This year’s end-of-winter weather watch is different. It’s March, and I’m still in town, with an urban view, backyards and curb-sides, instead of…fields, which is just not the same. Still, it’s exciting as usual to feel the sun growing higher and stronger, the days getting longer, and the crazy weather rollercoastering along as has become the usual these last few years. Yesterday, steady rain took out all but the high-piled snow and turned the backyard rink into a shallow pool. Overnight, the snow came back strong. But that final meltdown’s coming, it’s just around the bend!!
Tiny farming: Off-the-farm
Watching this video made me smile! It wasn’t the kind of smile you do when you’ve seen something cute or funny. This was the deep, involuntary smile of wonder and appreciation and, um, joy, that happens when you see something really cool and admirable. When you see something that…rocks! :)
I’ve been following the adventure at Factor e Farm, through their blog, for maybe three years now, not always diligently, but what they’re up to is always somewhere on my mind. The mission they’re on is incredibly ambitious and fundamental and world-class. You have to read through their blog and wiki, and watch some of their other videos, to get a full feel for what Factor e is up to, but to try and summarize:
Using modern technological knowledge and methods, and very little cash, they are designing and building a set of machines and methods that are open source (plans are free for all), low cost, easy to replicate, highly efficient, simple to maintain, and sustainable to operate, called the Global Village Construction Set, just about everything you would need to build a community, from the house you live in to the food you eat, from scratch.
Or as their blog puts it: “We are farmer scientists – working to develop a world class research center for decentralization technologies using open source permaculture and technology to work together for providing basic needs and self replicating the entire operation at the cost of scrap metal.”
This video is their two-minute introduction:
Nights are getting chilly, and a few days ago, in the evenings, we started lighting the wood stove at Kendall’s house in town. It takes some skills. Paying attention to the mechanics of heating was never part of the mix in my few years of winter farm living. It was either central heating by oil furnace, or with electric space heaters, and both ways, really no different from city life convenience: adjust a thermostat or click a switch, pay the bill, and that was that. Pretty mindless.
Here in town with Kendall, natural gas central heating is the main heat source, but she offsets that as much as possible with good ol’ wood heat. So, oddly enough in my ongoing tiny farming career, it’s in an urban setting that I’m first learning how to build and feed a fire, adjust the air intake, get a feel for the draft in different weather conditions, safely dispose of the ashes and embers. And, of course, there’s the wood: bush cords and face cords, hardwood and softwood, well-seasoned vs. green, splitting and stacking, the never-ending quest for good kindling…
Just as your awareness of weather explodes with attention to detail and a certain urgency when you go from city supermarket life to growing food, the same thing happens when you become intimately involved with fending off the winter cold (especially here in Canada, where you can literally freeze to death!). Only a few days of casual evening fires in relatively mild temperatures, hovering around freezing, and already I’m hooked! So much to learn, so little time… :)
A familiar season-marking sight for anyone in snow territory, this is the start of what may turn out to be a growing, winter-long snow bank. The mini-blizzards of the last couple of days laid down at least 7-10 cm (3-4″). Road clearing mixes up dirty snow in hard-packed windrows, and driveway clearing creates mini-mountain piles. Will it stay or will it go? The indoor part of tiny farming veggies in a cold climate begins…
Often heard about, never before seen first-hand, this is front-yard tiny farming in action—late fall edition. I’m at the home of Andrew and Sue and Margo, in a town of 70,000, leaning on the front porch rail on a residential street lined with single homes on small lots. Typical front lawns all along. Except here, where the grass is gone, replaced by an eclectic collection of veggies and herbs. Beets, carrots, tomatoes, corn and several other crops are already gone for the season. Still up and struggling along in the cold, there’s colorful Swiss chard in a couple of spots, parsley and sage, and a few other things that need a closer look to ID. Andrew also mentioned native edibles, like ostrich fern (fiddleheads), wild ginger and wild leek. And more. The keyhole path set-up comes from permaculture methods: minimum path for maximum access to the growing area. It’s a front-yard revolution! After a season or two of sidewalk-side veggie abundance for all to see, I wonder if this alternate land use will start to spread up and down the street! Urban agriculture. Pretty cool!
We’ve been faithfully bringing the matching pair of chalkboards to the farmers’ market since we bought them at an office supply box store in mid-summer, but it’s what to put on ‘em that’s the puzzle. Today’s new message: “Eat good food”! The other one (out of sight on the left) has been a standing quote from Will Allen: “We need 50 million more people growing food, on porches, in pots, in side yards.” A little odd, perhaps, for the market? Maybe, but there they are. Promotional words on chalkboards is the plan. It’s a work in progress!