Putting Down Roots

Moving house is hard on a body. It’s hard on the planet’s body as well as mine, maybe more so. I have never seen statistics on this sort of thing, other than a passing reference claiming divorced couples create over twice the waste they generated when married — which I sincerely believe is true. I suspect the overage is largely tied to moving around more once newly single. And of course, there is the initial move when the entire household must be duplicated, packed and shuttled off in opposite directions. In these times of ridiculous housing costs, it is rare indeed that the family home is retained even where there is home ownership. It costs too much for a single income. And of course in most states, the value of the estate must be divided. When nearly all the “estate” is tied up in the house, it’s impossible to divide without selling it. So in any case, divorced couples create over twice the waste as they did when married. 

I’ve filled up my truck bed with trash — just once, but even that feels like a hideous betrayal — and taken many loads of cardboard to the transfer station. In Vermont there’s a good chance that most of the cardboard and paper will be recycled, which assuages my guilt a bit. But still, that’s a truck load of trash that will be in the landfill roughly forever on my tab. I sort of feel sick thinking about it.

I also filled up my truck bed with a good deal of pruning. The garden hadn’t been maintained for at least long enough to grow some substantial maple saplings, a jungle of lilac to shade the perennial beds and render walking upright through the yard impossible, and a vicious barberry that was taking over the public sidewalk. So that all needed to be addressed. Much of it, I just shoved in the truck bed, flummoxing the transfer station attendant. 

“Sign says we charge $5 a bag,” he says, staring morosely at the bed full of decidedly un-bagged brush wedged tightly into the truck bed. “What do you reckon that is? Three bags?” I said five, and even that was certainly well under the mark. But again, this is Vermont. Even better, all of it will turn into compost — which I can go pick up for free from the town composting facility! Isn’t that too cool!

But I decided to make use of some of the mess myself. I did the reduce part as best I could going into the move. (Really, it was much less than past moves.) I did the recycle bit as much as could be just by moving to Vermont. But there’s that reuse step. I decided to do that one too.

So here’s the mess to be addressed. This is the tail end of the cardboard. Well, no, there are still all the boxes of books to be sorted, but that will take months and may not actually result in too many of them being emptied. Many will merely be shuffled around in the garage. (There is a metric shit-tonne of books out there. Former bookseller, you know…) So this pile is near the end of the waste stream. 

This is the brush that I didn’t lob into the truck. I also left off the barberry prunings because nobody wants to deal with that prickly nightmare. So this pile of lilac and cedar mess (dumped on top of the goat-weed and garlic mustard in a vain attempt to smash the stuff into oblivion… yeah, right…) and an equally large pile of barberry clippings (which I didn’t even deign to photograph), formed the foundation of the reuse project. 

There was also a good deal of weed extraction. Mostly grass. I don’t like grass. My front yard is a 10’ nearly vertical bank. The former folks had attempted to grow erosion control plants on it and placed a few hunks of slate here and there. But aside from the pachysandra (also not one of my favorites, but tolerated in this case), none of the plantings were doing well due to an appalling amount of quack grass, cleavers, dock, ground mint and some sort of rhizomatous grassy thing. Removing all that produced a completely full paper yard waste bag. That is, about 4 feet tall and about 2 feet in diameter, with weed compacted into the bag as tightly as I could shove it. This too went into the reuse project.

I’ve already talked about hügelkulture. I decided to make a down-n-dirty mound, forgoing the log base and substituting a good deal of brushy pruning as well as that bag of weed. I used the cardboard (tape and other nasties meticulously removed) as a weed-control mat, simply laying it over the grass. I didn’t even bother to fork the soil, just buried it. Some of the cardboard got rolled into tight “logs” of fiber at the lowest level. I had rocks (because one does…) that I used to edge the mound and stabilize it. I just needed some soil for the top layer. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about the free compost until after I built the mound. So I used bagged soil from the local hardware place. But that was good for its own sake because it gave me a chance to get to know those folks — always a good thing!

I plant strawberries wherever I go and had already ordered plants from Nourse (the BEST berry supplier in the world, luckily located just a couple hours south of here). So I decided to plant the strawberries in the mound. I built the mound in the somewhat shaded back yard, close to the spigot (and also the kitchen door) so I could keep the plant roots moist and cool while the mound begins to break down. I planted the strawberries — six varieties of twenty-five plants each — on close centers, like the spacing one uses to fill an ornamental planter with annuals. Strawberries are short-lived perennials that spread like mad. Not all these initial plants will be productive, but the mound will be covered quickly.

On that close spacing: there is some evidence that plants rather prefer being packed together over wider traditional garden placement. I’ve read accounts from permaculture folks and forest managers, claiming that plants with roots in contact do better than those in their own space — even in companion planting beds with multiple species. Both the ability to communicate with other plants and the strengthening that happens in elbowing themselves into the sunlight are beneficial. I know in my perennial beds the plants that aren’t coddled and that grow with surrounding friends are always the strongest. Plus that’s how plants grow in the uncultivated world. So I’m experimenting with close planting in my strawberries now. And as I have a much smaller garden, I believe this experiment will be carried over into the veg and flower beds as well.

For now, the strawberries are happy. Planted at the end of last week, they are already putting up leaves and sending out runners. The ever-bearing variety might even give me fruit this year. By this time next year, I’ll be bathing in berries! I might share…

©Elizabeth Anker 2021