7.21.2015

Steelgrass Farm

It struck me like a bolt of lightning one night while I was sitting on the bathroom floor with my netbook cruising through Craigslist jobs while the girls were sleeping beneath the chirping geckos. I hit a road block with my job at the time, because the darn island truck wasn't keen on driving to south shore every other day to the farm I've been working at since 2012. I would fix it one week, next week it something else would snap, fall off, pop, bang. Every penny that went into my pocket went into the gas tank or to the mechanic, so I said, "you win." The only solution I felt right was to farm local to our abode. That night in the bathroom I came across an ad looking for a cacao orchard manager and I applied, two days later we took the delicious chocolate tasting tour at Steelgrass Farm to scope it out and it was perfect. I gave my word and the rest is history. Now, it's time to grow. 


At any given moment there are endless duties to be performing simultaneously; fixing irrigation, caging cacao trees from pigs and chickens, talking to each tree and looking for any flowers, weeding, fertilizing, prepping the new beds and the list goes on, forever. Nature doesn't stop. 


Cacao, honey and vanilla are three award-winning treats Steel Grass has to offer and there's plenty of it, but the Lydgate family wants to diversify and bring in other family farmers into the picture. Can't raise a baby without a tribe, and the same goes to farming, particularly multi-crop organic farming that utilizes fundamental permaculture techniques. By this I mean the cacao, honey and vanilla all rely on other`flora to flourish, and they also rely on human care. For instance, the vanilla doesn't self-pollinate to make bean so it's done by hand, and neem trees found in the cacao orchard provide a good windbreak and deter certain pests, but are planted in specific locations, by humans, to maximize their benefit to the mini habitat that's being co-created between wild nature and wild us.

Below is a picture of the open land I was introduced to a couple weeks ago and the day I set barefoot on it was the day the storybook really opened. I'm planning to grow what I know best, lettuces, and also other selective crops that Chefs from the east side wish to put on their plates. It's an open field, what does the local culinary community need?


Facing westward towards waterfalls.


This land has remained fallow for 50 years.


Last week I spent one day laying out 16,000 sq. ft. of beds. It brought me back to my geography days at Trent University over a decade ago when I surveyed old farm fields around the campus and measured soil erosion. 



The only time a heavy machine is really needed for this development is for the introductory doze and rip. It sounds lethal, and it is to some of the grass and microorganisms, but none of it is wasted. All the top was grubbed into a big compost pile, which a year down the road we will re-incorporate back into the main field. While the pile sits there we are contemplating growing squash over it.


Trust me, if I had a few horses or mules, I'd use 'em, but I no have, at least not, yet. Likewise, if I had Amish blood I'd ask to be able to ride my horse on the road instead of having to rely on Kumu Kane, our red Jurassic Park jeep. 

Here are the dozed beds. Dozing the beds is like a buzz cut, it takes a few inches from the top. 


Here's the ripper, and what it does is pull out any big roots and do a rough toss. This is very important for when we use the tiller for the first time the ground should be soft and root and rock free. Putting new tiller blades into compact 50 year old soil can create too much initial stress and wear them quickly.


The ripped beds. I'm slowly walking inch by inch through the bed with a machete and dirt rake to even everything out and remove the debris. Only one of the few million times I'll be walking the line. 


While the stork was up there doing it's thing I was down in the bog digging up a few buckets of jungle top soil to add to the beds.


All in one days work. 


In the early evening the rain came.


It felt so good.


Over the last week or so I've been dancing between the cacao trees and the lettuce beds. I like all trees, but this one I find extra attractive due to it's color and leaf size pattern. 


A small taste of the cacao orchard.


I found the first set of flowers on the 16-month old trees a few days ago while weeding. This signals the first harvest in a few moons and that in 2016 the newer orchard of 800+ trees is going to start having a party. 


There's free housing available in the orchard for any birds that wish to join our family.



A few acres away, through the hau bush thicket, up the bend past Hamlet the piggy, past the cherry trees, through the bog of papyrus and bamboo, over this stream... 


is the chicken coup. Rosa feeds the chickens a few times a week and each time she does she's rewarded with 6 eggs.




On our way out we stop by her favorite fruit tree... lychee.


What's next? 


Well, we need irrigation and a nursery. Here's the foundation for the nursery.


Also going to need some seeds and fertilizer. Bought the first 'jeepload' of organic fertilizer yesterday.


One of the big things I keep reminding myself to do is look up. How often while walking on the road or planting in the soil do my eyes look downwards instead of up? Pretty often. So, it has become my mantra that every few minutes glance up and take a look up into the hills and sky. I reckon it's not only good for eye sight, but also good for the soul.