Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Somewhere Between Earth and Sky

It's very mild today, overcast and foggy. I love fall days like this, when the ceiling of the world hangs low and close. It's so cozy yet mysterious. The bare tree branches etch secret runes in the mist. The scent of fallen leaves rises up off the damp earth, spicy and warm.

I finish work early on Tuesdays. I'll go home just long enough to change into garden clothes, slip on my boots, stick an apple in my pocket and then head to the garden on my bike, as the crow flies. Literally. The area of the city I live in is home to thousands of crows and the flight path they take to roost at night is very similar to the route I take to the garden. Through my quiet neighbourhood streets, across the busy road that ends at the river, down the alley that's dark and cool and green all summer, past the old farmhouse (one of the earliest homes in the history of Ottawa), along the hedge path with hawthorn, rowan and sumac, skirting the cricket field by the hospital, through the goldenrod field and I'm there.

I'm pain free today and my hands and wrists feel strong. I can grow and make and build and create this rich life I call my own. And today will be all about going deep. I'll reach into the ground to harvest more chicory, dandelion and sour dock root. It will be a good day for getting my hands dirty, and earth under my nails. And when dusk falls I'll head home, maybe as the crows pass me overhead, as the lights come on in the houses where I follow my path, somewhere between earth and sky.

Update: I can't find the primary source for the beautiful image above, but I found it on this site here. Dear artist, whoever you are, your image is awesome and I hope you don't mind me using it in my post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hedge Fund: Investing of a Different Sort

My love affair with hedgerows only began recently, but it runs deep, so I was thrilled to discover this article on sustainable living fences in the recent issue of Mother Earth News.

"A living fence is a permanent hedge tight enough and tough enough to serve almost any of the functions of a manufactured fence, but it offers agricultural and biological services a manufactured fence cannot. For instance, it provides “edge habitat” that supports ecological diversity. As more species (insects, spiders, toads, snakes, birds and mammals) find food and refuge in this habitat, natural balances emerge, yielding, for example, a reduction of rodents and crop-damaging insect populations.

Depending on the plant or tree species you choose, living fences can provide food and medicine, or fodder for your livestock. Your animals will also enjoy the shade of a dense hedge. The foliage of some hedge plants, such as elder and Chinese chestnut, contains more protein than the quintessential protein forage crop, alfalfa. Willow and honey locust also make good fodder. I’ve been experimenting with Siberian pea shrub recently, as the peas can be harvested to feed poultry.

Leguminous species included in the fence, such as black locust and pea shrub,fix nitrogen in the soil throughout the root zone, and you can harvest some of that nitrogen for garden mulches and compost in the form of leafy prunings. A living fence increases soil humus as its leaf litter and root hairs (which the plants shed to balance loss of top growth to pruning or browsing) break down...

Living fences can last far longer than manufactured ones — for as long as the natural life span of the species used, which may be hundreds of years. Many species can be “coppiced,” meaning they will send up abundant new shoots after the main trunk has been cut. A living fence of a coppiced species readily renews itself following selective cutting for wood fuel and other uses.

Finally, a living fence, unlike a static manufactured fence, brings an ever-changing beauty to your landscape: flowers in spring, colorful fruit in summer, brilliant colors in fall and a complex, geometric structure in winter."

This is the kind of investing for the future that I can really get into and while at the moment I'm landless, growing and caring for my own hedgerow is definitely on my list of things to do someday, somewhere! Hmmm...guerrilla hedge laying anyone?

Image source: Trish Steel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.