The Hunolt Homestead Part 1 – Organic Farming
By Jason and Branwen Hunolt
Proving How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet Garden of Life® associate Jason Hunolt and his wife Branwen are living a dream in their dream homestead—a lovely historical home with a few acres that includes a 3,600 square-foot organic farm and more. Here’s a look at their progress—straight talk from the Hunolts about what it takes to build and live out that dream.
It’s been an interesting first few months carving out the framework of our organic farm that was birthed in our hearts. My wife and I have ideas that are shared by many and pursued by few, but we decided to embark on this adventure anyway.
Here’s a bit of a backdrop
I’m an herbalist, and a Territory Manager at Garden of Life, whose uncompromising commitment for organic and non-GMO food and products ignited a deeper passion in me and Branwen to take this even more personally and live it out daily: we wanted to set up a permaculture/organic/non-GMO homestead consisting primarily of fruits, veggies and medicinal herbs. We are avid organic farmers, and completely embrace the non-GMO movement for many reasons too numerous to list here. Additionally, we wanted a new—or renewed—understanding of human beings’ relationship with their mother, our Earth.
We started with a couple of tasks—outside of learning how to care for and maintain multiple landscaped acres. Our initial foray into our organic farm venture was to test the theories and suppositions we have apprehended over the years and to provide an empirical structure to judge them against— a rather daunting task.
Daunting or not, however, Branwen and I are up to the task because it’s that important to us. We choose to heal, to honor the Earth, to leave our mark—not only for ourselves and our daughter, Estelle, but for generations who follow.
How Our Organic Gardening Dream Became a Reality
After many years of having a handful of small raised beds growing vegetables, we knew that we wanted an organic garden—a big one. In short, the variety of vegetables that we wanted to grow could never fit in three 8’x 5’ plots. Don’t get us wrong. You certainly can grow a nice amount of food in that space, but one winter squash plant can take over two of those, if it wanted to, and we simply wanted more veggies than just winter squash.
We say that we wanted to have a big organic garden, but we never had the opportunity to have one until recently, when we had a chance to purchase a beautiful historical home with a few acres. As you can imagine, we leapt at the chance to buy the house and the land—and to start our mega organic garden.
Our dream was becoming reality and our imaginations began running wild to turn the most pressing projects into reality as soon as we moved in. That said, our top priorities (if not essentials) were to create a 3,600 square-foot garden and make an 11’ x 12’ chicken coop. Believe us when we say that it’s much easier said than done.
Our Garden and Chicken Coop Adventure
Take our garden, for instance. The garden needed a rabbit fence ASAP. Why? Apparently, the boxwoods in the landscaping were home to a little rabbit farm, so we couldn’t plant anything until the rabbit fence was in place. So, what we thought we needed to tackle first became more like second and third. The rabbit fence had to happen first. Next up, we realized that you don’t just go create a garden aimlessly, so we also have been putting swales in the garden because we want to incorporate permaculture principles to create as much of a self-sustaining and self-maintaining system as possible.
So, what is permaculture? Glad you asked!
Permaculture is the concept of creating permanent agricultural systems. This traditionally includes features that allow natural resources such as water to be captured and stored to maximum efficiency.
Now for polycultures . . . Polycultures are plants that not only have beneficial or harmonious relationships with each other, but also enrich the soil and support the soil and landscape structure. They could be plants that add nitrogen, plants that have deep roots or mats of roots that create soil stability for slopes, or even plants whose roots loosen compacted soil, allowing water to soak in the landscape and allowing you to work the soil easily.
In short, everything is multipurpose. You see? There is much more to gardening than meets the eye.
Even water has its ups and downs—literally. We have preserved water in some cases, and lost it monumentally in others, but our goal is to find a way to not need to irrigate our fields in any way. So far, we are succeeding, but we have a lot to learn and only time will tell if this will work over the long haul.
While we were scrambling to get our garden going and chicken coop built, we were at the mercy of an exceptionally rainy and steamy summer. You know Mother Nature—she is going to do what she does, so you just have to work around her!
Speaking of working around . . . we also had to work around our job responsibilities and commitments as well as family obligations. We knew that going into this, but some times we sure wished there were more hours in the day! And then, every so often, there are setbacks because, well, life just happens and being human gets the best of us. For example, we lost some precious time with a window of good weather due to Jason being very ill for five days from—of all things— a bad case of food poisoning. Can you believe it? When it rains, it pours. During that time, Branwen wished that she had some carpentry skills and gigantic muscles like Jason does, but, sadly, she didn’t get her wish, so we had to wait until Jason recuperated.
Now for the latest on the chicken coop adventure.
The breed of chickens we purchased ended up growing feathers incredibly fast. We have never had chickens fly so early before, and we’ve never seen anything like it! That really upped the ante for us to get the chicken coop livable, though, since they were quickly outgrowing their box with the heat lamp.
Happily, the almost-fully-feathered chickens are now in their new home—the chicken coop. They love perching on the natural branches and stumps that we fixed inside. We still have to finish some trim and add the roofing shingles, though. The next big project is to finish the enclosed run for them to enjoy the outdoors. That, too, seems to be an ongoing endeavor, but Estelle absolutely adores those baby chicks and cradles them when we check in on them. It’s so cute! She learns something new every day about organic farming.
How Our Garden Has Grown!
In the meantime, our garden has been growing like gangbusters! By early August, we had already harvested all of our French salad radishes, and the Daikon radishes were quickly maturing. Beets were being pulled and lacto-fermented, and the carrots were ready, too. Peas had already finished, reaching their peak by the time the dog days of summer rolled around. The garlic was completed as well. Pepper cress had already gone to seed, while the cucumbers were starting to really produce. The corn was growing fast, and the sweet potatoes were thriving, while the winter squash and watermelon plants were doing what they do best— taking over as much land as possible while sending out flowers galore.
Our culinary herbs were happy in the August weather, and the climbing pole beans were flowering. The tomato plants and peppers were fruiting, and we were looking forward to harvesting some of them soon. We even had green and brown cotton plants that were getting happy, and we are excited to teach Estelle about fiber and textiles, helping her understand where her clothes, not just her food, come from. We want to teach her to be a good steward of the earth, and understand that she is a part of the earth, and that we have a non-negotiable, interdependent relationship with plants, starting from the ground up.
While we got a late start with our garden, it was nice to know that there was still ample time left in the growing season. August is when most gardens really start booming—the soil is warm, the sun is hot and the electric rain of thunderstorms acts like superfood on the plants. The truth is that many people can start their own garden even in August, since there is still time to plant some short-season crops, such as beets, carrots and bush beans, for a fall harvest. Likewise, many items are planted in the fall for next year’s harvest—onions and garlic, for example.
All in all, we say that gardening is downright amazing, so go ahead and get sweaty and dirty while gardening.
Not only does it help purge last winter’s funk out of your lymph, but gardening also exposes your body to the wealth of beneficial microbes which are all around you. Truth be told, our bodies are meant to adapt to and incorporate the microbial world found immediately around us by us eating food grown in the local soil.
What better way to do that than to garden?
So, from our family homestead to you: We will keep you posted about our journey. May all of your endeavors be green!
THE HUNOLT FAMILY HOMESTEAD
On a Mission to Steward Nature with Their Organic Farming.