Permaculture Design Principle #1: Observe and Interact. This takes many forms and often, I have to be reminded that I'm already doing it as I'm scratching my head over a (perceived) problem. This principle leads so nicely into the old permie saying, "The Problem is the Solution." Anyone who has been designing for any length of time has heard this quite a lot. It's another way of saying "Make lemon-aid." One of the best ways I heard it expressed was a permie venting about his ducks, who just wouldn't stop mudding-up an area of the paddock that he really wanted to use for something non-muddy. No matter how many times he offered them pools and waterholes elsewhere, all they wanted to do was go back to that one spot and dig in, creating mess like only ducks can. The end of the story? "Well, I solved it: I dug them a pond right there, and moved my garden elsewhere."
Here's one of our more positive experiences with this: The front lawn used to be... well, lawn. Before Sam and I took over, it was a beautiful carpet of neatly trimmed grass. I barged in last year with my sheet mulch and grand plans to turn it into a zen garden. It gets lovely afternoon sun, and I wanted a place to sit quietly. I planned out all my flower beds, and my herbs, and Sam planned a little pond for frogs and water noise. Then spring came and an invasive plant had spread all over one side of the walk: problem #1. That plant was not supposed to be there. But then I noticed that the bees were all over it as one of their first nectar sources. Problem is the solution! Leave the plant! Good.
Next: I did this to myself, but I managed to wear a path right through the middle of the flower bed. All fall and through our no-snow winter, I have been stepping off the side of the doorstep and cutting through the dormant garden to get to the barn, wearing down the soil into a packed path. As I stood there pondering whether to be mad at myself for this hard-pack earth, Sam reminded me: "Observe your interaction. Looks like you needed a path." Huh. Problem = solution: I will make it an official path, and have more edges in the garden. Perfect!
Okay, so what to do about this last one?
We have a cat. Like most cats, he likes to be outside, but he will come inside for a few days of gorging on the free food and sleeping in a nest of blankets. And while he's inside, of course, he stinks up his litter box after all that cat food gorging. We have been through several types of litter, but we really don't like the environmental impact of the scoopable ones. I mean, the container is about the only saving grace (those buckets make great nesting boxes in a chicken coop!) but we only have so many chickens. So, last time we were at PetSmart, we were totally hook-line-and-sinkered for this new wood pellet litter. Biodegradable! All natural! Great!
Around the same time we put in that litter, I also planted flats of pumpkin seeds. That night, Dill (our cat in question) got into the seedlings, dug them all to pieces, and poohed right in the middle of the dirt mess. I cleaned it up in quiet rage, blaming the new litter. I put him outside, set toothpicks and elaborate plastic coverings over my replanted fresh soil, and then let him back in.
That night: total destruction, with no mind to the tooth pick mines I had planted.
I went through about three rounds of this before I finally decided it was ALL the cat litter's fault. Who wants to pooh in wood chips, after all?! Stupid marketing, we were drawn in and should have known better.
But now, wait a minute. Observe and Interact. Problem is the solution.
Observe: the cat likes the dirt.
Observe: the cat poohs outside just fine, without the need for store-bought litter.
Problem: the cat is using an inappropriate box of dirt.
Solution: put garden dirt into the litter box.
Why haven't we thought of this before? We have a farm full of dirt. We have compost piles that will sit for a year or two, so any chance of toxoplasmosis should be long gone by the time we grow in it. Why not use the garden dirt he is determined to dig up, and then dump it into the compost? He's probably already using the pile on his own when he's outside, right?
My pumpkin seedlings - the few who survived the onslaught - survived. And so does the wisdom of Principle #1. Make the problem the solution, people. Don't kill the kitty; just listen to what he's saying about his pooh preferences. Walk the path you need to walk, and stop worrying if the plan you imagined isn't what ended up happening. Maybe what ended up happening was the right thing, after all.
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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