In-Depth Home Goal Setting (part 2)

Suburban Stockade Banner self-sufficiency

new-suburban-stockade-introThe second half of our home-improvement goals, while never directly stated, was to reduce our maintenance issues and make the house one in which we could age in place. Thus, the closets and the lever doorknobs and the grab bars and the added staircase railings. We chose long-lasting finishes and extended-life carpets and shingles so we wouldn’t have to go back and do it again later.

Think about it. You’re in the hardware store looking at tubes of caulk. You can get five-year caulk or 50-year caulk. It’s a buck more per tube to get the 50-year caulk. Spend the money! Do you like caulking that much? I don’t. Do it right the first time and save yourself oodles of aggravation.

Our outside landscaping had the same goals. We wanted easy-to-maintain sidewalks that sloped (no tripping hazards), raised beds (easier to weed), wilderness areas that could be ignored, and clearly defined small lawns that could be easily mowed by an old lady (that’s me) with a rotary push mower.

home goal setting

Our back yard, before and after. Not seen: Montage of pages flying off a 15-year calendar.

The chain-link fence (four feet high, wish it was higher) was installed within a few weeks of our moving in. That goal was done and done for good. Chain-link will last essentially forever. We planned ahead and installed three gates, two for pedestrians, and one double-wide to allow a vehicle into the yard. The cost of that gate was repaid many times over. The second side pedestrian gate was installed to allow easier access for DD to meet her friend. Well worth the cost for the convenience.

The next goal then became one of privacy. To that end, we planted a row of columnar shrubs around most of the property. We have yews, thuja, columnar apple trees, and columnar hollies (the most recent acquisition). I’ve detailed our travails with hedges and fences before and most of what we’ve planted is doing very nicely.

The neighbors in back of us recently removed their huge privet hedge, demonstrating why you need one of your own! The yews, in the ground now for over ten years, proved their worth. We can’t see the neighbors or the Reese Factory or the highway and they can’t see us. Good thing I didn’t depend on their hedge for my privacy of I’d be out of luck now.

Hedges take time to grow, so if you want them, you have to plant them right after you install the chain-link fence. They work together and have to be done in the correct order. It’s much harder to retrofit a fence into an overgrown mass of shrubbery than it is to put the fence up first and then plant the hedge.

Along the north side of the property, I tried to grow a hedgerow of mixed native shrubs. That hasn’t worked out very well. If I knew then what I know now, I would have lined that area with yews from day one. Now I’m trying to line the fence with columnar hollies.

Why hollies? Because I have yews, thuja, and columnar apples elsewhere and the wider an array of plants you have, the less likely you are to have every last damn one of them fall over dead from some disease.

The landscaping goal on the north side didn’t change: I wanted privacy and protection from the north wind. But things didn’t work out like I thought they would and so I had to keep going back. If the hollies fail (we’ll know in ten years), then it’s going to be yews. I know those will work. Will we like planting yews in our late 60s? Very doubtful, so I sure hope the hollies perform as well as the catalog claimed they will.

After a few years of flailing around with the yard, I came across the concept of Permaculture. This was not the original goal for our yard; we started with the concept of restoring the yard to an Eastern Deciduous Woodland. This was separate from privacy and security via the hedge and fence system, but they work together.

As I became more concerned with being resilient, my vision for the yard and what I wanted to do with it changed dramatically. Food production took a more important role and that meant raised vegetable beds.

Permaculture means gardening in concert with nature and making your natural systems do the work for you. One of the goals of permaculture is to successfully integrate privacy, food production, work zones, play zones, and wilderness areas to provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds.

You should zone your yard so the parts you use the most such as the herb bed are close to the house. You’re much more likely to use your parsley and carrots if you don’t have to traipse to the far edge of the yard. Same with your clothesline. It needs to be close enough that you don’t avoid using it.

The compost bins are at the far end of the yard tucked in behind the toolshed. Younger Son cleaned out the entire area and laid a brick floor (salvaged from profligate neighbors). This is better than what we had but it has to be weeded on occasion or at least weed-whacked. The space for the bins is small and tight and it had to be fenced to keep Muffy out. She would have been digging in the bins with enthusiasm looking for rodents or interesting-smelling stuff and making a huge mess.

Our compost area, while far away, was not originally fenced off from the rest of the yard. Getting Muffy meant that we had to do it and we had to do it fast. It’s worked out fairly well, considering that we built the enclosure out of mongo. If I had planned from the beginning to fence this area, I would have done a better, neater job. I would have also put the compost bins closer to the house but then where would we have put the vegetable and herb beds? They have to be close to the house, too, so as to make them easier to use. With the compost bins so far away, we tend to empty the compost when the bucket next to the sink is overflowing. It always seems to get to that point when it’s dark and raining, never on a sunny morning. I don’t know why that is, but that’s what happens.

Permaculture led us to putting the fruit trees, nut trees, and berry bushes around the edges of the yard, inside the hedge walls. That seems to be working out okay. The blueberries flatly refused to grow so they died lingering, agonizing deaths. I had interplanted them with rhubarb and as the yard’s amount of sunshine changed, the rhubarb died too. It now has a new bed where it gets far more sun and it is far more accessible.

One of the goals of permaculture is to interplant your food plants leading to the wonderful final structure of a layered food forest.

This hasn’t worked out very well for us. Is this because I haven’t put in enough work? Enough knowledge? Poor choice of plants for the soil and light conditions? I don’t know.

This has led, over time, to changing our planting goals. If something won’t grow, like the blueberries, then I stop beating myself up over it, and I don’t grow them. I now buy blueberries at the grocery store when they are in season.

I grow currents (three kinds) and gooseberries. The birds took a few years to discover the bushes and they just love them. The original, not well thought out goal, was growing fruit. Gooseberries turn out to be surrounded by vicious thorns and they are seedy. Currents need to be perfectly ripe to be edible, they’re seedy, and are probably best suited for making jam. The same is true of gooseberries.

So do I make jam? I do not, as I don’t have much free time and I have the wrong kind of stove! The glass-topped stove came with the house, and I discovered they don’t accept the weight of canners. I’ve heard horror stories of glass-top stoves shattering under the weight of a fully loaded canner.

Another goal gone by the wayside. I have a canner and multiple canning jars, and I don’t use them as I don’t want to risk my stove. It’s much more expensive to replace a stove then it is to buy readymade jam. Eventually, I may still learn how to can as this stove will eventually have to be replaced. Now that I know this about glass-topped stoves, I may not get the same style. On the other hand, my kitchen has extremely limited counter space, and we use the stove (when not in use) as a work space.

So what is my goal here? To learn to can the fruit I grow? To avoid replacing an expensive stove? To lose more of my precious counter space in a small kitchen? The entire project of canning is on hold and will be for years to come.

But I could extend my goal of canning. What if I traded my canning equipment, my currants, and my gooseberries to a neighbor in exchange for the use of her stove? We could can together, and my neighbor would be paid with half of the finished jams. That could work and it would go a long way to tightening up the relationship between the two of us. Or we could drive each other crazy fighting over currants in a small, hot kitchen where the knives are close at hand. Do I want this? Would this meet my goals of growing and preserving my own food and being part of a tight-knit community?

Goals change over time. This needs to be understood. They aren’t static. When a goal is achieved, it needs to be replaced with another one.