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Back Issues

Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Newsletter - Back Issues 2004

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December 2004
Getting in Line

In this rural area, miles separate community members and communication is sparse. Yet, a solidarity of understanding and familiarity spring from being able to “read” what is happening as we travel up and down the roads. Driving home after teaching school, the darkness this time of year comes so fast that even a short list of things to do needs careful selection. Yesterday, we chose two from our long list of chores - bathing the dogs so they could come inside during the cold winter nights, and stacking a truck load of firewood.

We began by bathing the smallest dog first, setting her down in warm water in the tub. She was lathered with Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap, scrubbed thoroughly, and rinsed with sauce pans full of water. We lifted her out, wrapped her in the two old beach towels, and took her to the front porch where she vigorously shook off the excess water, bolted down the stairs, and ran back and forth excitedly all over the yard. Then the larger dog who was bathed, also shook, and ran. Apparently bathing is an exhilarating experience.

It was getting dark when we finished the second chore on our list. We stacked the wood in horizontal ricks (4 feet high, and 8 feet long) a holdover from living in the wet northwest climate. In this area, firewood is often put in a pile, mounding it much like the dome shaped adobe ovens (“hornos”) that are used for baking bread outside on the reservations. Sometimes long lengths are stood upright in a vertical teepee fashion. It was a race with the descending darkness and the final few pieces were stacked by feel more than by sight.

There are other ways of reading the changing season. Cows off to the side of the road gather close to the fence waiting for some hay to be thrown from the back of a truck.

Another community ritual, if there has been a good rain or snow, is that cars and trucks are parked just off the paved roads at the entrance to peoples’ driveways which become almost impossible to drive on. Most of the time there is no house visible from the road, showing that even a long walk is preferable to the slippery nature of wet caliche, a sticky clay that fills tire treads, eliminates traction, and accumulates under wheel wells until tires can’t turn. An alternative to walking is to drive in and out “on the freeze”, leaving early in the morning and returning home in the late evening when the road is frozen.

As we go about our daily tasks, it is these changes in rhythm, routine, and ritual that provide us with a communal update on the affairs of the seasonal hum of rural life. We often hear that we are in the “information age”, but it is those things we see “in-formation” that connect us with the linear sequences that describe life within a community.

We observe these visual signs to share and create a common mythos of causes and effects. These are markers joining us together, pointing out a common trail. We merge in cooperation and celebrate another season of growing together.

November 2004
A Lingering Glow

Aside from dropping temperatures, heavier clothing, and a change to Daylight Savings Time, the whine of a neighbor’s chain saw cutting firewood announces the preparation that will be needed for winter. By late morning the sun is warm and if there is no breeze, you can take off your coat. Soon, the birdbath will need a heater to keep it from freezing solid. We use less than two chords of firewood to heat our house for the winter.

These days we start a fire in the morning and then depending upon how cold it is, we keep it going until bed time, or let it go out earlier in the day. In the deep of winter’s cold, we will keep the fire going all night by adding a large round of juniper which will leave enough coals in the morning to start the next fire. But, now is the time to get rid of the smaller pieces of odds and ends from last year’s wood pile, and to cleanup scraps from all those summer projects that left short pieces of lumber lying around - pieces that will give heat and burn fairly fast, not the round all-nighters that will be needed in January and February. We have a wood cook stove in the kitchen that takes shorter wood and the smaller tree limbs. Crumpled paper and kindling are kept “ready to light” for the mornings when the temperature has dropped overnight and we want to quickly take the chill off the kitchen, get it hot, and cook sourdough pancakes and eggs on top of the well oiled surface.

Our main wood supply is from one-seed juniper (Juniperus monosperma), although Rocky Mountain and Alligator juniper grow here, they are not abundant. Another wood source is Pinon pine (Pinus edulis) which we gather from dead branches or standing dead trees. The wood we use the least is Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) since it does not give off as much heat as Juniper or Pinon. This year a freak wind storm blew down one of our older Ponderosa, giving us at least a chord of wood for next year.

