Nourishing life, community, family, home.

Caden and I started into his fifth grade curriculum today with a main lesson on botany. I loved working through this material with my daughter. The natural grace of a 10-year-old turning 11 is matched by the beauty and appreciation of the small things of the earth. Today we spoke about the mediating effects of plants as they spread and move around the planet. From the tiniest plants to the largest redwood trees we can appreciate their unique contributions to life on the planet.

We shared some reading, discussion, and writing. We painted a dandelion, and planted fall/winter seeds. As we were planting, we talked about the wisdom each seed has to grow into a beautiful (and tasty) plant. Caden chose to plant red beets, mustard greens, and kale.

I am appreciating the small and slow beginning to a year of sharing and learning and growing together.

dandelion water color

When I first began practicing permaculture, I was inspired by my teacher, Keith Johnson, and his love of and connection to plants. He made it seem very easy to create beautiful, artistic gardens which provided massive amounts of food and beauty. While I had grown up gardening and foraging—even helping to plant and tend 200 trees and shrubs on our two acres my senior year of high-school: I still didn’t think I was very good with plants. In fact, I killed most house plants, and every year my community garden bed was a tangle of weeds by August. I didn’t know any Latin names, and if asked about pest solutions, I would have drawn a panicked blank.

Despite my lack of confidence with plants, just working the systems of permaculture design changed almost all of the above (house plants are still a challenge with two active cats in play). Moving the garden close to home, thinking about guilds and niche relationships and building soil really helped me to see success in the garden. Using the plants I was growing for basic herbalism and seed saving or propagation helped me over the past ten years to be more interested in (and therefore more successful) in learning Latin names. I’m better today than I was a dozen years ago, and there’s still so much to learn. 

When homeschooling my daughter, we went through fifth grade botany together.  Learning the story of the development of plants on the Earth helped me to appreciate the big picture. Plants provide such service and diversity in support of life on the planet. Their capacity to mediate soil and atmosphere; regulate water cycles; and partner with fungi and bacteria drive life on the planet. Our civilization has desperately challenged their capacity to do that work effectively. 

black raspberriesIn the same curriculum, I discovered a beautiful book, New Eyes for Plants.The book helped me to see the tiny details I’d missed to that point. Tiny details in flowering and the flow of nutrient through the plant make all the difference in its shape, color, and nutrient-holding capacities. Learning the parts of plants and how to recognize the identifying characteristics became a game or puzzle. Plants are AMAZING! That year only reinforced for me the power of appreciation and the need to work with plants by using them well. It reinforced for me that the way forward for humanity is to embrace the paradigm shift from a mechanical/industrial mindset to a post-industrial/post-modern world that embraces the biological foundations of life. *

Learning plants becomes a beautiful duty to ourselves. Do you eat habanero peppers? Try growing them in really good soil that you made from kitchen compost. Challenged to compost in an urban environment? Learn to build a bomb-proof composting system. (Maybe bokashi?) This kind of system development will help you to re-skill and take control of the means of production in your life. Along the way, you’ll find plant allies that can really give you a boost. 

I grew up gardening the typical Indiana summer diet: corn, green beans, tomatoes (I didn’t hear of a roma until I was an adult), potatoes, peas, cucumbers, and small fruits (raspberries, blueberries, and grapes on trellis). If we were feeling adventurous we would try a small amount of something else. I can remember black eyed peas, cotton, cauliflower and broccoli, cabbages—only green—carrots and radishes if we got the garden out early enough in the spring.

In my garden now, there is horseradish, lamb’s quarters, kale, ground cherries, garlic (just partially harvested), onions, carrots, asparagus, and on and on and on. This has been a busy year for travel and so much of the spring and summer garden are either perennials or self-seeding volunteers this year. Fall crops are germinating, but even with very little input, there have been harvests to gather. That’s one way to work with a permaculture system. 

IMG_0507By learning which plants grow or self-seed and by maintaining a seed bank, I can benefit from plants doing what they do best. I had to learn which ones will work in my area. And how to put plants into relationship with each other so that they can provide fertility and pest support to each other. I learned to give some consideration to how the light reaches the taller ones (at the back) and how the spreading vines cover the ground to shade and cool the roots of all of the other plants. 

From year to year the mix changes. I have a lot of purple coneflower this year. After the flowering and seeding time, I’ll pull some of it to tincture for immune support. Next year, the spaces left open will be filled with something else. 

