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"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Insights"

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Back Issues

Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes 2002

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December 2002
“A light behind the hill”

The garden is asleep for the winter, nestled under a brown alfalfa blanket of mulch. Nutrients, added earlier with the tilling, will now be dispersed and absorbed into the de-compacted soil. From the entrance at the garden gate, the view is a flat-sameness resembling an awaiting canvas. Checking the compost piles and the worm beds, we found the wigglers going deeper with the lower temperatures. Our woodpile has been covered with a tarp for the inevitable rain and snow. The straw bale wall, started in the late spring, now has on its stucco color coat, waterproofing and protecting it from the winter weather. Arriving home from school in the late afternoon, the sun seems all too anxious to disappear behind the west horizon, leaving only moments to work on lingering projects and do the daily chores. Cold and dark force us to enter into our hibernaculum, along with the woodpile, the garden, and the worms.

The end of another year approaches - the holiday season a denouement of the year’s events. It feels good to close the sometime stressful, mostly busy, always exciting year. Just as the turning of the calendar page finalizes our year’s endeavors with mindal revisions, so does it also allow our imaginations to leap with prospects and ideas for the new year.

At this time of year our world is lit by the morning sun not coming over the horizon to full light, but showing as lengthened rays, shooting between the canyons cut deep by ancient waters. It is a morning hint, a gist of what will be increased as the day progresses. Soon, it too will be leaving its hibernaculum to help us splash diversity on the now blank garden canvas.

Once again we will approach the world with our new gardens, each of us creating a matrix that contains our beliefs and desires. The garden is an entry point of commonality that provides us with the felt presence of immediate experience. With this experience, we can touch and help awaken all those who may feel isolated, distanced, and alone on this planet.

The Navajo have a saying that “you can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep”. This Snow-White-like-poison-apple that many may have bitten – technology, economics, injustice, violence, or the rush of life – has caused a trance-like condition of feeling helpless and unable to relate to, or help, others. It is true that we, in and of ourselves, cannot wake them: but a garden can reconnect them with forces and energies that are able to reopen their eyes and awaken them to the inextricable relationship they have to each other person on this conceptually shrinking planet.

We look forward to spring when the sun will rise beyond the hill, and will then be able to show forth its full light, aiding us in bringing forth the two greatest crops we can grow – Peace and Goodwill.

November 2002
“A Natural Service”

Our garden lays dormant, yet still containing lettuce, kale, chard, beets, carrots, onions, and parsnips, as we anticipate the approaching final killing freeze with its cold plunge into the winter months; yet the world outside the garden daily erupts, regardless of the season, with ever widening divisive wedges that broaden our separation; those less obvious than distance, language, religion, and culture. “Whole” systems depend on co-adaptive evolution and symbiotic relationships, cooperative strategies that benefit the entire system.

And so we head toward that day known as Thanksgiving. That day when millions of hearts, minds, and lips will be grateful for what they feel they have received of divine bounty, the “thanks” often overriding the “giving”. Lip service of the day comforts, along with the extended-meal-memories as entrées, lulling for the moment, and providing the feeling of “duty done”.

We search for a “doable”. A garden allows for advancement of a world culture as we participate, express, and live it. Instead of this exercise broadening the chasms, a garden allows the felt presence of immediate experience, connecting us to an archaic past of authentic commonness.

Marshall McLuhan believed that the planetary human culture, the “global village”, would be “tribal” in character. In biology, a tribe is the classification of plants and animals.

Plants have the ability to maximize cooperation with other plant species as they interact with each other through the tangled mat of roots that connect them all to the sources of their nutrition, and to each other. In society, this mat of roots that connects us all should be providing a base for intellectual peace, moral satisfaction, spiritual joy, social progress, and cosmic wisdom.

Plants preceded animals in evolution. What is needed now is to use technology to rediscover and adopt the ways of that “matrix of vegetable intelligence” to advance human culture.

Thanks-Giving combines gratitude and service. Gratitude, from the Latin “Gratis” means “pleasing”. Service, from the Latin “Serv” means someone who does “what needs to be done”.

What it is it that we can do that is pleasing, and that needs to be done? We Can Grow.

October 2002

The proportion we seem to encounter most these days is that of excess.  Those identified as CEO's of conglomerates, such as General Electric, Tyco, Enron, live so far above our conception it is hard to feel other than wonder.  The $6000 shower curtains and $2,200 waste baskets pass by us in casual reading and viewing.  Our minds pass it off with a shrug.  More immediate matters are coming to bear: the fall season approaches, with it's slower pace and re-assessment of the past growing season, cleaning, composting, and mulching the beds are the tasks at hand.

