Editor’s note: This series of blogs was written last year by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist about her and her husband Dennis’ adventures homesteading and running a hostel on Deer Isle. The entire year of blog posts are contained in the book A Homesteader’s Year on Deer Isle (see www.deerislehostel.com).

Summer solstice came and went with the typical cold and ambivalent weather, and June disappeared under our wet feet. All the plants I transplanted out in the garden a month ago are just about the same size now as they were then, sun-starved and pale, but alive.

When Dennis first came here 12 years ago, the driveway went straight through what’s now one of our gardens. Until a few years ago, the other garden area still was a forest floor with standing trees. Now these areas are fertile gardens, created using the natural resources that are so abundant here on the island—from our yard, the forest, the shore and our neighbors’ farms.

We never buy any amendments for our gardens or orchards. No matter how organic, the plastic bags, the obvious processing, the involvement of cash and the transport kinda’ ruins the “natural” for me. Our goal is to use as much as we can from our own farm and after that go as short a distance as possible. We never have to go farther than five miles to get what we need for the gardens and we attribute much of our gardening success, and by extension our ability for living with limited cash and a high level of food security, to the free resources around us.

The major island resource we use is the seaweed that washes up on the beaches here, generally considered one of the top amendments to use in a garden. In spring, we use it as mulch around the plants to suppress weeds, add nutrients and keep the moisture in the ground. We plant our tomatoes by digging a hole, dumping a five-gallon bucket of seaweed in it and planting the tomato right there. We add the seaweed to our compost piles, we put about a foot-thick ring of it around our fruit trees and we feed it to our chickens and to our pigs. In the fall, as we harvest the produce, we cover every bed with it for the winter. We get it by the trailer load and use as much as we can muster hauling in as many ways as we can think up. 

We use oak leaves as mulch for crops that might be planted too close to lay down the bulky seaweed, such as leeks, for example. The leaves need to be shredded, and in preference to chickens over machines, throwing the leaves in the chicken pen not only takes care of the shredding and makes the chickens happy, but it also adds to the fertilization. 

Instead of buying bales of straw, I bring home day lily leaves I cut back in the fall while doing landscaping and gardening around the island. Once again, I throw them in the chicken pen and after a few weeks they’re ready to be used as mulch over our newly planted garlic. Corn stalks and corn leaves cut up and left to dry work just as well.

To lower the pH in our slightly acidic soil we spread about a quart of wood ash from our stove on each garden bed before planting. 

As I have mentioned before, whenever we clean up brush around the yard and woods we stack it in long mounds at the edge of our clearing instead of burning it. Last summer we prepared a new building site and had to move the last residues of a brush pile made about a decade ago. Under a layer of remaining sticks was about a foot of wonderful, rich wood duff that we spread on our orchard. 

We fertilize our fruit trees and flower beds with compost from our outhouses. We use a bucket and sawdust system and empty the content in simple pallet-bins and let it sit for a year before we break the piles open and use it. We use a separate bucket for urine, which after being diluted is an excellent source of nitrogen with which to water heavy feeding crops. 

Every year we raise a couple of pigs that we feed largely from the same natural resources: the forest and the yard. Once we have butchered them and processed all the meat, we burn the bones until they are brittle and can be crushed into bonemeal and spread over our phosphorus-loving crops. From ashes to ashes, from the land to the land. There are always new ways to improve the soil, and a keen eye will be amazed how close and abundant the resources usually are.