susana’s place

When I begin to think about a farm as a whole being, an organism, it’s not a big leap to begin relating to a farm as an individual, with characteristics and personality all its own.  If you have visited a few farms, you know that each one is different, sometimes in distinct ways, and sometimes in some ineffable manner.  It has been my experience that these small farming operations that are popping up more frequently in our country, and have fed humanity for most of history, are as individuated as the growers who run them, which is to say that each one is quite a character.susanas8

We are reflected in our farms, our homes and gardens, just as we are in our children (like it or not, for better or for worse).  Our little place has its own funky charm, not tidy, but lovely in the evening light, and it cleans up well when we take the time with it.  Just like us.

Over the years I’ve come to love the quirks and characteristics of our friends’ farms in this same way.  We have watched each other alter the landscapes of our own lives.  It is a personal and precious process.

We have other friends, not so near, whose processes we haven’t had the good fortune to witness so closely.  This week, my family tagged along with the KY CRAFT initiative and finally made the trip to one of these places, outside of Berea, Kentucky, to visit our friend Susana Lein on her beautiful mountainside acreage.

I think it’s fair to say that all of us, Robin, Cher, and myself, have known Susana for nearly as long as we’ve known each other.  She comes to the regional Biodynamic Celebration over at Long Hungry Creek Farm each and every year, and also shares her wisdom with the Southern Sustainable Agricultural Workgroup conference regularly.  Kentucky is not a big state – people like us are bound to find each other.  We were friends, long-time friends, and deep admirers of her work, but none of us had ever managed to visit Susana at home.  We were in for a treat.

It is rare to see so much care, so very much love made visible, in a landscape as is present at Salamander Springs Farm.  Susana has lived her principles and values, with all the strength of her (very strong) body and will, and the shape that those combined forces have taken is vital and beautiful.susanas9


the farmwives are soaking it in.

Susana is one of the very few Permaculture practitioners I have known to apply permaculture practice in a market garden.  She walks her talk, and shares it freely with her community, and anyone else who wants to know.  Her hands move when she speaks, and her bright eyes tell you that she’s not just quoting permaculture scripture, she is speaking from the experience, the work, of her whole life.  If her passion is evident in her speech, it is all the more obvious on her farm.


happy worms live here.

Her garden beds, even the 150 foot-long beds of corn and dry beans, have never been turned by a tractor.  They are covered in organic matter, salvaged, donated and bartered for, at all times.  We poked our curious fingers under the thick layers of mulch on that hot dry day and found moist black earth, teeming with life, loose to the touch.  The ground fairly begged to be covered again.

And it wasn’t always like that.  Susana brought out a shovel and showed us the condition of the grassy walking path between the verdant rows.  I’ve rarely seen such poor, rocky clay.  If I hadn’t borne witness to the thriving gardens surrounding that shallow shovel of dry stoney soil, I would feel nothing but pity for a grower trying to make a go of it on that hillside.

But she has made more than a go-of-it.  She has made a life, with unshakable integrity. She carried no debt, lives simply and within her means, engages closed loop on-farm energy cycling, mimics nature (instead of fighting it), and involves the surrounding community with her work through barter economy, seasonal celebration and work days, as well as educational volunteer opportunities that attract international interest.  And besides that, there’s just no arguing with the quality of this woman’s corn.  Some of the stalks grow to 18 feet high by the end of the season.  Have you ever seen corn grow 18 feet high?  Me neither.


magical gardens

Of course, the corn was still relatively short during our trip, but it was still beautiful to see the lovingly tended rows, sunflowers adorning the edges, wooden stakes labeling each variation of bean climbing the shady places between the stalks.

Susana’s small but beautiful hand-made, solar-powered home, complete with a pounded earthen floor, rests below the trees and above the gardens. The farmwives in the group were very nearly teary-eyed at the clean sweetness of that home (not to mention the much-sought-after solar-powered chest freezer).susanas6

Every part of Salamander Springs Farm has been touched with care and intention by Susana, and it shows.  Each and every one of us, from the newest intern to the most experienced homesteaders, were intermittently amazed, inspired, challenged, and awed by our time there.

Susana’s strong and gentle spirit, and the quality of her food, is admirable on its own.  Experiencing the reflection of her integrity and basic goodness from the ground up, on the land she has loves, is phenomenal.

Thanks for sharing the day with us Susana!  We can’t wait to come back again.