Here at Giannangelo Farms, we can look back and remember first that there was no killing frost in the month of June, which gave an early entry into the summer growing season.  The good weather promoted a productive garden, and early sales.  The monsoons showed up in September, a month late, providing the much needed moisture, cooler temperatures and a change from the day to day intense sun.  Our weather in September was also without a killing frost, and the gardens flourished, extending the Ramah Farmers Market past the previous year by weeks. 

  Last Sunday we gave our final gardening workshop of the year.  Fifteen people attended. The weather was brisk, but bearable, with only a small shower in the afternoon while out at the compost piles.  Our guest speaker, Lea Lewis, in relating stories of how she helped her grandmother in the Zuni "waffle gardens", mentioned how most of the time the work was performed in groups.  That fact suddenly seemed to resonate as we sat around a long homemade table that we use at the Farmers Market for displaying our produce. It was covered with a bright, traditional red and white checked tablecloth. 

Here was gathered a group with common interests, there to harvest and share ideas, knowledge, and the noon day meal.  Each person, at the end of the day, felt they were more a portion of the whole, proper and significant in a group relation and in their new personal relationships. By giving, we gain that which we cannot buy.

  One's worth in life can be measured by their usefulness to others.  Each seed we plant is a contribution of continuation and continuity, maintaining an unbroken thread that has come down through the ages in fewer and fewer hands. Those who garden, consume and share the fruits of their labors and are inspired to grow, and they feel a greater proportion of life than those whose personal excess can never be contained.

Robert Byrne said: "The purpose of life is a life of purpose."  Ours?  We can grow!

September 2002
"An open landscape"

Many times we find ourselves in bondage to liberty. Self discipline is too often a loathsome task, made easier in avoidance by the myriad of distractions we are presented and encouraged to participate in: movies, theme parks, sporting events (live and on TV), shopping, etc. To promote a personal “correcting”, one needs a policy - a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency; that “being conducive to advantage or interest as opposed to ‘right’.”

For instance, within the gardening community, the “right” way to garden can be anything from hydroponics to permaculture. But it is shared interests that promote advancement in skills, a consistency in direction, a capability for success, and the capacity for growth. This interest-driven part of our shared lives allows us to enlarge and illuminate an “open landscape” rather than legislate it. What grower doesn’t have time to share with another the knowledge gained from experience or secondary sources, friends, magazines, the internet, etc? A common interest will move us forward.

It can be progressive, only if we surrender “right” to a greater policy. The word “policy” comes from the Latin, “polity”, basically meaning “citizenship”.

We recently attended the wedding of two friends. We were in the food line, much of it grown by local gardeners, as were all the flowers cheering the tables with vibrant colors, and the bride’s bouquet, later flying overhead to outstretched arms. As we were loading our plates, a neighbor that lives fairly close by, commented on how we seem to only see each other at celebrations. We laughed at the momentary timeliness of it. But, later on thinking about it, we began to notice other “celebrations” that many of these same people attend: our local art gallery, http://www.elmorroarts.org, which sponsors diverse programs and events- such as our workshops;

the local TCW food coop - a source for organic food/products throughout the year, http://www.tcwfoodcoop.com, and the Ramah Farmers Market, all of which bring people together. When the food coop truck comes in, it is fun and encouraging to watch everyone work together getting the food off the truck, and dividing it quickly, efficiently, and joyfully.

The Farmers Market is well attended and supported throughout the season, saving a 50 mile trip, one way, to the grocery store for produce. It is held under towering shade trees, and amidst the ring of vendors, tables and chairs are set up encouraging those who come to stay and visit, catching up on personal events and community gatherings in the future. Many come from as far away as Gallup or Zuni and spend the whole morning with a cup of coffee or tea, sampling from a choice of sweets available, while their fresh organic produce, pastries, and craft items are stored in coolers or in the shade.

As we inexorably globalize, new social paradigms can be established. Food is one common interest that can bring about new agreements that effect human policy. Our gardens, finite expressions of infinite ideals, provide emotional, cultural, and personal experiences of connection. As one world, one family, we can grow!

