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AVANT-GARDENING: CREATIVE ORGANIC GARDENING

Welcome !  " You Can Grow! "



"GROWING WITH THE SEASONS" - a selection of organic gardening related essays by Frank and Vicky Giannangelo

Published by Sunstone Press in Santa Fe, New Mexico,
Under the book title "GROWING WITH THE SEASONS"
Available from Sunstone Press in Santa Fe, NM (505) 988-4418,
Or from Amazon Books, or it can be ordered from a bookstore near you!

Growing with the Seasons by Frank and Vicky Giannangelo
This is a book with photos and essays about our
adventures in organic gardening, personal growth, community, and sustainability

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"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes"

"Little seeds of inspiration, once sown, are sure to sprout..."

"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes" - a collection of newsletter essays about our adventures in organic gardening, personal growth, community, and sustainability
Copyright (c) 2013 by Frank and Vicky Giannangelo.

Back Issues
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
environmental friendly gardens at Giannangelo Farms Southwest
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September 2008 (Our Last Issue)
Re-appearance


There is always a mystery in the annual mass re-emergence of local flora in the desert southwest. It occurs after the seasonal monsoons arrive, suddenly drenching the ground with heavy afternoon rains that shock the ground that had been dry and compacted.

Much of the initial showers collect and run off into small rivulets which gather into larger cuts in the earth eventually mingling in gullies that race downhill to the low flatlands below. Each year spring winds bury deeper those seeds shaken from the last season’s plants. It is only when, well into the monsoon season, that moisture is absorbed, sinks down into the ground and enlivens the seeds deposited from years past.

Each year, after the rains arrive, one or more varieties of indigenous plants appear in masse, showing themselves as the predominant species for that season. Some years bring about a mixed field of sunflowers, Fleabane Daisies, Desert Globemallow, Indian and Desert Paintbrush, and in the fall Purple asters, covering the landscape with yellow, red, and soft lavender hues in the early morning and late evening sunlight. Other years have been dominated by a purple array arising from the Rocky Mountain beeplant, taller and sharper in color. This year Common and Nuttall sunflowers are carpeting the area and are taller than we have seen them in the past.

We have begun to harvest our hot peppers. The other night we ate the last of our frozen Poblanos. They were not too hot for those dining with us, since most people in this area like hot chiles. The jalapenos we are bringing in are the largest we have grown. We attribute the extra growth to the plants having been the right size at the right time to take advantage of the sudden monsoon rains.

When put in a garden, the plants have an intentional growing life not dependent on anything other than the time or place in which we put them. They are subject to our whims: when they are put into the soil, what fertilizer they receive, when they are watered, and how much sun or shade they will get during the day. This lulls us into a dichotomy of thinking, one that assumes we are in control of plants and that they have no say in their lives.

The Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799, was carved in Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphic, and Demotic. Because of the trichodic nature of the information, Egyptian hieroglyphics were finally deciphered, opening up a new view of ancient Egypt.

In reality, we function in a trichotomy. We at times forget, believing ourselves somehow so separated from plants by our intelligence, that they too have an intelligence, which if so deciphered would expand our views. As the re-emergence of wildflower species show, they hardly need our help to sprout, grow, and reproduce.

Over the years, this intelligence has been attributed to devas and spirits, much in the Findhorn tradition, or in animistic philosophies. All of which appear to exist just outside our access.

Richard Firm at the Department of Biology at the University of York in the United Kingdom believes that plants have a clear goal, that of germination, survival, and dispersal of their progeny. Each plant, after germination, grows according to its parts, be they leaf, flower, or root. Each part functions in its individual capacity, yet all doing so in a programmed response to what is needed for the fitness of the whole, as a union.

The clarion call of spring has once more been answered inside and outside the garden. It is a shared response. It is a call from outside, yet held within each. Once we expand our recognition of this binding force, as a union we will grow.

environmental friendly gardens at Giannangelo Farms Southwest

August 2008

Pendulistic Progress

“Oh, grow up.” When we overheard this, even though we knew it was about asking someone to become “mature,” the term seemed broader in its meaning implications. Of course at the beginning of the growing season one always wants the seeds and transplants to “grow up,” become mature so that they can be used and useful as was the plan when they were planted.

