Agritourism: Imladris Farm

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sun, Jul 21, 2013 - 3:06am

We recently had to visit Asheville, NC, to go to a family wedding. Now, Asheville is the epicenter of sustainable agriculture for the American Southeast, so this was not an opportunity to be wasted. There were many sustainable farms with tours, and we could not see them all in the time available. We made an appointment to tour Imladris Farm.

Imladris Farm was named after Rivendell, the place Elrond in the movie & book The Lord of the Rings lived: Imladris was elvish for Rivendell (riven- cloven or cut in two, dell). It was way up on one of those steep hill tops that is really a mountaintop on this high plateau between mountain ranges. Lots of winding roads in the middle of nowhere culminated in a gravel road full of muddy ruts that climbed up next to the loud, deep-cloven stream that gave the place its name. I don’t think we’d have ever found it without GPS . And I could see why they needed a firm appointment: the blueberries they had been picking today were on another piece of land they owned that was three or four miles off-site.

Our tourvguide and friendly farmer Roger and his 10-year-old son met us as we drove up to the end of the road. He showed us where to park under the shadow of a dilapidated ruin that was far past reclaiming any building materials save the stone from the fireplace. It was his grandparent’s neglected house that has succumbed to the relentless Southern humidity. My husband nodded, “One leak in the roof and an empty house is soon gone in the South.”

How to reduce that magical, practical, instructive, friendly visit to the page? Roger looked just like his photo on the website. He said he inherited the farm 13 years ago, and after a try at growing vegetables (“I have a black thumb for vegetables,” he admitted) he switched to fruit. This was not surprising to me since there were three insanely large apple trees on the property[1], from which they make apple butter, and the land was dotted with enormous wild raspberry bushes – plus that remote area full of mature blueberry bushes...although I am not sure if he planted those or they came with the farm. On top of the wild raspberries they cleared an acre and added commercial raspberries in rows, with drip irrigation from a conveniently elevated spring, and a smaller area of farmed blackberries. No chemicals! We got to sample the berries.

He described his wild raspberries as “invasive,” but I would not mind if they invaded the weeds behind our house and we may get cuttings. We described our place and our gardening; our host knew about and admires Joel Salatlin so he’s clued in about peak oil. He worries like we do about the inevitable on-going decline of our country and civilization. But unlike semi-rural us he is as accepted in this rural neighborhood as can be, since his family farmed this land for generations and he inherited it. These people are semi-self sufficient, with lots of wood and a woodstove and neighbors who make other things. They don’t even try to meet all their needs, but sell their jams, eggs and rabbit meat for cash and barter for what they don’t make. They echoed the advice of a guest lecturer at my online NC State “Intro to Permaculture” class, a guy who spoke on the topic of “The Economics of Permaculture”: sell retail, not wholesale – but with a twist. Roger and Wendy show up at farmer’s markets with shelf-stable food, and at the end of the day the farmers with perishable things are more than willing to barter for them! Good thought.

As I mentioned, they also raise chickens for eggs and meat, and rabbits for meat. This is accomplished by an ingenious shed  on a hillside, where the bunnies are in suspended cages in the shade, with the open sides placed where a breeze can cut through and the closed sides and shade trees keeping out the fierce Southern summer sun. Rabbits cannot take heat. Above a certain temperature the male rabbits go temporarily sterile and at a slightly higher temp they go permanently sterile. Heat tape handles the winters and a very fine (to keep the droppings dry) misting--again from that conveniently gravity-fed spring--cools the cages during the summer. My husband was able to use his background in building temperature controls to help Roger plan some improvements to the misting system to make it more cooling and efficient. We saw that the mother rabbit is given a wooden nesting box full of straw, and pulls out much of her hair for her children (insert snide motherhood remark here) to add to the nest. Underneath the rabbit cages all five breeds of chickens they have were scratching the rabbit manure and straw, pulljng out seeds and insects, and eating larvae to keep the flies away. The mixture of straw plus chicken and rabbit manure, aided by the scratching, automatically rolled downhill and out of the shed. There were two compost heaps at the base: aged and aging. Very efficient.

