A Garden Amongst The Weeds

A Garden Amongst The Weeds

Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's a wonderful life!

          This little green house was a gift from my husband many years ago. One of my most prized possessions. So much goes on in this small space. It extends the season and provides me a place out of the wind. Thank you David!

                                          Tons of potential! Seeded with veggies and flowers
                                          and awaiting good things.

                                          I love the look of crinkly, brand new leaves in the spring,
                                         don't you?

What makes good soil?

Compost! What is compost? It's a gardeners goldmine if done right. Everyone that gardens, even badly, has some knowledge of rot. The basis of any good garden soil begins with the minerals and trace elements. Oxygen, nitrogen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and sodium along with many others can be found in a handful of soil. Particle size also makes a big difference. Depending on your location, clay, sand, or silt may be the basis of your garden soil. Particle size makes a huge difference on how a plant will grow and thrive.

Clay contains very small sized particles. These particles tend to trap oxygen, nitrogen and water and hold it away from plant roots. If a plant is unable to obtain the minerals it needs for growth, the plant will not thrive. Rich soil must contain humus which is decayed plant material. This is often overlooked. Without decomposition, plants cannot thrive. Clay can be amended with humus to make a healthy environment for plant growth.

All plants need the basics for survival. Sun, air, water and nutrients. In basic biology class, it is taught that all plants need carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen to survive. While this is true, there is much more going on, much more fascinating things happen beneath the soil surface, as a plant lives. As we live. Without plants, none of us would survive. This natural circle of rot, growth and regeneration are what makes the plant world so very fascinating.

Back in the 1800's a theory was formed that plant roots ate humus. This theory was proven to be true but for the wrong reasons. Plants do not eat anything, as they do not have teeth. They do however, break down these trace elements into a form that plants can absorb and utilize. Before chemical fertilization became popular, the world longed for sources of nitrogen. They found that bird guano was a fantastic source of rich nitrogen and it was harvested by the millions of tons from ocean islands. Since it was no longer available to the millions of tiny, hungry plankton in the oceans, they ceased to reproduce. This caused a huge drop in the plankton and algae population. They could no longer eat or breed and began to die off. As the lowest on the food chain started to drop off, fish and bird populations also dwindled.

With the advent of chemical fertilizers and the unavailability of bird guano, the popularity in chemical fertilizers increased. The birds were left to poo where they may, the algae levels and plankton levels restored, the bird and fish populations increased and a natural balance began once again. Man avoided an ecological disaster, by sheer luck!

That's not to say that I approve of dumping chemical fertilizers on plants. Quite the opposite. I garden as organically as I possibly can. The problem with chemical fertilizers is that although a plant may produce more or grow larger because you are spoon feeding it day-glo blue chemical fertilizers this year, when you go to plant the next year and in the years following, if you don't continue to feed your plants these chemicals, no plants will survive in the soil. If you were to then test a handful of soil, after using chemical fertilizers for a few years, you'd find that while many of the trace elements are still contained in the soil, the plants roots cannot utilize them readily. Without the bacteria that causes natural breakdown of plant materials contained in humus, the soil becomes inert. Useless to organisms that depend on bacterial growth and decomposition to survive.

To begin composting, you need an area that has good drainage and good air flow. My best recommendation is that you place it somewhere that is readily available to your kitchen area. Almost all of your kitchen refuse can be utilized to make healthy garden soil. Egg shells, vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, even the left over flour you used to cook dinner with can and should be dumped into the pile. Good compost is a mixture of dead and decomposing matter, air circulation and moisture. Dried leaves should be added to your pile as often as possible. Green grass trimmings as well. Stirring your compost pile a few times each season will keep the moisture content under control. It's a balance. Not too wet, not too dry.

While the 1800's theory of plant roots eating humus was incorrect, bacteria, which lives amidst plant roots do in fact consume humus. Bacteria break down decaying matter, allowing plant roots to utilize the nitrogen contained in humus. When we think of bacteria, we naturally think of germs and sickness but that's not all that is going on here. Most bacteria is actually helpful. Plant roots excrete carbon dioxide, the microorganisms are attracted to this carbon dioxide, latch onto certain types of plants and actually bond to the plants roots. You can see this for yourself if you pull up a pea or bean vine. Little white nodules form on the roots of the plants and are slowly released, allowing the plants to take up as much nitrogen as is needed. The bacteria give the plant the nitrogen that it needs and in turn, the plant feeds the bacteria in the form of carbon dioxide and protection that the bacteria needs to survive. They have a symbiotic relationship. This is why crop rotation is so very important.