We have watched our local Farmer’s market “grow up” from its initial small beginning to the well organized, well supported, and continuing to grow marketplace of fresh produce that it is today.

We have seen our community “grow up” and become an area of creativity and a joint expression of those who have been here a long time and those who are newly arrived.

We have aided, in our own small way, to New Mexico becoming a state with many small farms and gardens, which have been the impetus for the state to “grow up” as a forerunner of what, can be seen as, a possible model of local food production.

“Grow up” becomes an exhortation of a literal nature from Dr. Dickson Despommier, Professor of Public Health at Columbia University. In 1999, he began creating “living towers,” structures in urban areas which could feed 50,000 people organically and without transportation costs. This same concept won the Green Building Contest in 2007 for downtown Seattle.

“Grow up” to the National Wildlife Federation means go grow a portion of your land back to where it was before lawns turned suburban development into a monoculture. The Backyard Wildlife Habitat program certifies homeowners who “provide friendly environments for small mammals, birds, butterflies, and reptiles.” One of the main requests of the program is to raise native plants and trees that will eventually grow to provide a natural food and shelter for indigenous species.

There is a trend in urban areas for residents to want to “grow up” and be more self-reliant. National magazines of late have carried stories about those who have converted their front yards into vegetable gardens, retaining the backyard – the traditional garden space – for family personal use. The good thing about front yard gardening is that it is seen by more people, embedding the idea as they drive or walk by. The community garden concept has been around for some time, yet has never been able to grow up to its full potential.

Although we are wary of the overuse of the term “green,” it is encouraging that there is now a channel on television called Green that covers building green and other areas of green concern. Maybe our communications system will finally “grow up” and provide the masses with the vital information needed to grow up a culture concerned with something more than consumerism.

The meniscus inscribed by the swing of a pendulum has an infinite number of points between the apexes. Once awakening upon one of these points, we can place our progress as on the beginning down swing, somewhere on the bottom, awaiting to rise to the next level, or at that apex of change in which we recognize the movement and the opportunities growing in that trend.

It is not hard to get caught up in the dark reports we are given each day through the media, but in truth, it is a small black patch on a great white canvas, that is waiting for us to enhance with color and life. There is not one brush wielded by society - each individual has his own brush with which he can give old facts a new look. All we need to do is grow up.

July 2008 rockwall workshop at Giannangelo Farms Southwest

July 2008

An End of a Beginning

Having watched a weather report that assured warm, sunny weather for the whole week and into the weekend, we made the decision to set out into the ground all the precious plants we had been taking in and out of the house as the whims of weather dictated, not wanting to chance an early freeze on what would be our garden for the year.

One morning, two days after planting them outside, we awoke to see what we had heard as a gentle rain in the night had turned into snow and covered everything.

We went outside and sprayed them with water, which dissipated the thick-flaked wet snow. There was some drooping here and there, but we did not know for sure if there was any damage to the squash, peppers and tomatoes, which were the most vulnerable. By afternoon, we could tell that nothing had been harmed.

The sudden change in the weather prompted us to get our number ten cans out of storage and set them over each plant at night. Finally, the temperatures rose and we were able to take the cans away, but friends down the road were still having freezing nights and had to cover all their plants each night with gunnysacks.

Our new gardens are about ten degrees warmer than our old gardens, which were at the lowest point at the bottom of the hill where katabolic winds brought in and deposited cold air.

It always seems sudden, abrupt in a way, when plants show themselves maturing, beginning the middle of their lives, firmly rooted and racing towards fruition. We “discovered” this one day while watering, leaving us wondering, “When did that happen?”

That thought became a garden lustration that led to the next phase, the “watch it mature” stage.

June also brought two workshops: Basic Rockwork and Strawbale Wall Construction. Each was rewarding and fun. There is something unique that occurs when ten people come together to learn something, it leads to a jovial camaraderie. And, especially after lunch, with on-the-porch-chatter, everyone gets to know the other a bit better.

The hands-on work on someone else’s project as a first experience is comforting and encouraging. Being able to do something with unfamiliar elements like rock, cement, wire, and stucco, gives one a feeling of competence by creatively using materials unfamiliar in every day usage.