August 2002
“A Trellis for Growth”

Just how much location can play as a part in our thinking, appeared suddenly when remembering a garden from the past. The main components of a garden are often narrowed down to nutrients, seeds, and water – to a point that the tributaries of other ideas are not used. When we left Arizona and bought our property in New Mexico, we discovered there were some old telephone poles lying on the ground. We largely ignored them at the time, having other goals to accomplish - building a house, cleaning a space in the old horse corral for a future garden, finding a job, and all the other matters that arise when relocating.

Too many times people try and produce something without a solid foundation, just as we did with our first New Mexico gardening attempt. We hurriedly put up a small fence and planted some seeds in totally unprepared ground, knowing the probable results - but feeling the need to get in a garden. We were correct about the results, but the effort at least produced a conceptual capacity for what would be needed in the future - we were able to observe the seasonal sun path, temperature ranges, weather patterns, wilting heat, and the need for shade.

After the basic steps of the real garden were taken – the soil tested and needed nutrients added – we sought embellishments that both fit in with the environment and were beneficial to the garden. One aspect was the building of small pools with re-circulating water which drew birds, bees, toads, and other beneficial wildlife. Then looking around for something to provide both shade and what we like to call “vertical interest”, we inspected the one of the telephone poles and were amazed to discover they were western red cedar.

Since we had built raised beds, trellises, pea poles, etc. from red cedar on San Juan Island off the coast of Washington state, we realized we had a familiar material with which to work. The concept of the thin pieces of trellis once being a large telephone pole never fails to interest those who come by to see the gardens, and always elicit questions as to how they were made.

By moving to New Mexico, our concept capacity has been enlarged by the use of building materials not used in other places we have lived - like adobe and straw bale construction. When we began to consider building a wall around the front of the house to keep out the spring winds, create a microclimate, and maintain some warmth in winter, adobe was a first thought. But our property had only sand, no clay for adobe bricks. We thought back to the new gardens we had built when we moved from San Juan Island to Arizona, where there was only hard, sticky clay. In the northwest there was an abundance of fertile sandy soil, so we tended to view the clay as a detriment.

We dug out the clay and built field stone raised beds on top of it, added organic matter, gypsum, and other nutrients to the beds, and after three years we had fertile soil. If we had moved to Arizona from New Mexico, we would have rejoiced at the valuable material that was in abundance to use as adobe brick for walls, out buildings, and housing.

So, here we are now, with the concept capacity for adobe, but no material. One of the aspects of adobe in this climate is that it handles extremes – keeping cool in summer yet maintaining warmth in winter. Another building method and material used in this area, with many of the same properties as adobe, is straw bale construction.

We are now building a straw bale wall around part of our house to provide us with a microclimate for a smaller garden in which we will use three of the higher corners for cedar pergolas covering seating areas for garden teas - adapting the cedar rails much like the Navajos use willows over their summer outside cooking area called a “chaha’oh”.

In an attempt to enlarge the conceptual capacities of ourselves and others, we dedicate the second half of our Sustainable Organic Gardening workshops for a broadening exploration into other viewpoints. For example, at our last three gardening workshops we have had two guest artists, and a poet, each providing a new avenue in viewing and perspective of what has been created in the gardens. For our fall gardening workshop we are fortunate to have a guest speaker who lived and worked in the gardens with her grandmother in an abandoned Zuni village that was last occupied in the 1950’s (hopefully soon to be restored).

We hope that this information will provide trellising for incorporating a greater understanding of cultural “whys and wherefores” - because progress goes forward when individuals seek out, implement, and share concepts and ideas. Progress is impeded by such things as agribusiness (which provides the majority of food most people eat) and establishes mediocrity by eliminating biodiversity, creating petrol-chemical dependency, and interrupting the natural rhythms that regenerate and renew our resources.

Let each of our gardening endeavors reflect for others new concepts that will allow a natural progress toward a better planet. We can grow!

July 2002

The Fourth of July has arrived and this year we didn’t have a late June frost setting everything back. The Ramah Farmers Market is a week away, giving our produce more than a chance to finish at peak growth. Although we are celebrating a day of independence, now is the time we also need to express our dependence on each other.

We will be depended upon to show up at the Farmers Market every weekend, at the same time, and with a good supply of fresh, organic vegetables for those wishing to exercise some “independence” from the chain markets in the cities. So many times these days being dependent is seen as a fault or a weakness - and being co-dependent is thought to be even worse. But, in this situation creating dependence is of great value - especially when we think of “dependence” as confidence, reliance, and trust - promoting common good.

