Home Page    About Us    Mossy Knoll Garden/San Juan Island    Botany Basics    "You Can Grow!" Workshops    Composting    Soil Building
Hardiness Zone Map   WebRings    "You Can Grow" CD's   "Tid-Bytes" Insights   Garden Pests & Organic Controls
Biodiversity and Genetic Engineering    New Mexico    Companion & Intensive Planting     Permaculture    Labyrinths
Seed Starting Guide    Creative Garden Design    The Greenzbox    Culinary Herb Gardens    Xeriscape
"Growing with the Seasons"    Photo Tour I    Photo Tour II    Photo Tour III    Photo Tour IV    Photo Tour V
Organic Products    Gardening Books   Gardening Supplies     Recommend This Site    Resources


Welcome !  " You Can Grow "

"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Newsletter"

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

  Follow us on Facebook!  

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Insights" is copyrighted (c) by Frank and Vicky Giannangelo.
For permission to publish or reprint please  contact us

Back Issues

Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Newsletter - Back Issues 2005

December 2005
Vade mecum

The temperature has suddenly been dropping below zero degrees F. at night, and the only things growing outside are people’s woodpiles. Our tomato plant in the greenhouse finally froze, its leaves hanging like green tinsel on a Christmas tree.

The snow that always seems to come on Thanksgiving waited a couple of days and blew in late at night, surprising all those who went to bed early with a high-wind, drift-sculptured landscape.

Most people in this area who have immediate family members living here are descendents of those who first arrived and stayed.

These early settlers, chased out of their community in Mexico, arrived here at the beginning of winter, and chose it as a place to stop, raise their families, and re-establish their community, which was eventually named Ramah.

Probably the one thing most associated with these settlers is their emphasis on family. The original families’ names crop up on street signs, high mesas, and a cattle company.

Wood stoves are the main heat source in many homes, and at this time of year with the temperatures dropping, it doesn’t take more that a day of not having a fire to have a house freeze, pipes burst, and house plants die. Livestock need the ice in their tanks broken and to be fed their daily ration of hay. Pets need extra food and water to counteract the blowing cold. Holidays, especially in winter, are not a time for some to travel.

But, holidays are a great time for locals to gather and thank each other for the support and helping hands given throughout the year. This year we only had to travel ¼ mile to reach a gathering place for Thanksgiving. We took pecan pie and potatoes mashed with sour cream, garlic, and jalapenos. There were two turkeys and numerous other dishes, all cooked with loving care, as tasting verified.

The large living room was just able to hold the thirty or so people who joined hands and stood reflecting silently on their good fortune to be present. Two standing next to each other kissed, and a voice cried, “Pass it on”, and so around it went, left and right, ending back with the original two.

The laughter and joy soon became hunger and someone said, “Let’s eat.” Everyone dropped hands and headed for the kitchen, still in line as it wound around the food and back out to where each chose a place to sit and eat. Some sat on the stone hearth, feeling the fire while others sat and looked out at the Zuni Mountains from the living room. A few sat at the dining room table near the food. We sat at a round table in a large sun room, warm amongst tall plants.

Later in the evening, sitting by the fire, guitars were passed around. Songs of many genres were sung, some prompting a sing along, others just for quiet listening. Stories were told, and laughter echoed into the darkness.

During the evening we were approached by a friend, and a gardener, who hoped to fill our space at the Farmers Market, and asked us if we had any suggestions. This was wonderful news for us, and for the community.

During the next hour we explained some of what we had learned from our years of gardening, servicing restaurants, selling directly from the gardens and participating in farmers markets. He mentioned that he had brought the salad, grown in his cold frame, and was pleased that we had identified the little leaves of Tat Soi.

Gardeners, after years of experience, become a walking “Vade mecum” - a ready reference of information useful to others. Our method of “small crops, high rotation” fit right in with his proposed approach. We were pleased to be able to give valuable information that would help to continue a work that we had done for years.

Most in attendance were not usually seen at other community affairs. Someone commented how they were all a community “underground” - yet underground is where roots are, where fruits get nourishment, and that place which provides stability for growth potential! Looking around at those who were present we became aware of a dedication to simple living, organic foods, like-mindedness, and a desire to make the world a better place through effort. “Effort does not always produce joy, but there is no happiness with out intelligent effort”.

We are thankful we live in an area promoting the values of brotherhood/sisterhood, cooperation, and a unity of spirit and insight, providing the ground from which we all can grow.

November 2005
Our Share

Today we plugged in the small stock tank heater that hangs over the edge and sets on the bottom of the birdbath to keep the water from freezing. Each morning this week, the ice has been thicker. Until now, it had been warm enough by late morning to melt it, but the birds have been landing early, looking down seemingly disappointed, and pecking at the ice. The Audubon Society claims that available water (unfrozen) during the winter months attracts more birds than the feed we put out.

We are in a transition period of harvesting whatever produce is left in the garden that is about to freeze and die, collecting and saving seeds, and preparing the garden for the winter.