Suddenly one has acquired a skill. It is also a good opportunity for self-assessment. Reading a book about how to build a strawbale or rock wall is not the same as putting one’s hands to the wall. Hands-on also allows a personal assessment as to whether or not one will want to do this again or if one enjoys it.

It is the unknown, the untried, which often halts the ever-seeking inner creativity from avenues of pursuit. John Brockman recently said, “You are not creating the world, you are inventing it.”

The gardener understands that fiat grows no food. It is through invention, the recombination of what is available to us, that we bring into existence the garden world. We are alluvial alchemists, producing an elixir of life, which is needed and benefits all.

Spring entices us to reinvention, a new beginning of more of this and less of that, new ideas created from past experiences. We look forward to a final stage, knowing that the end only marks the beginning of the next season’s growing journey. For those of us fortunate enough to have hand in soil, there is no need to wait for an end result to know that we can grow.

Erosion Rock on the cliffs above Giannangelo Farms Southwest

June 2008

A Sustaining Stance

Our view of the finite in modern times fluctuates with the current assessments and discoveries of the universe and our place in it. In the earlier periods of human history, the earth and its resources appeared infinite; new lands to be discovered just over the next hill or the latest scientific findings giving an ever widening view of our world and our access to it.

This marching mindset of mankind was halted abruptly with the popularized photo showing the blue planet Earth hanging alone in the dark space of the present unknown. It was a winnowing of the consciousness, blowing away the chaff of myth and speculation that had clouded and obscured the individual’s view of the finite and infinity.

This mass realization of the finite stores of our “earthship” began the movement toward the concept of sustainability. But acceptance of such ideas are slow to take hold, even when prime examples, such as the dust bowl years of the plains states, pointed to the need for soil conservation, a concept even today not fully realized.

Like many terms and words that pop into our media-broadening culture, sustainability is thrown into the mix of organic-conservation-green-global warming-hybrid vehicle hype. For the vast majority of those who hear these words, they remain just that, words and concepts hastily agreed to as necessary but, “don’t bother me with it now.” It is hard to imagine famine with a full larder.

Our dictionary shows ten ways the word “sustain” can be used. The three held most in common are: to keep an action or process going; to supply with food or other necessities of life; and to keep the spirit or mind from giving way.

In all species from bacteria up, communication is possible because of shared senses and interests. Survival, no matter the level, is the shared interest of all, contrary to the fact of disappearing species from the actions of trying to keep a process, which worked well in the past, continuing. The evolving complexity of any system makes it harder to maintain the status quo of that system.

There are a only a finite number of avenues that can be pursued until it is realized that a new system must be installed. Agriculture at present is pinning final hopes on larger machinery, more chemicals, and genetic manipulations. At present, these approaches have resulted in higher food prices from petroleum costs, pollution of our environment, and a monoculture vision of future food production which could end in a global famine.

Often it is easier to maintain the physical than the mindal or spiritual. The chore-like nature of life demands a cadenced obedience for continuation, with change coming from within individuals out into the larger thinking construct. Change always begins with an individual whose actions are then taken up by another individual and then passed on. Swimming upstream to spawn newness is often the hardest thing to sustain.

Friends, neighbors, or relatives may wonder why one spends so much time and effort on trying to be more self-sustaining. As with anything of a lasting nature, foundations must be put down before anything else can be added. Innovation needs to be not only introduced, but also practiced.

Aside from a farmers market, at which one can obtain fresh produce and baked goods, there exists a need to procure other staples to round out the diet. An enterprising neighbor has taken an old building and refurbished it into a feed and general store. Although it works as a distribution point for feed going out, it also is becoming a distribution point for feed coming in. Local cheese and eggs are presently available with organic beef coming soon.

It is estimated that if everyone ate just one meal a week from locally grown or produced food, it would save 1.1 million barrels of oil presently used for transportation of food from around the world.

The ability to sustain change, no matter how small, in the face of a seemingly unchanging majority perspective, requires the same patience and dedication that it takes to plant a seed and continue its care until its fruition benefits all, proving we can grow.

