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Rustling Knapweed Forest Garden
Rustling Knapweed Forest Garden
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425 White Oak Rd., Lawton, MI, US
Climate zone:
Cold Temperate

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5th-Year Blues

Project: Rustling Knapweed Forest Garden

Posted by PJ Chmiel almost 9 years ago

Going into its fifth season, I have mixed feelings about the forest garden—there are moments of real beauty and satisfaction, but there are just as many feelings of being overwhelmed...

NOTE: Since the last update nearly 3 years ago I've acquired another acre of land next to my garden, which includes a 2-story house which I'd intended to renovate and live in, but which turned out to be too water-damaged to save—meaning we have to build a new house on the site and take that old one down. The add'l acre of land has not really been "designed" yet, and the new house is still in the planning stage.

Going into its fifth season, I have mixed feelings about the forest garden—there are moments of real beauty and satisfaction, but there are just as many (or more) feelings of being overwhelmed: by weeds (allelopathic knapweed, thorny dewberries, poison ivy, bindweed and tall grass that requires mowing), moles, weather, and bad luck. I can't tell if the site is "sleeping" or "creeping," but it's certainly not leaping—many plants and trees seem to only be treading water, some haven't grown appreciably in 3, 4 or 5 years, and that's really discouraging; the thought of them ever bearing fruit is almost laughable. The specters of climate change and drought hang over it all, threatening to undo the work I've started. A lot of plants and seeds never amount to anything, due to factors above, lack of water and time for maintenance—even though I spend most of my waking, non-working hours there whenever the ground isn't covered in snow.

The site still doesn't "feel" like much of anything except an expanse of too much barren and weedy land—there are glimmers of hope and potential, but few outright "successes" that I can point to, apart from a few native plant flowerbeds, a few shrubs, and more overall diversity on site. Soil fertility, infrastructure and plant health are questionable. I wish I could close my eyes and come back in 5 years (make that 5 years of "normal" weather, and without moles!) to see how things look, to convince myself that it's worth it—that anything is worth hanging around for.

Outside of the garden there's not much I care about in life, just family and a handful of relationships. I'm indifferent about the fate of humans and don't see much hope for the planet at this late stage. The blue house (old house on the add'l acre we purchased that has been in the family since it was built in the 1940s) is an albatross of memories and responsibilities; I have to do something with it, even though the thought of tearing it down is like a knife twisting in my heart. I really wish I could've just fixed it up and lived in it and not had to worry about building a new house, but the water damage was too extensive—down to the framing. Living onsite would be a very good thing, but building a house and taking on the debt and add'l stress worries me tremendously. Maybe I chose the wrong site, the wrong town, the wrong part of the world? Hard to envision what it might become and how the feeling might change over time, but right now it's not a place that is giving me more than I'm giving it, it feels like an endless task list that I'll never get through. I look around and see mistakes, false starts, failures, and work. I feel that if I can get over this "hump," I'll be rewarded with more lushness on the site and the satisfaction that I've done something right, but at times it's hard to stay focused and energized.

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Nathan Dow
Nathan Dow : I wish I had some words of encouragement for you, but I'm just starting my journey into permaculture. I hope that you will continue your work, despite the challlenges you face.
Posted almost 9 years ago

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brian mogley
brian mogley : PJ,

Please know that you're not alone, and that your work is the farthest thing from futile. Working within such an unstable part of the world, and facing such an uncertain future, I too have been filled with such unbearable angst. Last year, I even decided that this was futile, that everything I might accomplish would probably be swallowed by climatic disaster, or nuclear disaster, or war, or whatever anyway, and decided, two years into a forest garden, to leave and never return.

Life, though, ended up pulling us back, and though it was discouraging to see that quite a few of my plants had died of neglect, it was equally ecstatic to be reunited with those that had survived!

This made me realize that there is no failing here. If we try a zillion things, and two of them work, well then, we've found two things that work! This is an evolving science, forest gardening, and though there's been some great books written about it, there's still so many variables that need to be taken into account.We're talking about shifting a cultural practice and mindset that's thousands of years old! We don't really have much to go on. So mistakes will certainly be made along the way, and things may move slow at times, but that's okay because we're experimenting. And even if a cyclone wipes all of our work out tomorrow, well, think of the people we inspired along the way, because by sharing our successes and mistakes, we're that much closer to figuring out how to live on this beautiful planet without destroying it.

Posted almost 9 years ago

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