At the market our buyers can have confidence that they are getting organically grown, fresh picked produce. Freshness if often one aspect of food that is overlooked – other than looking for “best when used by…” expiration dates. We generally pick for the market early the same morning, starting before the sun is up. It is washed and placed in containers for the trip to town. Buying fresh has many advantages: it has more nutritional value, keeps longer, looks and tastes better.

A mutual reliance and constancy is established at the market. Those who come each week rely on us to provide them with the ingredients with which to make again that great tasting salad they had the week before, and now want to have again - and we rely on them for our summer income.

One method we use to maintain consistency is to grow small crops with high rotation. Planting becomes part of the periodic rhythm of the garden’s summer life. Trays with 72 planting holes are continually being seeded to provide back up plants in case of late frosts, sudden hail storms that shred the plants, and for immediate transplants for those taken to market.

This method takes less garden space, saves time, uses fewer nutrients, allows for intensive companion planting when transplanted, and seedling trays use much less water – a big factor in this area since we are experiencing the severest drought in 100 years.

Trust is essential for a successful garden. The plants unthinkingly trust that we will water them, feed them, and help them to attain their optimum fruition. We trust that our efforts will bring forth successful results, and that people will come to the Farmers Market.

The Fourth of July is a holiday celebrating independence - breaking away from our daily paths, suspending our regular systems, and gathering with friends, neighbors, and family, in whom we have confidence and trust that allow us just to enjoy being ourselves. In parks, campgrounds, and other areas where there are celebrations of independence there is also reliance upon each other - a holiday dependency promoting common good. Independence is strengthened in and by each person. As goes one, so goes the whole. We can grow!

June 2002
"Reproducing a Consistancy"

We really wondered, along with Rodney King, why can’t we “just get along”? We like the idea that we should “get along” …as in “little doggies”… moving down the trail, united together for a common goal.

As gardeners, we are the suppliers of not only organic food, but ideas: sustainable organic gardening, selling at a farmer’s market, teaching others to grow their own food, and of course, honest coin. We have a common goal in these life’s actions - to bring better values into the world. We seek to express these values in the garden, and gardens grow better when they receive consistent attention - watering, weeding, and caring.

A caring consistency soon becomes an effortless activity, a calming “action-meditation” spreading to other areas in our daily lives. We are more apt to be on time when we say we will be somewhere. We are more apt to show up, saying we would. We are more apt to be progressive when presented with a problem, or asked a question. We are more adaptable, and socially fragrant.

Although we have not actually met the majority of our “Tid-Bytes” subscribers, we know our goals are in a similar direction – whether it be in South Africa, Central America, New Zealand, India, England, or Ramah, New Mexico. It is not so much what we give, as what we share, both among ourselves, and with others, that brings value in the contact – a gift without the giver is barren.

We just gave a workshop on “Basic Rockwork” that was attended by a dozen people, all of whom had never done rockwork. This area abounds in sandstone, giving access to materials that can be used to make raised bed garden walls, retaining walls to protect the garden, pathways, pools, ponds, and all of the other stone projects that availability presents. The workshop was a truly inter-national/multi-cultural event - men, women, Swiss, Zuni, Navajo, and whites. I mixed the first wheelbarrow of cement and then, unbidden, others took over and mixed the next batches, eager to see what it was like to make cement (a mystery and dilemma to many). I set the corner stone, and the activity began. The goal? A rock wall around the base of the chicken coop’s stucco wall. We kiddingly told them that the specific area (the hen house) belayed the confidence we had in their abilities…

Two bags of cement later, what could be done, had been done. It could have been chaotic, tension producing, or individually directionalized. But, our common goal was to do and learn together, and after one person had mixed a batch or two of cement at the sand pile, instinctively some one else took over the task, allowing that person to experience building the rubble behind and then setting the rock in the front, neatly continuing the flow, the aesthetics, and the direction that all sensed to be headed toward. When we ran out of time and cement, we stood back after a brief cleaning to wonder at what such a scurried activity of commonness had produced. What hadn’t been apparent before, now lept out as our “goal effort”, showing our direction and willingness to cooperate, and our willingness to just “get along”.

We tried to stress that rockwork could incorporate aspects of our lives: strength, beauty, and integrity. The wall was solid, beautiful, and presented an unconscious flow from one person’s work to another’s that showed a motif and interconnectedness – each having built in harmony on the actions of those working before them. It is not the wall, but the consistency of direction and cooperation, which can be given away to others. We can grow!

