Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Good Life Project: gardening my way to a good life on Mayne Island

I thought I'd finish off this year's postings by sharing this article that I wrote and submitted for ISUNI's "Living the Good Life" book project over a year ago.......

A couple years ago I joined a meeting with the Islands Sustainability Initiative (ISUNI) folks on Mayne Island and became interested in their "Living the Good Life Project".
The project's intention is to share ideas about how to create an island lifestyle where we consume less, lowering our carbon footprint and to look for local feedback and information that'll help us create the vision of a collective sustainable lifestyle.

Our discussion got me thinking about Scott and Helen Nearing and their well-known book "The Good Life" that tells the story of their years of self-sufficient living. I remembered a quote of Scott Nearing's I had read long ago that I never forgot.
It still leaves me with such a strong feeling:
"Do the best that you can in the place where you are and be kind."
Wow! Timeless. Inspiring. So simply said, yet so challenging to live day to day.

I'm hearing the word sustainable used a lot these days and so I've thought about what that really means to me.
For me, evolving my lifestyle into a more sustainable one means building a garden that can produce food and flowers for myself and my little neighbourhood. It's my way into a life where I can do the best I can, in the place where I am.
It gives me focus, a way to live more in harmony with my values.

As I work to make the garden productive and beautiful day to day, season in, season out, year after year, I notice myself being and doing with a stronger sense of my own place in the natural world. I'm more intimately connected with the cycle of life and it calms me.
I don't feel silly anymore talking to the owls that come to visit me as I hoe my rows. I also feel a deeper responsibility to the land.
The fulfillment and happiness that I experience as I achieve some of my gardening and food growing goals gets me feeling really good which makes being kind so much easier: kindness flows more often, more naturally.

"Do the best that you can in the place where you are and be kind."
It seems to me there are probably as many ways to achieve this as there are individual people. These days, my way is with my garden.

It can be overwhelming to think about the environmental and cultural changes humankind needs to make to lower our carbon footprint and live sustainably on this planet.
Sometimes it makes me fear that growing my own food is too insignificant.
But I don't care, I'm going to do it anyway.
Will you join me?

Let's build a small garden plot to begin, just big enough to start growing our own daily cut-and-come-again salads. (about 4'x6') Let's make some compost, let's gather some rainwater. We'll enjoy some home grown salad, we'll let some plants go to seed, save some seed, plant again.
It takes time. It'll be a process.
Let's trade the baby greens in the plastic boxes from California for some beautiful, tender and delicious morsels that we've grown in our own yard, in our own soil, with our own water, surrounded by the same air we breath and our own sparkling sunshine. Let's feel the joy while we massage our sore backs and try to get all the dirt out from underneath our fingernails. Let's reduce some of our negative impact on our environment.
Let's go grow some of our own food!

I open my garden to visitors in the summer and when folks visit, they often tell me about how they want to have a vegetable garden of their own and ask me how I knew where to start, how I did it and how they can do it. (Everybody wants to garden!)

I began building my garden on Mayne Island 7 years ago.
I made growing at least some of my own food a priority in my life and I remember giving myself permission to start slowly. I needed to learn to do by doing. It helped me to remember that creating a successful productive garden is a process, like life itself and that failures are an important aspect of learning.

One of my favourite easy low stress ways of creating a new garden bed is the way I did it when I started 7 years ago. I've found it ideal to begin in the fall since it'll sit over winter and be ready in time for spring salad planting. It works any time of year, though.

I cover my new chosen area (which usually starts out very grassy, weedy, compacted and rocky) with a layer of newspaper and then I cover that with compost and maple leaves, manure and straw, wood ashes from the wood stove, chopped up nettles from beside the pond, grass clippings, whatever is in season when I'm inspired to make the new growing bed,(or if I'm ambitious and organized, I stockpile good stuff all year). Then I put it out of my mind for a few months and move on to other things.
I come back to it in 6-8 months (even up to a year sometimes) with a pitchfork and turn over the mulches and newspaper (which have started to break down in place), mix them up, remove rocks, add more compost on top and that is the birth of a lovely new garden bed. Now the lettuce seeds can be planted!

For the new food grower, this will be the beginning of an exciting adventure of learning to do by doing. Do the best you can in the place where you are and be kind. Sow some seeds and see what happens. Start another bed the same way right beside the first one!

Mistakes and crop failures will happen. The first time I planted lettuce seeds in my new bed, the new seedlings began to wilt and die. I was very disappointed. That's how I learned that I had wireworms in my soil and now I know more than I ever wanted to know about wireworms. But even though many plants died, I still had some delicious salads!

I've noticed that for me, gardening is most enjoyable when I think ahead and give it lots of time. Maybe this is true for all of us.
So fine tune your new beds over a couple years. Over the years, as compost is added, the soil will get so beautiful, you can dig out the rocks little by little and you can find the way of gardening that is best for you.
It takes time.

Self-study is one of my favourite things. This year, during the dark and rainy days of winter, spend a few evenings reading a book about how to build a garden plot. Two good ones that I like are "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew and "Lasagna Gardening" by Patricia Lanza.
I'm wishing you fun and inspiration!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog. Your writing certainly conveys the passion you have for what you do. Sam is the gardener in the family but now I feel a little more inspired so maybe she'll get more help with the weeding this year : )