Back to Eden (part 3) The back 40 (feet)

We are subsistence farmers. We did not start out that way. A great family wage job kept us more then comfortable for years. Then the factory left town. With only a few years left until retirement we had a dilemma. Early retirement income and a wage from a small Christian school that brought in less a year then we once spent for a month from the factory left us feeling uneasy.

Rose (4)
We are a people who pray. Maybe that was why Paul Gautschi’s Back to Eden documentary got our attention from the first watch. He made his garden an extension of his belief in the creator of heaven and earth. God was given the glory in the fruit…. and vegetables of his labor.

We are people who pray. We believe that God speaks and speaks clearly to those who are willing to listen. The story of how we came to live in Everett is a Beauty for Ashes story, a “seek and you shall find” event. We knew that if we were to loose everything we would still have treasure in heaven. We have not lost anything but income, the adjustment is not easy but we serve a patient and loving Abba! The first order of business for us is, Thank God in ALL things and for all things.

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.   1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

Our oldest son, Chris once said, “Poverty is a state of mind, not a reality.” I do not think he knows how much that spoke to me. Ray and I prayed. Getting work from someone else does not seem to be the will of God for our lives today. Can we live on about one-twelfth of our former income? With God, all things are possible. Time to walk the talk. I smile every time I see my favorite TV reality stars quack about knowing that if they lost everything they would still have each other and they would be ok. It is true, but it ain’t easy.

The very back of "the farm", once a pain to mow, now becoming fertile for fruit.

The very back of “the farm,” once a pain to mow, now becoming fertile for fruit.

In part 2 I mentioned the difficult first step of laying down a layer of bio-degradable weed block. Used newspapers and grocery bags have always been our first choice (paper not plastic… no mater what the wall street boys say about the plastic bio-degrading!). To convert the back garden to BTE would not only involve a substantial amount of recycled papers, it would also need a still day and possibly a team of Toy Box labor just to keep all those newspapers in place while we covered them with chips. A daunting task!

The solution? Inexpensive rolls of untreated paper from a Big Box construction store. Paul had suggested it in one of his clips. Repurposed paper is great for a small area but for the full back garden, rolled paper was the best way to go! This made it possible for the primary work to be a one man operation. Chris and I were happy to help, but we were not always home during work hours. Very simply the paper was rolled out to the area Ray was working on. A potted plant (we have lots of those) was set on each corner of the paper to hold it in place. The paper was just heavy enough to walk on and run the wheel-barrow over. Chips were dumped on the paper and spread out. He finished whole rows of garden in less time then it took to lay that many newspapers.

Square Foot Gardens meet BTE (transition)

Square Foot Gardens meet BTE (transition)

In a single afternoon Ray had finished laying chips. If nothing else it made a beautiful mulched paths around our square foot gardens. Square Foot Gardening and four city hens kept us well fed for the first two years after KC left Everett. At that time Ray was going to school with a KC + government grant for re-education. He earned his degree but that did not translate into a job. We needed to ask more from our tiny hobby farm. Things were getting real!

There was a time when we could have been properly labeled “foodies.” We would have rejected the label, but looking back, that is exactly what we were. We grew unusual vegetables, why grow what you can buy? We enjoyed traveling for peaches and pears in fall, lavender products in summer and asparagus in spring. Now we cannot afford the trips for the things we cannot grow and need enough potatoes and beans to put up. Square Foot Gardens are great for a little extra fresh food. I can even coax enough beans out of them for canning. It was a great way to garden on a lot that had really nasty soil. The main problem with SFG is the expense. Even with our former large income we only put in two to three new boxes per season. It was simply too big of an expense to put in more then that, as much as we love the method. Without an income, it is impossible for us to expand the number of boxes.

August 6 The Tomato Pole. 8 plants tepe style on one pole.

August 6 The Tomato Pole. 8 plants tepe style on one pole.

Our Back to Eden garden is in transition. We are told that it takes a few years to really be ready to plant, so for now we have left all the SFG’s in place. However, there is a corner of the garden that we did plant directly into the ground instead of into a SFG. At the far north east corner of the yard are my compost bins. We like to use hog-wire cylinders for the walls of the compost. When it is time to turn the pile the cylinder is lifted off (sometimes it is a little tricky to work it off) and the pile is forked back into the cylinder. Over the 5 seasons we have lived in Everett we have developed a very fertal patch of ground about 10 feet long and 4 or so feet wide just by moving the pile. The ground is soft, thick with earth worms and apparently well healed compared to what it was. When we first moved to Everett from our home in the Mountains, I tried to start a small garden in this area. Pushing a shovel into the ground was very much like trying to dig into a large bag of peat-moss. It was resistant to my work. The only thing that grew was a big thistle, not that the vegetables I planted didn’t try to grow. They just came up stunted and weak. That soil was the reason we fell in love with square foot gardening despite the start-up cost. Meanwhile we started the compost pile to feed the gardens.