May 2002
Growing Your Worth

For us, "efficient living" is working in the present in such a manner as to enhance the values of the future - conservation of resources being one method, since water tables and aquifers are constantly reported as being lower than in the past. Long-range weather forecasts are becoming more accurate and being forewarned of a possibility of drought demands a step toward an action that will help deal, in a practical manner, with the problem. We have spoken before of the incessant spring winds we have in this area, which strip the moisture from the surface of the beds - precisely the part where fresh seeds and transplants reside.

"Old timers" who have lived 80 or more years in this area say this is a very dry year. Others who don't have that accumulation of experience, yet have seen more years go by than we, agree. We have always been big believers in mulching, but sometimes it's hard to come by. Our previous mulch source had been to help a friend clean out an indoor goat stall/shed, which would accumulate eight to twelve inches of hoof-packed alfalfa, goat poop, and urine. After loading and bringing it home, we broke it apart and crumpled it by hand into a consistent sized mulch - this process often took 2 or 3 days.

At one of our last organic gardening workshops we met someone who had a shredder, and said if we ever wanted to borrow it, just call. We called.

We have worked with different types of shredders over the years - one was a commercial sized monster that was almost scary to approach. It was unbelievably fast - sucking in brush, limbs or whatever - spiting out chips at the other end. Others we have owned proved troublesome, and frequently clogged (materials too wet, too fibrous, this, that, or the other), so when we picked up the borrowed shredder it was with some thoughts of shredders past as we loaded it into the truck. Three of us lifted it easily into the bed and strapped it down for the ride home. It was a Craftsman 8hp.

It is small, and easily portable, but powerful. It didn't clog once: we put through fresh bales of alfalfa, old alfalfa from last year, the goat barn cleanings, and old dried garden vegetation. It literally threw the evenly chopped pieces out the back with such a force we had to stop and build a three sided containment area with a roof. (We used some cement blocks, and sheets of plywood.) With other shredders, as the shredded material built up on the ground we had stop and fork it into a pile next to the shredder. This machine blew it out with such force that it "piled" itself against the back of the container.

Not once did we have to stop to relocate the shredded material. It only took a few hours instead of days. We can say without reservation that this is the best shredder we have encountered!

This past week has produced very high winds that blew our freshly tilled beds dry, often taking the top part away - loosing both soil and nutrients. But, by the "luck of the draw" we acquired a machine that gave us what we needed: a deep mulch, consistent sized, easily procured and produced - an efficient mulch. And, once it is watered, it forms a crust which prevents the wind from blowing it away.

So enthusiastic was my wife upon deep mulching the perennials and the newly planted beds, that I received an e-mail at work saying, "Now we can begin to really garden in this area!"

We now have a tool, and hope, for overcoming one of the elements of adversity that is not only indigenous to this area, but that is expected to increase in intensity in the future. This extra deep mulch is efficient, practical, and will enhance values of the future - conserving water, allowing better productivity using fewer resources, and less impact from our lives in areas that we affect. By so doing, and growing, we enhance our worth to the world's progress toward good. We will produce more, and use less, by efficient living. Yes, we can grow!

April 2002

Easter is an annual Christian festival in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The Latin “Resurrection(as)” is the ptp of “Resurger”, meaning “to rise again”.

Winter has provided rest, and a quiet period of contemplation. We are ready once more “to rise again” - knowing the battles to be fought. We will “rise again” with new ideas, knowledge, and enthusiasm, to select, plant, and nurture our seedlings.

The garden’s first call to spring arrived as we finished a general cleaning in the garden, and attached the last batten on the new greenhouse – now almost ready for use. The warmth of the morning sun foretold of temperatures that would continue to ”rise again”, until there would be no morning frosts. Even so, last year a killing frost occurred after even the most cautious had set out their tender plants (squash, peppers, and tomatoes) only to find them blackened in the morning.

But, we will “rise again” trying to get an advance on the short summer growing season by putting out plants when we think we “know” it’s safe.

The bright green spires of garlic we planted last fall “rise again” through their blanket of thick brown mulch. The bulbs forming from last year’s crop of cloves. We eat the smaller ones, and replant the largest cloves. They were planted in early September, because we realized that at this altitude they need more time in the fall to establish their roots - which are the foundation for the best and largest garlic.

