It can be daunting reading all the various studies and reports coming out about what’s happening to the land, air, and waters around the world. What can we do in our little part of it? We can build resiliency into our land.
For instance, landscaping for proper drainage can help, if that’s an issue where you are. The heavier rains we’ve been getting while the ground is still frozen has led Lyle and I to look at what we can do to improve drainage in the land between our house and barn, and the little river that flows across our property. We examined the lay of the land, saw how a rise created by an old pile of wood chips at one place was diverting water straight into the middle of our field. So we’ll be lowering that rise as well as creating a swale to divert heavy rains into the river.
Forest gardens are another tool. An oversimplification, but essentially this is a system for mimicking the many layers of the forest, from upper and lower story trees down to ground cover and root plants. With thoughtful application, you can include perennial food sources, improve the soil, invite bees and other insects and birds, create wind breaks, stabilize river banks if needed, and more. Even if you’re not interested in gardening, if there are woods on your land you may want to look at ways to help it be healthier.
Forest gardening is compatible with regenerative gardening — no-till gardening and re-building the soil instead of tearing it up every year and disturbing the mycelium (mushroom) network that helps to move nutrients in the soil. More farmers have been changing over to regenerative farming over time, and one hopes that more will continue to do so, as the current general model of mono crops combined with chemical herbicides and pesticides is destroying our precious soil. Whatever we can do in our own yards though, will also help if enough of us are working to make a change.
Part of all of that is broadening the variety of plants we grow — the weather any given year can be very hard on some plants, so if the tomatoes fail, hopefully something else will do well. In the particular case of tomatoes, by the way, if we continue to have rainier summers, folks will want to consider growing tomatoes in planters on tables or some part of your land that has exceptionally good drainage. Learning how water moves on your land is very important, for plants and of course buildings.
It’s a lot to learn about and to do, but interested persons don’t have to do it all at once! Observe, plan, then figure out what order to do things and do it one thing at a time and eventually you’ll get there! You may not have to buy everything either — do you know about the seed catalog at Belding Memorial Library? There’s one at UMass Amherst’s library, too. I got Willow sticks from three friends, and some Paw Paw seedlings from another friend this year, so keep in mind that your community may be able to help.
If you’d like some other folks to talk to, in Ashfield there are options! There are the Master Gardeners, various knowledgeable folks around town, and a new group, Ashfield WREN.
Ashfield WREN (Wild-Craft, Regeneration and Ecological Nurturing) is a group where people can share their knowledge, ask questions, get book recommendations, possibly find resources, and more. Gavin Scott is the lead for Ashfield WREN. I and Arianna A. Collins are involved, among other folks. We have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AshfieldWREN/. We hope to have workshops, presentations, talks, maybe walks in the woods, etc., going forward.
We live in a beautiful place, here in Ashfield. Let’s do what we can to help it continue to be our home and haven, and may that beauty and resiliency grow and be an inspiration to others in the world to do the same.
Written by Heather Gray.
This article appears in the May 2019 edition of the Ashfield News.