesday off so HB suggested I head over to the market for Green Market Wednesday and the afternoon’s scheduled rain barrel workshop.  So I did.

The first part of the workshop presented a lecture on rain gardens.  Rain gardens are planned depressions in the ground that allow storm water to runoff and collect and slowly infiltrate into the ground.  When used properly, they can lessen the amount of polluted runoff water reaching streams and rivers by 30%.  Runoff water comes from parking lots, rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, roads, and other broad expanses.  Problems arise when large quantities of water, often carrying pollutants from pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, debris and other wastes  are dumped into streams and rivers.

I’ve become more aware of the local water situations living on a farm for a few years now with spring-fed creeks running through the hills.  Somethings cannot be controlled – our neighbors have a lease on the property fronting the road and we have no say in the choices of fertilizers and pesticides they use on land we do not own.  But we can attempt to make the correct choices on our own property.  And we may not be able to control the choices of our in-laws, but I can play a role in the choices HB and I make.

Anyway, back to the workshop.

Once the lecture was over, a gal from the local soil and water conservation group gave a quick talk and then we delved into making our rain barrels.  Literally, delved.  The barrels we were given were old pickle barrels, some (like mine) still containing old pickle juice.  For a person who does not like pickles, it was slightly disgusting.  For any normal person it was probably a little gross.  You tip the barrel to about a 45* angle, then bend over, shove your top half inside the barrel and find your bearings inside the dark and stinky abyss inside.  Lovely.

Creating the rain barrel was surprisingly easy.  Behold, the finished results:

The barrels come by way of a North Carolina pickle company; of course, the cucumbers weren’t American.  I’m sure the barrel isn’t made in American either.  Ugh.  This reminds me of the Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) article I read this morning on the future of farming.

The barrels come with a permanent top that fits under the rim (similar to a canning jar), but for the sake of the barrel we remove the lid and fit a screen under the rim to keep out debris.

Pictured below is the overpour spout with attached hose.  When the rain barrel fills, water will flow out of this hose and (for now) onto the ground.  The real plan is to have multiple barrels so that when one fills up, the water travels into the next barrel via the hose.  Cool, huh?

And of course, we needed a spigot at the bottom of the barrel.  I want to build a small platform to raise this barrel just high enough to fit a bucket and/or watering can underneath for easy filling.

Interested in attending a rain barrel workshop at the Lynchburg Market?  The next workshop will be held on June 12th from 11am to 1pm.  You can get more information from the market website.

Created just in time for an afternoon thunderstorm.  Perfect!

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When we visited my family for Christmas, there was a very large box with our names on it.  We quizzed each other about what it could be.

Imagine our surprise when we opened it and found the most thoughtful gift!  A cold frame!

And then the snow came.  And it really overstayed its welcome.  But we finally seem to be on the mend, and last weekend I sat down with my drill and the directions and put the cold frame together.

I let it sit for a week to warm up.  It’s definitely warm inside! The frame itself is pretty light, so we’re brainstorming anchors for it.  The wind blew it over on Friday.  But it’s tidy and sits upon a pile of horse manure (thanks, Huck!) and potting soil.

I plan to sow a few seeds this week – perhaps some spinach? and carrots?  I need to dig through my seed packets and see what’s available!

I do have a confession:  I worry about our garden getting too sufficient.  Then we wouldn’t need to go to the market weekly.  And we would miss our market friends.  But self-sufficiency is a long way away, because weeds always get the best of me. 😉

So Mom, Dad, if you’re reading this – thank you!

By the way, that hillside surrounding the cold frame is an erosion masterpiece.  I’m currently supplementing it with Huck’s manure with hope that overtime we can slowly mend it.  Every year I plant every weed imaginable – mint, sunchokes, etc. in hopes that it will conquer the clay hillside.

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*My horse, Huck, is starting to shed!

*Jacqsonne is slowly increasing her milk production

*The young does are starting to fill out their udders

*The hen’s egg production is increasing

*I can finally seen grass, not snow

*The grass I can see is surprisingly green; maybe that’s because it’s  been hiding for two months?

*Seed catalogs are pouring in; and seed displays are popping up in stores

*Birds can be heard chirping

*I have a hankerin’ for salads

What signs of spring are you seeing/hearing/smelling?

