Posts Tagged ‘no impact experiment’

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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Perhaps a little late for this year, but let’s save them for next year, shall we?

10 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving, by Sarah Newman

Posted at TakePart.com

1. Buy organic. Organic produce and products are so commonplace now that Coca-Cola and Doritos are practically getting pushed off shelves to make extra space for these hot items. Try to purchase from a small, local farmer, but if you can’t find one, then stock up on your Thanksgiving goods at any major retailer. By choosing organic foods, you are helping to prevent the usage of millions of pounds of poisonous pesticides and fertilizers and emission of greenhouse gas. Best of all, organic foods taste better.

2. Save a turkey. Choose the most humane option that will significantly lighten your environmental impact by having a meat-free meal. You can make your centerpiece a hearty, fall-themed vegetarian dish or opt for a tofurkey. Either way, you’ll be saying no to our industrial food system, reducing your global warming contribution and saying yes to a healthy, happy meal. You can also make a turkey happy by adopting it. Yes, you read correctly, save a turkey from the chopping block and give it the gift of a happy home at Farm Sanctuary. For those of you who roll their eyes at my incredible suggestion in tip two of going meat-free on Thanksgiving, I’d suggest you opt for a humanely-raised turkey.

3. Get down and dirty with your food by starting a garden in your yard, porch, window sill or community garden. While the crops won’t be ready for this year’s feast, start now to grow and harvest a bountiful collection of herbs and produce for 2010.

4. Save your scraps. Start your own compost bin with all of your fruit and veggie scraps. By composting, you prevent useful food scraps from ending up buried in landfills and you’ll be able to apply your nutrient-dense soil to your new garden.

5. Dig chicks. I share my small backyard with neighbors in Los Angeles, who are generally tolerant of my outdoor clothes drying, composting and gardening, but I know bringing chickens home would push our respectful relationship over the edge. However, for millions of Americans with their own private backyards, raising chickens is a reasonable feat. Imagine collecting eggs early Thanksgiving morning to enjoy while preparing a pie or soufflé for the big meal. You can learn about how to do this from my 12-year old friend Orren Fox who raises his own backyard chickens.

6. Read labels. When purchasing Thanksgiving items at the market, choose items whose labels you can read. I’m not referring to the font size, which can sometimes make you feel like you’re doing an ad-hoc eye exam at the store. Rather, choose products with five ingredients or less and with words that make sense. If it’s unpronounceable to your mouth, imagine how disagreeable it will be to your stomach.

7. Go union. Millions of workers toil daily in fields across the country to bring foods to your table. Look for a union label when buying for your meal to ensure that your foods harvested by people who are the backbone of our country.

8. Celebrate diversity. By eating endangered foods, you’re actually helping their survival. I’m not referring to a Gray Whale or African Elephant but to things like a Sierra Beauty Apple, Bull Nose large Bell Pepper, Sheboygan Tomato and Sea Island Red Peas. Eat these beauties to help keep our food sources diverse, support farmers keeping these varieties alive and enjoy consuming new foods (how can you not love something called Bull Nose?).

9. Go paperless. Forsake paper products and opt instead for reusable cutlery, napkins, plates and glasses. Add extra beauty to your table by collecting leaves and other outside goodies as centerpieces.

10. Drink (tap) water. Skip wasteful, unregulated bottled water in favor of tasty, reliable zero-calorie tap water. If you’re concerned about the quality of H2O from your kitchen faucet, invest in a water purifier. Drinking tap water might not make you look like Jennifer Aniston but you’ll definitely look a lot smarter than her with a plastic bottle.

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At what age did I start to think that where I was going was more important than where I already was?  When was it that I began to believe that the most important thing about what I was doing was getting it over with?  Knowing how to live is not something we have to teach children.  Knowing how to live is something we have to be careful not to take away from them. -Colin Beavan, No Impact Man

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No Impact Week, Day 4, Food

Wednesday is Day Four of the No Impact Week, with a focus on food – mainly, eating locally and eating wisely.

I started off the day with eggs for breakfast – eggs that the chickens laid not 100 feet from the front door.  Thanks, girls, they’re delicious!  I proceeded to have lunch at the Wednesday Green Market (that’s what we call the Wed. farmers market here).  We wrapped up the day with lasagna left over from last night – complete with hamburger from our steer, Figgy, tomatoes we canned ourselves, plus garlic and peppers from the market.  Not too bad, overall!