The trees in this area are very slow growing (not like the fast growing Alder and Fir we were able to grow in a wood-lot fashion on San Juan Island in Washington State), so we are judicious from which trees we harvest - wood that has fallen naturally or blown down, and has stayed off the ground for years. We haul wood in from the main pile and stack it on the covered porch for easy access. It is divided into sections – from the smallest to the largest – kindling, medium size for day fires and the cook stove, and the larger overnight pieces.

Wood fires give off a deeper, warming heat, appreciated more when coming in from the cold. The scent of Pinon pine evokes a connection to those who lived here in the past who must have felt the same appreciation as we do for the wood they gathered and burned from same species.

The sun has been the main provider of warmth. Now, fire contained in a hearth allows comfort, time for reflection, and inner growth. We are fortunate to live in a rural area that still has wood for harvest that can be salvaged without changing or destroying the ecology. In the evenings, watching the lingering coals, we have the feeling we will grow.

October 2004
Good Groves

Inside the strawbale wall there are two groves of pinon pine (Pinus edulis) about 30 feet tall. They are probably around 100-160 years old. There are 4 in one grove and 6 in the other. We have trimmed the branches of their trunks up to about 8 feet. After cutting a limb, the sap oozes for a couple of years looking like white Karo syrup poured in the winter. Sometimes large globs of resin form, fall on the ground, and later, when buffeted around in the sand by the wind, become round brown pearls of various sizes. When scratched or rubbed, the smell of pinon pine is released.

Beneath the pinon groves, encircling rock beds are filled with hardy perennial plants, herbs, and flowers. Flat sandstone rocks point upward at the base of each tree holding the soil away from the trunk, thus directing the water to the original ground level of the tree.

The tree tops are full and provide us with much appreciated shade in the summer, cooling the whole garden and our house. Over the years we have used the twigs and trimmed branches for kindling. Our cats climb these trees as getaways when one of them wants another to “get away”.

On one of the limbs there is a robin’s nest that is re-occupied each year. We often watch them as they drop from the nesting area down to a small decorative pool with splashing water, where they bob up and down drinking from the pool and bathing in the warmth of the sun.

Our groves are a windfall, an unexpected gain, and piece of good fortune. They were left standing when trees all around them were cleared for more pasture land. A windfall is also something blown down by the wind, such as a fruit.

While walking back and forth from our front gate to the porch each day, we keep watch in the gravel for the oval, dark brown, pinon nuts. They drop periodically, especially when the wind blows and the cones are shaken, freeing the seeds. Often they are easy to spot on the carpet of green sedum, or on the woolly thyme.

Wild crafting the pinon nuts provides supplementary income for the native peoples who sell them at the local trading post or to roadside buyers that post the latest price-per-pound on a large piece of cardboard. Flour sacks and burlap bags are favorite containers. Some pick nut-by-nut off the ground while others spread blankets underneath the trees and hit the limbs with sticks, knocking the nuts out of the cones.

Pinon trees have been around for at least 10,000 years, since the last ice age. They start bearing cones at about 35 years of age, and begin producing good seed crops at around 75-100 years, not hitting maximum production until they are 160-200 years old. Some are known to live 800 to 1000 years.

When a pinon cone receives the pollen blown from other trees, it closes up and begins to grow seeds. They take 4 years to mature and become edible. They are high in zinc and their shells can be crushed and added to coffee for a unique pinon flavor.

Often we gain a sense of time from the food we eat: we speak of “fast food”, “quick snacks”, and “eating on the run”. From our gardens we eat one or two years of a crop, depending upon whether it is an annual or a bi-annual plant. Thus eating becomes a property of time consciousness and growth.

