Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Golden, angled light illuminates the curvy Appalachian Mountains outside of Asheville, N.C., where an earth-based educational center makes its home. Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance, calls out into the valley, “Let’s make the most of the sunlight while we have it!”
She’s teaching a three-day workshop on hide tanning, and it's no coincidence that it's scheduled in November, the harvest season. At Wild Abundance, reconnecting with the land means living and working in sync with the cycles and seasons as they unfold.
For Frank Salzano, a partner at Wild Abundance, the seasons represent a universal, archetypal way of being. “Some might say it’s a medicine wheel, a cycle that happens every day, that happens every year, that happens through our lifetimes.”
Even in the subtropics there is a dry and wet season, a season for fish migration, a season for bird migration. “Everything,” continues Salzano, “follows a seasonal cycle no matter where you are.”
On the medicine wheel, spring represents the east, our infancy, our morning. In the spring we explode with new growth and energy. Summertime represents the south, our adolescence, our afternoon. In the summer we labor and work with the abundance of nature and the land. Fall represents the west, our adulthood, our sunset. In the fall we harvest, we start to settle down, we offer our gratitude, we feast with our family and community.
The winter months beckon a more abstract and numinous quality. Winter represents the north, our elderhood, our evening. “It’s a time for deep reflection and hibernation,” says Salzano. “Winter forces us to slow down, and there is a mystical space that happens when you enter into that darkness.”
Winter is a time of “introspection and observation," says Bogwalker. "It’s a time of receptivity, a time for planning the year to come, for walking the land and envisioning. As animals — and humans are animals — we need to go through this death and rebirth each year in order to grow into more full people. We have that season in our life, throughout our life, in order to move forward.”
Dedicated to tracking and aligning with the seasons of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, Bogwalker has created a guide to land-based living through the calendar year. In the dark, cold days of winter, there is much to do to prepare for the growing season ahead (but don’t forget to sleep in, too).
Following is a guide to the very beginnings of the east, when the earth is waking up, and moving from the slowness of winter into the flurry of action of spring: Harnessing the Maple Moon of February and the New Growth Moon of March on your homestead (compiled by life experiences of Natalie Bogwalker with contributions from Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman).
February: Maple Moon
Wild and Woodland Harvest
• Gather, split, and stack firewood for next year
• Tap maple trees, make syrup (freezing nights, above freezing days)
• When the ground is frozen in forest it’s time for selective logging projects and firewood gathering
• Scope out living hardwood trees and branches between 4 to 6 inches in diameter to harvest for shiitake logs (before buds swell and between February and early April)
Annual Garden Preparations
• Gather compressed leaves and store in ditches for garden mulch
• Complete garden plan
• Arrange for a seed sharing party with neighbors, where last years seeds are swapped and shared. At the seed party, make plans and commitments as a community about who will save specific seed varieties throughout the coming year.
• Ogle seed catalogs
• Put in Seed orders (order bulk amendments and cover crop seed for the garden)
• Fill in squash mounds; plant cover crop on them
• Sow onion seeds in flats in heated space (a greenhouse is ideal) unless you plan to buy starts or onion sets
• Prune fruit trees
Enjoy the Delights of Food Preservation
• Eat pickles, canned peaches, and venison backstrap. Enjoy the foods and drinks you have preserved during the growing and harvesting seasons!
March: New Growth Moon
Wild and Woodland Harvest
• Coppice nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs to get firewood, while feeding the surrounding trees
• Harvest and cook daylily and sochan greens
•Harvest and enjoy chickweed, best eaten raw and in salads
• Check on stinging nettle patches, harvest new growth (March new growth through flowering)
• Continue tapping maples trees and making syrup when nights are freezing
• Harvest logs for shiitake inoculation (again, before the buds swell). Store in a cool, shady place
• Gather potting soil, pots, watering containers
• Fill in cover crop in beds to be planted later in the spring (tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash)
• Start tomatoes, peppers, basil and tulsi holy basil in trays in greenhouse or under lights
• In beds to be planted for early spring: cut down cover crop, use this green manure to mulch beds with green growing plants.
• Plant kale, chard, spinach, fun jen cabbage, peas, and potatoes
• Plant your first sowing of cilantro (plant every 2-3 weeks through fall for continuous harvest)
• Plant carrots and beets (cover during below-freezing nights)
• Begin your annual garden log and journal
• Feed garlic and over-wintered greens with urine or compost tea
• Mulch fruit trees with nutrient dense mulch (from greywater system or otherwise)
• Prune any fruit trees that may have been forgotten
• Plant berries and trees you didn’t get to in the fall
• Coppice Nitrogen fixing trees and bushes, such as autumn olive, myrtles, mimosas, and alders to feed orchard trees
• Dry stinging nettle leaves for tea, soups, and super-food supplement for farm animals (ongoing spring activity until nettles flower)
Each season carries an energy of its own, an energy that will gracefully guide the way we walk through our lives and through our year. As Bogwalker says, “homesteading becomes a lot easier when you’re working with nature and with the seasons.” Her life’s work and her goal at Wild Abundance is to help people access tools for reconnecting, to come together as a community and change the way we relate to the living world around us.
With workshops that empower land-based living through the year, Bogwalker hopes to cultivate and inspire a return to balance. “The human soul is in danger,” she says. “Its connection with nature, connection with other human beings, that truly feds our souls.”
Workshops with Wild Abundance begin in March, 2016, and include Ladies Carpentry, a Natural Building Practicum, Permaculture Design for Landowners and Land Stewards, plus a course called Food is Everything. For information on classes and becoming an apprentice, check out Wild Abundance.
All photography courtesy of Wild Abundance
Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is an organic top bar beekeeper, a mead maker, herbalist and organic gardener. Since moving to Asheville, N.C., she has worked as a contributing writer for the Mountain Xpress, Asheville’s alternative weekly newspaper, focusing on matters of sustainability, food security, waste and community activism. Read Aiyanna’s recent publications here.
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