All because of the healing power of home-grown compost.

All because of the healing power of home-grown compost.

The difference compost makes on really bad soil is dramatic. Back to Eden is basically a huge system of mulch and compost. The soil critters seem very happy, and when the worms are happy, the plants produce abundantly and I am happy.

The drama of the lone pear in the front garden is not our only evidence of the healing power of BTE. It is true that the green beans and the tomatoes we planted in the green chips of the garden out preformed the beans and tomatoes in the SFG’s, but as I mentioned, we had the rich, healing compost in that area so we wondered if it was really a fair comparison.

August 6 (6) By early August we were harvesting baskets of tomatoes almost weekly. It was the hottest, driest summer (2014) that either of us can remember. We often get a heat wave in late August, early September, but this time it started in late May with only two rains until early October. The SFG’s were thirsty. The only water the Back to Eden areas got was over-spray in a few places. Even so, the espaliered apple tree we have growing in back showed no sign of stress. I was stressed about the tent caterpillars that I daily plucked off and tossed over the fence, but the tree held up very well. My small patch of Logan berries and Marian berries are still looking nice as of November 16 (today). Always before, at the first sign of hot drought, they would start dying back. We actually got a little tired of picking them. The abundance was unexpected. A patch of purple asparagus came back thick and strong. I had Ray cover it up because the soil, despite the compost, was producing only a few spindly spears. We did not notice that new spears came up until they began to fern out, but the spears we saw were as thick as Ray’s thumb. The man has huge hands.

Fuji apples. The upper apple is on my tree, the one in my hand is from a neighbors tree (it was getting dark)

Fuji apples. The upper apple is on my tree, the one in my hand is from a neighbors tree (it was getting dark)

Is it worth all the work? There is still only one season of Back to Eden at The Toy Box. I keep repeating that it is too early to really know. Here is what I have seen in a year that was unusually hot for Everett… abundance! Not just your everyday abundance. Lush, almost obscene voluptuous fruit in abundance. This picture of apples was my ah-ha moment. Living in the city, I walk my two terriers most evenings. We walk past many pretty yards. A few of them have fruit trees near the sidewalk. One evening I picked up an average size Fuji apple laying near the sidewalk from a neighbors tree. I wondered how it compared to my Fuji branch. Between Ray and I, we had neglected to thin our apples last spring. They just grew as they were. We were led to believe that the fruit would be small and hard if we neglected to thin the fruit. I brought my stolen apple home and held it next to my own apples. What a difference! By the time I ran to get my camera I was loosing light, so maybe it is difficult to see what I saw. My unthinned Fuji was large, lush, clinging to the unstressed branch. The apple I picked up had already started dropping apples. They covered the lawn where the tree grew. By the way, it was a well watered and fertilized, green lawn that the stressed tree was growing on. All six of the varieties on my little tree were just as abundant as the Fuji. There were no tiny apples on my tree like there were on the neighbors trees. In yard after yard the fruit the neighbors were producing were all small and hard. The only difference that I can see is that my tree was growing in a Back to Eden garden and theirs were growing on well watered lawns. Amazing.

The view from my office window.

The view from my office window.

So, that is our story. If there is a part 4, it is yet to be written. There is a terraced slope on the south side of the yard we are working on. Ray and Chris recently had a look at our property lines and realized that we are paying taxes on quite a bit of land beyond the back fence where the ground slopes steeply to the park below. We hope to add more fruit trees on the hillside. We talk about enlarging the front food forest where the journey began. We are happily dreaming of more fruit trees.

Speaking of taxes, ours have gone up (along with insurance, which is all one bundle at our bank) by $200 a month. If nothing else changes then we are about to have even less income for food. On top of that, next season is the Sabbath year of rest for the land. We have no plans to plant in 2015. That should give our BTE areas more time to settle in. Are we afraid? Golly, there are moments when we feel fear creeping into the corners of our mind. Our God has yet to let us down. We will trust him. And if he keeps us in Everett until 2016, we will plant again, thanking him that it is not by our own hand that we thrive, but by his smile on our lives. Joy!

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. Proverbs 31:25



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