Wildside cottage is near the top of a south-facing slope, and is off-grid. Electricity, radiant heat and domestic hot water are all solar-powered. The thick outside walls are “double stud”, with a foot of light cellulose insulation in between. All windows are double-glazed, with small windows to the north and 8-foot windows to the south, southeast and southwest for maximum solar gain. The green (sod) roof helps insulate in the winter, and its plantings transpire to help cooling in the summer.
Forget any talk of how difficult off-grid living can be — we do not suffer! And if we were grid-tied? All the better, provided there is a toggle to isolate us when the jerry-rigged regional grid crashes, which it often does.
The sunny cottage looks out on a 180-degree view of nearby meadows and forested hills, and feels far more spacious than its modest 800 square foot size. We have a solar-powered refrigerator, dishwasher, computer, printer, radio, wide-screen tv, washer and dryer.
Wildside also has a small barn, an ample root cellar and a 240 sf unheated glass greenhouse.
When the tornado of February 2017 ripped through our town, transformers exploded up and down the streets, barns collapsed, woodlots were leveled, whole sections of houses and a landmark church were beyond repair, and many went days and days without electricity, or water. But not Wildside. Here, although many big trees were uprooted or snapped off, and although the cottage took a direct hit from the SSW, we needed a small repair on the sod roof, and that was about it.
Wildside is well on its way to demonstrating how a small property maintained much of the time by one half-time person, plus a part-time intern, plus occasional extra help and volunteers, can produce and store food for many now and for decades to come.
Our eight up-and-down acres with granite ledge and a long, soggy meadow are not suitable for conventional farming — and yet have been transformed into an enormously productive ‘edible landscape’. The four acres or so under cultivation consist of seven gardens carefully tucked into seven distinct microclimates, with more than 100 food crops, supporting ‘guild’ plants, and many plants that help boost soil fertility.
Permaculture food crops and their companion plantings dominate: fruits, nuts, tubers, perennial herbs, a large asparagus bed and a half-dozen exotic perennial vegetables. Nitrogen-fixing plants and plants that accumulate nutrients useful to other plants produce natural fertilizers. An organic, no-till storage garden grows familiar annuals like beets, parsnips, carrots, cabbage, rutabaga, garlic, onions, squash and sweet potatoes for winter fare.
A 450 sf rice field is being cultivated using an experimental dry field method called system of rice intensification, or SRI — which some predict may yield more than the traditional wet paddies that have been favored worldwide for thousands of years.
Insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals move in and out of the human project. Great care is taken to maintain a healthy web of living creatures of all kinds, from beneficial subsoil bacteria and fungi to native pollinators, songbirds, raptors, rodents, rabbits and the occasional fox, coyote, bobcat, deer and bear. Wild plants, from spring ephemerals to forage salad greens to mixed stands of hardwoods and evergreen, are cherished for their beauty — and, sometimes, for their usefulness.
The Regenerative Design Group helped to map the land and plan out the various gardens, paths, production zones, and stewardship goals. The designs help guide the work and also communicate it to the broader community. Good planning saves time and effort and integrates our activity on the land.
Map: Wildside Zones of Use
Map: Wildside Site Analysis