A neighbor invited us to a pot-luck and presentation to be made at the home of a member of the local permaculture guild some blocks away in the neighborhood this evening. I am in awe of what I saw and heard.
This woman grows 80% of her food on her own urban lot, which seemed to be no bigger than 50×100′, which includes her house of course. For the remaining 20% of her diet, she barters useful things that she grows and processes on her lot. She has had no trash collection for five of the seven years she’s lived there: most everything gets used.
Toward the end of her talk, she told somebody matter-of-factly that she was a green witch. I had never heard of green witches. Ordinarily I might regard such a claim with skepticism if not quiet ridicule, but this time I
feared she would turn me into a newt had no such thought: she’s the real deal, a living ark of discovery and forgotten knowledge, and by far the most hard-core environmentalist (for lack of a better term) I have ever encountered.
Unfortunately, I missed as much as a third of her talk because I had to tend my boisterous son out of earshot, so I’m sure I missed a lot of clarifying detail, and probably have some of the fragments below wrong. Corrections and additions welcome if you were there.
She started by introducing us to her rabbits Pro and Tien. These and their progeny are her meat. They live predominantly on her garden trimmings, but she supplements with bartered bagged feed. Their manure fertilizes. She “harvests” them herself, on site. Pressed for detail, perhaps with a little horror or bloodlust from an attendee, she explained forthrightly that she stuns them with a hammer. She said the process was sacred, undertaken with solemn infrequency, and that she eats little meat overall as a result. Here is a deeply thoughtful, very serious person was the opening message.
She proceeded to explain the many symbiotic relationships among the various plants burgeoning everywhere–nitrogen fixer here, insectary there–mostly standard stuff I’d read about in permaculture theory, but she has it dialed in to an exceptionally fine grain, everywhere. The yard looks half-wild, but there are few if any accidents. She calls it a food forest; she doesn’t till, and there are seldom more than a few plants of the same type in adjacency.
She grows flax for linen, and medicinal herbs, and bamboo for poles. She has some mulberry trees, and what do silkworms eat? Mulberry leaves. She spins and weaves the silk, and dyes it with the yellow and blue (=green) dye plants growing at her feet, used in medieval Europe. At this point the jaws in the audience were beginning to go slack. Martha Stewart is a lazy, spaced-out slob compared to this woman. She has a passive-solar greenhouse, made of recycled materials, full of drying allium and herbs that adjoins her living room on the south face, heating it in the winter. A fig tree hugs the chimney for its radiant warmth at this high latitude.
She speaks well, with calm force and clarity. The depth of her knowledge of the biological processes around her, and her degree of conscious, profitable participation in them, is astounding. She is the picture of health.
She knows just how much of her annual crops to let go to seed to have enough for future plantings, and she selects the most desirable specimens to be the seed producers. She knows how long various seeds keep. Her fruit varieties–peach, apple, pear, asian pear, kiwi, grape, mulberry, blackberry, linden, paw-paw, strawberry–are carefully selected to provide a steady stream of fruit. She stores apples through the winter, cans others, and makes blackberry and pear wines which we tasted. We also tasted her salad greens, figs, berries, and apples, mindful that we were raiding her food supply. We drank tea that grew, of course, on the lot. Not Camelia sinensis, but yes, she had a real tea plant in the yard too.
She collects her rainwater for regular irrigation, but also for infusion with various plants to provide specific nutrients to areas in need. She has, unsurprisingly, large compost heaps that don’t smell even on this hot evening, even though they contain…human manure. Not just some, but all that the house produces. Reduce, reuse, recycle, folks! By this time, nobody is shocked. Sunlight, gasses, water, and bartered goods enter her property, and useful goods and surplus food–not waste–leave it.
Next we go inside to inspect the honeypot. It’s in the basement. She asks us not to disturb the spiders. Don’t get the wrong idea: the house is clean, bright, and orderly, but there are a lot of spiders. I heard her say something about setting out water for them. The honeypot is a plastic bucket within a bucket, and there’s a bowl of something to throw in after. There is no odor.
There are canning shelves, and bales of dried herbs, and various implements of primary food preparation: manual mills, presses, grinders, everywhere. She also has a computer, a television, and similar emblems of participation in the modern world.
I don’t know if she drives. I don’t need to know to remain under the spell of her accomplishment, and be glad that she is my neighbor.