If you’re curious on how you can increase your local eating and/or eat a little more healthily and eco-conscious, check out the No Impact Experiment’s How-To Manual (pdf file).

The Green Market was fabulous today.  I had a great time talking with my vendor friends.  The market vendors are always very encouraging to talk to about our farm goals.  It’s funny how they each try to steer it in their personal way.  Cliff is always trying to get us to plant more grapes — grapes that he bred of course because he’s running out of room for them on his own farm.  The lovely gentleman from nearby Rocky Top Farm is really enthusiastic – in his opinion, blueberries and mushrooms have untouched potential at our market.  I tend to agree with him, but our soil isn’t right for blueberries, and I think we drowned our mushroom log last year. 😉

I had a mini-business proposal for the couple, Steve and Petra, that head up Lorraine Bakery at the market.  I thought I had come up with a clever idea – getting them to buy local eggs to use in their sweet breads and pastries (and soon, crepes!).  I’ve been talking to HB about it and we think we could easily expand our egg production with the addition of more laying hens.  However, Steve and Petra were way ahead of me and have been using local eggs for some time!  Good for them!  We discussed what they are looking for in eggs and the price they’re currently paying and HB and I will discuss it further.  We think we could handle their needs with the addition of 50 laying hens.  Our next thought is to start approaching some local restaurants to gauge interest in local eggs.  Quite a few restaurants are starting to source some produce and dairy goods locally, so there’s some hope.

In the mean time I need to evaluate the cost-benefit of selling eggs.  Right now I’m able to sell them for good profit — enough so that the chickens cover their upkeep costs (feed and shavings) — but I need to evaluate it for increasing our hen numbers to produce on a more commercial level.  Too bad our copy of Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry is loaned out!

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Wednesday is Day Three of No Impact Week, with a focus on transportation.  Here’s where I hit my first major snag in the week.

The facts?  I live roughly 25 miles from work.  If I were to ride my horse, at a competitive endurance pace (keep in mind, my idea of competitive isn’t really competitive), it would take me about three hours to get there. 😉  I don’t even want to think how long it would take me to bike 25 hilly miles.  I had hopes that HB and I would be able to carpool a lot this week, which we try to do when our schedules allow — he works 9-5 and I work 8-6 — but that doesn’t seem to be playing in our favor this week.

I had thought I would simply not drive into Lynchburg on my day off, but I have some plans.  I need/want to go to the Wednesday Farmer’s Market (Day 4 is after all about eating local!) in part because I have a small business plan with the bakery that sales there.  And I’m volunteering tomorrow afternoon with the Extreme Stream Makeover.  But at least I’m not just driving into Lynchburg for a small thing and driving back, right? 😉

And so we move on to Day 4, Eating Local.

Curious how you can reduce your transportation needs?  Check out the No Impact Experiment How-To Manual. (pdf file)

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Monday was Day Two of No Impact Week.  Day 2 focuses on reducing trash production.  This may seem like an easy way to help the environment, but it is not.

Think about it – we get up in the morning and take showers using shampoo and body wash that comes in plastic containers that we throw away.  We brush our teeth with plastic toothbrushes and toothpaste that comes out of a plastic tube – all of which we throw away after their use is up.  We eat breakfast that comes out of containers that we throw away.  We blow our noses, wipe up spills, clean the house, and wipe our behinds with paper products that we throw away.

It seems nearly impossible to NOT make trash.  I’m in the middle of a sniffling, coughing cold.  My nose has pretty much dried up, but just in fighting a cold I make trash – Kleenex for my nose, wrappers from my cough drops, plastic medicine containers…  Don’t even get me started on work – we make a lot of trash, but in the health field (animal in my case, but more so in humans?) how do you not make trash?

This project has made me incredibly aware of my trash production and I’m trying to find ways to reduce it.  Today when one of our drug reps dropped off bagels for a snack, I started to grab a paper towel to put my bagel on.  Then I stopped myself and dug in my lunch bag for the cloth napkin (a project from last year) I had packed to use instead.  I feel bad for every plastic syringe case I toss in the trash.  And then I wonder if they’re even the right type of plastic that can be recycled.  I’d like to start a recycling program at work, but I think it will be my sole responsibility.  And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, I need to talk to the doctors.  I think they would support the decision.

So did I produce trash?  Yes.  Did I produce less trash?  I think so.  Was I conscious of my trash making?  Heck yeah.

And moving on, Day 3, Transportation.

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