The Goodship Garden Begins

DSC_0025We have never had a proper garden before. Just a few mediocre attempts in pots on our old balcony, some basil, tomatoes, a few successful pea-pods. In the back of my mind, I’ve always planned on becoming a farmer. Perhaps not on any large scale. But to have land someday and grow all the food we need to live. You know: the typical self-sufficiency dream that urbanites like us startĀ contemplating with the first homegrown cherry tomato. ā€œWe could just GROW our own food!ā€ As if it were a novel idea. But why not? Most small-scale farming is done the traditional way: growing one crop, all in rows, on a tilled field by itself. Monoculture. It’s the way humans have grown food for millennia. A farmer can cover acres in one particular crop, keep some and sell the rest in order to get other crops from other farmers – since you can’t just live on one crop, right? Which doesn’t seem very self-sufficient. What if you grow everything you might need (as a vegan, of course šŸ˜‰ together in one small area? A food forest, where fruit trees shade vegetables, made with the intention of eventually becoming an entire ecosystem of various edible plants. That’s what Permaculture is all about, an attempt to emulate natural systems. Instead of battling with insects, animals and weeds in your garden – you allow nature to do its thing. When there are varieties of plants together, they develop symbiotic beneficial relationships that make each plant stronger. In typical agriculture or monoculture, plants are far more prone to attacks by ā€œpestsā€.

15600_1632577153643311_4358514898396981367_nIn Permaculture, ā€œpestsā€ can be seen as part of a vibrant ecology, since most insects are actually beneficial, most all plants require them to pollinate. To keep the insects in control, however – it’s a good idea to invite some birds into the garden with a feeder, they will gladly munch on some caterpillars for you. And the caterpillars that survive soon become the beautiful butterflies that pollinate your food. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. The Goodship Garden is no where close to being a food forest, nor are we planning to make it one. We currently rent our space short-term. We got very lucky that our landlord is fine with us digging up a bit of his yard for this experiment.

I have been reading about Permaculture for awhile, about Permaculturalists like Sepp Holzer, Paul Wheaton, and Geoff Lawton. One permaculture technique that struck me as pure genius is called Hugelkultur (the Austrian Sepp Holzer is the originator). Garden beds are created using mounds of logs in trenches. The wood slowly rots under the soil, holding moisture like a sponge and encouraging fungal growth which feed nutrients to the roots of your plants. Geoff Lawton has created oases of green in the desert of Jordan using this technique. So the drought-stricken dirt yard we live on in the San Fernando Valley shouldn’t be that difficult in comparison. I built four small Hugelkultur mounds for the Goodship Garden. I found some logs and odd pieces of wood from a cut tree at the side of the road and bought some organic soil from the garden store.

IMG_2411First I dug trenches a foot-deep and lined them with cardboard. Cardboard initially helps the mounds to retain water. I piled up the logs with random twigs, leaves and branches – anything I could find around the property. Then I covered the piles with the poor quality dirt I had dug out of the trenches, topping them off with good store-bought organic soil. I also left a small space at the beginning of the garden for a compost pile. I probably bought 8 bags of soil, but hopefully I won’t have to buy anymore as my compost pile matures and gives us some homemade soil.

IMG_4649Everyone’s first question here in drought-stricken California, is “how much water are you using?” And this question lets me brag about the coolest part of the garden…it is beingĀ irrigated 100% by our own recycled grey-water. The convenient thing about living in the Goodship is that we already have tanks in place for retaining our grey-water (shower and sink water). So all of our water gets double use. As long as we use natural soaps and detergents (such as Dr. Bronner’s) the plants in the garden will thrive. In fact, our grime and food scraps is exactly what the plants love.

IMG_3039 So now the experiment has begun. We’ve sown corn, squash, spinach, arugula, chard, cauliflower, sunflowers, marigolds, tomatoes, a few kinds of kale, jade beans, green beans, other greens and herbs. We shall see what happens and we’ll post harvests here. There will always be more plants to plant and different things to try.