Food is a high priority in my garden, but fiber and craft materials and fuel-wood for occasional fires are all important yields from a system. I’ve prioritized nettles because I have the space for them and they provide food, medicine, and fiber for our home—as well as enriching compost piles for greater fertility. Not everyone is (or perhaps should be) so tolerant of such a prickly companion. Hazelnuts are another prize for both the nuts (and bluejays and squirrels are ferocious competitors for them), but also for craft wood to build wattle fences and other craft wood. 

Whether you are in a suburban garden like me, or an urban or rural landscape, we have a great deal of regenerative work to do with plants. We are moving toward a biological world—as seen in the growth of sustainable agriculture and small farms and the growth of gardening. If you live in the city, your window-sill, your deck, your roof, your sidewalk and hell strip, your corner pocket park are all places to begin working with plants to cool and beautify your landscape. Re-imagining the landscape with small farms everywhere and supporting people with real food are the next step in weaving a more resilient, more just world in support of all life. Will you join me?  

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I can imagine a more beautiful world just through the doorway. Image CC0 via pixabay.

* If we take the interpretation that much of the modern project of science and civilization has been the distancing from the biological world because of the horrors of the Black Plague in Europe which moved us toward scientific reductionism and fractured the Christian religion into a hundred splinters, then there are further thoughts to explore here. Embracing a biological view which reintegrates humanity with that natural (read “living”) world means also healing the ancestral trauma and civilizational scarring of that time in the 13th century. The need to “torture nature for her secrets” (and also people ?) can come to an end. We can move forward—not by controlling nature (ala genetic manipulation)—but by caring for it and living within the natural limits fostered by a healthy biological world. If we don’t draw the conclusions in the biggest frame of the story, we will fail to make the right choices.

[Note: this blog first appeared in May 2016 on the Garden Tower Project’s blog.]

Strawberries are flowering and ripening—goumis and raspberries and blueberries are all fruiting or about to. Lettuces and kales and other greens are growing well. Spring peas, radishes, and carrots are in place. Plants seeded last fall and perennials are emerging now.

 

What to do now:

As plants emerge that you do not want in your garden—extra raspberries, rampant garlic, dandelions, chickweed, etc…you can:

  1. compost them (in your Garden Tower)
  2. eat them, or
  3. share them with other gardeners.

At this edge point in the season, the USDA hardiness zones are still obvious—with late frosts and freezes threatening fruit blossom and tender greens the further north you go. Plants in warm microclimates such as close to the ground will get a jumpstart on the rest of the crowd.

Because the season is underway, an astute gardener will be picking up on what kind of season it looks like we are having—dry, wetter than normal, temperatures above or below normal, etc…and planning to advance or delay planning. Not confident about when to do things? Ask an experienced gardener, extension agent, or master gardener in your area.

The growing season in zones 9-11 tends to run from February to late June and again from September to December—so your seasons might begin to wind down or prepare for hot, dry times. Planting in the shade or sunken beds can help your heat and drought tolerant plants make it through the season before fall planting picks up again!

Now is also the time to have your fall bulbs planted and mulch your raised beds. Mulching probably deserves its own blog for regular gardening. It introduces a few concerns, but the soil-building benefits and weed suppression far outweigh any concerns. Now is a great time to build new beds and plant them using a technique called sheet-mulching or lasagna gardening.

As soon as you are past your frost date, it is time to put out frost sensitive plants like cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, eggplant, and many of our favorite herbs and foods. If you live farther north, check how many days it is from germination to harvest (listed on your seed packets and in catalogs). Otherwise, get a jump start with seedlings already going.

Remember that small transplants do not have large root systems. They are very tender and sensitive, but might have an easier time transitioning to a new site than larger seedlings. When buying seedlings try to choose from a local nursery that has started the plants in your climate and taken the time to “harden them off” by setting them out overnight and throughout the day in your current conditions. Some nurseries ship in trucks full of flowers from out of state. These plants can have a really hard time adapting to your particular situation.

Speaking of flowers, make sure you include several varieties in your garden. Pansies and violas are edible flowers that are abundant in spring and fall shoulder seasons. Nasturtium flowers, with the spicy, peppery flowers, are frost sensitive summer garden flowers. Marigolds are classic flowers with their strong scent that confuses pests. Lupine, a nitrogen fixer, provides some elegance in the garden. Sunflowers are amazing in their diversity. Other gardeners prefer perennial flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators: bee balm, daylilies, coneflower/Echinacea, and coreopsis name a few.

Established beds probably want some fertilizers. Foliar feeds first thing in the morning are pretty amazing. It’s proven that plants open the stomata on their leaves most in response to birdsong—so feeding plants at the crack of dawn makes sense. Fish emulsions and sea vegetables bring critical nutrients to your plants. Fertilizing now will help roots continue to establish and build overall plant health.

 

Watering:

Remember, soil should stay moist, but also drain throughout most of the growing season. Transplants and young seedlings will need watering regularly to help them grow and keep the soil softer for their adjusting roots.

The world is greening up now—and gardening is in full swing, but take some time to enjoy the beauty of your garden and dream of bountiful harvests.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day, 2017

Mother’s Day, 2017

Right now, my husband is making breakfast while I linger in bed. My son is cuddling next to me watching me type out these thoughts. My teenaged daughter is entrenched in her bed. Everyone is enjoying the break from the harried pace of weekday mornings on this gorgeous May Sunday. Facebook greetings and well-wishes are going out. It is a wonderful day to celebrate mothers.

Enjoying the day

Enjoying the day!

Being a mother has as many faces as there are mothers, but here are a few thoughts about mothering:

  • Being a mother sometimes means allowing your body to be transformed—I think I used the term hijacked during my first pregnancy—by the development of another person. Other times, mothering means making a commitment to a person to help them develop and grow.
  • Dinner tables become the stage for sharing stories, playing games, family debates, arguments, and forgiveness. Our family table is, at some microscopic level, probably still covered with clay, paint, paper mache, candle wax, poked with felting needles, and yarn. And of course the energetic layers of so many birthdays, potlucks, tea parties, holiday dinners….
  • The garden becomes a surprise of beans planted in clumps instead of rows and the flowers pulled out with the weeds.
  • Your bed becomes the scene of cuddles and tickles and snuggles, and comforting tears, sick kids, and hugs of appreciation.
  • Being a mother means driving…the endless driving (or bus/train trips) and the support of all the activities you are transporting your child to.
  • Being a mother means creating the space for a person to go through all the steps to becoming an adult—a healthy, contributing member of a healthier society—knowing and supporting the acquisition of the skills needed to thrive.
  • It means surrendering your life to be in service to another person’s best interest—forever.
  • It means failing in that surrender, because you are only human. And you are only human in a society that is not set up to help anyone succeed in being healthy or whole. This means taking responsibility for the wounds you inevitably, unintentionally inflict.
  • It means holding your heart open while pieces of it leave on their own journey through life.
  • It means continuing to grow and develop on your human journey through life—developing your skills and insight, so that you become a better mother, a better elder. That means facilitating community and culture towards wholeness.
  • It means holding irresponsible people accountable for the harm they do to your children, their development, and the world we all share. The Earth is our first mother.

We are all responsible for the well-being of our Earth. We are all able to respond to the needs of the Earth. While we are checking in today with our human mothers, why don’t we take a moment to appreciate and care for our first mother. The birds outside are singing…the catbirds are watching the berries grow toward ripeness…fish are nesting in the lakes…frogs are calling by the pond.

What could be more vital? Caring for our forests, caring for and protecting the next generation…

Farming the Woods

catching and storing wisdom for future generations

by Steve Gabriel

01-09_MNGKenTour_SteveI was fortunate to take a twisty path through my college years; I attended a wide array of programs around the country and overseas that really opened my eyes to various perspectives and approaches to earth repair, which I came to realize also called for the healing of social relations, too. As a college student in the early 2000s, I struggled with two aspects of my emerging personality; one was the desire to spend time outside as much as possible in my life, and the other was my increasing awareness of environmental destruction and its devastating implications. As many young people at that age, I felt a bit daunted and helpless at the situation; how was I to do anything to make any change in the world?

During that final year of completing my degree at Empire State College

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Bird language

As I am sitting with my children this morning exploring word families (1st grader) and paragraph revision (8th grade grammar); negative exponents; chemical make up of sugars, starches and cellulose…the birds outside are singing their morning songs.

We live in a network of utility lines, fence rows, pasture areas, strips of forest, and houses. Our forest garden with its shallow pond and various shrubs, bDSC00597erries, insects, etc…makes for a bird haven. It is the language of the various birds that is pulling my attention. Not many alarm calls this morning. Lots of song, some territorial chatter. Yesterday a pewee caught my attention. Today the cardinal is the strongest voice near the window. I love that my daughter is my confirmation–that I am beginning to be confident–but her skills are better and continue to evolve.

In her skills I recognize that her literacy is broader than my own. I may have studied literature, history, philosophy, and religion. My years of German and Sanskrit studies went more deeply. However, her skills with language are quite possibly not only broader–but more useful in navigating the daily world and appreciating its beauty and life.

To find out more about bird language, check out this site.

Find more about Mindvalley here:  http://mindvalleyacademy.com .

12 Steps to Thrive