Another aspect of the garden that will soon “rise again” is daylight savings time, bringing a change in waking and gardening habits. Mornings will be darker and the hours available for working later will increase. We will adjust, and “rise again” to the springtime functions of starting seedlings in the greenhouse and transplanting them into four inch pots. We will “rise again” to the needs of the beds in the garden that call for nutrients, organic matter, seeds, and transplants. As the season quickly approaches we “rise again” to pursue the…"highest blessing of all human activities”…working with the soil.

We who garden know the resurrection formula of the universe: Truth – we plant a radish, and get a radish. Beauty – the sun, water, soil, and air give us the fruits of our labor. And, Goodness - which comes when we share our bounty: dinners with good friends, the farmer’s market, or a bouquet of garden flowers given to a neighbor as a “thinking of you” remembrance.

We “rise again” to grow our lives - planting into our souls those seeds that will sprout within the systems of the universe, growing what we value: those truths, that beauty, and the goodness that has preceded us, and will come after us.

We can grow!

March 2002
Reasons to Grow

This evening, as the full moon shines brightly over the pinon trees to the east, we reflect that the days have been getting warmer, and the snow on the northeast side of the trees is retreating with the advancing sun. Almost all of the snow in the garden has melted, and the coyote fence we built last year, shows its effectiveness by the condition of the perennials on the west edge, which are in better condition and greening earlier than the rest.

We will enjoy shedding the few extra pounds that have accumulated during the winter months. Soon the available activities will be outside: tilling, sifting, cleaning, building, planting, etc. The new season’s challenges invigorate our minds as we remember the demands of spring winds, and late frosts - the obstacles presented at this altitude, not yet completely solved. We have broadened our perspectives – and will apply the knowledge gleaned from books, the internet, magazines, and other gardeners in the area.

Some friends dropped by unexpectedly on a muddy Sunday afternoon, as we were baking 4 small potatoes for dinner. We were able to convince them to stay and share a potato. Along with the meal we exchanged information about how we were preparing for the summer growing season. We showed them our heating mat in the greenhouse, used for germinating seedlings, and the thermostat that controls the temperature. They explained their outdoor “earth box” that allowed early germination and growing before the cold had subsided.

We are always interested in what actually works for others in this area. All too soon they were gone, but a social flavor lingered as we watched them disappear to their car parked about ¼ mile away because of the winter road conditions.

In the garden, growth is a forward, flowing, fruition of value recognition; our minds can know quantity (fact), reality (idea), and meaning (relationship). But values – qualities – must be felt. It is through our associations with others (the farmer’s market, friends, neighbors, and relatives) that the garden becomes an avenue for expressing core beliefs. These links of association provide that “feeling” of value. One of the results of this “belief expression” is happiness, brought about through self-cultivation, growth, and expansion.

We heard someone once say that a truly radical thing to do is to grow your own food. This certainly appears to be the case when one looks at the population-to- personally-grown-food ratio, (ratio is the derivational word and concept for the word reason) another “reason” to grow! This ratio probably has never been higher.

Our reasons to grow (values, feelings) are:

1. Energy systems (facts) are coherent: the proof is in the radish, and that can be acted out - plant a radish seed and you get a radish, not a potato.

2. Reality systems (ideas) can be attractive: we can choose progressive systems (organic vs. non-organic, growing for just ourselves vs. sharing, staying with the “way it’s always been done” vs. trying new ideas.)

3. Spirit systems (relationships): social interaction is stabilizing, promoting a happiness that is derived from values - sought after, achieved, and then shared with others.

Values are kernels to be planted, tended, and harvested – true reasons to grow.

We will grow!

February 2002

Dee Hock was CEO of VISA International. He introduced principles which enabled people and institutions to unite in a common goal in which members simultaneously engaged in the most intense cooperation and fierce competition. He coined a word from chaos and order … chaord. “A chaord is any self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, non linear, complex organism, community or system, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order.” Such is the gardener: self-organizing; there are no set rules as to when to start germinating seeds, what seeds to plant, how early to plant or by what methods. The gardener must be self-governing; no amount of wheedling, cajoling, or threats can make one go out and spend the time needed for a successful garden.

If nothing else, the gardener must be adaptive; the perfect garden of today can become an infested problem overnight, requiring inventiveness, resourcefulness, and the ability and knowledge to know and choose those measures needed to correct the situation. Although the garden itself is indeed a linear affair, proceeding from germination to fruition, the actions taken to make this happen are non linear, as the gardener scales the possibilities each day in order to deal with a multitude of events happening in the garden’s synergy.

