All together now…

As we try different combinations of plants and animals at Seven Trees, one thing is becoming clear – nothing stands alone. Two concepts we try to base our decisions on here are ‘low-input’ and ‘multiple purpose’.

Someone recently asked me ‘why ponies?’  Why not mules or horses? In thinking about my answer, I considered all the benefits they provide and how each successful experiment leads to another loose end being tied up.

Ponies are small enough and made in such a way that our tiny place can support 2 of them comfortably, with no added input if we had to forgo buying hay for some reason. Ponies provide manure, which is critical to growing food here without chemical fertilizers. The food we grow also supports our hens, and the hens follow the ponies’ grazing and eat parasites while spreading ‘pony pellets’ across the ground for better absorption by the plant roots that then grow more to feed the ponies, hens & pig.

This pair of Shetlands are competing in a pulling contest, moving 2500 lbs over a set course. Pound for pound, Shetland ponies are the strongest breed of equine around. Gemini & Misty, once trained and conditioned, will be able to help us do a lot of work for a fraction of the upkeep of a larger breed.

Ponies convert grass to manure and pulling power. Hens convert grass, veggies, bugs & grains to eggs. They also keeps pests down, scratch pony poo in to the grass, and provide a different ‘flavor’ of manure. The pig converts food into meat, and tills up sod to be planted later (this year we’ll try growing a wheat patch). Any plant material the hens and pig don’t eat go into compost, with the manure & bedding. Even the weeds and wild plants help out. Nettles are made into a ‘tea’ fertilizer which helps the plants. We leave a certain part of Seven Trees ‘rough’ so that nettles and other beneficial plants have a place to grow.

The wild plants also help feed the bees, who then pollinate our plants and provide us with honey. We’ve been adding lots of herbs to Seven Trees too. They are usually very hardy, low maintenance, self-spreading, and provide seasonings and teas in addition to bee food.

It’s hard to describe how all these elements interact in a linear way, since it is all about interdependence and cycles. Animals make poop. Poop feeds plants. Plants feed people and animals. Animals feed people. People manage animals, poop & plants. And so on.

Pony poo heats up fast and has staying power. In the past it was used in hotbeds like this one so extend the growing season and start veggies early. Another multiple use aspect we're taking advantage of at Seven Trees.

The trick is to find the right animals and plants for the size and climate of place you have. Luckily, we’ve had a lot of practice doing this, and are starting to sort it all out. Trial and error.

Of course this low-input, closed-loop way of doing things isn’t new, and there is a whole science built on it, generally called permaculture. 

Here is the permaculture view of a chicken. If we match its instrinsic characteristics with our needs, and meet its needs, we can take advantage of its products and behaviors. Closing the loop means providing as much of its needs as possible from other elements already a part of Seven Trees.

 We’re not really interested in trying to match some textbook ideal for integrating our efforts, but there is a lot of good information to glean from people doing their own experiments.

It’s a fun challenge to see how many loose ends we can close. And with each step, we save money, eat better, take better care of Seven Trees, and learn something we can share with other interested folks.

Last, but not least – a gratuitous kitty pic…


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