The first principle of Permaculture is “Observe & Interact.” The “interact” part is very important. My original plan for creating soil fertility in the 1/8th acre Milpa garden relied on creating charcoal out of the trees we cleared there in a big old dug trench. My design for the garden’s layout included determining where to put that trench for the charcoal burn; then, I dug and water slowly filled the hole. Not a good place to make a fire.
I’d been working in that field, observing and interacting, clearing and visualizing and planning; but until I dug that hole as a test, I had no idea the water table was so dramatically high. With this interaction, parts change; and when any part changes in a holistic design, the whole changes in relation to it, too.
Now, I’m going back to designing around the water. I’ll do my charcoal in an above-ground kiln, most likely. In the meantime, I’ve put some of the cut trees in the paths between beds just to make them walkable. I also tried a somewhat sloppy “hugulkultur” application into one of the beds, seeing if I can use that to raise the beds higher above the water table. I could focus on that approach more substantially, but I don’t want to dig that much.
After preparing three beds in the field, I finally started buckwheat cover crop. It made me so happy to sow them that I don’t really want to do anything for the next week but watch for signs of their emergence. These are only the second seeds I have put in the ground out here.
The first were stinging nettle seeds I sowed in a dozen places around the woods. These are far too helpful a plant not to have in abundance. Nutritious food, healing medicine, compost activator, soil amendment as green manure, and even source of fiber for making clothing. I planted them near, but not too near, the paths because they sting.
Yesterday, though, I planted cover crop. A happy constraint on not having irrigation water available is that you have to dance with the rain. When you put new seeds down, you want them to be watered soon. When you can’t get water to them, you need to time it such that the rain will follow shortly after. Watching the sky, listening to the wind, trying to time it right; this time, I finished preparing the bed and scattering the seeds seconds before the heavy rain came down. It was beautiful.
Preparing the beds, too: as the clouds purpled and rushed, as the birds collectively freaked out, as the wind pulled at my hat, I was out there with grub hoe and broadfork opening everything up, doing the broadfork two-step, opening the mouths of the soil for all the rain that would wash into it. At the end of the day – satisfaction. Seeds are in the earth getting watered in as I take cover. My life is with theirs, opening slowly, reaching up.