Gifts

During the spring, Margy was talking about wanting to plant sunflowers this year. But as it happened, she was busy with too many other garden projects to actually do it.  So imagine our delight when the garden planted its own sunflowers! They came up under the bird feeder, now sitting empty for the summer, but where sunflower seeds were the food we offered to the birds (and squirrels) all winter.

Gift sunflowers

Lately, the garden plants have felt mostly like children who need our care and attention. With the dry hot weather, they’ve needed a lot of watering. Yesterday, I did another foliar spray for the fruit trees, to help them ward off Japanese beetles, which I also have been picking off every day and dropping in soapy water. And there have also been lovely raspberries to harvest each day, and snap peas (almost gone now) and kale and basil to gather and preserve.

So this gift of flowers emerging without any effort on our part–perhaps the land is reminding us that she loves us as we love her?

It has been one year since my retirement began. One of its themes has been to find connection with this small portion of the Mother Earth, this land we are so lucky to call our home. As non-Indigenous people, we are trying to heal a long wounded history of our people’s disconnection from land.  Our ancestors left their home places generations ago.  If our society had an understanding of earth connection, it could not destroy earth life as it destroys, with such thoughtlessness–pollution, clearcutting of forests, poisoning of soil with pesticides, trash dumping, mining, fracking… the long list of ecological destructions that are endangering us all.

So in our small corner of the world, we are trying to reweave those threads of interconnection, reawaken the truth–long dormant in our bodies–that we are not separate from the earth–we are the earth.  As we tend the land, as we care for the plants, as we pay attention each day, we hope that a shifting occurs–that we move from domination patterns to partnership patterns in our relationship to Earth. We know how small we are–yet hope that if we can shift our own patterns, it might in some way ripple out to the larger patterns. Because we are interconnected. Because that is the magic.

The gift sunflowers remind me that the land herself is eager to be in partnership with her human children. She loves us and wants wholeness for all.

sunflower with bees

Every sunflower has its bees.

 

Squirrel Highway

Squirrel PathOne thing I love about the snow is how it reveals the lives of our animal neighbors. Here is a squirrel highway, a path between two mounds.  Now, I had actually helped to create that path the day before, before the snow.  The day before that, Margy got a call from a local arborist that he had some wood chips we could have.  For permaculture gardeners, wood chips are a boon, especially hardwood chips, especially lamial hardwood chips, which are from the small branches and leaves of the tree. They provide nutrients to help create the kind of soil that is best for fruit trees.

It seems ironic, because I don’t want trees to be cut down. But there is a circle of giving and receiving we humans have with trees, and when they are cut down, it feels so respectful to use their remains to feed other young trees and plants.  It had been a difficult year to get any wood chips.  The arborists we knew were mostly cutting diseased trees, which wouldn’t be good to introduce to the garden. So when Margy got the call, she said yes right away.

Wood ChipsSo the wood chips were delivered. The next day I noticed that where the big pile landed had kind of blocked off the pathway on the edge of the food forest.  Last winter, I had strung a small string across the edges of the food forest as a gentle deterrent to deer who might possibly wander through. We had seen deer tracks before, though we didn’t actually see any last winter.  But the idea was to leave one area free for them to traverse, hoping they’d choose that path on the way between the street and the back of the yard.

So what to do?  I went out with a shovel and cleared an area between the wood chip pile and the finished compost pile (covered with a blue tarp), shoveling compost back a little, and wood chips back a little.  That made the path.  I don’t know if any deer will use it, but it was fun to see that the squirrels got the message.

Update on Kale

Kale choppingSo right after my last post, I went outside, and cut about 40 big leaves off my kale plants–always from the lower part of the stems.  In between making and eating breakfast and washing dishes, I washed the leaves in groups of ten (by variety), and chopped them up, then washed them again in a salad spinner, which they filled up.

Kale washAfter doing the first batch, which used a lot of water, I figured out that I should save the wash water and bring it out to the garden, where I put it on the kale plants! Then I spinned the kale pieces to dry them, and sautéed them in our big cast iron pan.  I had to start with about half of the batch, then add the second half after the first had cooked down a bit.  I had green curly kale, red or purple curly kale and a double batch of lacinato kale. After sautéing, I cooled them in a bowl in the refrigerator before putting in bags. On the recommendation of other online gardeners, I used a straw to pull out all the air in the bags.