But when harvesting and consuming Pinon nuts, we become aware of an “eating of the ages” and the returning to a more natural food source, and we gain an insight which will help guide us as we grow, ever more rapidly, toward that Mysterium Tremendium of our own final flowering.

September 2004
A Passed Future

This month ended our participation in the local farmers market. Because of the drought conditions in our area, we didn’t replant every two weeks as we have in the past. The one soaking rain we received all summer was in September, too late to do anything but provide a short growth spurt for the remaining lettuce, kale, carrots, beets, peppers and squash, and a couple of days respite from our evening watering.

As night temperatures continue to drop, the speculation of an early frost is voiced in local conversations. The chilling freezes are only a few weeks away, but for us the season is officially over. We will have beets, peppers, squash, and carrots to eat during winter, but for now we stir fry snow peas, greens, and small tender zucchini, and make salads with the fresh spinach, kale, and cucumbers from the greenhouse. The ripening tomatoes are being “sun dried” in olive oil for our winter pizzas. We have been enjoying the textures of our seven varieties of kale, which will be the last things standing before the winter cold takes them, and spring waits in the future.

We were recently at a bar mitzvah and the rabbi reminded everyone how this ceremony has been passed down and performed for the last three thousand years, and that today, history and tradition connect and continue to become a building block in the foundation upon which our neighbor’s son might someday watch his son participate in the remembrance and re-enactment of becoming a “son of the commandment” – an adult in the affairs of the world.

We joyfully entered into the spirit and symbolism of the event, the men wearing yarmulkes that were provided. Even though this rite of passage, when a boy becomes a man, was spoken in Hebrew and the customs were unfamiliar for some of us, it cut across all language, cultural, and personal-belief barriers to address what it means to take on the responsibilities of making the world a better place, leaving behind that innocence given as a privilege of youth.

And then, for the rest of the afternoon, we feasted and danced in celebration of the addition of one more person who would be giving his energies to provide our small community, and the world, a new and greater vision for our future.

Vernor Vinge speaks of Singularity, a future event in history at which time technological progress accelerates beyond the ability of current-day human beings to understand it.

Another definition proposes that Singularity is a culmination of some telescoping process taking place in the universe since the beginning of human civilization, or even before life on earth.

If and when this event occurs, mankind’s new vestments will be sewn with the threads of repeated knowledge, allowing all to join in a rite of passage from innocent irresponsibility to a brother/sisterhood of new growth.

August 2004
A Meaningful Harvest

The other evening we were walking through the garden with friends, and when we reached the asparagus bed the question arose: when once planted, do you not harvest for three years to let the roots become fully established, or can one just begin harvesting the first year, regardless of root age?

With us was an early settler and gardener who has lived in this area for 80 some years, so I asked his opinion, knowing that he has had an asparagus bed going for a long time. His reply was simple: he looked up at me, grinning, and said, “If it comes up, eat it”.

While this appears a simple answer on the surface, we knew there was more from listening to many of his stories about the hardships and struggles of those early days when there were just dirt roads, no phone, electricity, or help in an emergency except for those living in the general vicinity of three miles, and preparing for winter was a very serious endeavor.

Whether true, needed, or right, there is a certain luxury in planting asparagus the first year and then standing by watching as the fresh green shoots emerge, grow, and then fern out, become inedible.

A local grocery also provides this luxury for many people on the planet. For most of us, the threat of winter and its lack of food has given way to strolls down aisles of stacked with out-of-season fruits and greens kept fresh by automated misters, constant culling, and tossing away vegetables that have no need to meet a crisis standard. In different times, we would be grateful for one of those slightly wilted dark edged heads of lettuce, or a slightly wilted carrot. Gone, for most of us, are the days of winter driven internal sensations that would have led us to plan, plant, and preserve.