We recently attended a potluck “seed exchange” organized by a local woman gardener. Everyone arrived with seeds to share. Outside on a large table there were boxes of flower seeds, perennial wildflower seeds, herb seeds, and vegetable seed. The seed was taken by each according to their need and desire for a new or different variety. Much of the seed was locally grown and harvested, a definite benefit for our harsh growing conditions.

Inside, food was being prepared. A large pot of beets was simmering on the stove, salads were set out, and other dishes made with locally grown vegetables were set on the table.

Our geography is such that everyone lives back off the main road. Grocery stores are 50 miles away, so growing your own food, sharing at the farmers market, and just getting together to eat keeps everyone in touch.

It was at one such gathering that we found our host was standing over the stove, deep frying a variety of his hot peppers. These “poppers” were filled with different cheeses, dipped in an egg and flour batter, and fried in hot oil until they were light brown and tender.

Our host and his wife are avid gardeners who maintain a large plot that is used and shared by their extended family. Probably the most discussed garden plant, after the tomato, are hot and sweet peppers, and locally the most commonly grown. Everyone seems to have a favorite. Bit for an all-around pepper with good flavor and fire, one can’t beat the Jalapeno. They are dark green with a firm flesh that makes them great for cooking.

We talked about peppers varieties as we watched them sizzle in the hot canola oil. The demand for them was so great that I began to stuff the peppers in an assembly line fashion. We made poppers until someone finally said, “enough”!

Carl Jung put forth the concept of a collective unconscious mind that if probed, would reveal common global strands which bind us. These strands enter this realm through the everyday passageways, from which unfortunately, most people have become disassociated. Yet, riding near the surface of this collective is a realization of our interdependence, and if only accessed, could produce a more harmonic world.

But, our communication capabilities transfer the traumas of tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, and suicide bombings, and enter our collective mind with such regularity and intensity that it produces a “collective amnesia”. (I. Velikovsky)

As organisms in a cosmic garden, we have allowed the weeds of suspicion and distrust to grow unchecked as they use up resources and we are denied the nourishment we so desperately need.

One cannot get away from the fact that weeding a whole garden takes time. But it is not in the nature of a gardener to be a pessimist; these destructive weeds can be pulled and used as compost to re-vitalize the garden’s replacement crop of truth, beauty, and goodness.

From these harvests will come a new Weltanschauung: a comprehensive conception or image of civilization, of the universe, and man’s relation to it. It is only by harvesting and sharing the good that we will be allowed to grow.

October 2005
Proving Grounds

We grow under the auspice of laws that have been enjoined with the progression of our minds to more fully relate to our place in the universe.

A fair amount of science is needed in the garden - an understanding pH values, chemical reactive fertilizers, meteorology, and general physics. We use empirical methods to ascertain weather outcomes – such as looking up and seeing “horse’s manes” high in the sky and knowing that a change is coming, but not knowing the extent or direction of that change.

We build on where we start, and start with what we know, and what we know was taught, either by others, or ourselves. Science in agriculture has given us cloning, hydroponics, and genetic engineering. When we adopt a plant, we adopt the science behind it. When we buy a Poinsettia for Christmas, most fail to realize it is probably descended from a cutting (a clone) from a plant discovered in Mexico in 1828. From 1923 until the early 1960s, all of the principal cultivars of commercial importance were clones from an original “Oak Leaf” seedling.

Hydroponics, using liquid nutrients, demonstrates that our soil is simply a holding agent.

Genetic engineering allows insights into the hard-wired nucleus containing the genetic keys for change and adaptation to numerous environmental conditions, but just as the with the horse’s manes, what the change will bring is dependent upon unknown forces.

Then there is the age old question of “nature or nurture?” Our gardens give us a good answer: no matter how vibrant the seed may be initially, if it is not nurtured it will only be able to fulfill a small portion of its locked-in destiny potential.

The name protein means “primary element” (Proteios, Gr.) Proteins are the primary components of all plant and animal cells. Each protein has its own unique sculpture, referred to as its “conformation”, providing the organism its structure and formation.

Until recently, science has proceeded down a path apparent, one that Watson and Crick began, and has since developed into the “Primacy of DNA”. This primacy concludes that DNA controls and determines the character of an organism.

However, recent studies show that genes are regulated by “environmental signals”. Cells can read the environment and their protein receptors respond to vibrational frequencies through a process known as “electroconformation coupling”. These receptors convert awareness of the environment into “physical sensations” providing perceptions of reality. But, because we are often consciously unaware of what happens around us, or we misinterpret it, it becomes necessary that our beliefs should control our perspectives.

These environmental vibrations are received and translated through cell membranes, the only organelle common to every living organism. These membranes are able to perform this function because, based upon the organization of its phospholipids molecules, the membrane is a crystal, and information crosses the hydropholaic barrier rendering the membrane a semiconductor, endowing it with proteins that function as gates (receptors) and channels. As a liquid crystal semiconductor with gates and channels, this membrane is an information processing transistor, or an organic computer chip. (Dr. Bruce Lipton, cellular biologist, 2001). http://www.brucelipton.com/cellular.php

Science, once establishing its “facts”, continues to support only its own perspectives - even in the face of experiments that show plants can benefit from electricity, electromagnetism, music, or good thoughts.

