The Land

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My flat pasture with remnants of corrugates still in evidence 15 years later. There is a great deal of biodiversity out here. And each plant serves a purpose.

The more I place myself within the network of life that surrounds me the more connected I am to myself, the horses, the land, the trees.

The more connected I am the more I feel my sense of place within this larger ecosystem. This life where we are all related, where we all have a role to play that’s vital to the whole.

Being a good steward for my horses is intimately connected with being a good steward for the land we call home.

We collectively leave a heavy footprint on our small piece of the world. Living in a desert environment has a steep learning curve. The ground is flat where it’s been cultivated. The soil is dense, alkaline clay. The summers are hot and this one is dry as a bone. We are completely dependent on the steady flow of irrigation to keep our pastures green and growing and for our hay supply.

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Flat clay that rain water simply will not soak into (if it does it’s just a tad muddy). The high winds kick up and blow layer after layer of soil away.

As our state scorches and burns in a heavy drought my thoughts turn to building a relationship with this land I call home. How do I cultivate a healthy relationship with this small piece of Earth? How do I become less dependent on things like irrigation?

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This is my dandelion patch near the downspout from our roof. I started grazing on it last year, including the leaves in my breakfast greens each day. Harvesting mindfully, thanking the leaves for their contribution to my health. Yes, I water my dandelions! They were the first flowers to bloom this spring in wild yellow abandon. They fed me well and they teach me. This little dry patch used to be thick with crab grass, white top and other alkaline soil loving plants. This year, for the first time, all that’s growing is the dandelions. Their deep tap roots penetrate the clay allowing water and oxygen and beneficial bacteria to get into the soil. They are one step toward healthy soil. I celebrate my dandelions. They are growing in abundance in the pasture this year as well. Laying the foundation for soil that can absorb rain when it does finally come!

In the fifteen years we’ve lived here I’ve not followed the farming practices of those who came before me. You can still see the remnants of the corrugates in what used to be a hay field but is now a pasture where my horses can graze.

At first I thought I was blowing it –  my pasture appears to be filled with weeds. Last summer I learned what I actually have is biodiversity. Each and every one of those plants tells me something about the quality of the soil, what the land needs in order to thrive. Each of those plants serves a purpose in either directly creating a healthier ecology in my pasture or in guiding me to what’s needed.

The earth will do it’s best to heal itself and restore balance. I can support and nourish what’s happening but if I meddle too much I disturb the burgeoning balance.

I’m learning to develop a relationship with my little piece of land. All that’s required is simply observing long enough to get a sense of the place, long enough for the life that inhabits this niche to come out and introduce themselves. To help me understand their purpose. Nature seeks harmonious balance. When it’s as far out of balance as it has been here it will go to extremes to restore itself.

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These weeds sprout up in the most harsh conditions. Open ground wants to be covered, sheltered from the sun. It’s trying to heal.

 

Last year I was overrun with earwigs and aphids and other insect life that devoured everything I planted. I was also overrun with praying mantis and lady bugs, beneficial insects who were fed by the bugs that were eating everything. In every disturbed patch of land, every bit of bare earth there are weeds growing. Even the weeds serve a purpose.

This year with so little water has spurred me to take action. To discover what my land is telling me. When I look at the desert around me and see where things grow I notice they grow in the dips and valleys where water can accumulate. They grow in places where the soil has structure and life.

Nothing grows on the flat clay hard pack but the most tenacious of weeds.

 

 

 

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My first attempt at a swale designed to capture the water that runs off my roof and through my yard. I designed it so it will mulch over time, mimicking the layers of a forest floor.

Last year I started the process of creating soil that things could grow in. Layer upon layer piled upon the clay. No point in disturbing the soil further. The trick, I’m learning, is to create soil that acts like a sponge, taking in moisture and holding it. This flat clay patch I live on absorbs nothing. What little rain we get runs off in sheets.

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This was my first lasagna composting method experiment from last year. The soil is actually absorbing and holding water remarkably well this year. Now to get just anything growing here to shelter the earth and get life into the soil! I threw wild flower seeds down this year.

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Broken down tiny twigs I left in a pile last year. They continue to break down and have completely suppressed the weeds in this area of my yard. No dust either!