A strawbale wall garden entrance with an iron gate

May 2008

Our Common Life

Reciprocity often runs rampant when opportunities for mutual benefit converge. Coincident, while pleasing, is not as satisfying as those synchronistic circumstances which benefit a wider audience than those to whom a favor of the cosmos has been bestowed.

Every summer before our strawbale wall workshop, we begin searching for inexpensive bales. Once we had access to hay bales that had been left out in the field and got wet - the bottoms and some of the sides had mold on them, making them no longer suitable for feed. We were able to get all we needed at two dollars a bale.

Another year we asked a local if he knew of any damaged hay bales and he said he had a stack, leaning on the outside of a barn wall that was about ready to fall down. They were bales of oat hay and the wires had rusted so that most broke when we tried to pick them up. We were fortunate to have bailing twine with us, and began re-tying them before even lifting them. They were one dollar a bale.

This year we knew a woman who had a stack of three-twine straw bales that had been sitting outside for years. She owns a small café about three miles down the road. We dropped by and offered to buy some, if they were for sale. She has always had a community-minded spirit and told us to just go ahead and take what we needed, no charge. The next day we arrived early with a truck and checked in with her just to see if the offer was still good. It was, and she had a question: what would it take to have a garden behind the café?

We walked around to the back and surveyed the area. It was flat enough and had good morning and midday sun with a little protection from the hot afternoon sun and wind. We told her that it would be a great place to have a garden. She mentioned that she would like to be able to provide fresh organic greens for the café. This we felt was an idea good for the whole community since so many of us often eat there.

We loaded the bales we needed for the workshop project - a 70-foot long single-bale wall. By laying them on their sides, it will be about 22 inches high, curving around a drop-off on the road to the Hogan.

After unloading, we thought about the garden she wanted and decided that a GreenzBox growing system would be the best solution. We designed it that night and soon had the basic dimensions and a parts list. The next day we went back and showed her what we thought was best to do, and she gave her approval.

We also decided to build the cafe a couple of round compost bins, four feet across and four feet high, made from a roll of old hog wire and window screen from around the outside of the old garden. Around these two outside layers, we wrapped weathered wood and wire snow fencing a friend of ours had given us about 7 years ago.

After finishing the compost bins, we began on the GreenzBox. Since she had straw bales left over, we brought them to the site, and after leveling the perimeter, we stood them on their sides and created a 16’ x 6’ growing box. We tied the bales together with bailing twine for stability, put some old chicken wire on the bottom to keep out gophers and three inches of straw for drainage.

We had ordered 5 yards of organic soil that arrived just as we finished wrapping a tarp over the edges of the bales to keep them dry. Although he dumped it as close as he could to the GreenzBox, we realized that we had a lot of shoveling ahead of us. Suddenly a man hauling an old Ford tractor with a front loader on it drove up. He was doing a small job for the trading post next to the café. We asked if he could come over and scoop the soil into the box when he was finished with the job next door.

We had some other details to tend to, and just as we finished them and began shoveling the soil, he drove up. In about 15 minutes he had dumped it all in. As he turned to leave, we asked if we could pay him anything. He requested a small amount, which we gladly paid, knowing how long we would have been there shoveling without him, and after all, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”

The completion is yet to come; there are still some finishing touches, but the major work is done. Soon we will add the frame for the shade cloth and plant the bed with some of the greens we have been growing indoors in seed trays.

On a post office building in Washington D.C. there is an inscription, which states that a mailman’s job, among other things is to be an, “enlarger of the common life.” In the April issue of Newsweek magazine, Lisa Kershener, a farmer, was asked, “Why did she, like others, continue to prevail against all the hardships farmers and gardeners go through?” The answer was, “We love growing food for people.”

At farmers market when someone buys a head of lettuce, when sharing with neighbors one’s abundance, when giving of ourselves, we have all become an “enlarger of the common life.” And by so doing, we grow.

Trays of seedlings at the beginning of March 2008

April 2008

Contagious Crops

There is probably no better example of Luddites than gardeners. Mechanization has given us weed eaters, powered tillers, and tractors. For the average gardener weeds are still pulled by hand, the soil turned with a garden fork or shovel and by owning a tractor and using it, one is more aptly designated a farmer.