Until Rachel Carlson showed the interconnectedness of our environmental actions, DDT was used and over used as a matter of routine. The shift towards the idea of a more organic, earth-friendly environmental growing of our foods has been slow, and for many, seen as in impossible goal to achieve.

It is then imperative that our beliefs become the designing force toward our garden within as well as the garden outside.

Just as we look to the next season for newness, so must we look to new thinking and new ideas, discarding the scaffolding that has brought us this far, but has now become an obstacle for new growth.

Our next steps will be of experimentation and trial, new thinking and discovering for ourselves and others, a better direction in which we can grow.

September 2005
Garden Fluidity

Our tomato plant in the green house is in full production and producing lots of sweet, medium size round tomatoes, and, when they are picked a bit early, ripen to a deep red as they sit on the sunny kitchen window sill.

Some years back we received a packet of tomato seeds from a seed company asking us to plant them as experimental seed and report back on how they did. They were simply called “Number Nine”. We have continued to save seeds from that first planting 15 years ago down to the plant now growing in our greenhouse.

Initially we planted them outside in the main garden, where they struggled when the temperature fell below 55 degrees at night, but the ones planted in the greenhouse attached to our house thrived.

Gardeners harness many energies and forces. They take a seed and begin to circle around it, from inspection and selection to preparing the ground, providing light, nutrients, and water. We are always concerned when the carrot seeds, planted good and early, have not broken ground in two or three weeks. We begin prodding, looking for green, gently lifting off soil with the tip of a knife. Soon seedlings appear and grow quickly, but we still keep a watchful eye on the process, especially since we so carefully spaced them when they were planted.

As they grow larger they need us less, especially after we have thinned them, allowing the space for each one to reach full size. When we harvest it is often hard to imagine that big Red-cored Chantenay was once such a tiny seed.

When we adjust the pH in our soil, we are creating a medium for electromagnetic transfer. Crops always seem to get greener and grow faster after a couple of good soaking rains full of ionized water.

When a new garden is created, it seems to take about three years to get it adjusted to all the levels of energies we come into contact with. Previously learned methods are used, adapted and adjusted, and healthy plant growth validates our choices, the plants become mature, and the end results give us next year’s techniques and a better working knowledge of our garden’s world.

Anaxagoras, 2,500 years ago, put forth the idea of reality being formed out of vortices. The transfer of an idea into a reality is much like the planting of a seed, and from that point on, the reality of the seed in our physical presence grows like a spiral, ever widening its influence on our time and efforts.

Once our seeds are planted, we circle on the vertex of the spiral, the highest point, the greatest distance from the seed. As the season progresses, we travel further away from our planted seeds into a sea of vortices, a vegetative ether through which we maneuver toward a goal of fruition.

Once initiated, these spirals of influence continue widening out and away from our personal vicinity. Each tomato is a seed of influence, when once placed into motion by being shared, becomes a portion of the larger whole created with each season’s garden.

Just as our gardens are made up of different plants, each providing its influence on the garden as an entity, so does each person give their direction and tone to the energizing world reality that we, together, are creating, eventually producing a fruit that will benefit the world as a whole, providing humanity with the nutrition and the certainty that we can grow.

August 2005
Integral Gardens

Usually at this time of year we receive monsoon rains in the mid-afternoon, but for the last few years, they have been erratic. We have noted this trend, and this year we did not plant our usual vegetable garden for the farmers market.

Instead, we planted a few vegetables for ourselves, interspersed among the formal perennial gardens inside the strawbale wall that surrounds our house - chard (yellow, green, and red), two types of kale (a favorite food for us), and in the greenhouse - tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

The wall has created an ecotone (a place where two ecological worlds intersect, or overlap). Living in an ecotone demands adaptation to both zones.

We are fortunate in that when the land surrounding us was “chained” in the 50’s to make pasture, that they left nine big pinon pines standing close together which we have pruned, allowing their tops to form a large canopy of shade. This canopy diffuses the intense sun at 7300’, creating perfect conditions for gardening in this harsh New Mexico climate. That is the fun of gardening, finding creative ways to adapt to the conditions around you.

Outside the wall are grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and weeds, growing and dying, contributing to the varied green and brownish colors in the landscape. The spring rains we had this year have kept things relatively green, an event that usually doesn’t happen until the summer rains begin.

Our gardens are comparatively small, but always impressive when you enter the gate because they are so contrastive with the world outside the wall. The sound a water fountain bubbling in the reflection pool combined with the sight of a lush formal garden often becomes a memorable experience.

Gardens can also provide examples of sequential evolutionary stages that are analogous to the cultural stages described in the “integral philosophy” of Clare Graves. She was one of the first to note how stages of individual human development are “a recapitulation of the stages of human history.” Plants also have similar comparable stages.

We have observed radishes going from seed, to maturity, to becoming seed bearers; beginning as “tribal” shoots, looking all alike with their Mickey Mouse eared leaves, and then individualizing into their own unique shapes and colors.