While walking down the produce aisle to check the prices of veggies (so we can price our own goods within a competitive range at the farmers market)each evoked a certain feeling, a physical sensation of association. The radishes and carrots gave that feeling of the patience that is needed to thin and separate the weakest from the strongest and healthiest. With our eyes concentrated onto a small area, deciding which will go and which will stay, there is a twinge of regret at having to pull one, and not having been diligent enough at planting time to properly space the seeds. After so many seasons, the internal sensation begins to take on a meaning for the activity itself, gardening.

A meaning is something that experience adds to value.

Surviving winter was an experience that provided early settlers different meanings for their food, other than the value of sustenance. Those meanings were internal, just as were the values, both of which must be felt to be known.

We don’t have a garden just to grow food. We have it for the experiences that promote values and expanded meanings. And, when the season is over, we can share the new meaning we can grow.

July 2004
Life Scales

It seemed unfortunate, a chore, not a desired choice nor a decision wanted, but a fact to be dealt with in a manner befitting the situation.

Within our strawbale wall are formal gardens and two decorative rock pools; one is only about 4 feet wide, the other 8 feet across. Although shallow, the 8 foot pool holds a lot of water, and the hot June winds blowing across the top suck the moisture into the air, and along with the small jet of water spraying up from the filter, it evaporates quickly. Filling it is a daily process. It is also under a Pinon tree and fills up with falling needles, blowing sand, and leaves from the Silver Lace vines planted around it, clogging the filter under the rocks that the goldfish love to hide beneath and breed.

Traditionally, our monsoon weather arrives in July, bringing cool afternoon clouds, rain, and calm breezes. Checking the weather information shows this area in “extreme drought” - http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

We could continue to put water into the pool daily, and clean the filters more often, but finally our sensibility and conscience got the best of us, so the goldfish have been moved to the smaller pool, still able to hide under rocks and swim against the current.

After bailing out all of the water and using it to water the surrounding plants, we sifted one of our compost piles and filled the pool space to the rim – one pile equaled the water removed, like some twisted Archimedean principle. This was just another step taken in the direction which began with our decision to plant only half of the main garden. (See previous Tid-Bytes: “A Simplex Concern” http://www.avant-gardening.com/insights.html )

When living on San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington State, we had formal gardens that were also open to the public, and often visitors would rave about them. We would ask them if they had been to Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C. which was 10 miles across the Straits at the south end of Vancouver Island: they would often reply with “Yes, but these gardens are nicer.” (See Butchart Gardens at http://www.butchartgardens.com/main.php )

For a long time we wondered why we received this response, having been to those world famous gardens that were created in an old limestone quarry and covered acres. Then one day we discovered why: scale.

Remembering when we visited Butchart Gardens and walked around for the first time and saw hundreds, if not thousands, of plants in huge formal beds and themed gardens, it was overwhelming as gardeners to understand the machinations behind such an endeavor. We later found information about the large number of employees needed to create and maintain the gardens, which were more of a corporate expression, and therefore less intimate and personal.

At dinner with friends the other night, we savored the taste of their first-of-the-season radishes, and each expressed an opinion as to the cause of a few that were “pithy” – was it too much water, not enough water, was it too hot, did a cold snap hit them, etc? If they had been from the supermarket comments probably would not have been made, other than some disparaging remark about the store that sold them. Globalization grows daily, creating a scale of interaction that affects us all.

Scale is a graduated series, a succession or progression of steps or degrees. Scale > L. scal – ladder, stairs.

Corporate expression inexorably climbs that ladder to larger and more. Drought? Drill more wells, deeper.

Personal expression allows an individual the choice to go back down rungs, easing conflicts and adapting sensibly to situations that involve more than just ones’ self interest.

Personal expression is more able and more apt to choose a proper ratio between self and events - a ratio that in the end will provide an account, a reckoning of actions showing that often by doing with less, we will have grown more.

June 2004
Vital Vicissitudes

On occasion we hear the saying that, “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”. This is true yet not an applicable guideline for gardening. For us at least, we have never been able to just plant a seed and reap a harvest without circumventing insects, drought, weeds, and all of the other exigencies that seek to detour us from our goal.

