Living above Foothill Road, the beneficiaries of my attempts at vegetable farming are mostly gophers, voles and moles. I carry on because it’s a great excuse to be outside.
I note the hooded orioles return and the occasional worm squirming on the pathway after a light rain. Deer tolerate my presence with just one large ear pointed toward me like a microphone.
I considered myself a pretty marginal farmer until I reframed my hobby as “multifunctional gardening.”
Jake Fiennes, the conservation manager of a huge private landholding in Britain, describes multifunctional or environmental farmers as “cultivating as much as they can on their land — fungi for the soil, grasses for the pollinators, weeds for the insects, insects for the birds,” and so forth.
We need functioning ecosystems at every level for carbon capture and to feed our global community of nine billion.
What’s my part, other than feeding the critters? Aside from a few citrus trees, I’ve found the most satisfaction with micro-farming and composting.
A friend gave me kefir grains a couple of years ago; I’ve been making daily smoothies using fresh kefir ever since. It’s about the simplest farming you can do, with daily delicious results and good probiotics to boost. The culture is happy to veg out in the frig when I travel.
Success with kefir growing inspired me to start making kombucha. The initial “mother” or SCOBY (symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast) required a six-week ramp-up period. A year and a half later, I’ve completed my 45th delicious and nutritious batch.
We’re also vigilant composters. Our friends know better than to clear food scraps into the trash or disposal. We have a gallon-sized compost bucket near the kitchen door (further away since ants discovered it a few years back). When that is full, we haul it up to the top of the yard, where we dump it into a garbage-can sized compost bin.
As with kefir and kombucha, microorganisms process the scraps mixture. Composting takes oxygen which sometimes required some pitchfork stirring. When it doesn’t get enough oxygen, the compost can smell like rotten eggs. Too much nitrogen will make it smell like ammonia.
With the right ratios the compost simply smells like fresh earth and nourishes the garden.
I always liked the idea and practice of composting, but I didn’t fully appreciate what happens when we don’t.
“Organic waste doesn’t just stink when it’s sent to landfills; it becomes a climate poison,” describes Rivka Galchen in a recent New Yorker article. “In landfills, starved of oxygen, decomposing organics release methane, a greenhouse gas whose warming effects, in the long run are 56 times those of CO(2).
“The United States has greater landfill emissions than any other country: the equivalent of 37 million cars on the road each year.”
That’s why California has committed to composting and recycle 75 percent of its solid waste by 2020. Santa Barbara County has joined the effort. The County Public Works Department supports alternatives to throwing food scraps and yard waste into the landfill.
“Compost is great for your garden and diverts organics from landfills,” program specialist Sam Dickinson wrote in a press release. They offer composting bins at wholesale prices at the transfer station on Calle Real.
Meanwhile, I’m trying yet again to expand into macro farming. I’m slowly building a raised-bed fortress inside my fenced citrus orchard. There’s already a bit of drip irrigation I can resurrect. I want to encourage my grandkids’ love of nature and also have a source of fresh food for the apocalypse that seems to be upon us.
Please don’t tell the gophers, voles, moles and deer about my new garden.
— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.