According to Graves, plants, humans, all life - began in an “archaic consciousness”, developing into a “tribal consciousness”, and then defined individuality by growing into a “warrior consciousness”. “Traditional consciousness” is then achieved by a symbiotic relationship with the whole - much like companion planting promotes the well being of each individual plant in relationship to the garden as a whole.

Science has created the “modernist consciousness” through world wide communication capabilities. The next level for us to achieve will be a “postmodern consciousness”, which calls for a more “worldcentric recognition” of the planet and the relationships of people living on it.

Gardeners experience one of the desired traits of a “postmodern consciousness” when they exhibit a “sensitivity to the fragility of the environment”. We can notice a plant’s slightest droop, or see a color that is not quite vibrant enough, and we can respond with some kind of curative action.

The food we grow, and then share with others, is an across-the-board continuing paradigm that transcends cultures, politics, and philosophies. It is a continuing thread that helps hold together the fabric being sewn out of a living history of being.

We will have friends for dinner tonight, and we will sit at a garden patio under a canopy of trees surrounded by a protective wall where we will eat, visit, and nourish our bodies with a health-filled fresh kale salad, our minds with laughter, and elevate our spirits as we drink deep from the panacea elixir of good cheer. And thus well nourished, we can grow.

July 2005
Growing Genetic Goals

The world’s first geneticists were gardeners. Although not knowing the cause of a plant’s behavior, observation recorded the result and the seeds were passed on from generation to generation as “family heirlooms”. We still use observation and collection of specific seeds to produce crops that we know will run “true”.

The dependability of a plant to continue to produce desired results is a hidden factor. We cannot, without special instruments, see the guiding instructions that are within each cell of every plant we grow. So, we must then look to known characteristics that have come about as a result of interactions with the environment, for example: most northern plants have shorter growing times than their southerly cousins.

We find these effects of nature to be observable modifiers which switch on and off certain expressions within the plant’s DNA. Recent studies have shown that an organism responds to the environment by switching on previously “silent” genes (infrons) to aid in creating a response to a threat within that environment: heat, wind, soil conditions, etc. And, once these genes have finished with their task of adaptation and progression, they are “switched off” and other genes then take over to promote the next stage of necessary development.

This process in the plant world can be seen in a few pockets of vegetation in Appalachia and on the Ozark Plateau where there exist plant species such as Neuiusia alabamensis (Alabama Snowwreath) discovered in 1857, yet remarkably similar to those in the region twenty-four million years ago.

Recently, the theory of genetic Darwinism of random change through mutation has been challenged by Rhawn Joseph in his new book, “Astrobiology: The Origins of Life and the Death of Darwinism”. He states that, “Contrary to Darwinism …the evidence now clearly indicates, that the evolution of life has been genetically predetermined and precoded…”. The Human Genome Project seems to agree, noting that new genes are produced only under “precise regulatory control.”

Over 100 years ago a Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, introduced the idea of “Panspermia”, a thesis that life on earth was seeded from beyond. This concept has been approached from various perspectives as varied as Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickrawasinghe, claiming living cells were delivered to this planet by comets, to Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, who came to the conclusion that life was so miraculous that it was from a process of “directed Panspermia”.

However delivered to earth, once initiated into action evolution has, “…unfolded in accordance with specific DNA-based instruction which had been inherited from the first life to appear on this planet…”.

So plant life has evolved from its early ancestors to the present day vegetables we now grow, and mutually recognize. We are also able to recognize the needs of those plants – the NPK of the DNA.

Today, we are losing species rather than acquiring newly attuned plants that have evolved in response to the trends of climatic growing conditions. Two important plants being “dead-ended” by genetic botanists who DNA design soybeans and corn, result in seeds that commit biologic suicide.

Mapping the human genome has prompted a search - a returning to nature - for plants that may be of benefit: aspirin from willow bark, Taxol from the yew tree, etc. The earth itself has become a repository for possible cures. Soil collected from Easter Island has produced a compound to prevent kidney rejection, and a modified version of a bacterium found in garden soil is being tested as an anticancer agent.

After a reign of synthetics, scientists are rethinking the natural world, and the latest studies show that within our DNA, prior to the disease which makes them necessary, exist the instructions to produce lymphocytes (antibodies - killer cells that attack foreign bodies) for any disease.

All of these results point to what Rhawn Joseph calls the theory of “Evolutionary Metamorphosis”. We are growing as we change – as individuals, as a society, as a culture, and as a world within a universe. We have arrived at a biologic limen, having been sent by an infinite patience, to this moment in time and space.

The interaction between two objects is a relationship, but three or more objects eventuate a system. Will we choose to create a system that will produce seed good only for one crop and then be of no use, or will we finally choose a realization that within a cosmic system the individual members are not connected with each other except in relation to the whole, and through the individuality of the whole?

Will we listen to the apriori instructions whispering within each cell showing us how to grow?

June 2005
A Bricolage* Mind

Mind is about all we have that is truly subject to our will, but that which we can imagine, picture in our head, never quite gets replicated in physical reality. We may get close, a satisfying approximation, an acceptable verisimilitude, but in the end, there are portions missing from the total. So we work with what we have at hand to bring about what we envision.