The magical world of plants is amazing in that each plant benefits from another's demise. This whole circle of life thing goes on above and beneath the earth's surface every day. It's brutal and messy. If all of this is going on, how can a plant defend itself against rotting roots? We all know that dead roots decompose, but why then do healthy roots not succumb to disease and eventually rot?

Plants have developed an uncanny ability to protect themselves. Cucumbers for instance, produce a deadly (to plants) gas called, ethylene to kill fungi and ward off an attack. This also lets the other plants nearby know that they could be in jeopardy too. Obviously plants cannot produce these gasses all of the time. Much in the same way as our bodies produce antibodies to ward off an infection. Energy becomes depleted over time and either they get well or they succumb to disease and perish.

These gasses are also sometimes emitted by plants in competition with their neighbors. If you grow the aforementioned cucumbers too close together, what you will get will not be just smaller plants, but sickly smaller plants with yellowing leaves, and a tendency for the vines to rot and in the end, a bunch of dead plants.

When seeds sprout, deadly gasses are also emitted. (This time, deadly to fungus) Anti fungal gasses are produced, allowing a tiny seedling to break through the soil, reach the sunlight and get off to a good start. This is where your humus rich soil benefits your plants. If the soil is loose and pliable, the seedling will emerge from the soil, find the sun and begin to collect its energy and fungal fighting properties, as only so much is stored within each seed. If that plant is unable to break through the soil surface, it succumbs to rot and dies. Such is the circle of life in good garden soil.

There is no need to add bacteria, or in my opinion, beneficial insects to your soil. If you allow the natural processes to do what nature intended, the beneficial bacteria, insects and all the rest will, in time return to the soil in the form of humus and benefit all living things.

Instead of adding chemicals to your gardens, try instead adding composted soil, sea kelp, dried plant materials and a shovel or two of good old manure.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Echoes from the canyon walls of raindrops on the river.

Resonance of rocks bouncing off rocks

Layered shadows of trees traced on trees.

I sit still. Very small in time.

River spirit sings while she moves mountains.

Forever spins on her axis shedding bits of eternity, picking up bits of time.

Letting go of self, awakening to the mind.

A new type of feeder

Friskers, learning how to hunt!

When Will We Learn?

     When will we learn?
     Simple things lie all around,
     Only waiting to be found,

     A tiny raindrop on the road
     A little fish, a tiny toad
     A pretty flower, a sunny ray
     A single moment of the day.

     And yet, we strive for greater things,
     things buried deep, and tied with strings.

    When will we learn to live our life in harmony,
     Instead of strife?

The Storm

Like angry, ancient pagan gods,
dancing in a moonlit, starry sky.
What is it they seek?

Hearts scorned and angry?
What is it the skies are saying?

I step out and smell the acrid, burnt electricity,
hair whipping in my face and breathe deeply and wonder.
And watch the lightning play against the distant, lonely hills.
My heartbeat responding to the booming thunder.

I feel small but hear nature calling.
I feel her pull
and wonder.

The skies open up and its suddenly a downpour,
the cool rain pelting my skin and I shiver.

What are you saying?

I stretch my arms out wide
and breathe the storm in deeply.
Lightning cracks overhead.
What is it you seek?

Perhaps I'll never know, but I have this much...
And it's wonderful.

Summer Vacation

 If I could have summer vacation as a kid again,

    I'd sleep 'til noon the whole first week and wake to stand in front of the TV and eat ice cream right out of the box until I had a whopping ice cream headache.
     I'd  lay under a tree with a good book in my lap and watch the clouds float lazily by and watch red heatwaves behind my closed eyelids.
    If I were nine again, I'd spend the whole summer barefoot with a fishing pole in my hand.
    I'd spend the entire afternoon chasing lizards and bull frogs and see how dirty I could get the seat of my pants by sliding down a clay covered bank just once more...
    I'd catch June bugs and tie a string to them and spin them crazily above my head and listen to the buzzing noise they made with sheer delight.
    I'd spend the twilight catching lightnin' bugs in an old ball jar and take them in the house with me to let them go so that I could watch them make yellow dots all over the ceiling.
    I'd build a fort in the back yard and come inside only long enough to hear my mother yell at me not to let the screen door slam as I grabbed another rootbeer popsicle out of the fridge...
    Ah to be a kid again, the timeless summer months that never seemed to end.

