Taking away the pressure to “earn” a living puts me in a somewhat different mindset of what to do with my days. Watching projects unfold, keeping the rates of progress slow, making very careful observations as well as just mindlessly walking around in the early morning can guide and reveal and give perspective.

Often it is difficult to remove a set of existing features and substitute a different design/landscape, until the physical reality actually changes enough to be able to see the underlying hardscape, and what needs to be done to best achieve the desired ends.

Sometimes the original plans need to be totally abandoned, but more often it is a slight detour, postponement, moderate redesign, always of course with the idea of cooperating with the existing natural predisposition.

I’m going to guess that much of this “indecision” at the beginning has to do with my lack of experience, and as I become more adept I will see through existing features and guess the underlying reality more quickly, although, I think even with great experience there is still a responsibility to be alert to any changes that may be needed to make a better design.

Anyway, this morning as I walked around, I noticed many different things about ongoing projects, things that have no special meaning at this time, but may become important later on.  Do the two older beeches in an area get to stay? I had never noticed them until I opened up an area already choked with debris. Pulling out and chipping dead branches and clearing areas below a terrace allowed a more thoughtful penetration into the types of trees that actually populated that area destined to become a food forest.

How many times since clearing that area have I walked through there and not noticed that what I thought were poplar trees were actually beech trees with younger poplar saplings distracting my vision from the actual canopy.

What about some of the tall oaks in an area to be cleared, could they be pollarded and left to grow> Maybe I should finish untangling that wire that has been blocking access and stalling forward progress in a specific area (I did).

Often, without any specific idea of what I “want” to do in a day, the morning walk turns up tasks equally or more important than any plans I might have made, sort of like seeing ripe fruit ready to be harvested. Some jobs are “ripe” at a given time and can be completed easily, with great advantage. Other jobs are ongoing and call for a bit of attention to keep them from stalling out totally.

I have known for several days the next big job is for the backhoe, continuing a swale to a point where I can plant a couple pecan trees sitting in the wings. So while I see other things the backhoe might work on, I really need to get the path to the swale ready so the backhoe can get there.

That is the advantage of having a backhoe as a personal tool, I can take the time to do the preparation jobs well, and not create more work  by simply rushing the backhoe in and cleaning up the bigger mess later. I really like the idea of not being hurried, and my temperament resonates with that. Others might find it too slow or boring,  but I get a satisfaction out of watching jobs grow organically.


Also of course, with an older second hand machine, the ability to be careful and not push too hard can save lots of time and repairs later. Yes, I’m talking about the backhoe, although the same might be said for my own body. No sense in pushing it to break, tomorrow is another day and another morning.

But I digress. Some may prefer the evenings to inspect and admire the achievements of the day, and I do enjoy that aspect of this work, but the time that I enjoy most is mornings, when the day is new, and everything presents itself with the ability for fresh perspective and new understandings.



Seasons Change

No, I’m not talking about Spring to Summer, but wet to dry, or in this case wet to moist. It’s June, and there’s still some water falling occasionally, but evaporation has caught up with precipitation and left many of the plants getting thirsty.

I’ve started to water plants, and plan to start pumping water from the middle pond up to the lower greenhouse. This will leave the thousand gallon cistern (almost full) to be a backup for when the pond gets too low to pump.  I do expect to have plenty of water for the garden and new plantings right through till fall, but keeping the lower goldfish pond full may become a challenge.

Water is no longer overflowing naturally from the middle pond, so the fish pond is already 8 inches low. Last year was a fiasco of loose connections and haphazard attempts to fill the fish pond so this year one of the goals will be to make sure water goes directly to the fish pond from the middle pond when/if it becomes necessary to fill it a bit.

Water here is always a crap shoot, too much/ too little and no way to know in advance what the next season will bring. It is always possible we could get a good strong soaking rain that refills everything, but likely for the next couple months we will be lucky if it waters the plants occasionally.

I also have 4 new trees to plant, dwarf Granny Smith apple, Kiefer Pear, and two different pecans. I know where the pear can go, and have plans for the apple, but the pecans will need considerable space on the north side,  of zone 1 and accessibility there is difficult. Cleaning out a path for the backhoe I discovered one of the locations already has hickory tees growing which I intend to leave there, so the next step is thought and observation locating an alternate space that will accommodate these massive trees.

Oh well, it keeps me busy.

Remember, if you’re not having fun, you’ve got the design wrong.

More Rain

20th May, 2018


I hear about deserts that get all their rain in a few short (but often powerful) episodes, and three days later it’s impossible to believe there was ever  water in dried river beds and barren landscapes.

Here in VA we had another 24 hour period with around 4 inches of rain, but fortunately everything held, even the very flimsy repair at the site of the last dam breach. We certainly have more rain overall than a desert, and it can be very lush and green most of the time, but occasionally we do get into droughts where rain is scarce over a period of several months. This means that just like in the deserts, careful water management can go a long way to insuring continued growth of crops.

Both new dams are very full, and the 6″ overflow pipe protected the lower gully dam from further washing out. Installing that pipe was a hasty repair after the first 4 inch episode washed out about 1/2 yard of material in the dam wall.

These dams are not the final stage of the water design, in fact, they are not even completed themselves. The full dam construction and the connected swales will really put the ground hydration into full speed. there will still be water flowing from the land into the creek, but it will have to travel a lot more slowly and service many more features before it moves on.

More contour ponds, more irrigation, and generally larger volumes of water being held back to use at later times when the air stream decides to dry up for long periods.

June 3, 2018


Well, we just had about another three inches of rain over the last week, and some of the extra repairs done to the lower gully dam have been paying off. With the new backhoe purchase I have been able to start building up the lower gully dam some more, including a better repair on the washed out section that has raised the water level another few inches, and at one point after the rain stopped this morning, the level rose all the way to the overflow pipe which I had raised up another 5 or 6 inches, along with more clay filled and compacted in on top of the initial repair.

These repairs are still being done in part by hand, but the backhoe is able to at least move the replacement material closer and fill the wheelbarrow so I only have to move the wheelbarrow a short distance and spread the clay and compact it.  The real repairs and finish of the dam will come when the water levels start to recede.

Even though I can start to work on adding enough clay to drive the backhoe on top of the dam, there still needs to be more compacted clay added below the current water level to really create the dam as a stable feature in the landscape.

Justifying the use of heavy equipment in a sustainable system requires the creation of productive systems that will last a thousand years or more. Over the lifespan of a dam like these, a week or so of machine labor can translate into thousands of years of increased fertility and decreased erosion,  These dams and swales will do what a climax forest would ordinarily do with the large volume of water held both in the bodies of the trees and the soil that carpets the forest floor.

With careful management over time these systems can help create stable ecosystems that are productive for our needs and stabilize the climate of the Earth.