Ansel Adams said that, “Accidents happen to the prepared.” No one wants to have an “accident,” but all the time we have “accidental” events in our lives. Tid bits of information are presented to us over the radio, television, newspapers, the internet, and through those with whom we have a daily contact. Are we prepared for this accidental (happening by chance) information? When it intersects with our lives, can or do we make use of it?

This weekend we had a strawbale wall workshop. Twenty people showed up ready to act on whatever information came to them and then, use it for a common project: the strawbale wall.

As with past workshops, we had a wonderfully diverse group: there were Zuni high schoolers, a couple from Albuquerque who had been to two of the previous workshops (organic gardening and basic rockwork) so they seemed like old friends; a family with a young teen, also from Albuquerque; a woman from Jamaica, living in the Zuni pueblo who had also been to the previous workshops creating an even larger family feeling; a few locals, two of whom had also been to previous workshops; and a Navajo man from Gallup who builds and restores Hogans.

All that most people need to strike out on their own on a project is a chance to have a directed hands-on experience. Our project was a five foot tall wall that connected the house to the gate opening between the 240 foot strawbale- wall that runs around the outside of the house keeping the inner temperature 10 degrees warmer, on average, than outside the wall, allowing the perennials those extra few needed degrees to survive over the winter.

We had already poured the 6 inch deep rubble foundation, leaving the forms in place. After discussing the importance of scale and grade, we stripped the forms and went to work. The first two bales were set on the rebar sticking up that had been driven down into the earth and encased in the cement to stabilize the foundation.

The next course of bales were re-tied and customized in length to break up the bottom pattern and span the bottom two, like brickwork. After the top course had been set, we began to put on stucco lath; we could have used stucco netting or chicken wire, but we find that lath is easier for a novice to use when applying the “mud” or cement.

The lath was attached to the bales by cutting old bailing wire (ubiquitous in this part of the country) and making simple, u shaped pins that were pushed through the lath into the bales, securing them. By noon the bales had become a metal lath monolith. We still had lots to do, so lunch was only a half hour.

There are various materials that one can use to put on the wall such as adobe (clay and straw) or a lime plaster. We prefer to use a Portland cement/fiberglass mixture called Fastwall. It was specifically designed to be used as a two step process, Fastwall and then the stucco color coat, as opposed to the traditional three step process, a cement scratch coat, a second cement coat, and then the stucco color coat.

We mixed the first batch of mud in the wheelbarrow and started on the top to allow everyone to get a feel for using a trowel and a hawk (a mortar board). Each person developed their own method and style of application, each valid in its own way and progressing toward the final total covering of the wall.

We all gained a satisfaction at seeing something of substance standing solid where a few hours before there had been only space.

The term concrete is from the Latin concret, meaning to grow together, or coalesce so as to form one mass or community.

During construction, “accidents” continually occurred, and were met with prepared minds that used those events and actions to build, bricolage style, knowledge for their use at a later date.

We had all used what was at hand to construct a common reality that showed not only can we build together, we can grow together.

*From the French: Bricoler – construction by whatever comes to hand.

May 2005
Concatenated Gardens

When we first began gardening, we had a wonderful relationship with a couple of women who had a small herd of sheep on San Juan Island who could afford to give them the best of everything. Television cameras linked the birthing pens in the barn with an array of screens in their bedroom

They carefully selected the best alfalfa from Eastern Washington which they fed to the sheep, and used for bedding inside the high tech barn. It was ferried across to the island from the mainland in semi-trailers, and it was our job each summer to assemble a crew and stack the hay barn to the rafters with the bright green bales.

Periodically we would receive a call, telling us they were going to clean the barn. On the appointed day, we would put the side boards on our old truck and drive across the island to their farm.

Inside the barn were smooth cement floors with 6 to 8 inches of alfalfa mixed with the sheep manure and urine than had been built up in the pens and feeders. It had been stomped on, broken into small pieces by the sheep’s hooves, and kneaded into a semi-doughy consistency.

Before they bought a Bobcat with a front loader, we cleaned the barn by hand, shoveling the biggest stuff into the truck, and then using a tool like a flattened snow shovel to scrape up the rest of the compacted droppings from the floor. Once they started loading out the truck with the Bobcat it seemed like it took twice as long to unload it by hand.

We had to drive home slowly when we had a full load piled high up over the height of the cab, the weight raising the front of the truck.

Once the manure and alfalfa mixture had dried a bit, we ran it through our shredder, making a consistently textured material that we tilled directly into the garden beds, then we used the rest for mulch. Earthworms thrived. When we reached down under the warm mulch there were handfuls of them working to compost it even more and adding their castings to the increasingly fertile soil.

Since sheep manure is a “cold manure” (others are rabbit, goat, or lama) it does not have to be composted before it is added to the garden, so we didn’t have to worry about it burning any of the plants, especially early in the spring when the tender seedlings were sprouting.

Sheep droppings are high in nitrogen, giving the proper nutrients needed for healthy leaf growth. It was that “brown gold” that gave us incredibly vigorous plants, and made growing seem easy in the mild northwest costal climate.