If you want to learn more about Salamander Springs Farm, or buy some of Susana’s excellent cornmeal, popcorn, or dried beans, please visit her site at Local Harvest.susanas1

why i don’t spray

I wrote a post awhile back about potato bugs.

It’s a lot of work to squash them.  Mostly because it’s gross.

We tended to do it as a regular job each time we were near the potatoes, but only after we had finished whatever other garden work we had come to do.  That means we were already hot and sweaty and tired by the time we went hunting potato bugs.  Up and down the rows, look for suspect raggedy edges, watch for eggs, watch for new hatches, catch the adults when they drop onto the ground.  It wasn’t the most fun garden work.

But it payed off.  There are no more potato bugs now.

The plants are draping over the rows, suppressing (most) weed growth.  They are lush and green, with just the slightest hint of decline beginning to show, which is exciting because it makes us think there will be potatoes soon.  And there is nary a potato beetle in sight.

Sweet goodness.  What a wonderful thing.

But here’s the real pay-off:

A couple nights ago the kids and I were on the hill, picking sugar snap peas and pulling more and more and more weeds.  The sun went sinking behind the hill and I was still finishing with the peas.

Then the light show began.  Swarms of fireflies lifted out of the corn and potatoes and hovered at knee height, flashing in some strange syncopated rhythm, like a wave of stars across the field.  Literally, they were bumping against my legs as I walked down the row.  It was amazing to be standing among them.  We watched as they slowly rose, blinking their special star-language, ever upward.

We noticed them, along with the pretty ladybugs, on those hot days as we pinched the potato bugs.  They hide under the garden leaves during the day, and they always seems a little shy to me when I find them.  I try to give them space, pretend I don’t see them.  They seem much more comfortable with themselves in the night.

It would have been much easier to spray something on the potatoes to wipe out the bugs, but whatever killed potato bugs would also kill fireflies.

If we had sprayed, we wouldn’t have known what we were missing.

But now we do.

And that’s why I don’t spray.


i don’t have a camera capable of capturing those lights. this picture was found on the following site, which i encourage you to visit: and used with gratitude.

For fascinating firefly information, check this out:



tea time

Coree wonders… about the moon.  These beautiful Springs nights with whip-poor-wills loud and clear and the moon so big – so inspiring.  I’ve noticed over the years, just through observation, that the garden seems to stand on tip toe when the moon is full, and seeds germinate fast.  The dry spell before this one we were busy planting planting planting, but it was a new moon, and almost everything has been slow to germinate.

We’ve all done a fair amount of studying about gardening, Biodynamic and organic.  I wonder what you use now – practically – of these extra-planetary influences.

Stella Natura calendar? Local hardware store almanac calendar?  Dry days as available?  How does it work at your place?

with love and curiosity, Coree

Robin replies…

we actually love using the stella natura calendar. it has always been presented to me as a guide to use with care, always taking into account local conditions. so, we read it, acknowledge it, and adhere to it as best we can. it offers guidance. when the days are full and the lists long, the planting calendar is yet another tool we can use to help us prioritize. when planetary alignment is such that a day is best spent with root vegetables or leafy delights, so be it! we have noticed again and again, that noting solar, lunar and planetary alignments aids us in our farming (and so many other aspects of life). these are powerful forces at work, we know that on so many levels, so recognizing them as such and working with them helps us day in and day out.

Cher replies…

Practicality rules here. While we do consult the Stella Natura calendar, it is not the end all for us. Practical, common sense observations of current and forecasted weather conditions guide us more than anything else. In this region of southern Kentucky, sometimes a planting window can literally be just a few hours of time. If we were to choose not to plant because of certain astrological forces, we might altogether miss a window and therefore miss out on particular crops for the entire season. We have to take chances, even when certain forces may be suggesting otherwise. It is a lot like gambling… you win some, you lose some. But you can’t say something didn’t work unless you have tried it for yourself. When we do get planting done in accordance with the biodynamic planting recommendations, we give ourselves a big pat on the back, for sure! Seeding in the greenhouse is a little more flexible, because you are not at the mercy of soil conditions in the open garden. So with greenhouse work, we are able to follow the planting calendars a bit more closely. I have always felt, though, that the gardener’s intentions can have a lot of merit in the success or failure of crops… so let us enjoy our work in the garden, project positive thoughts and be rewarded for our work in more ways than just a big harvest!