053 Q&A (Garden Edition)

053 Q&A (Garden Edition)

As promised, you are getting answers today. This time, I’ll tell you all about the garden: Do I own the land? Where is the garden? Why am I doing this? Do I have a master plan? Will I be getting….?

We live in a tiny apartment in the middle of nowhere. That nowhere is a forest in North-East Germany. I started a balcony garden here last spring which very quickly snowballed into first one, and now a second garden nearby.

A neighbor told me about a neglected piece of land no one had cared for in more than a decade. It was an absolute mess when I first adopted it. Don’t worry, I’ll explain what “adopted” means. I had to do a lot of work to restore the garden, and there is still a whole lot of work left.

The garden is less than two kilometers away from me (about a mile), but only accessible by car. Well, technically my elderly neighbors keep walking that route, but it means walking on the road. I am still pushing off trying to walk there.

For those who haven’t seen part one (and thus don’t know where I live): the gardens are about 20 minutes from Stralsund, and about 35 minutes from Greifswald in Eastern Germany.

Both gardens are of similar size but could not be more different. Both plots are about 25×30 meters, the second one maybe a bit more. Together, it’s about a third of an acre. They are right next to each other but the first garden I adopted is overgrown and wild, while the second garden has been grown on.

I gave a full tour of both gardens a few weeks ago, so make sure to check that out.

Okay, so, adopted. That seems to be the really big one for you. I was, let’s say, surprised, how many people immediately jumped to the conclusion that I am a criminal squatting on the land.

I pay a fee to be the steward of these gardens. I have to maintain them. I may grow on them. I can’t permanently live on the land.

Usually, these gardens get returned with “flat ground.” In my case, the garden house may stay at the end. Just like the trash all over the land, it should not have been there when I took over stewardship.

The concept that comes closest might be allotment gardens. Those of you familiar with the British system have pointed out that I should just call it that. But a lot of you don’t know what an allotment garden is either.

Even within Germany, there are huge differences between these “allotment gardens.” A couple that lives two apartments over from mine has a fully functional bathroom and kitchen, multiple bed rooms, and a patio with supplied furniture. I don’t even have a water line. There is no power. I will have to collect water. If I need power, I will have to bring in batteries or set up solar.

I kind of rent the land. But that also does not feel right. The fee I pay is nominal, and I don’t even pay it yet because I got some time free of charge to make up for the mess. And renters rely on their landlords to get things fixed. No one will maintain anything for me here.

In general, stewardship fits best. But it feels weird to pay to be allowed to take care of something. Though, at least in the case of the first garden, that’s what it is. I will be growing food on the second plot. That one feels more like renting.

See, it is complicated. So, I chose to say that I adopted the land.

The garden is at the edge of the village our apartment buildings are technically a part off even though we live in a forest nearby. There is a soccer field on one side, fields on another. I am definitely glad to be one of the furthest gardens from the fields. I don’t want their noise nor their pesticides.

The remaining two sides are facing the village. I have a tiny empty plot as buffer on one of those sides, and a few gardens on the other. I am pretty secluded in my little corner. In summer, I am hidden from sight and there is very little noise. In winter, the road is pretty audible without all the leaves on the trees and bushes.

Okay, now that you have an idea–again, there is a full tour in video 044–let’s talk about what I have planned.

There are a few things I hope to get to fairly soon. The weather outside is disgusting at the moment. After the beautiful start to the winter, we first had the snow storm, then dense fog. Since then, it’s been drizzling and raining. It is so dark that it perpetually feels like twilight. But the snow has melted, so I can access the garden again.

I need to cover the garlic with more mulch. I need to cover the rest of the beds. Either it stops raining over the next few days, or I’ll have to do that in the rain.

The garden house is crammed. Once I get the cardboard on the beds, I can deal with the inside there.

I want to take off the ceiling completely. For one thing, I want the graffiti gone. For another, I would like to check that the roof is water-tight. There are also some rotten boards from before I fixed the roof, and those definitely need to go.

I would like to oil the outside of the cabin but the oil is expensive, and I haven’t been able to buy it yet.

In here, I hope to get things both cozy and functional. There is a couch waiting in a neighbor’s basement. The amount of furniture I have not paid for over the last months is staggering. My previous neighbors moving out in a hurry, and my new neighbors moving in has been a weird blessing. I just used another free shelf in the kitchen construction project I’ll share on Wednesday.

