Its the middle of cold winter as we write this. We have been busy sealing up the cracks round the windows of our converted stables. The memory of the rich harvest time is fading but our stores of squashes and root vegs, together with leeks and greens outside and salads in the polytunnel and new solar grower greenhouse gives us a feeling of rich abundance. Being close to the land, living simply, creates a rich feeling even when a subzero gale is howling outside.
There’s always lots to do; at the time of writing its chopping wood - oh yes and carrying water, as a water pipe burst today. We’re protecting over wintering plants and planning for the spring. There are seed orders to make, new trees to plant, a reed bed to design and courses to set up. And as always there's making our living through healing and counselling work. But now we’re curled up warm writing, making the most of the relative quiet.
Its a good time to reflect.Warm indian summer days come to mind. The rolling swell of leaves, vines and flowers covering
the gardens, how captivating is their magnificent beauty. There are vast trailing squash plants splashing out in every direction, huge sunflowers, rambling beans, ripe sweet corn, glorious purple flowered globe artichokes, towering yellow flowers of Jerusalem artichokes waving ten foot in the air. The deep green leaves of kales, leeks and carrots are all intertwined with the gold flowers of dill and camomile, blue of borage, purple mint, pink of buckwheat, red-purple of mallow and the cream and lilac of alfalfa. The bees are covered with gold pollen as they roll
from flower to flower, slowly, dreamily. Birds sing, chatter and hop around. We harvest the squash, our main food staple - orange, dark green, blue grey, knobbly, smooth, huge and tiny. A harvest of nutty, sweet sunshine that fills and warms us through the winter months.
As we look back we think of all the preparation over the four years we have been here - the good times and the tougher ones. All the time we are learning about easier ways of growing our food by learning to grow with nature. As our garden’s mini ecosystem develops so the slugs are getting less as the predators build up ( frogs, slow worms and birds who eat the slugs, and spiders, centipedes and beetles that eat the slugs eggs). The soil, heavy clay, is gradually needing less input of manure because it is kept mulched or covered with green manures or legumes. We are getting to know what mulches to use to reclaim areas from weeds without encouraging vast explosions in slug population. However the greatest learning has been about ourselves:
Our commitment to living lightly in a holistic way led us here, or was it destiny? We put everything we had into buying this field, with stables and polytunnel, and rented a place in a nearby town for a while. Travelling to and fro each day for two years wasn’t the easiest thing. We started to stay over at weekends in a caravan to be able to really get on with everything. We found we couldn't afford to maintain both places and physically couldn’t manage them both. Eventually we took the plunge and a caravan and stable simply converted for courses became home through sunshine, wind, storm and freeze.
We discovered that it is legal to live on your land without planning permission, though if there is an objection a legally binding process starts. We decided that the best thing was to keep making the gardens, living true to ourselves, our hearts and intentions to help make a difference on this earth and just see what happened. This has been a curious mixture of living and acting with totally focussed intent on what we are creating here and at the same time trying not to be attached to outcome. A valuable process indeed. Now the process and challenge has shifted as the planning stage has begun.
In the autumn an enforcement officer from the council came down the drive. “I’ve come to investigate a report that there may be a breach of planning. Are you living here?” he said I stopped cutting the willows and drew in a deep breath. “Yes we are. We will show you round.” He was a bit stiff and formal at first, but he listened to our story and as he looked around he visibly changed and by the time we explained how the compost loo worked he said “Well you obviously walk your talk, rather than issue an enforcement notice I’ll recommend that you get a visit by a senior planning officer and I wish you well.”
When the planning officer came we found him helpful - again after we showed him round and explained what we were doing - a demonstration site and small teaching centre for sustainable living. So we are now in the process of applying for retrospective permission for the centre and for a small low impact eco cabin for ourselves. Its a challenging stage and one which will take lots of energy - but it feels so worthwhile to be able to help in finding a way back onto the land for people who really are going to look after it, and live in harmony with it.
So our challenge is to stay focussed and committed, with all our passion and the deepening roots that it puts down in this earth, while letting go of the fears and restrictions of attachment. All this gardening, growing and permaculturing has taught us a profound and constant lesson; there will always be challenges, always some kind of difficult weather or problem to deal with, some creative solution needing to be found. Through a mixture of hands on full engagement together with observation, witnessing all that happens we learn and grow in the garden, in life. So we put our everything in and we let go to each moment as it comes. Happiness so often resides in paradoxes. Its 11.30pm, bedtime, how lovely. So who’s turn is it to check the greenhouse stove and oh dear do I really need to go to the loo ( compost, outdoor, unheated in minus 3 degrees). Roll on spring!
For information on planning we recommend Simon Fairlie at Chapter 7 at 01460 249204,
Also see: The Land is Ours