Growing Friendships and a New Garden

This article was contributed by West Sound Time Bank member, Norm Keegel.

I have a small lot in town. Before this summer, it was a typical suburban yard: lawn, a border of bushes, and a Himalayan blackberry hedge. (Wonderful for a month in late summer when the berries are ripe, otherwise just prickly.) I'm also a member of West Sound Time Bank, so after reading a few books on permaculture and feeling the imperative to grow some of my own food, I decided to get help from other time bank members to turn my yard into a permaculture food garden. Permaculture focuses on growing food in a way that is as close to the way a natural environment maintains itself as possible. Once it's established, a permaculture garden takes far less maintenance than a conventional vegetable garden. I envisioned a garden on my small lot that would give us food with a minimum of work. Getting help from other time bank members would make establishing that garden much easier, reducing my work two ways.

Jim adds compost to the new berry plants
I started by asking time bank member, Mickey – another permaculture enthusiast - to help me with a design. Mickey referred me to additional books that I later borrowed from the library. She walked around my yard, making suggestions and taking measurements and came back with a plan for the space. I decided to begin with my back yard. At Mickey's suggestion, I picked up cardboard from Schmidts Appliance store to supplement what I had been collecting. (Cardboard and mulch are great for smothering lawn and weeds.)

Meanwhile, my good friends Maia and her partner Erik, who live on a local twenty-two acre farm, grafted 3 apple trees and planted them for me. Had I known that Maia was a member of the time bank, I could have paid them in time bank hours. I know that they need help on their farm, so they could have used the hours. I got a few berry bushes from our local Land Trust plant sale which Maia and Erik planted at the same time they planted the apple trees. Mickey referred me to Michael, who generously offered me free compost and did more than half the work of loading the pickup truck I borrowed from my neighbor, Rick.

I think both Rick and Michael are good candidates for the time bank, although I have not yet invited them to join. Have you invited your friends to join? The more members we have, the greater the variety of Offers and Requests and the more satisfying for all of us.

After I spread the compost around the small apple trees, another time bank member, Noreen, used her truck to pick up dirt from a construction site nearby. Noreen did most of the work of carting it to the back yard and dumping it on the compost. She lent me her rake to spread it out, which I leisurely did in the next two days.

The next step was to ask time bank member, Jim, to weed. He has a one-acre farm on the island. Jim is a retired nurseryman, so I got much more than weeding! “Dirt is what you sweep out with a broom; soil is what you use to grow plants,” said Jim. He did most of the work of picking up another load of compost from Michael (giving Michael a break from shoveling) and taking it to my back yard. That reminds me, I'll have to finish mixing it in with the other compost and the dirt before Jim comes back on Thursday!

Jim also weeded around the berries, removed two ornamental bushes and spread compost around the baby berry bushes. As we worked, he gave me lots of tips. For instance I had planted watermelon and squashes around the apple trees a few weeks before. He told me to forget about them, they would not produce before the cold weather killed them. That saved some unnecessary watering for me! On Thursday, he will be back to do some pruning that will take some climbing. That sort of work is getting a bit scary for me to do myself (especially for my wife) at my age (74). It will be good for Jim to take care of it.

Co-incidentally, Jim runs the table tennis program at the Senior Center and he invited me to it. As a teenager in Sri Lanka, I loved playing and have often thought about taking up the sport again, but somehow have not. That's a bonus for me from the time bank!

The latest time bank member I met was Lauren. She weeded the little patch of garden in my front yard. She's an expert gardener, so I didn't have to tell her what were "weeds" and what were "plants". She is yet another expert who gave me tips as we worked. I'm not sure which was better: making all these new friends or getting a great start on my new permaculture garden. But why choose? They're both wonderful!

About the Author:

Norm Keegel is 74 and has recently retired from several years working with developmentally disabled people. Before he came to this country, 23 years ago, he spent 30 years in Melbourne, Australia, where he mainly worked as a computer programmer. He has two children and a grandson there. He was a registered psychologist there and became a certified hypnotherapist in California. He volunteers with Hospice and is excited by their new program which provides volunteers, at the family's request, to sit with patients who are actively dying. Through the time bank he offers hypnotherapy, sitting with housebound people to provide respite to their caregivers, editing written works and coaching.