The most stable ecosystem is a forest. The mature elm trees that shelter my house teach me why. I used to pick up and rake every branch or twig that fell. No more. What falls becomes mulch that shelters the the soil, provides habitat for life and eventually breaks down to nourish the soil. The trees are teaching me.

The canopy slows the rain fall down so it lands softly on the earth and has a better chance to soak in rather than run off. The dandelions with their deep tap roots open up the clay, allowing water to soak in, oxygen and bacteria to access this packed lifeless dirt. What the plants don’t use replenishes underground aquifers, storing water for use when there is need.

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This little guy has taken up residence in the flower beds by the house. I never used to see any life other than the bugs that were eating all my plants! This guy showed up in the last few weeks along with a garden snake. I’m taking it as a good sign that my garden feels like a habitable place now.

Last year, my first year with new raised beds. Everything I planted died or got devoured by earwigs, ants, aphids and beetles. So tempting to wage war on the nasty insects! Instead I did what I could to beat them back without chemicals. I trusted the process. All the weeds and devouring bugs are a sign of imbalance but also a part of nature trying to restore balance.

By allowing the bad bugs to flourish the good bugs had ample food and were well fed. This year I’ve seen one earwig. My plants are healthier and I’ve had no aphids. There are more signs of healthy life all the time. Butterflies, frogs and birds abound. We have a long way to go but by working with nature instead of against it I can see the beginnings of our oasis in the desert.

Sponge like land that soaks up and stores the water. Plants that can survive and thrive without being dependent on irrigation. Horses able to browse and wander with no need for dry lots because the soil and plants are strong, healthy and diverse. No more metabolic syndrome triggering stressed mono-cultures.

It’s going to be a process but I can’t wait! Healthy soil = healthy land = healthy plants = healthy people and animals.

Horsemanship isn’t just about riding.

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Can you find Georgie? She loves to hunt in the taller grasses!

I posted on Facebook a while back about my early experiments with reclaiming this land so it can provide for my horse and human family, while we provide for it. There was a lot of enthusiasm and I promised I’d share more of my journey. This will be the first in a series where I’ll share what I learn in hopes of inspiring you to become the best possible steward of your small piece of Heaven here on Earth.

Here are a few of the resources inspiring me on this leg of my journey:

Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm by Stephen Harrod Buhner

The One Straw Revolution and Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka

The Garden Awakening by Mary Reynolds

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “The Land

  1. Great information. Enjoyed reading this as I limp along on my 3 acres. I want to investigate the sources you mentioned plus I understand the Hopi tribe farms successfully on desert. Would like to know what they are doing too !

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  2. Wonderful piece, Andrea and once again serendipitous connections as we are in the process of allowing our ryegrass (ex dairy farm) acreage to naturalize and diversify. The accepted way to do this appears to be to apply glyphosate (as if!) till and re-seed. I found this unacceptable and wondered if the ryegrass was denied its usual ‘crutch’ of fertilizer might it give way to other species of grass and lo that’s exactly what’s happening! It has been a slow process but this month I had a huge field of waving meadow grasses, earlier there was buttercup and last year glorious dandelion. There’s still ryegrass in there but in the Autumn I plan to scarify strategic patches of the field and sow more ‘wild’ meadow grass and flower seed that I’ve gathered this summer from other locations. I’ll also plant Yellow Rattle which apparently parasitises ryegrass, leaving bare patches into which different species of plant life can introduce themselves. I think we forget sometimes that Nature knows her own business😁

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  3. This is wonderful! We are doing the same thing on our plot of land we have been living on for 10 years. We really are stewards of this piece of earth and part of the whole. We have wicking beds to grow our food as our soil is full of bits of brittle rock. We also started growing chemical and spray free garlic and tuemeric to sell. Each spot we grow in becomes nourished where for decades previous to us there were cattle compacting the ground. Thanks for your blog !

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  4. Thanks, Andrea. A great article about how to be in sync with nature. I’m working on that myself as I settle into my new home in SC. Although my issues much different Half of my 5 acre plat is a long life and loblolly pine forest. The soil is a rich sandy loam. But with little care over last 10 years everything is overgrown. Lots of work to do to bring this patch lawn and forest back into alignment with what nature originally intended.

    Liked by 1 person

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