Whew! Time for a breather. I’ve been planting bare-root tree and shrub whips for a week straight, feeling as though my shovel is a permanent attachment to my arm. A handy one, don’t get me wrong- but a little unwieldy. Ted here with this week’s news from Dancing Rabbit.
As I’ve walked about the village this week, most often from home to orchard and back, there’s been a steady tick of first-of-the-season moments registering in my brain. First garter snake sliding off the path as I approach. First cricket tuning its call. First night above 60 degrees. First fruit trees and tulips blooming. First flush of shiitakes on the logs. Today I spotted my first violet flower in the woods and got my first prick by a stinging nettle.
One thing I haven’t registered a first of yet is a decent rain. In our clay soil, the moisture of the past year, frozen in the earth over the winter, lingers long in the soil in spring. But today as I dug holes for saplings, the soil was not noticeably wet. Despite high percentage chances of precipitation several times in recent weeks, and plenty of tentative spitting, we haven’t had one good soaking rain since everything thawed. With garden beds taking on new seedlings every day now, and our barrels for irrigation water not yet filled, I will very soon have to figure out pumping some water from the cattail pond if we don’t receive an inch or two.
…Wow! The power of words… overnight last night we did indeed get our first good soaking rain. I slept with more and more satisfaction the longer it lasted, knowing the real wealth of water that we daily rely on was rapidly accumulating. Then, upon waking, we discovered two water disasters: one, the new 275 gallon tank I had installed recently to catch the water off our house’s north roof had a counter-intuitive main valve that was open when it appeared closed, and had thus accumulated no water; and two, when the pump began to run in the kitchen at breakfast, it soon ran dry— turned out a coupling in the piping from gutter to kitchen’s cistern had come undone sometime in the past few days, so all the hundreds of gallons that might have gone in spilled instead on the ground.
Elation turned to dark despair. Our house’s cistern had certainly filled, as had all our other rain barrels, so we’d gained probably 1000 gallons overnight, but we’d probably missed catching nearly as much, and our kitchen is where we use the most and need it most reliably.
We’ll get by, but it was a hard blow to receive at such a full time of year when I’m barely holding it together with the to-do list. The chickens that have been getting out of the yard despite their wings being clipped got unceremoniously shut up in the chicken tractor on short notice at breakfast time. I could not deal with stray chickens raking away at my fresh transplants on top of this frustration with water.
There is of course county water I could draw from in a pinch, with many lengths of hose, but with only two exceptions of a couple hundred gallons when we first installed each of our cisterns, we have never in 11 years of relying on rainwater had to do that, and I prefer to keep it that way. Will water always flow out of the magic spigots? I hope so, but self-reliance is one of the major reasons I live here and do what I do.
Saturday we had our annual spring Land Clean, a cooperative, all-hands-on-deck day to get together and attend to cleaning and tidying around the village on a large scale. With an official Queen of Clean moderating a list of tasks, multiple snacks provided, and beautiful weather, the event is almost always an enjoyable one for me.
Among many highlights, the most notable accomplishments to my mind were the thinning and transplanting of innumerable flower bulbs from overcrowded beds, multiplying our local flowering potential many-fold; and the most thorough emptying of the machine shed I have witnessed in my 12 years here, led by some advance work over several days prior to the clean.
Our machine shed has long served as a catch-all for theoretically useful items that might be valuable in future to somebody else. I have certainly visited it hundreds of times in the past decade-plus seeking something I did not have, and come back with the treasure I sought. But there was undoubtedly a lot of surplus that took up a lot of space, and large-scale weather-protected space in the village is a rare commodity. Last year we had a collection of really nice shop tools donated, but they have been waiting in storage for such a space to accommodate them.
Now some of the freed-up space will go to setting up a shop that is available to all and can aid villagers’ capacity to manufacture our own building solutions. Boosting our internal economy has been one of the hottest topics in the past several years, and numerous ideas have accumulated for the possibilities that cooperative shop space would open.
Despite tending to be the one saying “Hey, you can’t get rid of that! It might be useful!”, I did my best on Saturday to stay away as the trailer was loaded for a dump run by more hard-nosed cleaners, believing in the greater good of the intended outcome. I did score a screen door for our kitchen that was headed to the landfill, however, and saw many others making off with useful items whose time had come. Here’s to the future!
I also backed up Bob on the first public tour day Saturday afternoon, taking half of the crowd and a couple of folks from Missouri Life magazine on walkabout in the village, jabbering away for two hours about all the bits and pieces that make up this village. The infusion of fresh faces after winter give me a real boost, and I’m ready for more.
If you walk about the village these days, you’ll notice an unmistakable sense of mission in the populace. Everybody is planting, tending, building, thinking, preparing for one thing or another, including our first visitor session beginning next Monday.
I have personally planted 85 or so seedlings, between conservation nursery and fruit and nut trees and other plants from Fedco in Maine. Sara and Aurelia dibbled in another 75 one morning (with a dibble bar, a heavy metal wedge used to open a basic hole for a tree and reclose it upon the roots once it is stuck in). Now I’ve got 125 to go, including 50 strawberry plants, but the rest of the trees just get dibbled in and don’t require babying. Conservation nursery trees are inexpensive and significant attrition is expected, though it is hard for me to actually treat them that way.
Planted thickly, the proportion of hickories, redbuds, black cherry, witch hazel and various other species that survive will add significant diversity and future beauty and utility to our draws and wooded edges. For the pawpaw, serviceberry and chokeberry, though, I could not withhold careful digging and a bit of added fertility, hoping for as many as possible to survive and bring more tasty fruit to our lives.
Only when I get through these seedlings (and finish my taxes and prepare for two hives of bees to arrive next week…) can I then return to helping Sara get our normal bounty of annuals planted and transplanted in the garden. No rest for the weary and hopeful.
May all the good work you’re engaged in bloom successfully as the season grows to fullness… here’s hoping you’ll come for a tour or visit this year to tell us all about it. Tours are every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month starting at 1 pm, through October. See you soon!
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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.