IMG_2973Early on, we planted a head of organic butter lettuce from the supermarket, the kind that come with the roots still attached. It soon began to flower and the bees went nuts. We’d never seen a lettuce bloom before. Little yellow flowers came out in tree-like formation. In no time most of the flowers were pollinated, they turned to seeds much like dandelion seeds, with wispy hairs to carry them on the wind. But we took them, dug up the old lettuce and planted it’s next generation in the same area. Now we’ve got a bunch of the next generation growing. And so it begins, custom Goodship lettuce. By Taylor Flannagan

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Going Small ~ A Three Part Love Story ~ Part Three

Part Three ~ Movin’ Out!Ā 

Here we are having donated enough items to partially clothe and furnish half of the San Fernando Valley (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration) it’s time to get serious about this downsizing plan. Tiny living in a big city is not as easy as one might imagine. Where do we even begin? This…is the guts and glory of the story so stick with me.

Step one for us was deciding what type of RV would be best suited to our lifestyle. Class A RVs can be high-end and beautifully furnished, but they come with a huge downfall…an engine. What happens when there are major mechanical issues? Do you put your “home” in the shop for a week and live in a motel? How would that even work logistically? In addition to that, you have to tow a smaller vehicle to get around in the city to shop and take care of day-to-day activities. When we move off-grid, we will definitely need a truck to get building supplies. A truck and fifth-wheel it is.

Years ago I saw a picture of the Airstream SkyDeck and fell head over heels in love. And then I saw the price tag and came to terms with the fact that this particular rolling home was nothing but a dream. That isĀ until we were perusing Craig’s List and came across the StarDeck! It was absolutely perfect. Not only did it have a rooftop deck but a second bed for when my son comes home. It is a toy hauler so easily customized to fit our needs as opposed to other types of RVs that have all built-in furniture. (More on the Goodship in a future post.)

Although we had already bought it in our minds, we took a drive down the next day to take a look. It was previously a demo model so we got a fabulous deal and purchased it on the spot…having no way to tow it and nowhere to store it. Luckily, the seller was willing to let us store it there until we formulated any sort of a plan. It was everything we needed and just big enough to make me feel confident we would be comfortable. It was too good to pass up. We will call it The Goodship and it will be home.

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We drove away and immediately realized what we were doing. It was happening and it was happening fast. We had to at a very minimum get a truck to tow it….NOW! We had a few things working against us in this search for a truck:

  1. We knew nothing about trucks.
  2. We knew nothing about towing.
  3. It had to be strong enough to tow a minimum of 9,800 pounds. That’s the weight of the Goodship empty.
  4. It could not have leather seats. Good luck!!
  5. It had to be newer than 2004 to be financed.
  6. It had to be under 100,000 miles to be financed.
  7. We were on a tight budget having just purchased the Goodship.

We came across an amazing service called Lemon Squad. You can order an inspection online and have an inspector go out to a dealer or private seller and do a full inspection for you. They arrange the inspection time, enter the report online, and email you detailed results. The inspector went beyond the call of duty and taught us a great deal about towing vehicles. I swear we don’t get a commissionĀ for recommending them, but they saved us from making a very big mistake.

On the second vehicle we had inspected we found a winner. A 2007 Dodge 3500 Quad Cab dually with no leather and a suitable hitch! When we ordered the inspection the sellers didn’t show the truck to any other potential buyers because they could tell we were serious. A very kind gesture, indeed. We bought it from the nicest family who like Lemon Squad, went above and beyond to teach us about the truck. It was slightly more than we wanted to pay, but this was a choice involving safety. We will call him Grux and he will carry our home for us.

We mentally offset the guilt of buying a large diesel truck with the fact that moving into the fifth-wheel reduces our consumption far beyond the impact of the truck. The Saturn is the primary vehicle, anyway.

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As soon as we purchased the Goodship we posted an ad on Craig’s List looking for a place near work to park it. It was up for about three months prior to us finding the truck and we got zero responses. Literally two days after finding the truck we got three responses to the ad! If that isn’t the Universe working for you I, don’t know what is. One of those three responses was exactly what we were looking for. It even had RV hook-ups already!

We sent our 30 day notice to our current landlord and started getting ready to move into the Goodship. Our landlord was gracious and understanding and the move went off without a hitch (pun!). We picked up the Goodship and rolledĀ into our new space and with the help of our amazing new landlord, immediately made it home.

By Jessica Caviness

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