When we arrived at the GRUBS* garden today, this is what we saw tucked off in a nearby corner of the health centre property. The maintenance guys have been busy building something, and taking apart other things, and they used the Bobcat to dump a huge pile of debris in an out-of-the-way corner of the facility property, as has been done for decades. We were thrilled. Right away we retrieved four strong wooden pallets to build a compost bin. We'll nail and tie the pallets together next week and then transfer our new compost pile into it.
Also in the heap of debris, though, is a fair bit of decent cedar fence-board. Combined with salvaged bits of cedar 2x4's from our deck, we figure we might have a shot at building a small shed, something we've been dreaming of for a couple of years. Who knows?
We have an absolutely amazing compost pile cooking at GRUBS. We built it a few weeks ago from goat manure & bedding, grass clippings and assorted weeds and stuff. A local composting guru came and gave a bit of a talk to us all, and then helped us set the pile up the right size (1 x 1 x 1 metres), properly layered and aerated. Within a few days the interior of the pile was far too hot to touch. Those of us wearing glasses would immediately get fogged up when we peeked under the plastic. The middle of the pile is almost finished, but bits of it got dried out during our recent heat wave, so today we set to work doing another major mixing / turning / dampening-down. While forking over some dry stuff near the bottom of the pile, I suddenly heard a tiny series of squeaks. The kids were entranced to discover a nest of baby mice.
Their bodies were about 3 x 1 cm and hairless. We replaced them as gently as possible and covered them up again. I hope mama finds her way back to them.
* GRUBS, for those who need some background info, is a club I started, together with another mom, about 2 and a half years ago. It's a club for families, focused on the triple mandate of organic gardening, community service and environmental education. The core members are mostly unschooling, but anyone is welcome. We applied for and were granted a parcel of land on the corner of the primary health care facility property, where a community-based Primary [health] Care Steering Committee had pencilled in a "community greenhouse" that had never materialized. We began developing a children's community garden and GRUBS meeting area on the site.
The site is perfect for our needs, in that it is adjacent to the lake (with its moderating influence on temperatures, giving us a somewhat longer growing season) and right in town. It has a partly-shaded lawn on one side, a swimming beach in front, and a lovely wooded area on the other side. There's a nursing home on the far side of the lawn, meaning that residents and their visitors often drop by to visit with the children. And the view, my goodness! Straight down to lake with nothing but mountainous wilderness to be seen. We are so lucky. It's a million-dollar parcel of gravel.
The gravel, pierced by beech and birch roots, has been our nemesis, though. The front half of the area in particular was bereft of any topsoil. So building the garden has been a big, long-term job. We stripped off the sod and composted it, then returned it to create a couple of raised beds. We created more raised beds at the back of the area using nutritionally depleted topsoil and great piles of manure we were generously given. And we continue to add almost anything organic we can find to the site in an attempt to create more growing substrate and nutrients.
In the meantime, we work here and there at community service endeavours. We're involved in harvesting and processing surplus fruit for people who are unable to manage their own. We bought a wonderful fruit press to help us towards that end. We volunteer with gardening and environmental work bees that occur around town. And we've had guest speakers come to talk to us about wildlife, wildcrafting, wildlife habitats and various other environmental issues.
This year we're all exceptionally busy with the rest of our chaotic lives. We try to meet once a week for a two-hour meeting and work party at the garden, but it's hit and miss. With visits to the garden haphazardly during the week, the kids maintain their own plots, and we manage to weed and water regularly. But it's been a bit of a challenge to keep the social energy and enthusiasm going from week to week. Still, when we get there on a Saturday morning and run into a couple of other GRUBS families and a couple of interested visitors, and see the riotous growth that has occurred since we were last together, it's clear that we're doing something long-term and important and exciting.