It is still snowing today. Perfect for winter dreaming and cozy cups of tea in front of my electric fireplace.
After three years living on my five acres in the mountains, I keep moving forward with my Food Forest. Most of what I plant are edible native species, and some of them just show up on their own. That means my hardest work is identifying edible species and harvesting food for me.
I love this aspect of natural gardening for many reasons, one of which is it takes the brute labor out of feeding yourself. I am already 61, and strong for an old woman, but it is impractical to think I should count on being brute labor for something as critical as my food supply. Identifying and eating what is given freely is a concept almost lost in this country.
I finally have a housing plan that I can afford, get past county code, satisfies my desire for a kitchen suitable for cooking and food processing, small enough to be cozy for one person with room for visitors, and which is mostly underground to take advantage of the earth’s average temperature of 55°F. Almost a perfect temperature if you consider my outside temperature swings from -20°F to 95°F. The sheer threat to survival that low temperatures pose and which requires endless market economy expense to ameliorate is my number one concern for housing sustainability.
Many of my neighbors have energy efficient wood stoves and cut wood to feed them. Cutting wood is not my idea of a good time and is physically dangerous. Using a fireplace as your main heat source also means getting up on cold nights to feed the fire. For many, it means buying wood.. Others have extra propane storage tanks and keep them topped off every month. None of these options looks sustainable to this old woman.
Even if I could not heat my space conventionally, body heat, heat from lights and cooking, and passive solar heat from my two greenhouse windows, all add sufficient heat to keep the space comfortable. I consider this my sustainable option. It requires no brute strength and is possible without market economy fuel or its expense. I have a door and two greenhouse windows (with shutters for weather extremes) on the south side, but also plan a raised 24 inch garden bed in front, which is a small earth berm on my open side. It is connected to the garage on the west side, and the north and east sides are dug in the hill.
Since I shifted my house to take advantage of passive solar heat, I will insulate the roof and cover it with metal for water collection. I will add a cistern to the south east of the house, low enough to accept roof drainage, but high enough for gravity flow to my raised garden beds. Just far enough south to not be dangerous to my home. That will give me water security. If desperate, a solar distiller will purify this water for drinking and cooking, likely 3-5 gallons per day from one distiller. Otherwise, tap water for me and rainwater collection for the garden.
In spite of my Food Forest lazy option, I love gardening. I inherited an inordinate amount of concrete pad on the south side that had unknown intended use. I have set aside one 8×8 pad for a seating area overlooking the valley and adjacent to a pinyon-plum tree guild that is lovely. I am building 24 inch raised beds for vegetables and fruits on the rest of the concrete, keeping concrete paths around the beds for clean access.
My thoughts on this are that I have voles and mice that cannot dig under these beds and eat my plantings. 24 inch concrete walls keep out the rabbits. If needed, I can cover with nets before harvest.
Concrete is a good heat sink and will make the raised beds season extenders, which can be critical in my short season. They are all protected from north winds bt the house and garage on the north and evergreens on the west. I put dead wood in the bottom of these beds to approximate Hugelkultur beds and add moisture retention for my plants.
Because the beds are raised, they are filled with compost, much richer than my soil, and great for my vegetables. Even more, they will baby some my expensive favorites like Saffron Crocus and Blueberries.
Add in my Wabi Sabi greenhouse that can winter over herbs that aren’t quite up to zone 5 winters, and start seedlings.
Once my home is installed, I can start building raised beds in front of it. The prior owners graveled the whole area for parking their semi truck using crusher fines. It is packed solid. I will build raised beds over this level area as well. For these beds, I will add a layer of stones as a heat sink and animal deterrent. Between beds, I will add deeper crusher fines and later flagstone. The whole area is about 36 by 36 feet, not huge, but will easily feed one person.
As soon as my home is built, I will sell/remove the trailerstead, leaving the 14×60 concrete footer around the outside edge. I will build a concrete block wall around it, opening to my courtyard garden through what is now my back patio. The orchard is adjacent to a four foot drop to the lowest level, itself 20 feet above the street. The soil is deep underneath the trailerstead and I plan to enrich it and plant a small orchard between my underground house with its courtyard garden, and the pinyons and junipers on the outside edge.
I have neighbors all around and this layout will feel secluded and give me some privacy without being isolated or so far up the hill I have trouble getting in or out when it snows. It also gives more space to the wildlife corridor and less stress on the animals.
I have put a lot of consideration into making this property a sustainable haven for me and wildlife. It is also modest as houses go!