Tom2Camille and I (Riley) spent the first two weeks of March (2016) working at Blue Ridge Napping Institute in Moravian Falls, North Carolina.  Our main task was to help (owner) Tom direct seed and transplant hardy and semi-hardy vegetables into his Spring Garden.

First we started (from seed) several flats of onions, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, parsley and bell peppers which will be kept indoors under grow lights for several weeks.  We then transplanted young kale, lettuce, and broccoli plants directly into the garden, and also direct seeded several rows of carrots and snow peas, as well as 30 pounds of seed potatoes.

Tom03In addition to these plantings, we cut several sweet potatoes in half and partially submerged each half into a glass of water. Within a few weeks the potatoes should be covered in green shoots known as slips (this is where new sweet potatoes come from)

Tom will then remove the slips from the sweet potatoes and submerge the bottom half of the stems in a jar of water until they begin to sprout roots.  Once the slips have roots they can be planted in the garden, and come Fall, Tom should nave a nice sweet potato harvest.

Tom4Though planting the veggie garden was our main task, we also cared for Tom’s chickens (feeding , watering, and collecting eggs), and at the end of our stay helped to relocate their pen.

Every few months Tom moves the chickens to a different section of the garden (whatever area he is letting rest at that time).  –By doing this the chickens have a constant supply of fresh weeds and grubs, and the garden soil gets aerated and fertilized as the chickens scratch up the ground and make Nitrogen rich deposits  of manure.

Next to to the chickens and veggie garden, Tom  has a small fruit orchard where he practices companion planting as a means of pest management, which you can read more about here..

viewThe property also has a beautiful stream snaking though it, as well as a secluded swimming hole and some pretty spectacular views which we were able to enjoy in our down time. –Tom’s dogs, Stella and Little Dog, are sweet, trusty companions; they rarely left our side.  His cat Jasper is quite the character, and a great cuddler

StellaThough I just about always enjoy being outdoors in the fresh air–playing in the dirt and learning something new, I would NOT recommend this site to others looking to do a WorkAway or WWOOF work exchange (nor would I return).   I will not go into specific details as to why, but I will be happy to provide more information via private email correspondence.  

I will say that this site is especially NOT recommended for young women traveling alone ( or even with a partner).






Today at Blue Ridge Napping Institute, Camille, our friend Jess, and I (Riley) helped Tom open the flood gates on his pond in order to flush out two years worth of sediment.


Before we opened the gates, the pond’s dam was filled to the brim with sand, and the water was only a few inches deep.  I was shocked to learn that just two years ago, the pond had a depth of six feet.

So what happened?  —Erosion happened.

Flood3Although some degree of stream and bank erosion is normal, Tom’s dam has no doubt sped up and even worsened the otherwise natural phenomenon (Read more about how dams increase erosion here).

As we struggled to open the flood gates, I began thinking about all the other short-sighted and unsustainable human activities that have so dramatically increased the erosion of Earth’s topsoil.

Deforestation; the overgrazing of livestock; continuously tilling and monocropping farmland.  –Not only are these myopic and irresponsible practices eroding topsoil at break-neck speed, but this (unnecessary and unnatural) erosion is resulting in the desertification of our land and the pollution of our waterways.

(Ever hear of the Dust Bowl?)

According to Volkert Engelsman, an activist with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (quoted in Scientific American), “We are losing 30 soccer fields of soil every minute, mostly due to intensive farming,”

This is astonishing considering (according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service)  most soil scientists agree that it takes at least 100 years, and in some places up to 500 years (depending on climate, vegetation, and other factors) for Nature to build just one inch of topsoil.

So how do we stop this madness? –What can we do to prevent and /or curb the effects of erosion?  Here are a few ideas:

Can you think of other ways we can prevent erosion?  –If so, please share your ideas in the comment section below.





daffodilOur second day at Blue Ridge Napping Institute was spent surrounding forest for wild daffodils, and then digging them up and transplanting them around the base of fruit trees in Tom’s small orchard.

 (Blue Ridge Napping Institute is Tom’s North Carolina homestead and an artist retreat; work-trade volunteers help him maintain the property in exchange for room, board, and hands-on learning).

Though familiar with the concept of companion planting, we were unaware that daffodils  are excellent companions to fruit trees because they are poisonous and therefore repellent to many mammals and insects that tend to cause problems in orchards. –Encircling a tree in a ring of daffodils provides a protective barrier against pests, and as an added bonus, the daffodils will also attract beneficial insects and pollinators while suppressing the growth of grass.

CompanMaking them even more appealing is the fact that, once planted, daffodils require no maintenance and will continue to bloom year-after-year all on their own. And–although high doses can cause headaches and vomiting–in small, carefully controlled amounts, the flower’s essential oil helps to calm nerves and relieve stress in humans.

Not only are daffodils extremely useful, they are also quite elegant and beautiful.  –If you can’t find any growing wild nearby, bulbs can be purchased at local nurseries or even ordered online….. Happy Gardening 🙂