Ancient first growth forest cleared centuries ago for farming, eventually surrendering to nature again and reclaimed swiftly by the trees. A stunning landscape for an off the grid yurt and permaculture design.
In 1960 Dr. Russel B. Street purchased 300 acres of farmland from his neighbor in Conway Massachusetts. 55 years later his son Dana put the land in a conservation trust but retained the right to put up a structure for family visits.
Permaculture Design by Kay Cafasso Sowing Solutions
Photography by Joel Ellis Brown
We bought the three-acre property overlooking the Royal River in Yarmouth, Maine in June of 2016. The property is shrouded from view from the river and the road by ancient oak trees. To honor the beautiful trees that came down and provided us with so much yield as well as the magnificent trees still standing guard we named the property Oaken Veil.
That first year we focused on planting the orchard and gardens since they take a long time to reach maturity, which allowed us the time to live in and get to know the Royal Barry Wills cape before taking on the challenge of renovating without ruining it’s simple character.
In the fall of 2016 we began implementing a permaculture design by Shana Hostetter of the Resilience Hub in Portland, Maine. We laid out and sheet-mulched the area for the vegetable garden and orchard finishing just before the first real frost and heavy snow storm in December. Over twenty-five mature trees were taken down to provide more sunlight for the garden and the planned solar heating system for the house. Even though it was difficult in many ways to take down so many trees we tried to regenerate their energy by using the yield for firewood, logs for shitake mushroom cultivation and wood chips for the garden and orchard. Additionally, in the spring of 2017 over two hundred fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes were planted to replace those taken down. Varieties include apples, pears, peaches, cherries, apples, persimmon, pawpaw, sea berry, goji berry, aronia, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, high and low bush blueberries, hazelnuts and hickory nut. Perennial vegetables includes asparagus, Turkish rocket, Sea Kale, Jerusalem artichokes and hablitzia.
The soil on the property was sandy, compact, had low organic matter and was full of tree roots so we created topsoil from the rich multilayered sheetmulch after aerating the ground with a broadfork. We amended the soil with lime and mycorrhizomes. An irrigation line was installed from the house with two spigots to provide water to the garden, orchard and chicken coop. In the fall of 2017 we installed a separate irrigation line and an all-season hydrant so we wouldn’t have to haul water to the chicken coop when the ground is frozen
Our adventure with chickens began in the spring of 2017 with fourteen chicks. The walk-in chicken coop with an attached shed and run was built that summer. We chose breeds that are good foragers for ticks including, Eyyptian Fayoumi, Welsumer, Easter Egger, White Leghorn and French Marans The chickens will also provide manure for compost and of course, eggs. We hope to add guinea hens to our flock in 2019 as they are excellent tick predators.
In the fall of 2016 we put in a high efficiency air source heat pump in the house and replaced the insulation. Solar power will be generated from panels or tiles on the house as well as out by the garden.
A rainwater catchment system will be installed during the extensive renovation to the house planned in 2018. Unfortunately the town of Yarmouth wasn’t willing to approve a compost toilet and a grey water system.
An apiary was started in May of 2018 with 14,00 Russian honey bees.
Over three weeks at Jiva Institute in Vrindavan India in the Fall of 2013 we began implementation of Rico Zook’s permaculture design for the garden there. The goal is to grow as much food and flowers as possible for the institute’s students, residents and visitors from around the world. Obtaining a yield is important to Jiva Institute’s founder and acharya, Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa (aka Babaji), an Indian Gaudiya Vaisnava scholar and practitioner who holds a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and a degree in Indian law as well as degree in Mechanical engineering and a Masters of Technology in Industrial Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. He has published numerous books and original papers in the field of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and he received an award from the President of India in 2012 for his work. This project is an example of how Babaji cares about the earth and people by taking the steps for Jiva Institute to be self-sustainable.
The permaculture garden project involved installing an irrigation pipe, 14 spigots, creating a new entrance stairway, laying out new pathways, building an herb spiral, mulching, and planting seeds and seedlings and. We implemented the design working from patterns to details. We carved out paths around the existing beds that led throughout the entire garden using organic curves and having them meander naturally. Miraculously things fell into place and we were graced with help from across the globe.
Looking forward, a water catchment and storage system should be put in place at Jiva Institute. Currently all of Vrindavan is in a vulnerable position but Jiva particularly so having to purchase water, trucked it in and pumped it up to the roof. There is a well on the institute’s farm several miles away, but it would be very costly to transport the water to the ashram.
On the plane ride over to India I read Ranchor Prime’s book Vedic Ecology. He mentions Sanatana Dharma; the “eternal essence of life”, a way of life that lasts forever, self perpetuating and regenerating; “eternal order” or “natural law” the eternal essence of life.
On my last day in Vrindavan, I saw the sadhus gathering flowers and herbs in the soft morning light for their pujas and sensed this garden would be a place of solace and nourishment for many years to come.
Babaji walking me around, introducing me to all the fruit trees and creepers. Mangoes, Lemon, orange, papaya, bael fruit, bananas …….
Showing me the two olive trees and grape vines he had just brought back from Italy.
Large Black Indian Bumble Bees, the current residents of the garden.
Riding on the back of Pandit’s motorcycle through Vraj to a “hardware store” in Mathura seeing the Yamuna flowing and sparkling, though looking tired and weak.
Elegant Victorian brownstone townhouse from the 1830s. Lead in the soil compelled us to go up on the roof.