Post originally published at Freewheeling with Liza Burkin
In any agriculturally-driven lifestyle in a temperate climate, March is a month of projects, preparation and planning for the imminent growing season. I am spending this exciting time wwoofing at Colony Earth, a homestead run by the Hawk family nestled in the gorgeous Appalachian hills of Burnsville, North Carolina. What’s the difference between an organic farm and a homestead, you might ask? Simply that the Hawks do not plan to make their primary income off the sale of the fruit, vegetables, herbs or animal products they produce on their land. Rather, the main goal of Colony Earth is to get as close to 100% sustainability and self-reliance as possible for the Hawks and their three adorable daughters. Later on, they hope to create a non-profit retreat center for yoga, music, lectures and native American ceremonies. Helping run this non-profit and providing some of the bounciest, most loving human energy I’ve ever come across is Maya Rose, a friend of the Hawks and fellow nomad who is building a temporary nest here at Colony Earth as well.
Since our arrival two weeks ago, Matt and I have gotten to partake in many of the preparatory tasks necessary before spring fully grabs hold of these hills. Here are some images of the various projects we’ve taken on:
Seeding is the most obvious job to kick off the growing season. Here in the greenhouse, we mix soil in the trays and pop in our baby seeds until they are big and strong enough to survive in the ground. So far, we’ve got peas, radishes, peppers, basil, chamomile, lavender, kale, chard and a bunch more. Overall, seeding is simple and peaceful, by far the hardest part is keeping track of what was planted and when.
Garden bed construction is a much bigger task, and one that requires some sweat! Last week this patch of land was just a slope of grass, and now it’s a two-terrace garden bed all ready for planting. First, we took spades and pick-axes to the ground, digging up about four inches of clay and grass in a rectangle and throwing the excess to the sides. Next, we spent an afternoon trolling around the property in an ATV hauling the long logs that make the boundaries of the bed. (Not gonna lie, we definitely made some extraneous trips up and down the hills on the ATV). After that, we dug out more of the clay base to make the two beds level, not sloping. Finally, a layer of potting soil was spread out over the clay, and voila! A home for the new seedlings is born. This project was extra helpful for me, as it’s exactly what I’ll need to do when I tear up my mom and stepdad’s lawn in Rhode Island to make way for veggies upon my return.
Weeding is obviously a year-round task, but it’s an extra-big chore in March when it’s time to clear the neglected fields of all the unruly wintertime growth and start fresh. Here, Matt and Isis (the Hawks’ precocious and stylish 12-year-old) are attacking the strawberry patch where the weeds outnumber the strawberry plants 20 to 1. This may not be the most heroic feat, but I love going down to the patch for a couple hours at a time with my audiobook and zenning out on the mindless repetition. With a few hours of weeding here and there, this jungle of a berry patch should be pristine and ready to go by the time we leave in April.
Leilani (age 2) and Maya Rose during the construction of her new home!
Perhaps the most arduous and rewarding project to date was the erection of Maya’s new home, rhymingly called ayome. A yome is a portable living structure halfway between a house and a tent. It combines the principles of its cousin the yurt with those of a geodesic dome, creating a stable and insulted living space with high ceilings, windows, doors, a hole for a wood-fire stove, and even a skylight in the center of the roof. This one is seven-sided and 200 square feet, and is built atop a deck of pine and locust wood. Not counting the deck construction, it only takes about four hours to put up and take down. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though– it took four adults one grueling afternoon to get it set up. We were all pleasantly surprised nobody’s fingers were broken and we only had sore shoulder muscles to show for it. Here are some photos of the evolution of the yome erection (as you can imagine, many jokes were made).
That’s about it so far, but there’s plenty more on the horizon. This week we’ll use all the clay and grass we dug up for the new garden beds to make an outdoor cob oven! I’ll definitely be posting on that sometime next week.Trail maintenance, more weeding and nurturing the plant starts will make up most of the rest of the stay at Colony Earth. Tonight we’re off to the charismatic, quirky cultural center that is Asheville, NC to see one of my favorite bands, Dr. Dog! Burnsville is just 40 minutes north of Asheville, which is quickly running up the ranks of my favorite cities– but what else is new.
I hope everybody out there is enjoying the burgeoning spring!