I still have plenty outside on the plants, but now I have these in the freezer.  Ten leaves only filled half a bag, at about 1/2 an inch thick.  That would be about three or four servings in our house, so this is a total of 12-16 servings.    This winter, I will see how they taste.Kale to freeze

Abundance

Myke with kale

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

The kale has gone crazy this year! I eat some every day, and we’ve given a lot away, but it is still up to my waist in abundance. Not to mention the basil plants, also a few feet tall. Harvesting has always felt like the most challenging part of gardening–how to keep up with everything the earth is producing. I see posts of friends who are canning and drying and freezing–that is all still something I need to learn more about.  I search online for instructions, so information is not the main issue–just the time and energy to keep up with it and carry it out.

Most of our garden this year isn’t even to that stage yet–the fruit trees and bushes are still babies, the asparagus is in its first year.  And perennial herbs will keep coming back each year, whether I harvest them now or not.  In fact, I’ve got thyme drying in the basement, and will probably do some oregano after that is done.  I finally dug up the garlic that I had planted as companions to the fruit trees to help keep away pests.  But I especially feel a responsibility to the annuals like kale and basil.  This is it for them. And they are shining.

Last week, I experimented: I sautéed a dozen large leaves of kale, which cooked down quite a bit, and then I froze it–it only filled a small part of a plastic freezer bag.  I should be doing that with whole bunches of it, but it takes time to wash and cut and sauté and cool and bag.  We’ve been eating basil this week–especially yummy with an heirloom tomato we bought from the coop.  I learned not to put it in the refrigerator, but to keep cut stems in a vase with water.

For now, I just want to say thank you to the earth for creating such abundance!  Give me the strength to receive and cherish and preserve your gifts.  I’d better get outside and harvest some more!

Herbal Gifts

St. John's Wort DriedToday I finished the harvest of St. John’s Wort–all from plants that grew up wild in our yard, or down the street from our home.  I had cut the flowers with a little bit of plant attached, back when they were in full bloom, in early July.  I dried some of it in tied bunches hanging in the garage, and some of it in loose bunches on an extra window screen laid flat in the basement. (Take note: I definitely preferred the screen method for later processing ease.)

So today, I spread out some paper on the kitchen table, and put all the bunches onto it.  Then I sat and rubbed the leaves & flowers off the stems, stem by stem.  I was listening to podcasts about healing and self-care, which somehow seemed appropriate to the task.  Two hours later, I was still at it, and then I listened to a few short podcasts from an old friend, Lee Ann Hopkins, with whom I recently reconnected on Facebook.  I am not much of a podcast listener, (I usually like to read instead) but working with my hands in these herbs while listening to uplifting messages seemed just right.  The purpose of Lee Ann’s website, Hooray Weeklyis “to encourage and lift up individuals and communities in this time of resistance and change, both collectively and personally.”  She is a kindred spirit still.

It seems particularly apt since St. John’s Wort is an herbal remedy for depression and other mood difficulties, along with several other uses.  According to WebMD,

St. John’s wort is most commonly used for “the blues” or depression and symptoms that sometimes go along with mood such as nervousness, tiredness, poor appetite, and trouble sleeping. There is some strong scientific evidence that it is effective for mild to moderate depression. St. John’s wort is also used for symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and mood changes.

If you are interested, there is a lot more information on that website.

With the cruelty and destruction we observe every day in the wider world around us, those of us who are sensitive to it can find ourselves very weary and down-hearted, heavy burdened by it all.  Isn’t it amazing that nature offers these bright yellow flowers in the midst of high summer, to bring with us into the long dark of winter?

St. John's Wort drying

St. John’s Wort plant freshly cut, hung to dry.

What We Give to Each Other

Yesterday I met a Passamaquoddy woman, S—, who talked about how she is trying to remove herself as much as possible from the money economy, to live with the values of a gift economy.  One way she does it is to volunteer a lot in her community.  I was moved by the conversation, and it stirred up questions in me about its application in my own life.  We were part of a gathering hosted by Maine-Wabanaki REACH for Wabanaki and Maine residents to explore together the topic of decolonization.  (If that term is unfamiliar, take a look at my earlier post called Living into History.)

Dish with One Spoon Wampum

Photo from IndianTime.net

Colonization brought the capitalist economy to this continent.  Another Wabanaki participant told us about the One Dish with One Spoon Wampum belt, which was a covenant acknowledging mutual care, first between the Haudenosaunee and then with other Indigenous communities prior to settlement.