The changes in implements have been incremental. The Anazazi in this area 800 years ago used the same form of hoe we have today only with a stone head at the end of a wooden handle instead of a metal one.

And, though we have seen hypodermic shaped seeders used for small seeds like carrots, we still use our hands and fingers to place seeds into starter trays or into the ground after the danger of frost has passed. Indoor starts that have been transplanted into larger pots line our windowsills to capture the sunlight rather than using some form of artificial lighting.

Each year the stored collective of information in the gardener’s head is retrieved and reviewed for the season’s initiation. Garden journals can be of great use in giving more exact detail of facts needed to be taken into consideration: first and last frost dates, amount of rain, or lack of it; seed varieties that not only started well but also finished as desired; planting dates; problems encountered; pests and what organic controls were used for them.

We are not collectively far from the times of transferring information gained by practical experience through an oral tradition. Books and magazines are the transfer medium for most gardeners these days. But this medium of paper is giving way to an electronic medium, that of the internet. One constant in this shifting of information availability is the experience of the gardener. No matter the amount of information or depth of research done on a plant, it is the experience of going through a season from planting to harvest that enlightens.

There is a saying that new technologies equal new perceptions. If so, what new perceptions of gardening has technology given, considering its limited advances and usages?

One of the sure signs of spring around us in this area of New Mexico are the billows of pollen that rise from the one-seed juniper trees when wind gusts swirling around them sweep off the pollen, now dried by the advancing sun’s warmth. The landscape is often dotted with puffs rising here and there like smoke signals giving the go ahead to those who are watching for signs of time ripeness. These momentary puffs are part of a natural network dynamic.

Gardeners can understand networks as well as anyone, whether it be a network of roots, or how cross-pollination can cause a change in end goals that are evidenced by sometimes strange-shaped and odd tasting squash.

We have exited the stage from oral tradition and are now moving out of the paper medium in which the idea is, “I will search and find information that is important,” to a new paradigm which states that, “If the information is important, it will find me.”

Collective actions within the garden, so well grounded in Luddism, give out the call to harken the messages given by ancient process.

The contagion of unity is within each seed planted, sending to those who are awaiting, the important message that though distance separates us, together we can grow.

March 2008

Fuel for Thought

As the awareness of any subject broadens, so do the terms accompanying its spread. With the first voiced concerns about chemicals and the food we eat, “natural” became a catchword of direction, an idea in general more than a specific eating plan or directive. Once “natural” caught on, the more specific term “organic”, with all its legal and social needs being met, has become closely identified with one market, food. From this now well established base of dietary recognition springs a new word invoking old meanings.

Suddenly everything seeks to be “green.” As with the first popular usage of “natural,” green in its early use was by those interested or concerned with the environment. Lately Madison Avenue has unceremoniously snatched the word to attract those who wish to see a more natural-world-association in their lives.

Now we have green clothing, green buildings, and green cars, its association now put on anything one wants to sell. The word stands in danger, if not having already happened, of becoming so abstracted that it stands for nothing and yet covers everything. Most are lulled toward a good feeling intimated by the word never delving deeper into what is actually being presented.

There is a jeopardy in never having put one’s hand to seed and soil. The ease of access to our food supply makes us forget the time lag involved in going from seed to harvest.

This is apparently the case of those so willing to promote ethanol as the biofuel green savior of the world’s fuel needs. The solution appears attractive to mega farms, who receive a portion of the 17 billion dollars of subsidies given out by the government for corn-ethanol production. It would seem most legislators see growing corn as simple as pumping oil or gas from the ground, not realizing the amount of energy and chemicals needed for its growing. Recent expert opinions claim a 1-to1 ratio, achieving no positive energy outcome from the input.

While ethanol may be kinder on the environment than petroleum, its production is not so, with the nitrogen needs being most problematic. Those high nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides used in fields are never completely absorbed by the plants and the rest goes into our underground water supply. The runoff eventually accumulates in rivers, like the Mississippi, which empties this leftover nitrogen soup into the gulf of Mexico, enlarging the already New Jersey State sized “dead zone” where aquatic life no longer exists.