Locally, there is already talk of grasshoppers, no rains until July sometime, and although not detrimental to crops, the dreaded appearance of very small gnats that whine near our ears and bite unseen. They are repellent proof and make outside endeavors so miserable that some plan their vacations away from the area for that single reason, not returning until after the 4th of July, the traditional day marking the first rains and the end of “gnat season”.

For those who don’t flee, remedies and preventatives are freely given: baby oil (they drown in it - but the blowing sand will cover and stick to you), this cream and that lotion, and, of course, the advice to just cover up from head to toe - including fine mesh nets draped over one’s favorite summer hat. For the most part, none claim great success.

With me, for some reason, they enjoy the tops of my ears. I can hear when they are near their landing strip and often wave a quick hand or two back and forth by my ears to prevent them from landing. Often my wife is confused as to whether I want her to come over or go away. These gnats are an annual event and just as the harsh spring winds are expected and dealt with, each person copes in his or her own way.

A familiar act becomes an institution when given structure and goals that will, in the end, be inspiring and comforting. The garden has provided structure from the earliest attempts to ward off winter starvation by growing in excess of immediate need. Inspiration comes when our personal efforts show progress by using tools developed in pursuit of the goal. It is comforting to have homegrown organic carrots, onions, beets, cabbage, and garlic, stored for the winter’s use; red and green peppers strung and hung to dry; a good supply of catnip and culinary herbs dried and put in jars.

For the gardener, “comfort food” takes on a new meaning. It is comforting at the end of the growing season to be able to say, “We did it, We’re done”: it allows for a proficiency of expression that is hard to find these days.

Another outcome is that we have become better at dealing with the day to day vicissitudes of life.

Our ability for self-maintenance is increased when we can better direct the paths - the vicissitudes of our lives (vicissitude < L. vicis – a turn). Knowing the correct turn puts us on a direct line between two points that, although not straight, is nonetheless the shortest distance and sure of directional meaning.

In 1923 Alexander G. Gurvich discovered biophotons, a light emission that is “an expression of the functional state of the living organism”. This light is thought to be constantly absorbed and released by DNA molecules stored in our cells, forming a communication network with all of life’s processes. Our gardens are biophotonic expressions within which we deal with the vital vicissitudes commonly confronted. With a well lit path and goal, we can grow!

May 2004
Lost in Anticipation

It seems popular these days to use the term “living in the moment” – this advice is often given to someone who is concerned about an aspect of the future and feels powerless to do anything about it. The immediacy of our shrinking world covers us with situations in which we had no hand; what is happening today is not a part of our yesterday. This can make “living in the moment” an alienated affair, like being made to watch a TV show chosen by someone else, and you can’t change the channel.

Probably our favorite thing to do for relaxation is to take our dogs and have a long walk. The area we live in was once inhabited by various native peoples who left sherds and detritus from their day-by-day living. Each piece found is interesting, a connection with a people like us who wondered about the future – a future of more immediate effects. Their “living in the moment” was planning how to survive the coming winter by gathering enough food from a less than hundred mile radius.

It is easy to spot anomalies on our sandy ground - pieces of flint, chert, and obsidian appear as small reminders of a previous inhabitation, and every now and then there is an arrowhead, a mono, or some other tool they used in their everyday lives. Keeping an eye on the ground often causes us to walk right into tree branches, lost the anticipation of what is next, not knowing where we are at the moment.

In the garden, the first planting of beets and carrots are peeking through the soil. As spring develops, our walks get shorter, usually leading us to the garden to look for crop anomalies - weeds. When people comment on the lack of weeds, and what a problem it is for them, we try to let them know that, for us, it is an action-meditation. We laugh and remark that these are the times when being "lost in a weeding moment" brings ideas or solutions to problems.