The Great Law of Peace speaks of it:

We will have one dish, which means that we will all have equal shares of the game roaming about in the hunting grounds and fields, and then everything will become peaceful among all of the people;

We also heard about how in the Passamaquoddy nation, they are creating a community garden with an orchard of fruit trees, and teaching people how to cultivate them.  As people learn to provide for their community’s own food, true sovereignty becomes possible.

I was thinking about how back at my own home, we are also creating an orchard, but it is a difficult process to undo the individualistic capitalist systems.  To be connected to this land we have to “own” it in the capitalist manner.  We can share it with our friend who has a garden here with us, and we’ve also been blessed by the permaculture community’s support through our Permablitz work party last June.  And we received many of our companion plants in the plant swap last spring.  So we are trying to imagine community as a part of our relationship to this land.  But there is so much further to go.

I had brought flyers with me to the gathering about my book, not sure if it felt like the right place to share.  (Our invitation had mentioned we could bring materials about our related work if we wanted.) The content of the book is so much about how we journey into earth community–how we restore that spiritual relationship with the land and with our neighbors on this land.  How we acknowledge and heal the harm caused by the history of this place. But the book is also a product that I sell. So I was torn.

After our conversation about gift economy, I was moved to give a copy of the book as a gift to S—. I had so appreciated her sharing, and it felt to me like this would be a way to plant a seed–to shift something within me that might grow the possibility of a gift economy in this world, and in my life.  I was surprised when she responded by giving me a gift of her beadwork–beautiful turtles. There is magic in this. May it be blessed.

The Layers of Community

Before-marked for fruit tree beds

[Before–Growing beds marked with flour and flags]

On Saturday, we hosted our Permablitz! (See “more before” photos here.)  Over 20 people came to our yard and worked together on projects such as installing rain barrels, building a composting system from pallets, building a fire circle, and creating five more  growing beds for future fruit trees, raspberry bushes, & hazelnut bushes, and one bed for flowers & herbs.  We also got the first shovelfulls dug for a pond.

Opening Circle-Sylvia, Cathleen, Ali

[Opening Circle]

At the end of the day, I got teary-eyed with the sense of Gift.  The generosity of so many individuals coming together and creating something so beautiful and full, helping us to realize our dreams for this piece of land was deeply moving.  There is something about this giving and receiving of human attention and wisdom and care, that feeds our hearts. Much of our lives are shaped by transactions—we pay a certain amount of money, and receive a product. Or, we put in so many hours and receive a paycheck.  But giving and receiving freely and generously touches something much deeper. Giving and receiving must trigger deep neurotransmitters in our internal chemistry, sparking a profound sense of well-being and belonging.

I also realized how many layers of community are involved in such a project.  One layer is this community of people who care about the earth, and who come together to give and receive, to learn, to share, to grow, to get to know each other.  People connections are made.

Another layer is the community of the soil.  During the blitz I was mostly working with several others on the project for creating new growing beds.  We were adding nutrients through sheet mulching so that the soil could create a thriving fertile community.  I have learned so much about the variations in soil communities from the book The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips.

What a food forest needs, what fruit trees need, is soil whose fungal community is stronger than its bacterial community.  In contrast, annual vegetables and flowers and grasses prefer soil with a stronger bacterial community.  A bacterial community is enhanced by tilling the soil and incorporating organic matter by turning it into the soil.  A fungal community is enhanced by no tilling, but rather adding organic matter on the top of the soil to decompose, as it happens in the forest. (Similarly, compost that is left unturned will generate a stronger fungal community.)

Forking the beds Cathleen

[Cathleen forking the soil]

We prepared the soil by aerating it with garden forks–since it had been rather compacted.  We added some granite dust for mineral enhancement, then put down a layer of cardboard to kill grasses and weeds.

Raspberry Bed-manure & chaff Mihku & Heather

[Mihku & Heather adding manure and chaff]

Then, we added chicken manure, coffee chaff, seaweed, leaves, grass clippings, composted manure, and a really thick layer of deciduous wood chips.  We were able to get a delivery of 8 yards of wonderful ramial deciduous wood chips–these are chips which include lots of thin branches, which have more lignin content that is not yet woody.  The wood chips are the most important part of enhancing the fungal community.

We also made several pathways with cardboard and wood chips, and I will complete those bit by bit in the next days.  Now, the process works on its own–I add some water or it gets rained on–and the microbes will work together over the next several months (and years) to create a thriving soil community.  We will plant trees and bushes next spring.  My friend Roger Paul said that the Wabanaki word for “soil” means giver of life.After-Fruit Tree & Flower/Herb Beds