It’s February 6, 2017 in Lowgap, North Carolina and our high today was 68º F. That’s extremely unusual, but not a record. There was a day in February 2008 that broke the 70º F mark. I know this weather is the consequence of our changing climate. I also know that we will likely pay for this false spring at some point before real spring makes an appearance. Some of our plants, those that have leafed out prematurely, might die from confusion and most likely our fruit crops will suffer when early buds freeze and die.
Still, I couldn’t help but rejoice at spending the last two days working outside in spring-like conditions. My body aches now in the most luxurious way. Our bodies want to move. They want to lift and squat and pull and push. So many of us spend our lives stuck behind a desk not knowing the absolutely exquisite feeling of being bone-tired. Mental fatigue is a whole different kind of tired than what I am enjoying tonight and it’s something I actively avoid in life. It never brings rest, just more fatigue. But this, the satisfaction that comes from using muscles you usually forget you even have, is pure pleasure. Tonight when I crawl into bed, to a well-deserved rest, I will sleep the sleep of hard work, real work, doing things to directly provide for our sustenance.
Yesterday I moved about five cubic yards of composted manure, including getting down on my hands and knees to spread it under our trees and fruit bushes, using it to prepare the soil for the new trees and plants that will be arriving soon, and top dressing some of our less developed garden beds. Have I mentioned before that most of our trees are on our upper slopes? So that meant pushing the fully-loaded wheelbarrow uphill about 45 times.
Today, I spent the day creating the paths for the new garden layout by moving the soil in the paths onto the beds and raking it out flat. I also back-filling old paths with a mix of compost and soil. And since I was already working the beds, I went ahead and did most of my weeding. This weather has also caused an explosion dandelions, henbit, chickweed, burdock, clover, and other weeds my chickens love.
Today, I took them buckets and buckets of weeds and cover crops. One chicken coop is fenced inside the garden so I can toss over weeds as I go. But I also have some young chickens and ducks up in our greenhouse coop so I saved a couple five gallon buckets to haul up to them. Throwing confined chickens buckets of weeds is an extremely satisfying experience. They come running every time you make a delivery, immediately get to work picking them apart, and keep at it until nothing green is left on the ground. Today it was like an all day chicken party.
I ended up using some of that old bamboo I complained about in Bamboo: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful to make edging for my edible landscape beds on the east side of the garden. It turned out quite nice so I’ll do something similar on the west side of our garden tomorrow. They won’t last forever, but they should last long enough for our plants to establish and keep garden guests from walking in the wrong areas.
I also transplanted hundreds of strawberry plants from our strawberry beds to edge all the new paths and act as a ground cover for the soon to be food forests. We put in our strawberry bed two years ago and got very little crop the first year. But last year, it exploded. And I learned that if you have enough organic matter in your strawberry beds, you can get both tons of fruit and tons of runners. They also grow extremely well in decomposed hardwood mulch so the strawberries had spread out into neighboring paths for an added bonus. Our 150 plants from two years ago became over a thousand this year. Now my biggest challenge is figuring out where to transplant them all. Fear not – no strawberry plant will go to waste on the reLuxe Ranch!
Now, all of this might sound like a lot of solitary, lonely kind of activity. But, in truth, I never work alone. I have a pair of turkeys – Woodford, our Bourbon Red, and Ferdinand, our Spanish Black – who follow me everywhere. When I am not paying attention they let down their feathers and peck around on the ground. But the moment I look at them, or step in their direction, their feather fans open up and Woodford begins batting his eyes and attempting to woo me.
If I am in the garden, one of my two escape artist chickens will inevitably spring the coop and come help too. Today it was Buffy, the Buff Orpington. She followed behind me scratching in my top dressing of manure and making sure I didn’t miss any weeds. Come spring, I’ll have to clip her wings to keep her from getting to my seedlings. But for now, I enjoy her company.
After a day of hard work, I climbed up on to the hill in our goat pasture and looked out over our landscape to take its measure. It is much more beautiful in spring and summer, but in winter, you can really see your work take shape. And it’s important to do this. It’s easy to get carried away with getting things done and forget why you are even doing all of this.
This little piece of paradise is both our pleasure and our responsibility. We are shaping it into the things we need to sustain our lives. But real sustainability only comes with understanding and respecting the landscapes natural tendencies and working with the forces of nature.