The U.S. goal for biofuel by 2017 is 35 billion gallons, and yet if achieved would only displace 3.5 percent of gasoline use. To meet this goal, the entire U.S. corn crop would need to be used, taking away from the world’s poor a food source that will triple in need by 2050. While being applauded as a green solution, its promotion as an answer to our energy needs only brings about greater destruction of land cleared of carbon absorbing trees, the destruction of animal habitats, and ignoring the water intensive needs for growing on the scale proposed.

The idea that biofuel can be an overall solution is masked and made palatable by its green nature and promotion as a green answer for use in our green cars and in our green homes, when in fact it is a concept that will only become more unwieldy and detrimental in the future. This grasping at straws approach will only eventuate in the straw that will break the proverbial camel’s back.

Morris Berman notes that, “An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you.” At this time, it would seem biofuel ideology has a hold on farmers, consumers, and politicians, all acquiescing with a green fervor.

Lack of practical experience can often make an idea seem simple to achieve - just grow our fuel – sounds good! Even now, we try to find ways to increase production with genetically modified seed, using more land, more chemicals, more pesticides, with larger multi-million dollar refineries, and more equipment.

The energy used to light our goldfish pond at night, and the lights along the winding path going to our carport from our house, work for us dependably each day, freely given each day by a new crop of energy from the sun.

When our agricultural and technological resources are used to feed the peoples of the world first and our machines second, then we will grow.

A large dead pinon pine up on the ridge
February 2008

Cutting with Occam’s Razor

With sub-zero weather at night, and snow covering the ground, we initiated the analage from which this year’s garden will grow. A garden is not an amoeba-like entity consisting of only one cell. Each year the garden is conceived, grows, and dies, silently awaiting its resurrection when minds and hands are told to act.

The garden is not a place, a plot immoveable; it often travels the early season in and out of greenhouses, cold frames and other areas of protection as the gardener scrambles for an edge against the weather. The garden is not solely a local entity; additives such as Glauconite, also known as greensand, mix with the native soil, blending ancient sea creatures with the more recent topsoil.

Each year, the new garden’s plants are not unconnected with past gardens. Seeds may have come from great distances or they may have been harvested from plants located in the same area from fruits which date back extensively, known as heritage seed. Or, like relatives who visit each year, we can clone plants that provide traits we know, assured they would give us the characteristics that we want.

Our rosemary plant has been with us for about 15 years, and continues to thrive in its large, green pot sitting in a sunny spot in our living room. There are four main stems, each thicker than a forefinger, covered with scales that look like brown peeling paint. The stems divide and divide again and again until at the top of the plant, over one hundred thin tips are reaching upward.

It was easy to get almost fifty clones this year. We got out the heat mat, filled the seedling pots with a growing medium we knew worked well for rooting, set them in the plastic trays and filled them with water. The thermostat was set at 80 degrees. The mat was warming not only the water in the trays but our cats who found the unused portion of the mat that was covered with a blanket to prevent heat loss, and stretched out in luxury.

Most of the cuttings ranged from two and one-half inches to four inches in height. The bottoms of the stems were stripped of leaves, a diagonal cut was made on each stem (so it would not sit flat against the bottom of the pot and not be able to receive nutrients), and each was dipped into a rooting hormone (Rootone) and inserted into the soil.

Rosemary is a symbol of remembrance and friendship and has been used traditionally at weddings, sprigs often given to those in attendance, or inserted into the bride’s bouquet.

It is often said that smell retrieves memories more readily than any of our other senses. Its other uses range from herbal products for the body, to the wood being used to make lutes and other instruments.

Once rooted and transplanted into larger pots, our clones will be sold at the farmers market and given as houseplants and grown indoors, and set out in the summer. New Mexico winters can fall to below zero during January and February, and rosemary is only viable above 20 degrees.

There is something comforting on many levels about cloning rosemary: since we are not growing a plant from seed, resources are conserved, and it is sustainable over time. There is almost a familial feeling to each year as the clones are put out into the world, a continuation of the same strain that has been a faithful member of our family, sharing the years indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer sun, setting on the south east side of our porch. William F. Occam (1285-1349), an English monk and philosopher wrote, “It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.” Each clone becomes a symbol to others of what can be done to produce more with less.