(Apparently the two months of snow has slowed down the spreading of chicken manure on nearby fields, because the air smells positively pristine!)

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A few hours away is a secret of the agriculture revolution.

Polyface Farms, of Swoope, Virginia, has become a legend in the supporting alternative, local agriculture realms.  Joel Salatin and his outgoing, sometimes overbearing personality, are well known.

I’m not even sure how to put into words what Joel and his family do on their farm.  So, I turn to Wikipedia –

Polyface Farm is a farm located in rural, Swoope, Viriginia, run by Joel Salatin and his family. The farm is driven using unconventional methods with the goal of “emotionally, economically and environmentally enhancing agriculture”. This farm is where Salatin developed and put into practice many of his most innovative and significant agricultural methods. These include direct marketing of meats and produce to consumers, pastured-poultry, grass-fed beef and the rotation method which makes his farm more like an ecological system than conventional farming. Polyface Farm operates a place where consumers go to pick up their produce.

Salatin bases his farm’s ecosystem on the principle of watching animals’ activities in nature and emulating those conditions as closely as possible. Salatin grazes his cattle and pigs outdoors within small pastures enclosed by high-tech, electrified fencing. His chickens are housed in portable coops that are easily and daily moved to ensure that the animals always have fresh grass. Animal manure fertilizes the pastures and enables Polyface Farm to graze about four times as many cattle as on a conventional farm, thus also saving feed costs.  Salatin’s pastures, barn, and farmhouse are located on land below a nearby pond that “feeds the farm” by using 15 miles of piping. Salatin also harvests 450 acres of woodlands and uses the lumber to construct farm buildings.  One of Salatin’s principles is that “plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.

The farm is open nearly every day and has an “open door” policy regarding tours of the farm.  Anyone and everyone is welcome to visit at anytime and take themselves on a tour around the farm.  Nothing is off limits, and you are free to talk to anyone.  At the same time though, don’t expect a guide to show you around!

Tours are available but are outrageously priced (with good reason), but during the spring and summer months, once a week or so, there are guided tours are available – the only catch is you must register in advance, and they fill up months away from actual tour dates.  The tours are scheduled on weekdays, and I really want to go.

Anyone want to take a day off and tour Polyface with an official tourguide?

“Lunatic Tours” are available for sign-up here. Adults are $10.50/person and children under age 12 are free!

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Second SpringAutumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. -Albert Camus

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Baby OakI like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. -Willa Cather

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Red BerriesDelicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. -George Eliot

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Extreme Stream Makeover

On October 19, 2009, the James River Association, with the help of local government, businesses and organizations, will kick off Extreme Stream Makeover 2009! This year’s project, the third of its kind, will take place in the Blackwater Creek watershed. This watershed includes portions of Bedford and Campbell Counties, as well as the City of Lynchburg.

Extreme Stream Makeover (ESM) is a week-long, local project aimed at sparking greater community involvement and public action to improve and restore water quality through a series of low impact design projects. In this case, low impact design refers to reducing the amount of rainwater runoff from roads, buildings, parking lots, and managed turf that enter streams and creeks and ultimately, the James River.

Activities will begin with the opening ceremonies on Monday, October 19. Hundreds of volunteers will work at various sites throughout the watershed including Jefferson Forest High School, Peaks View Park, Blackwater Creek Athletic Area and several shopping centers along Wards Road.

For more information, or to volunteer visit the JRA Extreme Stream Makeover website!

What Is Extreme Stream Makeover?


Extreme Stream Makeover is a watershed restoration initiative developed by the James River Association with three goals in mind:

  1. To improve the health of a local degraded watershed.
  2. To increase public awareness of upstream, local & downstream water quality issues.
  3. To improve knowledge and know-how regarding solutions to local water quality and quantity issues on an individual or household level.

The visible goal is the restoration of a neglected tributary of the James River.  This goal is accomplished through the management of rain water runoff through localized projects such as the construction of rain gardens and BayScapes, the installation of rain barrels, streamside buffer planting and trash clean-up.

What is a watershed?

A watershed is a region draining into a river, river system, or any other body of water. All of the water that falls as precipitation or flows over the land as runoff in a watershed ends up in the same body of water. In other words, a watershed is a drainage area.


The Extreme Stream Makeover (ESM) is a weeklong restoration project designed to improve the health, sustainability and aesthetic appeal of a selected stream within the James River watershed.