But back to the garden house. I hope to be able to keep he wood on the back and front walls of the cabin. I like the look, and the silver graffiti didn’t leave as bad a stain. Also, I like that I can hang up my tools there. I’ll probably still peel off a bit to see the condition of the wall. But only if I can do it without destroying the panels.

The sides, I think, I’ll just completely take off. Insulation isn’t a big issue, as this isn’t a residence, so I might just leave them bare. There are also options that aren’t expensive to cover them again properly if I choose to do so. Or I might sand down the wood, and put most of it back up. We’ll see.

One of the really big issues is the light in here. It’s really bad. There isn’t much light from the back window because of the hazelnut trees, and the window in the front just isn’t enough. But, as I said, there’s no power here, so I either need solar–which is definitely out of the budget for now–or I need better battery lights.

Outside, I still need to deal with a lot of the trash. I paused that project because of the snow storm, but now that the snow is gone, I can technically continue that. Though, my motivation to drag soaked wood around in the rain isn’t very high.

Another reason to not rush the trash is that there is still demolition in my future: the second hut. I definitely need to take off the roof. I probably have to take off the walls. I hope I get to smash some things. And while that sounds like a lot of fun, there will also be a lot of trash there, as well. And that needs to be driven to the dump, too.

I am not going to be rid of trash for a while. But it’s really bothering me, so I am sure I’ll get to it sooner rather than later.

Once the cardboard is out of the garden house, I’ll be able to deal with some other projects I haven’t gotten around to, as well:

There is a full rain gutter system in the garden house that would like to be attached to the outside. But my rain barrels in the ground are full, so there is nowhere for the water to go from there, so I’ve been ignoring the gutters. I’ll need to build some stands for the rain barrels, and put them in their (hopefully) permanent place before it makes sense to collect more water. I’d also really like to empty out the bottom tanks to get the silt out. That sounds like a wonderfully muddy project that I would have preferred to do in the summer. But it can’t wait until next year, so we’ll play in cold mud instead.

Once the bottom tanks are clean enough to water plants with, and the gutters are up, I’ll be collecting the rain from the roof. Once the barrels are full, I’ll transfer the water to the storage barrels. Hopefully, I’ll have enough water for everything I have planned.

I’ve spoken with the other gardeners here, and have gotten an idea about how much water I’ll need. But it all depends on how wet of a summer we get. Last year, everything was drowning. But they’ve had dry years here, as well. I’d like to be prepared for it all without having to drive water from the apartment to the land.

I’ll also need to deal with my compost problem. I still don’t have a permanent structure in place, and am dumping everything onto the temporary pile behind the garden house. It’s not ideal. Not even remotely. There is also a pile of leaves molting in the corner of the growing plot.

Growing plot. Second plot. New plot. This is getting old. I need names for these gardens. Any suggestions?

I plan to use some of the hazelnut tree stems to make a proper compost system. I’d like three piles, maybe four. I am thinking of something similar to those systems built from old pallets where you shovel from one pile to the next. Just, I don’t have old pallets that are suitable, so I’ll be using hazelnut wood. I have stems and branches of all sizes, so it should work out just fine.

The gardener who told me about the gardens also offered me some materials he won’t be using anymore, so I’ll have to take that apart, and move it over to my land. And then there’s the rabbit coop in one of the neglected gardens that I want to disassemble and move over.

And, if I am lucky, there is an intact IPC tote and stand in that garden, as well.

Speaking of rabbits: what about animals?

I think you people have suggested just about every animal by now. There are only two animals we are considering at all: rabbits and chickens.

We won’t be here permanently, so larger animals with longer life spans just don’t make sense. And again, there is no water and no power here, so there are limitations.

There is a meat rabbit coop in the other garden that I can disassemble and put up here. With some adjustments like breaking through some of the barriers to make larger compartments, it would work for a trio of rabbits.

Rabbits would be a great source of meat for both us and Pepper, and a constant supply of dog treats. Rabbit fur is also apparently an easy fur to deal with, so we could potentially use or sell that. But meat rabbits are a tough one for me. It would mean raising animals, keeping them in captivity, killing them (or having them killed) for our own needs.

Sure, I’d give them a lot more room than they get in commercial breeding operations. Sure, I’d make sure they are happy little fluff balls. But I’d still be exploiting an animal for my own need. And somehow, this is completely different from chickens. Rabbits like to live in burrows. Rabbits like to live in large groups. Rabbits like to run around. They can’t do that as much in a captive system even if I let them roam semi-freely while I’m around to watch for predators.