The garden itself becomes a complex organism, a community and a system, involving family, neighbors, and in the case of food banks, farmers markets, community gardens, and co-ops, an ever-expanding radius of influence. And it is our behavior that “harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order”. We can do this if we:

1. Stay FOCUSED – let a daily assessment give direction.
2. Stay RELAXED – don’t let problems that pop up frustrate to the point of, “I give up”.
3. Stay BALANCED – emphasize common sense, keep things in proportion, and assimilate wholeness.
4. Stay LOYAL – get out to the garden every day, even though some days you may feel it doesn’t need you, or you don’t feel like it.
5. Stay DETERMINED – inexplicable crop failures, poor germination, insects, weather, or infestations can cause a wavering in dedication.
6. Stay NON-JUDGEMENTAL - sometimes the solutions for problems are those you thought would never work.
7. Stay DRIVEN – the garden is not to be only for your pleasure and benefit; make it produce for others.
8. Stay COOPERATIVE – disseminate your product, your enthusiasm, and your knowledge.

A chaord is “characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature.” We believe these organizing principles to be Truth (facts), Beauty (ideas), and Goodness (relationships). Everyone starts their seeds at different times. We began this growing season January 18. It wasn’t by the almanac, or the weather, that we started. It was an intuition, an internal prodding that sprang up suddenly and urged us to “get things going”. We went into the greenhouse and leveled the spot where the 1½ inch piece of Styrofoam would rest, and placed our heating mat on it. We plugged it into the control panel on the wall, out of which spiraled a thermal sensor connected to the thermostat.

We went to the basement and filled five 72-hole seed trays with our seedling mixture, watered the trays in which they sat, and planted them - all within a few hours. We had begun this year’s adventure in “chaordic gardening”. The catalogs each year give us new varieties along side heritage seed from the past. Magazines tout new tools for weeding, seeding, and reading.

It is up to us to be adept at adapting these new choices into our schemes. Let us, through our gardens, discover beauty in things, recognize truth in meanings, and find goodness in values. We Can Grow!

January 2002

January 1st approached like the closing of the garden gate. Looking back on the year at Giannangelo Farms, we can see certain boundaries that became expanded: the cat side of the family grew when two shelter kittens came our way, and a few months later a mother cat, starving and in need of a home, pushing the perimeter out to ten.

Then, while feeding a neighbors cat, a small black and white skinny puppy appeared out of nowhere, and jumped into our arms. We took her home, fed her, and watched as she peacefully fell asleep by the woodstove. She had been sustaining herself on stink bugs - as was evidenced the next day when she relieved herself in the yard. Now the dog perimeter has been pushed out to three.

More people moved into the area and many stopped by the Farmer's Market this summer, expanding those perimeters. Some came to our workshops, and others came out to visit the gardens to get ideas for their own soon-to-be-started gardens. Food is a wonderfully compatible common denominator for growing wider the perimeters of human association. Almost every day someone new signs up for this newsletter. As you read this, it is also being read by gardeners in such faraway places as South Africa, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Portugal, to name a few. Each person is reading and expanding by this association. Corral fences and garden fences, the boards, bricks, and rocks used for raised beds, are physical perimeters that are moved and built.

Other perimeters are spiritual - changed only by our personal growth. Events throughout the year expanded our perimeters of compassion, sympathy, and understanding. Nurtured by T.V., the Net, and discussions with everyone met, the boundaries of our spiritual gardens-within suddenly expanded. Values, and priorities, changed as we realized how many families' lives were forever altered. Our new crop of understanding others grew rapidly, but harvesting was slowed by internal questions of ethics, morals, duties, etc. Picking unripe fruit benefits no one. Boundaries are necessary steps in personal growth - they are the foundation for understanding and interpreting one's self-reality. These new foundations become the next inner-garden perimeters to be expanded - an ever-widening arena for growth.

Having closed the garden gate, we can view the physical and personal work that has been done, remember and evaluate those seeds which were planted, and grew, and look forward to our new endeavors. These moments of perspective, when seen from behind the garden gate, can be defining moments for creativity and self-reality. We amend our inner-gardens with resolve, just as we add compost to our garden outside, to nurture our next year's crop. From these gardens we will grow the real fruits of our labors -spiritual and physical. 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!

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