Their final farm product was black locust trees for a neighbor who does Adirondack furniture-making. Next to the clearing he’s made for the blackberries there was a huge grove of 1 to 2-ft-high black locust tree saplings, still sporting dayglow tags since they had recently been in danger of being mowed with tall weeds. Three homemade chicken tractors in between the trees kept the weeds and bugs down and fertilized things. Brian and I took careful note of the design features of his chicken tractors. When Roger told us proudly that Black locusts were nitrogen-fixers and I grinned and asked if he intended to coppice them, he grinned back. (Coppicing is a sustainable ag term. INthis case he's cutting back nitrogen-fixing tree leaves, and using the nitrogen-rich leaves as fertilizer, Trimming back such trees has the added benefit of shocking the nitrogen-fixing bacteria nodules in the tree roots into releasing lots of nitrogen. It's a sustainable way to fertilize adjacent plants, Google "coppicing nitrogen" to find plants that will do this in your area. We're coppicing Mimosa trees.)  We had a nice talk about permaculture techniques. He had me give him info on EricToensmeier’s book, Paradise Lot, and the NC State "Intro to Permaculture" class I am monitoring.

Our last stop was the springhouse, where they sell their raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, and mixed berry jams – and apple butter and rabbit meat. We bought quite a bit or jam, set up a jam exchange for our fig/lemon/walnut jam, and unselfconsciously talked about retail profit margins (50 to 90%) compared to the wholesaling to the natural foods market or supermarket (10%). What a great tour. I was very glad I’d worn my water and mud proof shoes, though.  


[1] Roger told the tale of most of the local Asheville farms he knows, about apples. The original settlers each came with a packet of about 100 kinds of apple seeds, and after they cleared their land they scattered them. After the seeds grew and the apple trees bore fruit the three best apple trees were saved and the others were cut down for firewood. He’s had an expert on heirloom apples come and look at his apples and the guy had never seen whatever variety they were!

 

8 Comments

Don35's picture
Don35
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Posts: 43
Cool!

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

Grover's picture
Grover
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Nitrogenous Trees

Wendy,

Interesting. I hadn't thought about using trees to fix nitrogen. Both locust and mimosa are in the same genetic family as beans, clover, and peas (fabaceae.) It makes sense that nitrogen fixing bacteria would be associated with the "woody" peas. So how do you take advantage of the fixed nitrogen? Do you have to cut the trees (coppicing) and then plant in the drip line? Are you aware of any nitrogen fixers that aren't in the pea family?

Grover

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
Nitrogen-fixing trees

There are nitrogen-fixing trees, but I understsand most of them use a slighly different biological mechanism for fixing nitrogent than peas and clover (black locust uses the same as legumes, though.) There are a lot of lists of nitrogen-fixing trees, but the best resource is, in my opinion, the Nitrogen Fixing Plants for Temperate Climate Permaculture list. It has trees, shrubs, vines and plants and list what USDA zones they will grow in. All categories have items listed alphabetically, by scientific name, and I suggest you first think of the height you need and then the zone, and then research your choices within that.

The list is truly huge and I am not going to copy it here, or risk plangerism. I will say we are planning to get three plants off the list. the first two are not related to the pea family. Sea Buckthorn, which has 100X the vitamin C of orange juice and Goumi, which has lovely fruit and increases the yields off adjancet trees by 10%. We will also plant some white clover as overwinter ground covers in our raised beds. Let us know which ones you choose! 

Grover's picture
Grover
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Actual Specifics of Implementation

Wendy,

Thanks for the link. How are you planning to use these trees for nitrogen fixation? Do they have a nitrogen fixing bacteria association, or are you just planning to mulch the leaves? I see that Buckthorn is dioecious (2 households) which means that each plant is unisexual. If you don't plant a male plant with your female plants, you won't get any fruit. It is also in the Rosales Order (named after the roses.) Does it have the same fungal issues as roses?

I've planted clover and then plowed it under to increase the nitrogen and organic content of the soil. Clover seeds are pesky and sprout long after the field has been turned. Depending on the crop, that aspect is good or absolutely maddening.

Currently, my wife has horses. We feed them pasture after it has lost most of its sugar content and then we collect the manure and any supplemental uneaten hay. We pile it in a large pile and let it sit for a year. Then, I painstakingly, move it (break it into cobble sized pieces and turn it) to another location and let it sit another year. The worms love it. The resulting compost is to die for. I had it tested 2 years ago and again last year. It is ultra high in all the major nutrients (except for calcium and sulphur) and very low in sodium. I augment with gypsum (calcium sulfate) to raise those levels. I use it for my greenhouse buckets and top dress the fruit trees. I also add about 1-2" per year to my garden. You can tell when the calcium/magnesium levels are in balance with tomatoes. If you get blossom end rot, you need more calcium. If the plants are sickly, you need more magnesium. I've read that the ideal calcium/magnesium ratio is 11:1. I use epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to keep the equilibrium. So far, I've never found an upper limit to sulfur. Sulfur adds flavor. If your strawberries look peaked, try mixing some epsom salts in the water. Wow!