Kobi Yomada advises that, “We must not only educate the mind, but also the heart.”

Through remembrance and friendship, we can teach the heart to give direction to the mind in finding ways that we can grow.

A large dead pinon pine up on the ridge

January 2008

Learning from Necessity

A few weeks ago, we began cutting a few of the standing dead trees on the hill behind our hogan for firewood, although we leave most of them for the birds and other wildlife. There is snow on the ground and a trail became evident as we climbed up and carried wood down. The wood is all pinon pine, dead from bark beetles that attack trees weakened by drought. The bark is riddled with holes extending into the hard wood, making it easy to strip off the bark where felled.

We wondered if the junipers would take over now that they were not in competition for nutrients and water. We knew they were symbiotic with the pinon, and then we wondered if there might not be fewer junipers!

After the wood was cut, split, and stacked on the porch, we had time to look out across the valley as the sun’s declining rays gave long shadows, vibrant green trees, and defined the sandstone variegation’s vivid colors.

The day before was solstice, the turning point of the sun’s declination. As we looked to the east, we saw the rising full moon just over the horizon on same level as the setting sun, balancing our view of the heavens like weights on an east-west scale. The view gave a comforting feel of cosmic harmony, a state of balance that we all seek in our day-to-day existence.

To bring into alignment all the elements we want included in our diets, three stages must be considered. The first is exoteric. Shoppers generally have no thoughts about food production when selecting produce in the supermarkets. At this level, use of the product is the end goal. Millennia of genetic selection gives way to the selection of more immediate needs, like the evening’s dinner.

The second stage is mesoteric, narrowed from shoppers, to those who have a more direct knowledge and an actual physical association with the food, whether it be the farmer, a seed company employee, or a fertilizer salesman. The physical act of growing food has many facets when going from seed to table.

The third stage is esoteric. At this point, those on the periphery drop away, leaving the grower, who is involved in the whole process. Our gardens place us into an even smaller group with a shared knowledge of seed and soil and how to incorporate them into intricate growing systems.

Having an esoteric understanding of what is going into our bodies gives a greater chance to balance our needs than an exoteric who grabs from the shelf because a product looks “good.”

When spring arrives, gardeners will begin to restore the balance in their gardens; pH levels will be checked, nutrient needs will be adjusted, and all the small additions or subtractions that the gardener feels are needed to provide a prolific equipoise will be carried out.

Recently, North Dakota State University asked us to write a review of a recently published book about small farms in New Mexico titled, Artisan Farming: Lessons, Lore, and Recipes. One of the points made is, that New Mexico lacks two necessities that have prevented large-scale commercial farming: water and soil. The lack of these does not mean there is no agriculture, but what it has spawned are many small growers, those who find out what they can grow, find a market, and supply it. While the plains states with miles of wheat and cornfields fit into the exoteric level, New Mexico is at the esoteric level, abounding with small organic farms, sustainable gardens, and centuries old pueblos with those who understand the need for heritage seed that will produce true to each grower’s special conditions. These local varieties of seed are hoarded, treasured, used in ceremonies, and given as family legacies.

As is often the case, we learn more from necessity when we have less. The proliferation of artisan growers, those skilled in bringing forth food from small fields are on the rise in New Mexico, pursuing recondite methods, some modern, some ancient, proving that even within difficult environments, we can grow.


Avant-Gardening is a creative process, a technique for growing personal creativity using plants as a medium to connect the garden outside to your inner-garden vision. It is a method of combining art, which is abstract, with craft, when working with a physical medium. It is a door, a path, a tool - allowing you to enhance your creative skills using plants.

It is learning how to establish a connection, joining inner visions, to physical and mental environments. The core of creativity is alchemy - the root of creative thinking - the basis for Avant-Gardening. ALCHEMY: from middle Latin: ALCHYMIA - transformation; to change in shape.

Personal creativity is a connection with the creative elements (air, water, soil) of the universe. You will have many creative situations that will be an opportunity to shift a paradigm - to step beyond yourself and your "limitations".

You can grow!


Watch "My Stroke of Insight (Jill Bolte Taylor) on TED Talks!









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