Tom Grizzles back yard used to be a forest. Now if you walk into it, youll see a pocket farm or what the Chapel Hill resident likes to call his backyard nanofarm.
About seven years ago, he and his wife, Kerry-Ann, took down the 30 or so trees in their back yard to start living more off their land. They brought in a bulldozer to remove the stumps and a truck with loads of topsoil. It wasnt hard to cut down the trees, Grizzle said.
I knew I wanted this more, that I wanted to grow my own food, he said. I wanted to teach my kids how to grow their own food. They may never do this again, but at least they know how.The nanofarm
The north-facing rectangular back yard features a 30-by-70-foot garden plot in its center with a landscaped berm that runs along the fence on its eastern side and hosts a number of edible plants. Between the berm and farm rows is a road in both gravel and grass that leads to a drop-off point in the rear of the yard for rotting hay, railroad ties, mulch or whatever else is next on the farms project list.
At the end of the berm, in the yards highest point, sits a 500-gallon cistern near a hand-pump well and a photovoltaic panel that powers the drawing of water from a second pump. The yards rear also houses a beehive, brought in this year to aid in pollination; apple and Asian pear trees; and a cold frame, where Grizzle will grow spinach and lettuce this winter.
The western side of the yard features a three-section barn, with a chicken coop, run and covered potting shed in the first section; a barn in the middle with a wood oven and stove; and an equipment storage area in the last section. A three-bin composting system sits by the chicken run. All of it is part of Grizzles constant experimentation with farming.Gardening experiments
Grizzles back yard dictated the size and shape of his garden plot. But he experimented with the placement of the rows, trying lengthwise and diagonal to follow the grade of the land before settling on crosswise. Check out some of his other experiments:
Flow of water: Managing the flow of water in the garden was part of early experimenting. To keep a deluge of water from washing away his soil, Grizzle added the berm, creating a wall with 4-inch-by-4-inch pressure-treated wood. He also added a French drain that runs along the berm and down to the street. Because water would pool in the southwestern corner of his plot, he added a drain there and partitioned the next row, which is level, with railroad ties so water doesnt flow into the lower garden.
Without topsoil here, youre just going to have a desert, Grizzle said. Its not going to do anything.
Soil enrichment: Thats a primary thing, he said. You put a lot of energy into the soil, it gives you back. Ive added countless loads of mulch and leaves and manure and compost and just load after load every year.
To help enrich the soil, he grows legumes like clover in the fall. Through nodules on their roots, the legumes also called green manure transform nitrogen in the air into nitrates and nitrites that fertilize the soil. Grizzle helps the process by dusting the seeds with rhizobium inoculum powder to ensure an adequate supply of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Lasagna beds: For this past growing season, Grizzle experimented with a lasagna bed. Throughout last fall and winter, he placed layer after layer of organic matter on the bed, starting with a layer of newspaper on the ground. Then he added other layers, like wood chips, grass clippings, leaves and rotting hay.
It breaks down and just makes its own soil essentially, he said. You reach down into these things, and its just teeming with life and worms and slugs. Ive got roughly 20 layers now in this one little bed. Its very lush here, Im finding. This is my first solid year of growing in here, and it is just absolutely cranking out the food. I havent farmed as intensively in others.
The 4-foot-wide bed is thick with watermelon, basil, eggplants, leeks, squash and various varieties of tomatoes. Grizzle likes the results so much that hes starting work on another lasagna bed this fall. It also will be 4 feet wide, allowing arms to reach in 2 feet from either side for harvesting as lasagna gardens should never be walked on, he noted. Grizzle has placed a 3-foot valley between the beds, which will allow for walking and easy irrigation. Through a hose attached to his cistern, he can fill the valley with water, letting it soak laterally into the root zone of plants.
Compost tea: Grizzle will start experimenting with compost tea this fall with a recycled plastic barrel. Hell place chicken or rabbit manure in pantyhose and let it sit in the water-filled barrel like a teabag for several weeks before pouring the tea onto his plants.
The Chinese did this for thousands of years, he noted, recommending the book Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea and Japan by F.H. King. Its just a fabulous book. Theres a whole chapter on collection of waste and how they collected night soil. There were no toilets. They had roadside stands where they would pay you a little money to use their crapper. Then they used it on their gardens. Of course, people werent on birth control pills and all the other stuff that they are on now.
Easy asparagus maintenance: Grizzle found asparagus are happy growing in a portion of his berm. He dug out a front portion of the berm last fall and added a combination of compost and black cow, black hen and rabbit manure, letting the mixture sit through the winter. In early spring, he dug down 8 to 12 inches, placing the soil mix on a plastic tarp stretched along the backside of the bed, which kept the soil from contaminating his mulch layer. He planted asparagus crowns and used the tarp to pull dirt down to cover the crowns. As the asparagus grew, he would keep pulling dirt down on top of the crowns by grabbing the tarp.
Its sort of a permaculture philosophy to make your work as easy as you can, Grizzle said. If you have water, youre always hauling it downhill. If you have heavy loads, youre always moving it downhill to make the work easier.
Deer management: The family started farming without a fence. After the first year of planting strawberries and having all of them eaten to nubs by deer, they spent about $5,000 to put up a fence.
So every tomato, who knows how much it costs? Grizzle said. None of it makes sense from a financial standpoint, really. I dont do NASCAR. I dont do RVing. This is what I do. It has all sorts of benefits. Its educational. It keeps me stimulated, and my kids. You get all this really healthy food, which is also beneficial to your health. Its the right thing to do for the environment to grow locally.
I hope to foster this sort of endeavor in others too, so that there would be some kind of a ripple. Its a lot of work, but we need to work.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.