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Notes from the Farm

Posted 11/7/2007 10:00am by Leaf Myczack.

As I mulled over the term "common sense" the other day, I realized that the currently in-place cultural consensus belief of wide, spacious, homogenized green lawns has produced an environmentally desensitized populace. In other words, we are culturally committed to a costly and time consuming effort that effectively works against our essential and basic biological needs. Due to peer pressure, most people readily participate without questioning the merits.

Broad lawns make for biological wastelands. Wide tire riding lawn mowers (small tractors in reality), buzz cut large swaths of "open" land while continuously compacting the soil. Week after week, back and forth, covering every square inch of imposed lawn, snipping off any new growth that might emerge. Most residential neighborhoods would have it no other way.

Philanthropist Barbara Tober, as quoted in the Augusta, Georgia, Chronicle said "Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening." A native American story describes tradition as the seemingly small and lightweight grandmother being carried across the river on the back of her strong grandson. Each step of the way she becomes heavier until he is staggering under her weight and nearly drowns. A lot of our cultural traditions are now codefied into enforceable laws with real punishment for offenders. This adds to a staggering weight.

When we initially looked at turning this rundown, overused, dried up farm into a model of sustainable agriculture, we had to start with how to manage energy consumption. Because small farms like ours are marginally in the mainstream economy, we have to be extra-aware of the consumption costs of non-farm energy, i.e., electricity and petroleum products. These are two very large items that can be trimmed significantly so that they don't dominate the route of the farm cash flow.

Gasoline and diesel are both expensive and politically volatile. We decided to not buy a tractor, and to think of farming in a less petroleum way. This meant limiting the amount of land we would mow and conventionally cultivate; however if fit in nicely with our plan to manage hives of honey bees.

To mow these fields as many have suggested, would be to stop the soil restoration process, and to kill the very food source the bees depend upon. To mow the so-called grass lawn areas around the house and sheds produces the same result, and deprives the essential pollinators a food source.

Two events occurred together this year that solved the farm lawn-mowing issue. This year's late freeze and exceptional drought has caused us some anxiety about the long term health of the large maple trees around the house. Not only do they provide needed shade from summer sun, but their early spring flowering is a major source of nectar and pollen for our bees who are just emerging from winter hibernation. The other event was the electric utility sent crews that trimmed trees in our area. They were looking for a place to dump truckloads of ground up leaf and wood material cleared from the powerlines. They delivered for free!

By using the woody mulch to cover the ground under the trees, we accomplished many beneficial results. The mulch works to shield the ground from the sun, thus retaining ground moisture for the tree. It also works as a slow release, soil-building, natural source of nutrients for the trees and acts like a sponge to soak up any rainfall. At the same time it is smothering out the grasses that persistently competed with the trees for topsoil moisture and nutrients. Eliminating the grasses created a large non-mowing zone, thus producing a continuous yearly savings of worktime and money, while also conserving fossil fuel use, and preventing harmful air pollution around our dwelling.

By breaking with tradition, we were able to use common sense in a creative and healthy way. This is the easiest way to effect significant change. We hope you'll try to put common sense ideas to work for you and the planet.

-Leaf

next week's blog -cutting the electric bill without cutting comfort