Commune Update: Learning About Permaculture is Fun, But the Eating is Even Better

I found it disconcerting this winter to look out my back window at the snow-covered ground and see huge heads of lettuce, cabbage, and other greens shining.

I've told you before about how I now live on a commune in the midst of permaculture farming. Josh and Kimberly are teaching me something new just about every day. I have been reading up on "hoop houses" and how to construct an economical greenhouse. They have explained to me that such things are not necessary. We don't need no stinkin' greenhouse.

The raised dirt beds, curved to catch water runoff, sit atop rotting wood, compost, and manure. The heat from the decomposition keeps the plants warm and there is no need to put them under shelter. While the winter greens continue to thrive, spring planting has already begun, even though winter has lingered this year.

Then there's the potato condo. It is a wooden structure with a series of shelves that takes up very little space. On each tray you place potato chunks with eyes, then cover the tray with dirt. As the potatoes sprout you put another tray on top and repeat. I'm still waiting to see how it works, but I'm told each layer will produce potatoes. An entire potato patch on a piece of ground about 3 feet by 4.

There are no pesticides allowed. A flock of chickens are turned into the plant beds every day and they scratch around and eat all the insects. They also produce eggs. Free range eggs with green shells. I had to get used to eating eggs with the bright orange yolks of my youth, instead of the pale yellow yolks of the store bought eggs of recent decades. Scrambled eggs. Deviled eggs. Quiche. Egg salad. And my personal favorite, spinach frittatas.

Our little red playhouse has been full of boxes of my stuff collected over the years. The Smithsonian is just out of luck. All those boxes have been removed, awaiting sorting for the Dumpster. The world will have to get along without my TennCare studies from the 1990s, City Council agendas from 2001, old newspapers, clippings and press releases. The little red house has been a potting shed this winter. Little cups fashioned from News Sentinel pages and filled with dirt have produced seedlings that are now going into the raised beds to produce all manner of vegetables and herbs.

Most of the "farming" is done by hand, so we don't need a tractor and plows. We use the lawn tractor and a trailer if necessary. It's hard work. It makes me tired to watch it sometimes.

I have to be careful about tossing anything in the garbage these days. Food scraps don't go in the garbage disposal, but into the compost bucket.

The raised beds and a small fresh-dug pond now collect the rainwater that has been eroding my old road to the backside of the farm. Wooden speed bumps on paths and the old road stop erosion and preserve the dirt.

The honeysuckles and briars that got out of hand while I went through some bad health problems in recent years are gradually disappearing. The old place is beginning to look like a farm again.

All the junk in my feed room at the barn is gone. Replaced by artist's easels, and giant paintings on barn wood and tin produced by my artist son, Adam. There is also one side of my ancient barn, not coincidentally, missing boards.

I've found that the empty nest thing, when my sons were in Portland and Missouri and my daughter in Brooklyn, is not all it's cracked up to be. Now that Josh and Kimberly and Adam and his lovely wife Laura are home, we have a wonderful sense of family again. Given the various work schedules among the group (farmers and students have to have other jobs) we don't all get to sit down for a meal together that often. But when we do, it's great to catch up and talk about future plans.

In the meantime, I'm eatin' good.