We discovered the difficulties faced by people living in other areas of the country when we moved to Sedona, Arizona and began a two acre garden project in hard red clay that had been baked over the years into a bricklike consistency.

We used a back hoe bucket on a 4WD Kubota to break up the clay and begin the process of making soil by adding organic matter, gypsum, organic nutrients, and composted horse manure (which can be added to the garden a couple of seasons and them should be avoided because of its high salt content).

We had discovered there were horse stables a few miles away that had been contacted by the health department and told to get rid of the droppings every four days so it wouldn’t accumulate. They were more than happy to bring us dump truck loads just to get it off their hands.

It wasn’t long before we had mounds of composting horse manure mixed with produce scraps from a local health food store placed into a series of 10 x 10 bins built out of palate boards so that we could drive into them with the Kubota to mix and turn the compost every few weeks. When the compost was sufficiently broken down, it was sifted, tilled into the garden beds, and also used for mulch.

We put up wire fences to keep out deer and javelina, and later on built rock walls around them. Inside the fenced area we made patterned, rock wall, raised beds, cementing them securely to prevent water leaks. It wasn’t long before we were able to put in transplants, which took off and grew well in the 3,700’ altitude and warm air. Situated between the extreme heat of Phoenix, and the cooler Flagstaff, the gardens prospered.

Our next gardening location was near El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. We knew there were going to be challenges when shortly after our arrival a long-time resident asked us what we did, and when we said we were organic gardeners, he responded “That’s too bad.” Gardens in this high altitude (7,300’) desert area of New Mexico were few and far between.

Our first job was to build a home. When we bought our property there was a structure started, but it had never been completed, so it was just thrown in with the purchase of the land. Others had thought of doing something with it, but nothing happened. It was a challenging project. There are photos of our house/gardens on our website.

For the new garden area, we chose a nearby old horse corral because it had a barbed wire fence to keep out the free roaming cattle. We eventually put chicken wire around the bottom of this fence to keep out rabbits and rodents, and later on we added screen to keep out grasshoppers.

We kept out gophers with a three foot trench dug around the perimeter of the garden and left open. When the gophers would dig their way towards the garden they would hit light, turn around and go back, not considering they might dig further down and go under the open trench to reach the garden.

We had known of others who had dug trenches, but they put in cinder blocks or aluminum roofing and filled the trench in with dirt, so the gophers just followed the edges down until they reached the bottom, and just tunneled under them into their gardens.

Over the years we have seen evidence on the far side of our trench where the gophers had poked through, seen daylight, left an open hole, and retreated. The only gophers that made it into the garden came in under the garden gate before we put bricks on the inside of the gate along the ground to stop them.

The New Mexico gardens also presented us with a sandy soil, which over the years had leached out every possible nutrient, since rain and snow melt just runs down between the grains. We have found that whatever organic matter and nutrients we have introduced into the soil are quickly used up, and the land returns to its original state.

Finding manure has been a challenge since the sheep and cattle in this area wander all over, and there are no stables.

When I was hired as a substitute teacher at Pine Hill School, I noticed they had a farm, and I discovered a large pile of composted manure sitting along side one of the barns. We shoveled truck loads of it into our garden beds and tilled it in.

That smell of freshly tilled soil and manure, especially just after a rain, always takes us back to our childhood memories of our grandparent’s gardens, introduced early into our young minds and hearts.

Memories form a linking process of direction and knowledge. Whether the next link is forged in last year’s garden plot, or on land that has never been worked, we have a nexus of information to use.

This garden chain secures us with direct physical links to our past, creating a continuity of effort and direction that encourages us with the evidence that we can grow.

April 2005
Popping as Corn

We enjoy eating popped corn. It comes in all colors - red, blue, white, yellow, pink, calico, or deep red. Varieties include strawberry shaped, Japanese Hull-less, and the extra early heirloom dwarf Tom Thumb.

Because we eat so much popped corn, we have had a lot of experience cooking it. We say cooked instead of popped because cook means to prepare by the “action of heat”, and by the action of heat (cooking) we are able to initiate rapid transformations.

Corn pops because of the moisture stored in the kernels. We keep our un-popped corn in a quart mason jar in the back of the refrigerator. After removing it from the store bag, we wet the inside of the jar before adding the kernels, and then shaking the jar, adding moisture which makes them pop so well.

When the popping becomes regular, one of us slips on oven mitts and grabs the handle sides, lifting the pot slightly off the flame. Once the popping increases, we lift it a bit higher and adjust the height to find just the right temperature.

It is then that popping corn is such a pleasure, with the smell, the sounds of bursting kernels hitting the lid, and working the pot over the open flame, cooking them until they all burst open to perfection. Searching the bottom bits of the last batch we made, we found only two un-popped kernels.

When we are sure that are no more will pop, we take off the lid and pour the popped corn into a large, flowered enamel pan we bought at the country store at Pine Hill. Then we dribble some melted organic butter over the popcorn, and salt it lightly.

We are constantly made aware of the popularity of microwave popcorn, and we must admit, that when someone microwaves a bag, it smells good, and it is fast to prepare, but for us as not good, nor as rewarding, as when cooked the old fashioned way.