I've always been a fan of symbiotic plantings. The use of perennial trees just sounds so intriguing! I'm trying to wrap my mind around the concept so I can incorporate it in future plantings. Have you heard of hugelkultur (covering logs in about 6" to a foot of soil and letting the rotting trees fertilize the garden?) My neighbor cut some cottonwood trees last year. Rather than burn them, I suggested this method of disposing of them. It is supposed to provide fertilizer and reduce water needs. The plantings aren't as robust as I was led to expect, but the trees were still living when cut. I'll withhold judgment until next year. If you're going to try this, I'd stay away from trees that have plant inhibitors (like walnut.)

I really appreciate your efforts to educate us. It is a tremendous amount of work, but your work touches many. You never know when a concept will light a fire and trigger a motivation. Thankyou very much,

Grover

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
Seaberry diseases

Grover, re your Sea Buckthorn disease question: this is the best info I could find online

"At the present time, few pests or diseases on sea buckthorn have been reported. The most damaging insect is green aphids, rose leaf roller, gypsy moth, gall tick, comma-shaped scale, fruit fly, and caterpillars. Diseases reported on sea buckthorn are verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, damping off, brown rot, and scab. The pests which cause damage to sea buckthorn include deer, birds, mice, and rats. However, since sea buckthorn is a new cultivated crop, there are no registered pesticides or fungicides. Research is underway in Canada to find the best chemical and organic control measures." source Thiomas S.C. Li, Product Development of Sea Buckthorn  http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-393.html, (which references J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.) (emphasis mine)

Frankly, I was holding off until I knew more about the plant. Verticillium wilt is very common in my area, and Sea Buckthorn (seaberry) plants are not inexpensive.

As to your other question: Personally, I think "hugelkultur"is more suited to cooler climates because the heat from the rotting vegitation increases the gowing season there. Here, I barely have a month off in the winter!

I'm so jealous of your enriched soil. We have three horse farms within a mile of our house but I cannot seem to get my husband to shovel the free manure on an off our trailer on the weekends, for some reason or other. I think we need chickens for more than eggs and meat...*sigh* You, on the over hand, have your sh*t together!

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
coppicing question

Grover, I forgot to tell you how we use the mimosa trees to fix nitrogen. It's invasive in zone 8, but for permaculture coppicing that's a good thing. Keep in mind the semitropical nature of my region--we have a mimosa in the woods behind our house that is 50-ft tall. So it's not surprising that the stumps of the mimosa trees we cleared from our lot keep sprouting. And sprouting.

We planted a row of Ameican Hazelnuts near a cut minosa tree and the hazelnut sapling closet to the mimosa stump is noticably larger from the mimosa roots shedding nitrogen everytime we cut it back. The nitrogen-rich mimosa leaves go into our compost.

Rob P's picture
Rob P
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Posts: 85
Oh, Grover

I can tell you from experience that there is an upper limit to sulphur.  Once, a long time ago, I overcompensated with garden sulphur to address high Ph caused by my dumping way too much potash into some beds.  There definitely is an upper  limit. It took years to dilute that and get it all balanced out again. I can't remember the exact effects - but, not good at some point.  That was just old garden Suphur.  But also, you can get tooo much potassium going as I proved to myself through the same mistake.

I ended up adding lots of manure (rabbit and horse), and deep tilling.  Over time this got me back in balance.

Also, sulphur may make some things taste better, but I do believe onions become hotter and more pungent.

In terms of Calc/mag, I've been liming with a mix of 2 parts straight  calcium carb to 1 part dolomitic limestone (mag).  I'm going to send for another soil test, but it has seemed to be working.  Maybe go to 3 to 1.  I'm still at it.

Wendy I hear you on the nitrogen fixing charateristics of mimosa, but I really have trouble warming up to them.  They just drive me crazy popping where I don't want them all the time.  I should come to terms with them I guess.

Grover's picture
Grover
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Posts: 840
Too much is too much

Rob,

You are right. There is an upper limit to just about everything. I shouldn't be quite so cavalier about suggesting its use. I had my soil tested when I moved to my current location and it had slightly low sulphur content. So, for me, it works. I like gypsum and epsom salts because they don't affect the pH. Lime and dolomite will raise the pH. Again, if that is what is desired, it is great. Certain plants (like blueberries) prefer an acidic soil. The closer you get to optimum conditions, the better the plants do.

I'm glad you found a combination that works. I keep trying new things on test subjects and when I find a winning prescription, I incorporate it from then on. The thought of a hot, pungent onion is making my mouth (and eyes) water.

Grover

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