    Could I,  please? Just once more...

The most beautiful Woman I've ever known

I read an article this morning about the Tate Gallery, in London that proudly displays a painting of Gertrude Jekyll's boots.

How I admire that painting. Gertrude Jekyll was a gardening legend in plant circles, for those who don't know. She was a self proclaimed gardening artist. A very humble woman who laid no claim to gardening expertise but created some of the world's most famous gardens and shared freely with the world what worked for her and what didn't.

Gardeners are like that. They are a friendly lot for the most part, who love to share, plants, knowledge, and a great deal of humor. At least, that has been my experience over the years.

My story begins with a little old lady with white hair and parchment paper-thin skin, gnarled old arthritic hands and the most beautiful roses I had ever seen before. I had never given much thought to gardening. I loved nature but forests were where you found plants. I was a city kid. We had lawns to mow and the odd tomato plant to look after but aside from that, nature was what you got to enjoy when you went camping while on vacation, a fact of my life up to that point.

Arta Kelley's house was lovely. A bright sunny yellow with white trim and a deep set porch with inviting chairs set between large planter boxes overflowing with the sweetest, tiny star-shaped white flowers. We had just moved into the neighborhood and while I was too shy to introduce myself, I often stood at the edge of her yard and simply admired the tall canopy of her maple trees overhead. Her garden was immaculate, the trees stately and tall, roses prim and proper in their beds. The gravel beneath, completely void of leaf clutter.

Her smile invited me closer and the beauty of her garden and my sense of curiosity made me find my voice. In her hands she held a well used pair of pruning shears. Her hands although bent and frail, spoke of strength as did her wise, honest, blue eyes framed in a network of fine wrinkles that suggested years of squinting against the sun.

Her bent frame, covered in a long man's work shirt, frayed at the elbows, belayed years of toiling in the soil, years of creating her art showed also, in the fine lines and creases of every finger. The back of her hand was a road map of veins and callous crisscrossing the surface of her skin.

I found her to be absolutely beautiful. She became my best friend. I loved her with more fervor than anyone I'd ever chosen in my young life.

I knew the gift that I was receiving in the time that she shared with me. She was very old and very wise. I paid close attention, no small feat for a child of nine years.
She was a true visionary, a woman who conducted a symphony of color in the garden and I was awe struck and honored that she was willing to share her time with me.

I learned hard lessons in that friendship, character building lessons of patience, quiet, stillness, of letting things happen and understanding that nothing lasts forever, not even beautiful old gardeners.

Every year when I plant my garden and worry over the weather, every year that I enjoy the sunshine against my back as I toil away in one garden bed or another, I feed the birds and am reminded of Mrs. Kelley.  I am thankful that gardeners are a friendly lot.

When I listen for the bird song, and I do so often, I remember the things that she taught me. Good, practical advice for a happy soul, as we sat in the shade of that deep-set porch. Feed the birds, she said, be content as you watch them fill their bellies. To them, each seed is an assurance that there will be a tomorrow. We feed them now in the hopes that when our gardens bloom, they will eat the bad bugs and we will reap our harvest.

I have learned that,

Gardeners are artists whose tools are living things.
Gardeners are visionaries with a hopeful spirit.
New gardeners, whether it is their intent or not, ultimately give up and peruse other people's gardens or learn patience.
Gardens are as much about death as they are about life.

Gardeners spend most of the time on their knees. This is an easy way to learn humility, don't you think?

Welcome to Weed!

       Love comes in many forms,
       more often than not, it takes us by surprise.
       It is a gift, something to be treasured,
       nurtured and kept safe from harm.

       Once tended, it grows and blooms.
       It is ever changing and if used,
       becomes more polished with age.

       If left to fend for itself,
       it wilts and sometimes dies.

      But if sheltered, will grow.
      If watered with kindness,
      will strengthen and bud.

      If shared, will set seed
      and flourish.
      If given sunshine and laughter,
      will send up new shoots,
      in the form of new friendships,
      enough to withstand the test of time.

Have you ever heard of Weed, California? No, not that kind, silly. I'm talking about the town. It's not some hippy cult out in California, although there are plenty of us hippies out here. I am a wife and mother, an artist and a gardener. I express myself on a grand scale and grow large things in my garden. Mostly teenagers! This is our story.