Friday, April 4, 2008

Mr. Mother Earth Shares The Green

How we love to peek and peruse in other people's gardens! It's a time honored, Fauquier County tradition.

I got an up close and personal tour of Harvey Ussery's garden - homestead in Hume recently as part of the "Integrated Homestead" seminar Ussery gave at Airlie.

His homestead, called Boxwood, is two and a half acres of managed, organic systems that together provide Ussery and his wife Ellen with most of their food year round plus plenty to give away. It's amazing how much a small parcel of land will produce when properly managed.

Trying to explain Ussery's homestead in the limited amount of words allotted to me here is like trying to explain the universe in a sentence - but here goes:

Boxwood is an interactive oasis of mutually beneficial life forms all of which grow, work together, mature and are recycled to keep the blessings of life in motion.

Yikes, what a mouth full.

Under Ussery's tutelage, we toured his homestead as he explained the subtle nuances of life's already perfect systems. He showed us how using nature's methods in our own gardens and homesteads ("homestead" is the term used for the self sufficient life style) would be infinitely better (and cheaper) than fighting against them.

For example, instead of power tilling the soil for a garden bed, Ussery partners with nature and lets his chickens do the work.

Chickens naturally love to scratch the ground. Instead of viewing chickens as destroyers of grassy areas, Ussery positions a movable chicken coup over the plot he wants "tilled." The chickens scratch like crazy and break up the sod leaving a gorgeously rich area ready to plant - all without expensive fuel for a tiller, back breaking work or even purchasing feed for the chickens.

Ussery's incredibly healthy looking birds dine on a nutrient rich diet of natural habitat greens (we'd probably call them weeds), worms and cut, cover crops. It was an amazing lesson.

The day went on and so did the explanations of how the homestead is an integrated system where everything has a place. Thorny berry bushes become a fence line to keep rabbits out of the garden. Destructive bugs are feed for chickens, ducks and geese. Mushrooms decompose fallen trees while providing gourmet fare for the table. Rose hips (rose seed pods) become a tea that's higher in vitamin C than orange juice. I jotted down every concept even as Ussery's quick cadence caused my head to spin and fingers to cramp.

Harvey Ussery is a frequent contributor to Mother Earth Magazine. If you happen to hear about a seminar or talk he's giving, run - don't walk and sign up fast. You'll never look at a bug, weed or worm the same way again.

Ussery jam packs every moment with insights that will connect you with the earth as never before. It's as if he's learned the secret handshake and is taking you under his wing to mentor. Ussery exudes a profound sense of the majesty (actually he called it magic) of life and a reverence for how it all works.

If ever there was a Mr. Mother Earth, it's Harvey Ussery.

For more information visit

http://www.themodernhomestead.us/

www.airlie.org/activities/foodproject.htm

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