Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Connections, Less Waste

Last year I posted a piece over at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op about the complexity of life on our little homestead. Complexity is not bad, not at all. It's just that I nearly always have to bite my tongue when people talk about "the simple life." Nature is far from simple, and though agriculture isn't necessarily "natural," it moves in the same realm. The human routines of self-sufficiency are rarely more simple than for those who are plugged in to the industrial way of life at every juncture. What people mean when they talk about a "simple life" is really anything but. As we started producing more of our own food, and started adding livestock to our system, the connections between living things just became more and more apparent.

I speculated in that co-op post about what new connections would become apparent as we continued to add different kinds of livestock. It turns out that we haven't even added bees yet, and I already see new connections that are going to happen. We grow our own popcorn. The stalks and husks and cobs from the plants have up till now only been material for composting. Now I learn that dried corn cobs make excellent material to burn in the smoker for the bee hives. It's not as if I would have gone out and paid for stuff to burn in my smoker; there are plenty of free options. It feels good to know however, that from now on at least some of the cobs will be set aside for beekeeping supplies. It will make me happy, when the green corn stands tall in the garden, to look at the plants and see not just food, but useful materials.

Connections happen a lot between animals and plants on our little homestead. But they can happen between plant species too. I put in four blueberry bushes last spring, where we'd cut down a white pine tree. I had expected the tree to have acidified that soil pretty well, but a soil test showed the soil was nowhere near the range that blueberries prefer. We've been dumping our spent tea leaves, and what few citrus rinds we still buy on the blueberry patch. I also brought in several large bags of pine needles from a relative's property to mulch with last fall. I neglected however to save the apple pomace from our fall apple pressing. Apple pomace is highly acidic. So much so that it's not advisable to put it in the garden without first thoroughly composting it. Blueberries are a different case however, especially in a situation where the soil pH needs to be lowered. Usually when we press cider we give the pomace to a farmer with goats who shows up to press with us, for use as feed. Last year the farmer couldn't make it, so the pomace went into my relatives' (the press owners) compost pile. I could have, and should have brought that pomace home for the blueberries. This year I will.

When people describe life as a web, it sounds poetic and a little corny. I don't live in the wilderness; I'm not a new age-y sort; and I don't come from a line of people who have retained a mystical connection with the earth. But I'd have to be blind to do what I do and not see at least a few of these connections. Corn and honeybees. The apple tree and blueberries. These things make me happy.


Amy Blogs @ River Rock Cottage said...

A very good point, Kate. For me, a simpler life is one where I am more connected to the land. I believe modern families live way too removed from the natural order of creation. Perhaps someone could coin a term for that concept!

I've also begun to realize that "self-sufficiency" is also somewhat of a myth. The more one tries to become self-sufficient, the more you realize how dependent you are on one another. I don't believe this is really a bad thing, but rather part of God's plan that we be in community with one another. For me, the lesson learned is that we need to value our relationships and communities while learning skills to contribute in meaningful ways. I'm still working to be a bit more self-sufficient, but I'm not naive about it either.

Thanks for such a thoughtful and insightful post!

Wendy said...

Amy, there is a term. It's called "Nature Deficit Disorder." :). Richard Louv wrote a book about it called Last Child in the Woods.

I think we call it the "simple life", not because it's simplistic, but because it speaks to a more base, more ... simple ... part of our nature that simply enjoys the beingness of what we are, which is creatures of the Earth - plain and simple. We are no more or no less than those things with which we share that planet, and nothing could be simpler than simply existing on the same plane, in the same circle as those things that sustain our lives.

Great post, Kate ;).

Pricilla said...

We are putting in bees this year. Right now our corn cobs get dried and fed to the goats. They love both the husks and the cobs. NOTHING goes to waste. I did put in strawberries and raspberries but I was a bit premature; without fencing the goats ate 'em!

Simple. HA. I work harder at this life than when I was working 60 hours a week....but at least I know what I am eating.

Anonymous said...

They make me happy, too. The circle of life can be very pleasing. My little yard is just a fraction of the land you must have, but I still enjoy using something - anything - up, entirely and productively. All good.

Joel said...

It's a difficult plant to control (chickens pecking the seeds is the best way I've read about), but I understand broom plants acidify soil.

They also fix nitrogen, so they might be good companions to your blueberries.

As the name implies, they've been used to make brooms and brushes, and some varieties produce usable dye.

Julie said...

I love the growing connections I am making too Kate - and I have all but given up calling it the Simple Life, I now call it Living Deliberately :-)

Tamar said...

Kate -- As I embark on some of the same projects you're doing (I'm glad to have a fellow novice beekeeper to consult with!), I find that the most frustrating complexities aren't the natural ones. They're the ancillary issues that inevitably crop up when you're trying to make nature do your bidding. It's having to own stuff like a chainsaw and a boat trailer and a rototiller, and making sure all your equipment is registered, insured, and functioning. It's spending time finding just the right size leaf springs for the truck, or clearing the schmutz in the gas line of the boat.

I had a simple life when I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Out here in the woods, it's another story.

Kate said...

Amy, I agree that self-sufficiency in an absolute sense is a myth. We will never arrive at a state of complete self-sufficiency, or if we did, it wouldn't be a life worth living, in my opinion. We are social creatures, and it is our nature to cooperate with one another. I don't want to do absolutely everything for myself. And I know that there are a few things I can do better than most people, and I'd be happy to help others out with those skills. But I also know that there is still plenty of road for me to travel towards a self-sufficiency that improves my life and brings me happiness.

Wendy, I haven't read that book or heard much about the "disorder." I'm deeply skeptical about the patholog-ization (if that's a word - probably not) of just about every poor behavior or undesirable trait in our culture. That said, I do feel extremely lucky to have had a childhood with month upon month of unstructured play in an unspoiled natural environment of creek and woods. I do think children today are largely missing out on that incredibly valuable experience, among many other things.

Pricilla, I would love to have a couple Nigerian dwarf dairy goats some day. But for sure we'd need our fencing figured out before we get any goats! Each new species creates so many new connections. Each one that I notice gives me a silly little thrill.

Jenny, I don't know that my yard is that much bigger than yours. Our lot is only 2/3 acre, and we have a big detached garage. We can do a lot with a little when we put our minds to it!

Joel, I know I looked at broom for its N-fixing properties, but I did reject it for its invasiveness. Our hens don't free range, so we can't count on them for too much control. Good thought though.

Julie, very Thoreau-esque. I like it.

Tamar, yeah. I can relate. I do try hard to borrow and loan equipment, so that we don't all need to have tools that are used only once or twice a year. But it all adds up to time and attention we have to spend.

Anonymous said...

Good suggestion about the tea leaves on the blueberries - I will do that from now on on my 3 plants.