Garden Lessons

Today is the Celtic celebration of Lammas, the early grain harvest festival. I’ve always connected it to the early corn harvest–the time to start eating local corn on the cob in the places I have lived. Our little group that celebrates earth rituals together hasn’t met since COVID, and I feel sad not to see them today. But this morning I was able to bring some zucchini and kale to the Resilience Hub, where a volunteer was collecting produce from gardeners to share with immigrant families in the Portland area. That truly felt like the best way to celebrate this holiday–sharing the surplus of our own harvest for those who need it, in the spirit of reciprocity.

Myke behind the zucchini

Myke standing behind the hugelkultur zucchini! Photo by Margy Dowzer

Lately, I’ve been feeling rather overwhelmed by the gardening endeavor. Take note of my photo behind the hugelkultur zucchini–you almost can’t see me at all. There is watering to do each morning, and I’m harvesting raspberries, the last of the snap peas, chives, zucchini, and kale. Oh–and one cucumber so far.  I learned how to freeze zoodles (zucchini noodles) so that we can save some for the future. I am also freezing most of the raspberries and chives. So all that is wonderful, but still a lot of work.

Added to that, however, has been discovering that each new plant I add to the garden seems to come with its own ecosystem of insect pests and diseases. I was used to Japanese beetles, and shaking them from the leaves of trees into soapy water. I was used to picking off cabbage worms from the kale and squishing them. But then I learned about the squash bug and the squash vine borer. I don’t see any significant damage yet on the zucchini plants, but I’ve seen the bright red and black flying parent of the grubs that can burrow into the stems. This morning, there were some zucchini leaves with powdery mildew. Another yuck.

Now we also seem to have grasshoppers eating the carrot tops and the kale–except for a new variety of kale that I got from a friend, which is too prickly for my taste. (That is ironically maddening! Why don’t you eat that one, grasshoppers?) I did some research and if I wanted I could try garlic spray, or flour on the leaves. But right now I’m just hoping they don’t eat enough to wipe out all the plants. Also, I put more bird seed in the feeder in hopes that some of those birds might also eat grasshoppers.  But there is so much to know, and so many possible pitfalls, even in the context of our organic permaculture polyculture systems.

So like I said, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by all of it lately. I was thinking back to my original intention with this land–I wanted to restore our mutually beneficial connection to the earth, via this small piece of the earth we are lucky to live upon. And what I am learning is that it is not so easy–I’ve lost so much of the knowledge of plants and ecosystems that my ancestors might have had in the places they called home. I am sure there are long-time gardeners who find a way to learn what they need from the practice of gardening–but I am coming to it late in life, and I can feel that it could take a whole lifetime to become adept at working with ecosystems to nurture wholeness and balance.

It’s not all flowers and romance, this relationship with earth. It’s crabgrass and ticks and mosquitos and so many unknown insects, (beneficial or destructive?), not to mention diseases, viruses, bacteria.  Some aspects of earth are not so easy to love. It’s invasive species and drought and climate change. It’s beyond what I can learn and I’m discovering the limits of my capacity.  So I come to the garden like a prayer: sometimes with awe, sometimes with gratitude, but often with a cry for help, often with a deep painful longing for all that has been lost, often with loneliness. If I can pay close enough attention, finally, I come to the garden with surrender, surrender to this larger dance of life of which I am only a very small movement.

Layers of Community-Composting

Compost Bin Team Ian, Sally, Ali, MihkuOne more post about the Permablitz!  We had a team of folks who created a composting system from recovered pallets.  We have been using a container system for our kitchen waste, but these will enable us to compost more yard waste.  One of the principles of permaculture comes from the fact that in nature there there is no such thing as “waste”–the “surplus” from any process is shared to be used by another process.  So too in the community of our yard–leaves, grass clippings, weeds, can all be repurposed to create great soil.  And it is a further repurposing to use surplus pallets for the construction!

These use deck screws to attach them together.  And by the way, if you want to make your own, it is important to find Heat Treated pallets, rather than chemically treated–so that your compost isn’t contaminated by arsenic or other metals.  Heat treated pallets are marked with an HT on the wood.  Heather found these lovely-looking pallets for us.  Margy and I had been finding them here and there, but most of ours were pretty banged up.

When you first establish a permaculture garden, you often have to import soil amendments and wood chips and such, but ultimately, you want a garden that is self-contained, that creates its own mulch and compost and good soil.  We imported 4 cubic yards of compost for our garden bed project, (and just the other day purchased more for the blueberry beds) but hopefully at some point in the future, we won’t have to import compost any more, because the yard itself will making enough of it.

What might our world be like if we eliminated the whole idea of “waste” from our communities?  If every surplus was shared for another process or function?  If nothing and no one was ever thrown away?

Compost Bins Done!

Finished!  By the way, you don’t have to put cardboard or tarps on the bottom–we did because of the bittersweet in our yard–to discourage it from growing into the compost bins.