Anticipation and gardening go hand-in-hand. There are three aspects of anticipation (Latin: “anticipat” - taken before) that every gardener must have. The first is the ability to foresee - when will the weather be good for planting? When will the moon be right for good seed germination? How many growing days will we have?

A second factor of anticipation is expectation. What we can expect from the garden is organic food and flowers, good exercise, and sharing evening dinners with friends.

And finally, we must anticipate with action, the tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting that will bring a satisfaction and connection with others reaching out to bridge the shortening distances that separate us.

Gardens are the ambassadors of our anticipation, for the future, in which we will grow.

April 2004
Companion Colonies

All of our food doesn’t come from our gardens. This afternoon I drove into Ramah, a small town about 12 miles from here. I was meeting the truck with others who would unload what we had ordered through the Tucson Cooperative Warehouse. The semi-truck pulls onto a side street, one of two in the town, and those buying through the co-op, unload the boxes into trucks and jeeps and take them to a member’s house to be sorted and divided.

Its fun being with locals you don’t get to see all the time, doing something you all believe in, like the food co-op. And, it doesn’t matter how much you buy – in the last order, a person ordered one package of organic coffee, while someone else’s order filled two pages.

A colony is a group of the same kind, living together in close association. We are the same kind because we enjoy organically grown foods. We enjoy participating in the co-op because it is a convenience for us – we don’t have to drive 50-130 miles to enjoy the range of choices that we have to choose from in the monthly catalog: since we order in bulk the prices are lower than the organic retail stores.

One of our favorite products is the Mediterranean Organic Olives. You hear the terms “organic this and that” without thinking of the person doing the gardening, farming, or packaging. We live in a close association with olive farmers because even though the company is in Turkey, we can easily get them 12 miles away. They grow organic olives, we grow organic vegetables. So really, it all gets back to food. And around here eating is high on the list of things to do.

Even though our garden is not producing food at the moment, elsewhere there are others of like-mindedness who provide what we want. Exchanging foods makes us all companions (from the Latin: companion – meaning messmate; com-with, pan-bread).

Sometimes being a colony is no more than people, being in the same area, catalog shopping. By doing this we support not only each other, but those with similar ideas half-way across a world, now made more compressed by a jar of olives.

Over spring break we began conditioning the garden beds for spring planting. The greenhouse gets fuller by the day with seedlings and transplants. The time is rapidly approaching when, in a way, we become the coop – bringing fresh organic foods to people who may not be able to grow their own. But instead of a jar of olives, we shrink the world by bringing produce for others, making them our messmates. And then, at dinner with salad from New Mexico, olives from Turkey, and other products from around the world, we grow, and become an international colony.

March 2004
Hierarchal Atomisms

One can tell approximately how close spring planting is by many factors. One is how much snow and ice has receded or disappeared from the north side of the house. It is always the last to go, building accumulations from each snow, melting slightly and refreezing with each cold period, creating a mini-glacier that holds its iciness until spring when it disappears, not returning until next winter.

Another sure sign to be counted on was seen yesterday as we drove to Gallup. Next to the road there were two prairie dogs warming their alert bellies, standing tall next to their dens just in case a quick escape was needed.

In the greenhouse, seeds have germinated, grown, and need to be transplanted into larger containers. On the rock ledge against the stucco wall, a pink crocus given to us by our neighbor has opened, sharing with us its vibrant color and sweet fragrance.

Our world is not one of singularities, but of systems. The snow melt behind the house involves the sun and shadows, freezing temperatures, and moisture from oceans that accumulates and falls. Prairie dogs feel the warming earth creeping down into their dens like a thermal alarm clock, urging them upward. Our friend who gave us the crocus knew that it would be only after the sun began returning to the lengthening sky that we would be able to pause while transplanting to see and smell what had been promised.