Which leads us to chickens: we would be getting a breed that is suitable for eggs and eating but also copes well with winter. There are a few German heritage breeds that would work well. These breeds are slowly getting replaced by the commercial defaults, so I would feel better about keeping some chickens. We could eat the males and the females that are making the flock too large, and we’d get a constant supply of eggs–even in winter.

But again, we’d be exploiting an animal for our needs. They would get to dig around in compost and deep litter. The would get to keep some of their eggs. They would get to eat real grass, real bugs, and live their happy little chicken lives. The life of a well-kept captive chicken is a lot closer to that of a wild chicken than with rabbits. Or at least, it feels that way.

If we get chickens, they’ll live where the second shed is now. I have a slab of concrete there, maybe even some walls, so I can build a proper chicken coop there. I’ll either use some of the materials from the rabbit coop, or get proper materials at the hardware store.

If we get rabbits, I’d move the coop over to the side of where the shed is now. If we get both, the rabbits and chickens would have a joint area to roam around while I am there with retreat option for both. At night, everyone would move inside.

And that’s where most of the hesitation comes from: animals on the land would mean going to the garden twice a day: once to open up, once to close. I’m not worried about that in summer at all, as the sunrise and sunset are at times when I won’t be in class. But right now, it’s still dark when I leave for class some days, and already dark when I return on others. That wouldn’t work as easily with chickens. I can’t leave them outside in the dark this close to the forest.

I would need to rely on automatic chicken doors. Again, those are expensive, so it’s a factor to consider. I estimated that I’d need about 500 EUR to build a chicken coop that works properly and lasts a few years. I can buy a lot of eggs for that.

The other big plans for the garden are growing food. The second plot will be great for garden beds filled with food. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to what we like to cook with, and we’ll be planting to meet our needs in as many categories as possible. Hopefully, we can grow enough to preserve some of the harvest for winter. I don’t think self-sufficiency makes sense while we rent an apartment, and don’t live on the land, but I want to supplement.

The only things that are currently planted are some garlic and onions–and I might lose those to the grass if I don’t get the beds mulched soon… But I’ve got a lot of seeds and supplies waiting for spring.

There is a white currant bush on the second plot, and the former owner has kept some raspberry bushes for me to plant. On my neglected plot, there are some red and black currant bushes, blackberries, two cherry trees, a walnut tree, a whole bunch of hazelnut trees, something people here call a cherry plum or plum cherry that I haven’t fully figured out yet, and some lovely elder trees.

I hope to keep the old garden–I really do need a name–more on the wild, recreational side, while taking full advantage of the open soil in the second one.

We don’t know how long we’ll be here. I can’t look further than the end of my Master’s degree in about two years. So, every decision we make has to be made with an opt-out in mind. We can pass the garden house on to the next owner. If we can’t find an owner for the chickens, we can eat them. If I get solar, can I get one that I can use again on a boat or on our own homestead? Is this tool something that I can use again if we leave? It always factors into the decisions.

So, why am I doing this?

Some commenters believe I’m in this for the money. So far, I’ve spent a lot more than I’ve made. I don’t think that will change any time soon. Some commenters believe I’m just trying to grow food while pretending to be a saint or something. If food was the main objective, there would be a lot easier plots to get. Yes, I’m hoping to get food out of this. Yes, I would be more than happy if this video thing adds some income or at least pays for some of the cost. And no, I am no saint. But, I’m also not in this for the money.

I’ve said before that the land heals me while I heal the land. The garden has been one of the best decisions for my mental and physical health, well, ever. But I also believe that I can do some good here. I can restore this small piece of land. It’s a dump at the moment. The soil is in horrible condition, even after years of neglect, and I believe I can help the land.

I absolutely hope that I will get recreation and food in return. Maybe, I can even write my Master’s thesis on something connected with the land. But what’s honestly most important to me is a project where I feel like I can make a difference, even if very locally. I want to leave this land in better condition than I found it.

It’s also a trial run. On this land, I can learn. On this land, I can get stronger, I can figure out how to do things. I can learn what I can and can’t do. So, when we get our own land in the future, I’ll be ready.

What happens next largely depends on financials. I’ve talked about the bigger picture plans in the first part of the Q&A. But it’s also true on a more short-term scale: I can only get chickens if I can afford to build the coop, for example.

But I am sure it will all work out in the end. We have a plan A, a plan B, and I am paranoid enough to even have a plan C.

I am excited for all the projects, but I am also excited to see where the road leads. I can’t tell you, because I don’t know. But I do hope this episode gave you an idea of where I am headed.

So long, and thanks for being here!