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.