The physics of complex systems (Homeokinetics) designates these systems as “atomisms” - systems repeated in structure and character that can withstand “forces of intersection without permanently deforming”. The disappearing snow, the appearance of prairie dogs, and the blooming of the crocus are all atomisms - systems of actions bringing eventual change.

Gardeners utilize atomisms to produce their crops - combining water, soil, fertilizer, and other elements - all systems within themselves. We then employ these systems, as individuals, using them to tell the story of a collective. We direct this story using a common language: seeds, heating mats, greenhouses, and potting soil. We all understand, or at least learn as we participate, where this language will lead us. It becomes a catalytic process that evokes action, and with seed catalogues in hand we pursue those potential images.

When evoking these events we become hierarchs - “stewards of sacred rites”. The process of planting seeds is a memory function that gathers generations of seasons, and propels the gardener onward using an ancient common language of rejuvenation.

Like Brownian particles moving to the tune of invisible forces, we unerringly respond to the melting snow, the emerging prairie dogs, and the opening crocus - the call is unmistakable, the direction unalterable, and the mandate undeniable. We must grow!

February 2004
Ergodic Remembrance

Valentines Day is on its way. My wife and I give each other simple things – for her, a small pair of stud earrings made by a Navajo woman who sells at the school during the holiday season, and among my favorites - a pair of 72 inch leather boot laces.

Giving is an interesting thing. Certainly generosity prompts the desire to bestow a gift upon another. And it is true that it is better to give than to receive. But what do we give? It appears easy to find “things” since the media provides us with examples of every imaginable gift. Catalogues explore the realm from the ridiculously expensive to the sensibly cheap.

Some have been raised with financial expression as a means of communicating their closeness. This tendency and method of gifting is somewhat surprising, since there still exists hunger and famine along side reams of catalogues, high-end stores, and shopping malls.

About this time of year we go to into our greenhouse and clone the three different species of Rosemary - the traditional symbol of remembrance. We fill 72-hole seedling trays (each hole about one inch across, and one and one half inch deep) with organic potting soil, set each in its tray of warm water, and begin to take cuttings.

Each cutting is about four inches long, or the width of one’s hand, (the linear measure used to determine the height of a horse) and has proven to be a convenient and consistent method of measure for making clones.

After cutting the stem on a diagonal (so it will not sit flat on the bottom of the pot and cut off the oxygen and water supply) we remove one third of the bottom leaves, dip the stem in Rootone, and place it into the soil until it touches the very bottom of the tray. We have already pre-soaked the soil to prevent the stem from drying up, preventing rooting.

The heating mat, set on a 1½ inch piece of Styrofoam for insulation, helps promote rooting by keeping the temperature constant, around 80 degrees F. We leave the cuttings in these trays for about three weeks, and when they start to send little roots out of the bottom, we transplant them into four inch pots, and feed them Alaska fish emulsion to give them a quick spurt of growth.

Using this method, we are able to reproduce and continue the three strains, each having their own unique smell, color, and shape.

The heating mat is also warming the soil for the newly planted seeds of artichokes, onions, hardy perennial flowers, and culinary herbs. With the increasing pull of the moon into its second quarter, the seeds planted last week have already started to leap out of the planting mix, stretching their new shoots into the warmth of the sunlight.

Genetic engineering is a process of artificially modifying plant (and animal) cells by cutting and splicing DNA in order to transfer supposed desirable qualities (pesticide or insect resistance). However, the proteins in transferred genes may develop unexpected reactions or have potentially toxic effects that will be then passed on to subsequent generations, ultimately affecting our ability to maintain any consistency in seeds or crops.

For all the suspected and predicted problems that genetic modification (GM) may bring about (inter-specie mutation, super weeds, food allergies, health problems, etc.) the factor that is indisputable is the loss of genetic diversity.

The importance of biodiversity includes socio-cultural, economic, and environmental elements. Genetic biodiversity provides not only healthy crops, it also allows for new plant and seed varieties, maintains soil fertility and its microorganisms, and makes soil and water conservation a priority.