During the planning process, involved parties work together to promote watershed awareness and pollution control throughout the community.  Partners assess the creek and surrounding watershed to identify and document existing and potential pollution problems.  This assessment helps to identify and prioritize projects.  ESM project locations are selected based on the site assessment, feasibility, landowner permission and opportunity for water quality improvement.

Implementation is a week-long process that puts in place a series of rainwater runoff and pollution reduction measures as well as habitat restoration projects.  Each day, approximately 100 volunteers from the community will participate in the restoration activities.  Depending on the project selection, participants will remove trash, learn how to construct and install rain barrels, plant steamside buffers and build rain gardens.  Every facet of the restoration project is accompanied by an education component – it is important that people not only learn how to do these projects, but that they also understand why they are doing them.

The ESM also incorporates a series of lessons, designed to correlate with Virginia SOLs, for local students.  In the past, the James River Association (JRA) has gone into local schools to teach about the James River watershed, emphasizing watershed health, management and conservation.  Students will learn how and why selected projects can improve local creeks, the James River and beyond.

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Friday night, Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman’s College) hosted the first of a series of talks on sustainable living.  To start the series of talks, Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man engaged the audience with his year-long experience of living “off the grid” with his wife and daughter in New York City.

No Impact Man Colin proved to be an interesting speaker.  His book is on my “to read” list, just behind Dan Brown’s new novel and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (both of which I’m half way through), and so I knew little of the book’s details other than what I’ve read in reviews, detailing “his life as a guilty liberal who finally snaps, swears off plastic, goes organic, becomes a bicycle nut, turns off his power, and generally becomes a tree-hugging lunatic who tries to save the polar bears and the rest of the planet from environmental catastrophe while dragging his baby daughter and Prada-wearing, Four Seasons-loving wife along for the ride.”  Overall, it is an interesting topic to me, much like Alisa Smith’s The 100-Mile Diet, or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  And so after work on Friday, I rounded up my willing husband and we made it across town to Randolph College.

Speaking to a nearly full auditorium, Colin’s talk was part memoir, part lecture, and part critical thinking to engage the community.  A lively, humble speaker, he read thoughtfully selected excerpts from the book to establish his points.  Colin believes that we’ve come to a point in history where everyone must be willing to make changes for the good of the planet.  As he put it –

As a society, we have reached the point where I believe that we are past the point where “everyone can do one little thing to make a big difference.”  Instead, we are at the point where everyone must make large changes to their daily lifestyle in order to save the planet and themselves.

After seeing the impact of his blog, Colin went on to help fund The No Impact Project earlier this year.  The No Impact Project is an international, environmental, nonprofit project founded in the spring of 2009. The mission of the organization is to empower citizens to make choices which better their lives and lower their environmental impact through lifestyle change, community action, and participation in environmental politics.

The organization has teamed up with Huffington Post to launch the No Impact Experiment which runs October 18 – 28, 2009.

The No Impact Experiment is a one-week carbon cleanse.  It is a chance for you to see what a difference no-impact living can have on your quality of life. It’s not about giving up creature comforts but an opportunity for you to test whether the modern “conveniences” you take for granted are actually making you happier or just eating away at your time and money.

HB and I have decided to sign up for the experiment, and see how it goes.  We are constantly trying to figure out how to reduce our impact and keep things local.  The experiment has a “How-To Manual” that goes over what is involved in the week-long experiment which includes daily challenges and support.  The website encourages daily blogging about the experiment, and spreading the word to get as many people involved as you can.  The experiment involves a pre- and post-experiment lifestyle survey, and a 6-month follow up to the project to gauge the success.

Sound impossible?  Well, nothing is impossible, right? To me, this is a challenge to live as sustainably as I can for one week and see the impact it has upon myself, my husband, our friends and family, and the environment around us.  We won’t be able to do everything, I’m sure – neither of us can afford not to drive into work or simply use mass transport — we live to far from town for that.  But it can make us conscious of our impact, and that alone is worth it. And as the little disclaimer says at the bottom of the page-

Please note, that we do not want you to feel limited or overwhelmed by our ideas.  Define your experience.  Do as much as you can, adapt it to your life, and like most challenges, the more you put into this, the more you’ll get out of it.

So let’s sign up, get involved, and help this planet that so graciously lends itself to us.


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