by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Long ago, I learned much from studying Maya farmers in southern Mexico and the Guatemala Highlands. Through the two decades that I lived on large farms, this information was interpolated with the gardening techniques of my grandparents . . . which really were not that different than the techniques used by Maya farmers. So at my homestead in the Nacoochee Valley, I was able to create a relatively compact mountainside terrace garden, which will put food on the table most of the year. Both the collards and the turnips will survive mountain winters, if properly bedded. My blackberry mega-bush and rhubarb plants are so productive now, I plan to start making wine from them when temperatures cool a bit.
My property is located at about 1800 feet above sea level at the crest of a low mountain overlooking the Chattahoochee River and Nacoochee Valley. Most of the property is a 100 ft.+ deep ravine, which is unsuitable for agriculture, but attracts a wide variety of critters. I have found deposits of volcanic ash, pumice and black lava bombs in the top soil, so apparently the two gas volcanoes 7 and 10 miles to the north were regular volcanoes in the recent past. The fertile volcanic soil is composed of volcanic ashes, plus many centuries of decomposed leaves and wood. It is acidic and therefore, for most crops must be “sweetened” with agricultural lime and crushed, cooked egg shells.
In addition, I practice biochar agriculture, which involved the mixing of charcoal with soil, plus the application of wood stove ashes in the winter. I intentionally burn most of my kitchen scrap bones in the wood stove. The dogs get to eat the rib bones, however. I also compost all the weeds that I pull up in the garden and in the yard. Just as in the case of manure, the heat from bacterial decomposition will kill the weed seeds and roots.
My garden is focused on the growing of vegetables and herbs that have become much more expensive in the supermarket, plus perennials. Corn and tomatoes grow much better in the valley adjacent to our modest mountain. I just buy them from farm markets.