A constancy of traits is desirable: once gardeners find the “right” tomato, they tend to grow that variety for years, saving their own seeds, and perpetuating their own crop. What they have then produced is an ergodic population, one in which any single tomato is representative of the entire crop. Heritage seed is consistent for generations.

Our crop of cloned Rosemary is ergodic – the salient characteristics of each new clone are essentially identical with its mother plant.

As we hold onto our genetic diversity as individuals, let us also strive to produce an ergodic population - by encouraging the qualities of kindness, sharing, giving, and generosity. Let us also promote a desire to spread these traits and grow an ergodic community, town, state, country, and world. We have the inherent ability to clone our good qualities, pass them on, and prove that we can grow.

January 2004
Is it Winter?

It is always surprising when December 22 arrives and suddenly winter is declared to be “official”. Considering the fact our low has already been a minus 14 degrees F. and the ground is white with snow, having the “arrival” of winter announced seems anti-climatic. Dog and chicken water, ponds, and the birdbath have needed heaters to keep them free of ice for a few weeks now.

Our chores speak of a different season. The kindling box needs to be refilled with split cedar, the appropriate size of wood needs to be put on the porch for the wood stove and cook stove. Instead of tilling the garden beds, watering and weeding, splitting wood and shoveling snow is the order of the day. When we go to town, the decorations, music, and the greater number of shoppers tell us about a holiday more than a season.

We know it is winter when we can no longer just run out the door - now we need to sit down and put on waterproof boots, don vests, down jackets, gloves, hats, and scarves. The bird feeder seems empty all the time. With the cold and lower sun, the chickens give us fewer eggs. The pet food bowls need filling more often. We drive down our driveway in four wheel drive to get to the paved road. The weather channel is checked more often to see when the next system is coming in, and what we may need to do before it arrives. The smell of hot chocolate fills the kitchen. Sourdough pancakes are made on top of the wood cook stove.

Taking our dogs for walks provides new laughs as they run scooping snow into their mouths and then jumping and running, tossing the dry powder glistening into the air. Little prints in the snow remind us of how many rabbits and other smaller creatures there are - and every once in awhile, the abrupt stop of prints ended by the pattern of owl wings in the snow.

But, probably the surest sign of winter, which all gardeners share, is the sudden appearance of seed catalogs in our mail boxes. We have Mr. R. H. Shumway’s Illustrated Garden Guide: Good Seed Cheap, “A Business Built on Fairness, Honesty and Good Service,” with 150 additional new and heirloom seeds. At 10 ½ by 13 ½ inches, it is the largest catalog we receive. Seeds of Change and Johnny’s Selected Seeds with their high quality photos on glossy pages give each example a grower’s desired perfection.

They all have something new to try; a new variety, a recently found heritage seed, or a newly developed early bloomer. We seem to always think about trying one of each, even though most aren’t suited for our climate. Experience reminds us of what happened when we tried to grow 120 day melons in our 90 day season. But sometimes it does work - with protective cloches, mulch, early starting of seeds and transplanting - and all the other tricks we have learned over the years.

New varieties do not appear suddenly, they are bred by isolating desired qualities until the breeder is satisfied with the results of his harvest. The gardener harvests more than what is given by the plants, for the gardener plants himself along with the radish, lettuce, and carrot. Others can then benefit from that planting. The old standbys provide us with reliability, yet it is the combining of new and better traits that gives us the watchword of the universe - progress. As moves the part, so moves the whole. So, how can we become a new and better variety?

Just as we mulch, cloche, and provide care to encourage plants that need our assistance, we can help ourselves by nurturing our tolerance, understanding, patience, loyalty, honesty, gentleness, peace, love, and our faith in goodness. By encouraging these desired qualities in ourselves, we can become a better variety, moment by moment, adding these desirable traits until we become satisfied with the results of the harvest we have grown.

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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