Location: Penrose Colorado.
Size: 4.5 acres (4.25 acres alfalfa, .25 acre gardens)
Gardeners: Bob and Sharon Marr
How we started
I had Aunts and Uncles that lived on farms and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the country. My fondest memories were from my Grandmother’s garden. She kept a large garden until she was in her 80’s. I remember her orchard and eating my fill of fresh peaches, plums and pears.
Sharon was raised in San Francisco in the middle of all the noise of city sounds. She remembers staying at her Aunt’s farm, waking up to he birds chirping and the peaceful sounds of the country. She remembers loving eating fresh figs and cracking walnuts from her Aunt’s orchard.
Soon after Sharon and I bought our first house we started to garden in the mid 1970’s. We moved to the country in the early 1980’s and started a 50’x100’ garden. We raised chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs and rabbits for food. We canned fruit from farm stands and our vegetables.
We moved to our present location in Penrose in 1985, and soon after we started converting our garden to organic growing practices. We grow most of our food for the year, and freeze surplus for winter storage. We also save as many variety of seeds we can from our garden as possible. It is February and we are still eating tomatoes and potatoes harvested from our garden in October and November.
Our exposure to Shumei Natural Agriculture (NA) started with a lunch at Crestone Center in Colorado. During a lunch, I noticed that some of the carrots had a vibration to them. I was surprised because the carrots were cooked and I still noticed the energy that the rest of vegetables in the stew did not have. It was explained to me that some of the vegetables were NA and some were organic. We knew we needed to explore NA.
What is our motivation to garden?
In the late ‘60’s thru the ‘70’s, the “back to the land” movement was going strong here in the U.S. J.I. Rodale’s How to Grow Vegetable and Fruits by the Organic Method, and Organic Gardening were strong influences as well as Mother Earth News. Living the Good Life and Continuing the Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing were also strong influence in fueling our motivation for rural living and self-sufficiency.
Since our introduction to Shumei and NA we have discovered our spiritual connection to our land, farm and gardens. We have discovered the beauty, superior food and spiritual connection to our plants and land.
How we keep our garden working full time jobs?
Sharon and I have both worked full time jobs (I just recently retired) and have been able to maintain our lives and gardens. You can too.
You can grow most of your fresh vegetables during Spring, Summer and Fall, for a family of four in just 200 square feet.
You have to make a plan, chunk your work, water with automatic timers and mulch to hold in moisture and suppress weeds. Weeding and watering are the largest consumers of garden time. If you can reduce those chores the rest of the garden becomes more manageable. We also located our grow lights right in our entryway so we “have” a look at how the seedlings are growing every time we come in or go out of our house.
We have an Excel spread sheet that shows where plants are placed in the garden; and, we have another application that lists all the plants we grow and when the seeds need to be started and the plants set out. Every week or two we print out a new list of what we need to do for the garden. Then we break up the tasks for the week in 10-15 minute “chunks”.
Individual chunks might be: Preparing planting mix; placing planting mix in a seeding tray or container; rounding up containers; rounding up the seeds to be planted; cleaning seeds we saved from the garden so we can plant them; planting the seeds; watering the containers and placing them under the grow lights. Notice that all those steps can be done any time of day and indoors. I usually will spend a half hour or so after dinner.
In our most active gardening months we could spend as little as an hour a day each to keep up our gardens; but likely we spend more time in the garden because we like being there. We spend more time if we are harvesting vegetables or I am trellising plants.
“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”
– Henry Ford
What is the difference between organic and NA
The major differences between NA and Organic is that with NA, you can’t use anything in the soil other than leaves and grass to hold in moisture. With NA, you don’t rotate your vegetables, the soil and plant will learn to accommodate to each other. I gave up manure pretty easily because if you didn’t produce the manure yourself, you really don’t know what was fed to the animals. I worried about things like antibiotics being in the manure. Not rotating crops was the principal hardest to understand at first because it was very counter intuitive to all my previous teachings.
We went to NA because the energy of these vegetables were very different from normal organic vegetables.
Your soil and plants need to go through a purification process over several years and soil and plants will strengthen and we will see less and less insect damage and the vegetables keep getting stronger and better.
We had two interesting observations with NA:
Although we plant carrots in several different locations in our boxes, we noticed that the carrots planted in the exact location where the seed came from were much larger, grew faster, and tasted sweeter than carrots grown with the same seed just 12-15 feet away almost the same soil composition, and the same weather conditions.
One day while picking peas, I noticed several different parasitic wasps and many lady bugs running all over the place. There were hundreds of lady bugs in all stages of development, when I dug down further I found many aphids growing, but the lady bugs were running all over eating aphids—since the aphids were eating my peas I was somewhat concerned, but the peas showed no plant damage.
At first I thought NA would be like organic, but in my opinion it’s a higher level practice. The practice you follow is more about purification of your soil and teaching your plants how to live and grow in harmony with your environment and soil.
I am more aware that when I am working in my garden. It is as much meditation as it is gardening. I am more aware of the beauty and energy of God in Nature.
What are our plans for the future?
My projects are working on a system to grow most vegetables needed for a family of four in only 200 square feet adapted to NA. Only leaves, grass and compost are added to the boxes. We are able to grow vegetables from May to November.
We want to install a greenhouse to allow us year around production of fresh vegetables. This would allow us to grow less and freeze less during the summer and eat fresh vegetables all year long.
I also would like to expand and develop our land into a permaculture food forest based around NA practices.
“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, no culture comparable to that of the garden … But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Garden Book, 1811