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Life is What Happens to You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

This seems like a good time to pause and reflect on how my diploma process is going thus far. What’s going well, what went wonky, that kind of thing.

Overall I think it’s going really well. I enjoy having a goal to motivate me and the structure and accountability to keep me focused.

That said, I’m not going to lie, the first three months were rather stressful. I knew going into this that my biggest hurdle would be an emotional one. I’d be fighting my internal, perfectionist critic the whole way. Because of that, I had a really hard time dealing with the fact that my actual day-to-day work was developing differently from the plan I had committed to. Originally I ran myself ragged, doing twice as much work as I had time for, and I forgot to enjoy myself and what I was doing.

In the last couple of weeks though, I’ve finally accepted that some things just aren’t going to happen when I planned, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t happen eventually. Seasonal activities are getting the highest priority and the other stuff will happen when it happens. The value in making a long term plan comes from getting the ideas and goals written down so that as life happens and other opportunities arise, those goals aren’t forgotten. But, in the end, they are just goals I’ve set for myself, not hard deadlines that warrant stress.

All of that aside, here are some other thoughts that might be helpful to someone else starting this process:

  • I padded my Learning Plan with too many ‘shoulds’. My internal dialogue, when creating it, was something like, “A good permaculture diplomat would study [X]“. One of the patterns I observed was how I threw myself into every animal-related task I had while dragging my feet on other, less interesting-to-me tasks. Noticing this will help me focus going forward. I want to sell eggs, meat, and other by-products from heritage breeds on rotationally grazed pastures that are being guarded by livestock guardian dogs I’ve trained and provide these resources to the community to do the same. That’s the vision I need to stay true to when the siren songs of ‘should’ become too tempting.
  • Because of the generalist, should-driven approach I took to planning, I didn’t allot enough time for certain topics. I would become really interested in something and want to spend more time with it, but feel unable to because I needed to move onto the next thing in order to stay on track. These are huge subjects and I only allowed enough time to scratch the surface in many cases.
  • I tried to plan an even amount of design, observation, community, etc. assignments in each month and I started to become anxious as I noticed more and more observation posts going up. In hindsight, I should have expected that — the beginning of this process should be about observation and discovery. I didn’t accomplish any of my January goals for the Farm because I realized that I need more time to observe and get to know the land out there. I need to connect with it first and my aggressive planning didn’t allow for that.
  • Three months seems to be the horizon upon which I can actually plan with any certainty. Looking at January, February, and March makes me laugh because I didn’t do most of the stuff I planned for January, but I’ve accomplished a lot of my February and March goals already.
  • A pattern has developed in my documentation process, I’ve been consistently a month behind. I find it works better for me to document the past month’s work while actually working through my next set of goals. I often gain new insight into my work when I let myself think on it for awhile before I write about it.

It Snowed! Sorta.

Icy precipitation is more like it.

Icy precipitation is more like it.

Ah…winter in Austin. One day you’re planting fruit trees in a tank top then less than forty-eight hours later, a snow day! (Yes, that was enough to cancel school today.) But, don’t worry, it’ll be tank top weather again by this weekend.

As you might guess, winterization is not something that tends to be a big concern around here with our mild but wacky winters. Our average first frost is around the beginning of December, the last frost is towards the end of February. We tend to have twelve to twenty-four hours of really cold weather once or twice a month during that time.

So far we’ve had two significant cold weather events this season — last month it got down into the mid-20s for two nights, staying below freezing during day, but there wasn’t any precipitation. Then last night it was 24 degrees with icy precipitation. Otherwise, it’s been sunny and warm.

This pattern tends to be confusing for my fruit trees and I was welcoming this cold front. I noticed a couple of days ago that my peach and plum trees were thinking about blooming. Hopefully this will remind them that it’s winter still.

Blooming peach tree, February 23, 2010 -- The last time it snowed.

Blooming peach tree, February 23, 2010 — The last time it snowed.

Since our cold snaps are so short, I’m kind of a hardass when it comes to protecting plants. I’m not interested in coddling, so anything in the ground gets mulched and watered and that’s it. The mulch acts as a blanket for the soil and the moisture moderates the temperature extremes around the roots.

Right now pretty much everything is dormant with the exception of my artichoke and pineapple guava. They were relatively unaffected by the longer exposure to cold temperatures last month, but the exposure to ice and snow seems to have hit them a little harder. We’ll see what happens.

There are some areas in my yard that get a little more attention when it gets cold though and those are:

  • The hens – I chose cold hardy breeds so I don’t worry about them too much. I did have to thaw their water this morning though which was a first. Their coop is positioned such that it’s protected from the sun more than the cold winds, so I board up the windows and cover them with a tarp when necessary. More for my peace-of-mind than anything, I think.
  • Outdoor faucets — I detach any and all hoses and put faucet covers on. Some of the pipes are exposed and those are insulated with foam year round for convenience.
  • Citrus trees — In past years I’ve brought the citrus trees inside. This was the first year I’ve left them outside, for a couple of reasons. Last year when I brought them in, my orange tree was blossoming by Christmas and, as a result, I didn’t get any oranges this year. Also, I eventually want to plant them in the ground so I need to see how cold-tolerant they really are.

    In addition to thick mulch and watering, I tried to place them in, what I thought was, a warmer and more protected microclimate — hugged up to the south side of the house, by the warm dryer vent and protected by the fence. I put my weather station out there with them so I could test and see if it really was any warmer. Turns out it wasn’t. The ‘Meyer’ lemon took the first freeze pretty hard but the satsuma did great. Knowing that snow was likely overnight, I chose to cover them with a sheet last night.

    I brought the lime tree inside both times since it’s small and has fruit on it right now.

  • Potted plants — I water everything and mulch all of my potted plants with leaves from the yard.

    I have a pop-up greenhouse for the first time this year and while it heats up nicely during the day, it doesn’t really protect my plants from the cold. With the exception of the greens that are planted in there, the fate of everything else remains to be seen.

That's about right.

That’s about right.