The rapid approach of spring foreshadows signs that “the action of heat” will bring about - popping open seeds and warming the soil for tiny feeder roots to seek and gather nutrients. If the soil is cold, it closes the feeding system at the bottom of their roots and there is slower growth. Heat also increases the microbial activity, releasing nutrients for the little seedlings first meals.

As the temperatures increase, seeds seem to “pop” out of the ground, first a few, and then more, until the beds are filled, growth is rapid, and harvest can begin.

For many, life is a flinty, hard existence that cannot be opened, transformed, or used to its fullest potential. We are in many ways, the action of heat. It was in the warm shallows of ancient waters that the first slow popping of life began, and then with more and more of this bursting life, it grew into what we are today.

It’s not time yet, but soon our bodies will have to reconnect with contorted stances and the strange positions needed to be taken for spring gardening preparations.  The first few activities will need to be slow and easy, warming up the body lubricants to free it from its frozen winter positions.  Activities stretch muscles in unfamiliar directions and when continued too long, surprise us in the morning like an unfamiliar alarm clock going off.  There aren’t many other things we do that produce exactly those movements, those yoga-like stances with names like “leaning with hoe” or “seeding bent over”. 

Once we find our action-of-heat-level, we will become someone useful, nutritional, and palatable for the universe, and with a pop, we will grow.

March 2005
Spring Training -“Learning Intent”

Although there are snow patches left here and there, in the greenhouse there are patches of green. The trays of seeds and seedlings, the beginning of another spring planting, are spaced and rotated from the heating mat that encourages germination, to the holding area for maximum light and growth. No matter how many times we have done this, it always seems as if there is some small step in the process that is missed, not forgotten, but needing to be remembered, a nagging vagueness that makes one review what they have learned in order to find the omitted detail.

It’s not time yet, but soon our bodies will have to reconnect with contorted stances and the strange positions needed to be taken for spring gardening preparations. The first few activities will need to be slow and easy, warming up the body lubricants to free it from its frozen winter positions. Activities stretch muscles in unfamiliar directions and when continued too long, surprise us in the morning like an unfamiliar alarm clock going off. There aren’t many other things we do that produce exactly those movements, those yoga-like stances with names like “leaning with hoe” or “seeding bent over”.

Reorganization in our mind takes some effort. Where did we leave this, what happened to that, and why don’t we have any of what we need? Corralling resources entails combining the partial, the nonexistent, and the needed.

We find it useful to make a list of the needed, checking off the nonexistent, and relocating the partial bags of blood meal, bone meal, and any other nutrients or additives that are in the basement staying dry for the winter. Tools have somehow migrated, each to their own hibernaculum, hiding, waiting, and resting. As each is found, attention is given to its condition and what is needed to refurbish and make it workable. Sometimes it’s just a matter of cleaning and oiling like with the Mantis tiller. Other tools though need a bit more help. Our warren hoe has had a crack in the handle now for at least two years and we continue to keep it together with duct tape. Warren hoes, for some reason, are hard to find in this part of the country, so we will add another layer of tape and keep it functioning.

The inner urge to do a garden, at times, can seem vague and we wonder just why are we doing this? One thing is that we have been lulled into a winter- supermarket- convenience complacency that hides the memory of fresh lettuce and kale salads, shredded beets, and carrots splashing color and tastes, and of course, radishes to give a snap. Other reasons for wondering why we would want to have a garden are when we think of the time needed to go from seed to table, the applied resources, and the dedication of continual care.

We often think of the grocery store as an extension of our food choice chain, but we forget about what Marshal McLuhan calls the “amputation” that results when we view or make use of something that extends our bodies and minds, but in the end deprives us of hard earned skills and associations: composting, germinating and transplanting, and the joy of harvest. What results from our self- amputation is the pollution of our genetic pools by mega-gro corporations, the pollution of our environment, our natural resources, and our health.

We tend to be so immersed in our extensions as an integral “necessity” of our life we forget how the car amputates the pleasure of walking, so even the thought of eliminating or modifying an extension is quickly passed over.

As gardeners we know the benefits of good pruning, weeding, thinning, and selecting. If we apply these to our extensions, we will grow.

February 2005

We have been working on a new road, taking it slowly, making corrections and adjustments whenever and wherever we see the need. In this part of the country, it is easy to make a road, in fact, it is often too easy. The weight of a vehicle will make tracks in the sand that if impressed only once, still last until strong winds or a good hard rain softens the parallel marks. The rate of disappearing tracks is in ratio to times driven over. It doesn’t take many trips to make two ruts that will last for years.

The new road goes up to the Hogan we are building. There was an old road part way up the hill that we used to collect firewood. It was well imprinted from yearly trips up and down the hill gathering the winter’s wood. Often it is a temptation to just drive nearer to where we are cutting, but then there would be tracks everywhere. This road ended at the foot of the hillside, a generally located area that gave access to many trees, not just one. It was more work, but the pleasure of unmarked land was worth it.

