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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Planning a May/June Garden

[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.



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.

Sacred time…

I have been, over the past two years, developing what is sometimes called a sit spot. There’s not a lot of mystery to it. I go out most mornings as close to dawn as possible and sit.

I take in the light,
the wind,
the plants,
the birds at the nearby feeder,
any insects that are moving…
and I take a moment to be thankful for them.
I take a moment to check in with what is going on within.
I set my intentions for the day
and connect with the mystery of how life unfolds around me.
I feel gratitude.
I open my heart.
This is not merely a sit spot.

Somewhere here is a "sit spot"

Somewhere here is a “sit spot”

Love and the springtime

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Appreciate the people in your life and first stirrings of spring.

As we prepare to get hit by winter weather, I recognize the lengthening of the day, the calls of birds, the play of squirrels in the maple tree, and the restlessness of everyone in the house.

Beginning of spring, CC-Takashi .M on flickr

Beginning of spring, CC-Takashi .M on flickr

Human Beings are Not Born

I was greeted to the day with this post on Phillip Carr-Gomm’s blog (a blog I enjoy tremendously).

The beauty of this short film is only surpassed by the poignancy of the message Stephen Jenkins is sharing. I thought of the many endeavors of my friends and the questions with which they dance as they consider how to live a sane and beautiful life in this culture and these times. Ann Kreilkamp with her wonderful blog, Exopermaculture–wherein she addresses big questions about creating permanent culture, the changes of our times, and how to approach death and dying in our culture. I thought of Kevin and Monique, Mark Morey and the 8 Shields Institute, and Maya’s efforts to go to Coyote Camp. There are so many rich and wonderful responses here–and I know there are many more.


Sugarin’ Time…

Well, Happy Valentine’s Day!

And, I find myself preparing this year to tap trees for syrup–at least the trees I’ve got access to. I’ve thought about it for years and always missed the timing or hesitated. Not this year!

We try not to use refined cane sugar in our household, but we do use a lot of honey and maple syrup. So why not become more resilient and build a deeper connection to the trees and season by including this practice in our lives? A perfect way to “tap into abundance.”

There are, of course, excellent videos and sources about when and how to tap your trees and then use that gift of nature to make syrup.  Tap My Trees is one of the clearest sites I’ve seen. It even talks a bit about the benefits of drinking the sap straight–pointing out that this is a regular practice in South Korea. I am reminded of how important the maple syrup was to indigenous people the world over). And, hint: there are other species of tree that make excellent syrups.

Which trees might you be able to tap? Is there a “sugar shack” in your future?

So, here’s to –sweets for the sweet

Teaching permaculture to children?

I love to offer permaculture workshops to children. People are usually surprised and supportive–but mostly surprised when I say that I love to work with children. Their response is usually based on their own perceptions or understanding of permaculture.

What is permaculture?

It’s an ethical design science–and it’s more than that. It is a movement. In this country, it’s a gloriously unruly movement of people implementing their versions of permaculture. Yes, permaculture–“permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture” is based in the three ethics: Care of the Land, Care of People, and Equitable Distribution of Surplus. Yes, it’s systems theory driven and based in mimicking the patterns and solutions of natural systems. Yes, it’s about growing food, foraging, and integration with the natural landscape. Yes, permaculture is about buildings, technology, water, energy, seeds, nutrition, economics, villages, and regenerative cultures–story-telling, song, art, really, really good design. And it all derives from a connection to the land.

I love Jon Young’s gentle challenge in the May 2013 edition of the Permaculture Activist (which I guest edited) when he asks, “Is it permaculture if no one connects to the land anymore?” (p. 11) I have the rare opportunity to work in my programs with children who are learning to connect deeply to the land through Nature Connection programs (through The Wild Nature Project) or to introduce children to some of the basic routines that are held in common with nature connection and permaculture.

Harvest & Emily at PDC 2007

Why children?

I love introducing children to permaculture–they GET IT! So I’ll share the top three reasons I offer to adults about why I love sharing with kids so much:

1. Design: The “shoulds” of our modern culture are not imposed. Children are natural designers–and because they are not limited in their imaginations, they are very, very creative with design. Children will spend a long time organizing, imagining, problem-solving and creating together–given the opportunity to do so. Team designs bring out the best in sharing and the joy of co-creating.

2. Patterns: Children can (and, I believe, should) spend hours observing the patterns and rhythms of nature–even a small backyard garden or the changes and interactions between a single potted plant and the light. They don’t do this because they HAVE TO, but because they are drawn to. Young children are learning to orient themselves to time and space. Having a solid natural context with grounded understandings of the movement of birds and animals, the weather, the timing of plantings, the flowering and fruiting of plants, why people build houses and communities the way they do–these are all valuable skills.

I love celebrating their discoveries with them. Patterns hold secrets to a mysterious language–how air and liquids move through plants and over land, pathways of animals, bird song, the growth of trees, where the cats sleep, how a seed sprouts and grows, and on and on and on…

bee balm & Asiatic lily

3. Ethics: This response always gets a few raised eyebrows, but it is completely true. Ethics do not have to be some eye-rolling, tortuous, intellectual exercise.

Children, maybe especially the young ones, love the simplicity of the ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. It’s natural for them. Often when we come to a point of potential conflict, a child will pipe up with “Okay, Fair Share.” Or, in answer to a question about why we might do something (like donate extra produce to a food bank), we’ll get “People Care, Fair Share.” When my daughter asked me what a group meant by “social justice” (comparing it with her own understanding) we clarified it with anything that has to do with the permaculture ethics. “Clear as a bell, mom.”

I would love to see every child have an opportunity to practice Deep Nature Connection and explore permaculture for themselves. To that effect (and in the interest of a bit of self-promotion), I am offering:

workshops this fall for children;

drafting a set of curricula for children ages 3-15; and

offering workshops on parenting for permanent culture next spring. This fall, my daughter and I are offering a workshop at the Bluegrass Bioneers about our journey together.

Lest you think children get to have all the fun, we are currently enrolling adults in our fall weekend course, which will begin mid-September.