The next step was simply going from the end of the firewood road to the site for the Hogan, driving along the bottom of the hill which flattens out and gently slopes toward the flat valley floor. We stayed on the high side of the hill so there is a bit of a slant that follows the slope. This slight lean is needed because it runs along the base of a north facing rocky hill, and even though we don’t get a lot of rain, when we do, it collects fast on the sandstone and gathers quickly into rivulets that are gullies by the time they reach the bottom of the hill. Snow also lingers, hidden in the shadows of the tall ponderosa and pinon pine. When the road does get sun and warm temperatures, the snow melts all at once and runs rapidly down the hillside.

We drive on it almost every day now, each time noticing some new bump that is a rock now protruding, or a muddy spot that will need extra drainage and gravel. Flatter sections will have to be crowned for runoff. Where water has created deep gullies we put in culverts to handle the runoff, preventing water from running across the road.

In some places, where we had used fresh fill to build up the road, it has become muddy and rutted. Water filled tread marks left by a backhoe we needed a week ago, create mud, now squishing out from the tires of our truck. In time, we will correct these problems, add gravel, and make it a serviceable, daily used, road.

In this rural area there is the main highway and branches of roads running off either side along the way. Some have been named by the person or persons living back in from the main road. Some are named and numbered by the state, such as B.I.A. #125 (Bureau of Indian Affairs). Some of these are dirt roads leading to cattle tanks where ranchers go daily in the winter to break the ice and throw out some hay, calling the cattle by honking the horn as they slide along through muddy ruts.

To reach any goal there needs to be a road to get there. It may be an old one, like our road to the garden, traveled often over the years, or it may be a new one that is made in accordance with a new purpose or destination.

Some roads are in-roads, those that lead to our aspirations, following the calling of our hearts, and designed by the best laid plan of our minds. These are not one time jaunts and we may need to amend our ways each time we go until we find the right and true path that is serviceable and doesn’t impact the landscape. Someday, they will be as worn and as comfortable as the road to the garden that we know so well, and will lead to new places where we can grow.

January 2005
“A Convincing Self”

The end of the year looms suddenly, reminding us of all those unfinished projects, projects not yet started, and a few projects finished. For us, undertakings have ranged from gardening, the Formal Tea Garden, workshops, and recently, building a Hogan on the west edge of our 54 acres. We began the project this spring, and have no idea when it will be completed. It is closed in for the winter, allowing us to work on the inside during the winter months.

There are two types of Navajo Hogans, male and female. The door always opens to the east greeting the rising sun, welcoming beauty and goodness at the beginning of each day.

We are building an eight-sided female Hogan which is the larger traditional living and nurturing area. The smaller cone-shaped male Hogan is the place for healing rituals and purifying ceremonial fires. http://waltonfeed.com/peoples/navajo/hogan.html

Since our present home and formal gardens are for sale, we will not plant a large garden this year to sell at the farmers market, only a small one for our own sustenance. We plan to use our accrued skills to give more workshops, write more gardening articles, and discover new ways to pass along garden related information.

With most of the projects we began this year finished, we are looking forward to new goals that will hopefully provide the opportunity to use these projects to become more convincing selves. ( The gardens gave us the time and methods to work on ourselves while we worked with and for others. Taking care of plants put us on a path of consistency: watering, weeding, and watching.

Farmers market gave us a dedication to those who came each week, looking forward to fresh organic vegetables and some “local” conversation.

Our workshops gave us unity with others of like mind.

This completion of the large scale gardening phase of our lives provides us with a wistful satisfaction, seen through a progression of over 30 growing seasons.

We have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, working with and using the natural energies of the universe – water, sun, and the earth. We have endeavored to make the gardens beautiful, and we have been fortunate to have been able to spiritually sup with so many people.

Marshall McLuhan said that “The affairs of the world are now dependent upon the highest information of which man is capable. The word information means pattern, not raw data.”

Capabilities are only achieved through effort. If our efforts in the garden are to bring about truth, beauty, and goodness, then the patterns of consistency, dedication, and spiritual unity will grow a convincing self. Growth is the information of unity direction. 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!

Website designed and maintained by Vicky Giannangelo
Feedback? Comments, questions, suggestions?
contact us
Created by Frank and Vicky Giannangelo, copyright (c) 2001-2013

Home Page    About Us    Mossy Knoll Garden/San Juan Island    Botany Basics    "You Can Grow!" Workshops    Composting    Soil Building
Hardiness Zone Map   WebRings    "You Can Grow" CD's   "Tid-Bytes" Insights   Garden Pests & Organic Controls
Biodiversity and Genetic Engineering    New Mexico    Companion & Intensive Planting     Permaculture    Labyrinths
Seed Starting Guide    Creative Garden Design    The Greenzbox    Culinary Herb Gardens    Xeriscape
"Growing with the Seasons"    Photo Tour I    Photo Tour II    Photo Tour III    Photo Tour IV    Photo Tour V
Organic Products    Gardening Books   Gardening Supplies     Recommend This Site    Resources

Top Garden Sites    Changing links   All Links Directory   Search Engine Optimization and Free Submission

According to our Web Counter
You are visitor number: