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AVANT-GARDENING: CREATIVE ORGANIC GARDENING

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"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Newsletter"

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"Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes Newsletter - Back Issues 2007"

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House Finches and Pine Siskens eating the seed from a dead Hookers Evening Primrose plant copyright by giannangelo farms southwest

December 2007
Growing Gravity


We try to attract birds throughout the year, not just during the spring and summer when opportunities for food and water are plentiful and our assistance is not as important. We have three watering stations kept clear of ice by electric stock tank heaters dropped into the water. Dogs, cats, chipmunks, as well as the birds and wildlife take advantage of these water sources.

As we looked out the kitchen window, we could see a tall, dead Hookers Evening Primrose that appeared to be alive. As with most native plants in this area, the unaided growth of the primrose is only a few inches high, but with more water comes more growth, and this one had been given extra water and was about three feet high, with yellow flowers running around the elongated stems.

Each of the stems that had given us such viewing pleasure in the summer was now providing bird food within the pods running up the stems. The plant was vibrating with life as finches pecked at seedpods making small movements while gripping the stems, moving around to get a better position. We leave these dry native plants as a food source for birds during the winter months.

The early darkness, the seasonal holidays, and the extra time one has from not tending a garden draws people together both in frequency and in number. We were thankful when we were included as two of the twenty people invited to Thanksgiving dinner at a neighbor’s home. After the meal, there was guitar playing, singing, and dancing, homegrown entertainment that drew us all closer as neighbors and community members.

Food is a common attractor, much like gravity. At most outdoor markets, one can buy Navajo fry bread and mutton stew, tamales and burritos, and of course good old Anglo hot dogs and hamburgers. From our crop of Big Jim Peppers and Cayenne peppers, we have made red and green chile jellies, which we serve with cream cheese and crackers for guests or as a glaze for roasted chicken and pork, and for Christmas as gifts from the southwest.

Although gravity is acknowledged as a law of the universe, it is also an unknown factor in the Unified Field Theory, the long sought after answer to the Theory of Everything. While not completely understood, certain aspects are known: the larger the mass, the greater the pull of gravity, such as the moon’s smaller mass creating a smaller gravitational attraction. Considered weak by earth gravity, it still holds enough power to pull our greatest oceans to and fro giving us our tides. Earth’s gravity also pulls the roots of our seedlings down into the soil while the moon’s attraction helps the moisture in seeds burst open the outer protective shell and with the sun, pull the stem and leaves upward. The amount of gravitational pull lessens as distance is gained from the source.

Scientists who once thought deep space to be “empty,” are now catching glimmers of what may be an unrecognized form of gravity, which prevents space objects from irregular courses. Whether it be dark bodies, black holes, or something yet to be discovered, the universe is a balanced and controlled system.

What appears to be natural in the control of a universe needs to be created here on our planet. While there seems to be an over-control of humankind, there is also the need for the accretion of masses that will draw together those of peace and goodwill, breaking into pieces the marmoreal monolith of man’s unkind and self-serving nature. When the “I” becomes “we,” we will grow.



a steam engine on the train at Durango, Colorado. photo copyright by giannangelo farms southwest

November 2007
It’s Time


I felt I must have been in tune with the cosmos: on the third try, I was able to set my digital watch correctly one hour back. Daylight savings had ended. For us, being on the north side of a hill, the change was dramatic. We lost full sun at 4:30, and were shaded even earlier by the Ponderosa to the west. Evening chores were rushed through a bit faster with one eye on the horizon marking progress.

Because of watches and clocks, we tended to think of time as a fixed linear part of our lives, except of course for the two times a year we have to fall back and spring forward. As gardeners, we were happier in spring with the sudden acquisition of later light in the evening, as it better fit into our approaching activities and routine. Forty miles from us in Arizona, the time remained the same.

Prior to the introduction of standard time, towns, cities, and villages kept their own time, which usually was shown on a courthouse or on a clock in a local jewelry shop window. Farmers and gardeners plant with the sun regardless of the official time.

With the introduction of the steam engine, greater distances could be traveled necessitating the changing of the conductor’s watch at an increasing rate as the distances increased. To solve this problem, Sir Sandford Fleming in 1879 divided the world into 24 time zones of 15 degrees of longitude.

The Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England was chosen to represent the standard time from which each zone advanced an hour around the globe. One reason was that two thirds of all maps and charts already used it as their prime. It was not until 1929 that all major countries adopted standard time zones. At present, we have 39 standard time zones.

Astronomers first established proper time by observing the sun crossing the meridian and then began using stars crossing the meridian for a more accurate measurement. With the advance of science, distant quasars now give microsecond accuracy. Because the rotation of the earth is somewhat irregular, the length of our day is gradually increasing due to tidal acceleration.

Today one can use shortwave to hear the ticking and tone of Coordinated Universal Time, an atomic timescale upon which civil time is based. It gives 84,600 seconds a day within a 0.9 accuracy.

In the United States, Ben Franklin first conceived of the idea of daylight savings time in 1784, but it wasn’t seriously considered until 1907. President Franklin Roosevelt first enacted daylight savings time calling it “war time”. After the war from 1945 to 1966, there was no federal law regarding daylight savings time. President Richard Nixon established the Emergency Daylight Savings Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Energy Policy Act extended daylight savings time beginning in 2007 with the change being at two am on the second Sunday of March, and two am on the first Sunday of November. The new policy makes daylight savings time two weeks earlier and lasting two weeks longer.

On the moon, at the equator, the temperature fluxuates from -170 degrees C to +110 degrees C, making colonization improbable. At the end of the 19th century, Comille Flammarion discovered that at the lunar South Pole, a crater’s peak received sunlight almost 24 hours a day providing an average temperature of -30 C. He named these peaks “Pics de Luniere Eternelle,” or Peaks of Eternal Light.

For all the precision put into the measurement of time, the gardener still uses observation as the timepiece of choice. Plants respond to light, not time. No matter what the time on a timepiece may say, the gardener knows that moment when it is right to plant or harvest. It is an unstructured response to the moment, one that is in lockstep with the ages, lighting a way for those bound by the clock. Above measured time, the gardener stands as a peak of eternal light to show the way, planting by the sun regardless of what time it is, and so we grow.



two of our kittens, Thunderpaws and Lightening, sharing their favorite sleeping place above the towel shelf in the bathroom copyright by giannangelo farms southwest

October 2007
When the Season?


The expenditure of time and effort in the garden is payment in and of itself, and the actual harvest becomes a bonus paid for diligence. Other rewards that accrue range from financial to altruistic; the financial side rarely amounts to a full repayment, especially when one considers the number of hours dedicated to planning, preparing, and pampering a garden, whereas the altruistic returns are gathered on the inside, safe from inflation and theft.

It is natural to want to protect one’s investment, to make sure that the worry, the sweat, and the results are used in the most economic and practical way possible, thus keeping in step with the creation of the goods. Any abundance must be dealt with in an expeditious manner lest weather, age, or animals destroy it before its allotted purpose is fulfilled.

If there is a farmers market nearby, buyers attending always appreciate the greater selection provided. Most neighbors and friends enjoy food given to them freely, their appreciation deepened by their knowledge of your enterprise and dedication.

It is not strange or difficult to believe that sharing is an aspect of universal economy. Within each person, there is the need for a proper intent of identity expression. Donating to a food bank allows one to be charitable. Once delivered we can be allowed a sigh of satisfaction knowing that we have at least in some measure, given back, or created an allocation for someone other than ourselves. It is up to the individual to determine his personally required quota (from the Latin, quota pars, meaning “how great a part?”)

When our gardens were larger, we tended to plant a lot of kale. Most people only know kale as that vile tasting, tough, and unappealing vegetable matter used as a garnish. Kale is one of those vegetables better eaten freshly picked, since the toughness and bitterness occurs within a few days.

Kale was one of the last items left on our table at the farmers market, even after offering it free and extolling its virtues of having antioxidant properties and great vitamin C content, most said, “No thank you.” When there was no one else to sell or give it to, the compost welcomed it, providing excellent nutrients for next year’s crops. Although, when we added it to our prepared salad mix, people began to realize how good it was if fresh.

Religious organizations and societies usually fed the less fortunate throughout history. In biblical times, gleaning was an honored method, allowing the hungry to gather whatever grains were left in fields after a harvest. In the 60’s a new social conscious connection with food was publicized in the media, reporting on a group in San Francisco called the “Diggers” who fed hippies and the homeless.

An extreme form of urban gleaning is carried on today with a group called the “Freegans.” This includes dumpster diving and foraging in city parks where edibles unknown to most grow, i.e. sorrel, bay leaves, or the wild parsnips that grow in Brookland’s Prospect Park. A less radical group called “Second Harvest” also makes use of surplus and throwaway food to feed those in need.

There is a certain ignorant uncaring that develops when one has not put his “hand to the plowshare,” as it were, as to the real value of food. Humankind went through a season of insecurity before agriculture established a winter surplus, a season of sufficiency and increase through science, and now, a season of abundance that is misdirected and squandered, along with the throwaway plastic that wraps, transports, and displays out of season produce from distant countries where its own inhabitants starve for these same items.

We look for a new season of conscience, when one eats one’s fill and then allots the rest to those in need. When that time arrives, we will know we have grown.

butternut squash growing in back of an old coyote fence in new mexico at giannangelo farms southwest

September 2007
Maybe Tomorrow


Expectations are funny things: they truly are in the eyes of the beholder, and once having entered the eyes, expectations flow out from joyous highs to despairing lows.

It is usually from the digesting of limited points of view that we expel those lower expectations, those glimpses of what we conjure the future to hold. We need reason and justification to produce anticipation of a realistic nature and one compatible with our inner comfort. Our expectations as gardeners place us in other roles, one being that of a philosopher.

Technology has intruded into growing from its first direct applications of sticks for seed holes, flat rounded stones for digging, and knapped flint for cutting the harvest, down to today where technology insinuates itself indirectly into our most basic elements of sun, soil, and water.

Aquifers are contaminated from industrial runoffs, the sun’s intensity increases from extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and blowing dust from fields can carry pathogens, which are passed on through direct contact or via food. Because of factors like these, even the smallest backyard garden becomes a microcosm of the world in general, placing the gardener into the role of a philosopher, those who, as Plato believed, “possessed a vision of the whole (synoptikos).”

These seemingly limited backyard problems are actually spread all over the planet; 1.2 billion people lack clean water, air pollution from toxic chemicals kills around 3 million people a year, and the world’s precious topsoil is lost to erosion or chemical contamination.

Our local garden tour (ninth annual) was a couple of weeks ago. Our gardens were the last stop. There were 24 people and each year it seems there is one thing that catches everyone’s eye. Last year it was the GreenzBox, and this year it was our butternut squash.

We have always trellised butternut, other squashes, cucumbers, or any other vining vegetable, on hog wire, allowing them to run in and out of the top squares. This keeps them off the ground, prevents soft spots that may develop from lying on a wet ground, and critters are not able to nibble on the tender skin before it hardens into its winter coat. What interested everyone was the fact that they had been trellised. All stated a common belief that, “had they done that, the fruit would have been so heavy they would have torn from the vine.”

Here is where observation and experience play their roles. As the green and beige stripes give way at maturity to an overall tan color, the base of the stem begins to harden. As the squash matures, its skin gets harder and harder for winter storage. The vine where it is attached also dries and hardens to the point that, when we take it from the vine, we have to use nippers to cut it a few inches up from its base. We have found that not allowing the stems to harden until they are completely sealed and dry allows any moisture inside the stem to rot the ends of the squash.

Growing organically does not mean we have to toss out technology. As purveyors of first-hand knowledge of the admixture present today in food production, we should provide a wise welcoming for new technologies of safety and benefit which will replace the old rushed into discoveries that, while an advance for humankind at the time, have now become as unwanted and unwieldy as the sticks and rocks first used in agriculture.

Kevin Kelly, editor, publisher, and author, believes that technology is the seventh kingdom of life and it is only, “by understanding what technology is will we understand who we are.” (The Third Culture, 8-28-07).

A binocular vision, of technology and food sources, allows us to expect the creation of advances that are physically compatible with all our needs and our natures, reminding science that we can grow.

one of our new mexico summer's 'localized' thunderstorms at giannangelo farms southwest

August 2007
Out of Hand


Some things are just naturally out of our hands and brings to mind Will Roger’s quip, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” That seems to be even truer today when one can hear discussions about global changes on almost any media outlet or at social gatherings. Most of what is heard is devolved from whatever sources people use to gather information, and with today’s possibilities, the field is almost endless.

Ideologies present either a yes or no, a this or that offering. The ends of the spectrum seem to be either that these changes are caused by human technological advances, or that these changes that are part of a natural phenomenon, a reoccurring cycle, that is visiting again after being dormant for most of history’s memory.

Most reoccurring natural cycles do not just appear suddenly one day unannounced. For example, the last ice age did not overnight turn everything to ice, hence the term “ice age”.

Those who garden understand a certain futility in trying to go against weather. At 7,300 feet altitude, less than 90 days of frost-free growing, and 20 below winters, we do not grow plants or trees that will not survive zone three.

Adaptation goes a long way in reconciling events of the environment. Along the coast of Washington State, there are flood plains that are fertile areas, collecting nutrients and soil from the interior and depositing it in alluvial fields. Even though the floods are periodic, after a decade or more people forget, and return to build at the lowest elevations and are again flooded out. On the East Coast, reports show homes being damaged or destroyed from hurricane surges, yet owners once again rebuild in the same place.

Another repetitive approach to weather is evidenced in the gulf coast states. Even though the weather satellites show some cities are sinking 6 millimeters a year, and that the waters are going to continue to rise, still the solution seems to be building taller, stronger floodwalls. Eventually even floodwalls will not suffice.

If one’s plants are endangered by weather, most gardeners have an arsenal of solutions to use when the need arises. If it is too hot, they use a shade cloth, mulch around the base of plants, or use heat resistant varieties. For cold, they build a greenhouses, use cloches, or plant next to southern walls that will release heat during cold nights.

We are finally putting the finishing touches on the fire pit that was begun seven weeks ago. It seemed the project, a simple pit to have a fire and sit around, grew on its own to the point where we were exclaiming that it had “gotten out of hand”. It seemed we were constantly in need of more rocks, more cement, and more sand. Large projects, or projects that become large, take time, determinations, and commitment, all good training for the body and mind in absorbing the repeated exigencies of daily life.

In our Basic Rockwork workshops, we recommend that when doing any rock project, that people have about three times as many rocks as they think they will need. Having a good supply to choose from not only makes the job easier, but repeatedly returning to the pile and searching for the needed rock eventuates into being able to simply walk over to the pile and pick the right one without even having to think about which one it might be. Once it is “out of your hands”, your inner creativity finds what is truly needed, and what fits, creating a harmony of stone.

When we release our conscious designs of how to build a fire pit, rebuild a levy, or fix the weather, we are more likely to end up with an avatar rather than something just adequate for the moment. It is often when things get out of hand, that we can grow.

a kiva-like rockwall firepit built in the summer of 2007 with sandstone rock from the hillside behind our hogan at giannangelo farms southwest

July 2007
Recent Returns


We first saw the holes when we took the dogs for their afternoon walk. They were about ½ inches in diameter and randomly scattered on the ground. As we kept walking, we saw more holes and recognized them as cicada exits. They begin their exodus when the ground temperature exceeds approximately 64 degrees F.

Looking on the trunks of nearby Pinon trees, we found numerous exoskeletons. After coming out of their holes, they climb up onto something that allows them to get a firm grasp for their molt to adulthood. We have found them, on not only trees and larger vegetation, but firmly stuck on the stucco of our house and on the stuccoed straw bale walls.

They are not locusts, which are a type of grasshopper, but in the order Hemiptera, an order of true bugs that have a forewing thickened and leathery at the base and membranous at the apex. Some believe the diaphanous wings are able to block ultraviolet rays.

There are two general categories of cicadas: the periodical, which have extremely long life-cycles of 13 or 17 years, and the annual cicada species which we have here in New Mexico, that remerge each year, having a 2 to 8 year cycle.

The annual cicada are not as developmentally synchronized and therefore the group emergence is not as great as the periodical cicadas, which can be as high as 1.5 million per acre.

Our annual chorus of males is not as loud as those greater emergences back east and in the north, where the periodical cicadas live. The males, once they molt, begin producing species-specific calling songs and congregate to establish aggregations that are sexually attractive to females. These songs, produced by special structures called tymbals, are found on the male’s abdomen. A tymbal is also a kettledrum, an apt naming considering the din that comes from the numerous males seeking mates.

While underground, cicada juveniles, called nymphs, suck root fluids for food and when above ground, adult cicadas feed on living woody vegetation with a piercing-and–sucking mouthpart just behind the forelegs.

Once mated, the females excavate a y-shaped egg nest in living twigs and lay up to 20 eggs. Six to ten weeks later, the first-instar nymphs drop from the trees, burrow underground, locate a rootlet for feeding, and remain there until their species timetable for re-emergence arrives.

Later that evening neighbors arrived for solstice, as they had at the equinox gathering, full of enthusiasm and good cheer. Although we all live in relatively close proximity, everyone had been busy with his or her own projects; building a home, a gardens, or building or repairing something as seems to be needed when living in a rural area. After greetings and updates on what everyone had been busy at, we all gathered just after sunset in our newly constructed fire pit.

The sunken Kiva-like fire pit is 8 feet in diameter, made from sandstone rock. The seating is 19 inches high with a sitting area 19 inches wide and an 8-inch backrest on one side made from four courses of old Gallup bricks scavenged from a farm dump, and huge flat limestone rocks on the other side. In the center will be a sunken fire pit with a cooking rack.

As the longest day turned into the shortest night, we sat around the fire pit and read a short paper on solstice trivia. Others told stories of times of import in their lives, sharing humor and reflections. As is the case with most of these gatherings, the next event was eating dinner. We had Hebrew National hot dogs made into our famous “butter dogs” by cutting them in half, barbequing them flat, and topping them off with a layer of melted cheese. Accompanying them was a big potato salad, chips, assorted beverages, and topping off the meal with brownies for desert. We sat talking and laughing late into the evening as one of our truly talented neighbors played the guitar and sang. Later on, everyone strolled off into the cloudy, but moonlight, night and headed home. Periodic cicadas emerge at the same time because they have become “developmentally synchronized.” Over a period of time, up to 17 years, re-association has set their internal clocks to sound the alarm to gather.

Our eyes and minds are watchful of the declining sun that now having passed its apex, will soon reach its autumn equinox, sounding an alarm for us to again gather and share the develop-mentally synchronized aspects of our lives, celebrating and creating a horology that with each re-emergence will remind us that we have grown.

beginning to stack the bales at a strawbale workshop at giannangelo farms southwest

June 2007
Viable Visions


The morning was sunny and warm and all was in readiness for the strawbale workshop. We had just bought 13 old bales of oat hay that had been stacked outside leaning against the hand-hewn logs of a deteriorating barn. It took a while to get through the stack and find bales with both wires still attached, but finally we had enough for the project and a few more “just in case.”

We were able to get them for $1each as opposed to bales that can cost from $6 to $8 dollars. After we unloaded them at the project site, we re-tied them with bailing twine, making them more compact and stable for stacking.

Off to each side of our driveway we had poured two cement foundation pads, six inches high, twenty inches wide and six feet long and filled with rubble rock, a layer of cement, more rock, with a final layer of cement on top. Two pieces of re-bar had been pounded into the ground, sticking up through the smoothed cement to impale and hold the bottom layer of the bales in place.

The project for the day was a tiered entryway of stacked, cemented straw bales, later to be color coated with a coat of stucco when the cement dried. There were two bales on the bottom layer, one bale and a half for the next course, and then one bale on the top, giving the New Mexico look of stair steps or, as it is sometimes known, “ Santa Fe-ing.”

Although there are many materials one can apply to the outside of the bales, we have found over the years that most people want something practical and convenient. All of the participants had thought about and imagined enclosures they wanted to make. Some wanted a wall to keep out the noise from a road in front of their home. Another couple wanted it for horse fencing. Others wanted outbuildings or tool sheds. We assured them that each project was possible, explaining that we had once built a strawbale outhouse as one of our projects.

After introductions and a brief talk on what the plan for the day was, we began. Once the bales were stacked in sequence, we wrapped them with stucco lath that comes in 8’ x 28 inch sheets. It was attached to the bales by pushing six-inch long “u” shaped pins made from old bailing wire pushed through the lath into the bales until the lath was firmly pinned against the bales. Each took turns with wire cutters, making pins to keep everyone busy.

Soon we had the first side covered. Then we mixed the special one-step cement, which has small fibers in it to give it strength, prevent cracking, and to better hold the application of the color coat, which will be applied when the cement has dried a few days.

We had lots of trowels and hawks, and everyone enjoyed trying their hand at applying the cement. With some cementing the first side, others began stacking the other side, putting on the lath, pinning it, and shaping the bales.

By noon the sun, mixing cement, and applying the cement had taken its toll, and as soon as the second side was ready to cement, everyone pulled out lunches and sat around talking and eating. This is always one of the best parts of the workshops. When people have labored together, they create a bond that is enhanced when eating together and talking on a personal level.

Before each left that afternoon they commented on that when they arrived there had just been a pile of materials and now there stood two walls, cemented, solid, and substantial. Each was confident that they could actually now bring into reality what they had envisioned. We have found that having a “hands-on experience” is a great impetus for the actual doing.

Visions are personal and defined only within the mind. How we form these mental images has long been debated. Plato, in his Republic VII, stated that we make mental images from the shadows of the real things in the world. Later, Bishop Berkeley defined his theory of idealism as mental images being equivalent to material reality itself. David Deutsch argues for a world that has a “real independent existence and that humans have successfully evolved by building up and adapting patterns of mental images to explain it.”

To those adherents of scientific realism, mental images and the perception of them must be no more than brain-states. These brain states maintain mental images as topographic and topological wholes.

The expression of the material from the mental allows us, as Wilhelm Von Humbolt says, “the infinite use of finite means.” Each year we combine the same finite elements of soil, water and seed into an infinite variety of shapes, colors, smells, and tastes. Each year, from within the mind’s swirls, we bring forth a newness, which affirms the material fact that we can grow.

a spear of aparagus in the early spring bursting through the mulch covering the soil at giannangelo farms southwest

May 2007
Spears of Spring


When we finished sifting the compost near our old garden, we decided to go in and look around, not expecting to find anything other than weeds, since we had allowed it to become fallow and return to its previous natural state. To our surprise, around the edges there were tulips coming up. We dug them up and heeled them into the sifted compost. In the middle of the garden, we found daffodils and a few groups of grape hyacinth, which we also dug up and transferred to the compost for the ride home.

Taking one more walk around, we saw the heads of asparagus poking up through the dirt and one spear that had arrived too early in the season and had frozen. Upon closer inspection, we found more coming up. By prodding with the shovel, we were able to find their main root balls that now were around six or seven years old.

Asparagus reaches its prime after 6-8 years and can remain a good producing plant for about 15 years. It is a member of the lily family. Its name is from the Greek, meaning “sprout” or “shoot.” Cultivation around the Mediterranean had been going on for thousands of years, but it was first domesticated by the Macedonians around 200 B.C. Asparagus is used not only as a food, but also as a medicine.

It contains no fat or cholesterol and is low in sodium. It is a nutrient-dense food that is high in folic acid, calcium, potassium, fiber, vitamins B6, A, C, E, and Thiamin. Chinese herbalists use asparagus roots to help reduce inflammation by the coumpounds call steroidal glycosides.

We brought the plants home and dug a deep trench, added gypsum and bone meal, and watered it well. Then we planted the crowns about 6 inches below the top of the soil. The bone meal provided phosphorus to help reduce transplant shock.

The Dutch and English brought asparagus to this continent in the 1700’s. These original plantings are unimproved, non-hybrids called “Washington Varieties,” named after Waltham and Mary Martha Washington. Today the hybrids that are used commercially and in home gardens are divided between those for the northern climates, (the Jersey varieties available through most garden catalogues) and a variety called UC 157 used in the Southwest, California, and Mexico.

Asparagus is in the garlic and onion family, and is therefore susceptible to Fusarium root rot that exists in all soils at some level. A low pH is more conducive to the growth and spread of Fusarium fungi, so raising your pH up to at least 7.0 is a good idea. For nutrients other than phosphorus, one should use the results of a soil test to provide a complete and balanced NPK.

Last night we picked ten “whips” or the smaller diameter spears. They are a little tougher than the larger spears because most of the fiber is in the skin, so the larger the spear, the less the fiber. We ate them raw, although we also enjoy them steamed with butter or a dip. Since it only takes a few minutes to steam or stir- fry asparagus, the Roman Emperor Augustus coined the phrase “velocius quam aspargi coquantur”, or “faster than you can cook asparagus.”

One of the more unusual features of asparagus is the smell of one’s urine shortly after eating it. There are disputes as to the exact compound, but it is known to be formed as a “derivative during the digestion and subsequent breakdown of beneficial amino acids that occur naturally in asparagus.” (Merck Index, pg. 271.)

We look forward to harvesting throughout the season, lasting until late June or early July, at which time we will allow the last spears to grow into ferns. The fern is a factory that supplies the energy to the crown and storage roots for the next year’s crops.

These early spears of spring reified our winter garden images, as did the transplants that we carefully spaced in the newly planted Greenzbox ™, visualizing their size in comparison to each other when fully grown.

This turn of the season awakened us suddenly from a mental garden to an edible epiphany. Our own winter ferning has resupplied us with the energy, to bring about once again, the renewing affirmation of the garden and the eternal fact that we are growing.



The morning of spring equinox when the sun exactly hit a strip of glass made to mark its presence at sunrise inside our hogan at giannangelo farms southwest

April 2007
Traveling the Tunnel


It had been a year of patient waiting for that one brief moment when the sun would rise and shoot across the eastern mesa, its morning rays suddenly bright through the clerestory window, lighting a long narrow rectangle of fused glass, one of two equinox markers graciously made by a friend and local artisan especially for the occasion.

The intricate patterns of glowing colored fused glass evoked the feeling of some archaic hieroglyphic, meaningful, but unreadable. It seemed only moments had passed when the sun’s movement left the narrow rectangle.

Photos of that moment will give reason and evidence for the wait from the time we first climbed the ladder and outlined the dimensions of where glass should be.

We have suggested to others this idea of using the environment to personalize the inside of one’s home, much as one’s garden provides an outside association with nature’s seasons.

Our friends, the glassmakers, were there to witness the event and share a green chile casserole, some sweet rolls and coffee. After the meal, lingering on the deck, warmed by the risen sun and a second cup of coffee, we invited them to witness the sun’s rays on the second rectangle that will capture light when the autumn equinox leads us into fall with shorter days, longer nights.

These longer days have slowed the disappearing woodpile, leaving just enough on the front porch to meet our needs. The large goldfish in the pool outside are rising to the surface and mouthing, “feed me.” More seed trays have been planted and daily go back and forth inside to outside on the deck and back in before sunset, the nights still in the low 20’s.

Although most gardens contain a variety of plants there is usually one special plant that is the gardener’s favorite. At present, ours is probably chile plants, with Habanero, Jalapeno, Cayenne, and Poblano heading the list. We fall into this naturally because they grow well here and we use them in almost everything we eat.

They also have a wonderful practicality when packaged, and become welcomed presents for others, or strung in colorful ristras, they provide that southwest ambiance to one’s home, whether next to the front door as a greeting, or hanging in the kitchen as a condiment-at-hand.

The vernal equinox is like the mouth of a tunnel that we enter and travel through, exiting out the autumnal equinox at the other end.

Timothy Leary coined the phrase “reality tunnel” as part of a concept that everyone “interprets this same world differently.” This term “reality tunnel,” can also apply to groups of people united by beliefs and actions, hence have we entered with others into a “gardener’s reality tunnel”.

We all entered it at the same time at spring equinox and will exit together at the fall equinox. Along the way we all will plant, nurture, and harvest. Our gardens represent “the same world differently,” expressing our desire to be in a certain harmony with the universe.

The Talmud teaches that, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” When our lives and our gardens promote beauty and goodness, then we will grow.



a Sphinx Moth in its adult stage before becomming a Tomato Hornworm larvae at giannangelo farms southwest

March 2007
Planting Partners


All but one of the 24 rosemary clones in their seed tray has rooted. On the heat mat beside them, thyme, blue flax, basil, red rhubarb, and sage are beginning to germinate, poking their first leaves up out the soil. Once up to size, we will transplant them into 4” pots and label them. They will be ready for the local plant sale, and eventually the farmers market in June.

We are fortunate to be helpmates in gardening. Over the years we have learned the most economical division of labor, allowing us to not only get things done easier, but faster. It’s not that one of us can’t do what the other does, but experience has allocated certain chores to each.

The word partner comes from Latin, the combination of a piece, and co-heir (part + parcener). Thus, as partners, we are both inheritors of the garden’s fruits. While we are partners as husband and wife, we do have other partners in the gardening process. Ours is a wide ranging community, extending out in a 20 mile or more radius.

These community partnerships are evidenced at local gatherings where information or goods may be exchanged. Part of the local lingo is the phrase, “going to town.” What it means is that a person is going either to Grants, Gallup, or Albuquerque, rather than just down the road to the local trading post or post office. There is always a willingness of someone to get that one item that another needs, but doesn’t want to drive the 100 mile round trip.

Gates and fences that keep out horses and cattle are often used as “drop off points”. The mail, items bought, or things borrowed and returned, are tied in a plastic bag and are often seen fluttering on a gate.

When this newsletter goes out to subscribers from all over the world, we never know what response it may bring. Through the years we have received emails from those for whom some bit of information was just what they needed, or others who could identify with something we did in the garden, an event in the community, or just life in general.

We often feel like the newsletter is being posted on some gate or fence, returning or receiving some small piece of information or goods too far away for us to go get at the time. As planting partners in the planning and development of our planet’s future we and the subscribers become co-heirs to its destiny.

We look forward to spring and the first tips of daffodils urging up through the soil. One of the great things about daffodils is that they multiply and soon produce small groups, or colonies. Given enough time, they can grow into fields.

Like colonizing daffodils, we find ourselves in a profound propinquity, pointing to a many paged future that will tell the story of how we grew.



our would be pond right before another big rain washed out the dam at giannangelo farms southwest

February 2007
Consumption of Time


Continuing sunny days take away not only the memory of past snowy days, but melt the physical evidence into the ground, leaving its presence to be evidenced in springtime’s growth of abundant greenery. These same snows have relegated any gardening activity to a planning and review stage.

While we were designing a new abode, we perforce, curtailed our gardening scale, still growing for farmers market, but in anticipation of a new, full time effort of construction, we halved the growing capacity of our main gardens.

After construction was completed and we were ensconced in the Hogan, smaller surrounding garden areas were made and planted. Not satisfied with the few herbs and other plants, we built the Greenzbox™ that more than satisfied our hunger for fresh organic greens. Even though we had access to local, fresh, greens at the farmers market, the personal factor of self-reliance proved to be a lacking quality.

Trial and error provide some of the greatest lessons in life, especially when the trial ends in error. It is then in the spirit of conservation that we are able to use our imagination, talents, and creativity to rescue and re-define our original intent.

Traditionally, where we live, summers are set in two stages: strong winds with hot days (80 degrees) and cool evenings (frosts) during the month of May, with an influx of bothersome gnats in June that drive some locals to take extended vacations for the entire month; and then the arrival of the monsoon season during July and August, cooling the latter part of the day and delivering ion rich rain to the gardens below.

New Mexico was in a draught situation until last year when we received the long anticipated rains and snows. We had hoped for such a return of moisture and planned ahead by having a backhoe dig out a large ravine for a pond area at the bottom of a hill. The dirt that was taken out formed a dam to retain the water channeled into it. We didn’t have long to wait and weren’t disappointed.

Much of the hill behind us is exposed Dakota sandstone, a Cretaceous sedimentary layer deposited when the sea covered this area around 100 million years ago. When rain falls upon it, there is little absorption. Instead it acts like a roof, collecting the water and sending it down the hill in rivulets. We knew this and had dug a gutter-like trench for water diversion, guiding it around the Hogan and down into the pond.

We were excited and proud as the first big rain of the season came down. Inside, we watched through the windows, running from side to side as the water ran down the trenches and diverted into the pond, collecting as planned. It didn’t take long to fill it three-quarters full.

It wasn’t but a day or so later when the next monsoon blew in. This time there was so much rain that it overflowed the trench we thought would be able to handle it all. We watched in apprehension as the pond quickly filled and went over the top of the dam cutting a “v” which widened with the push of incoming water until suddenly, the whole dam gave way and the pond became a stream bed.

We are at the bottom of a north slope which receives little of the declining sun during the winter. The pond is farther away from the slope and receives a lot of sun on its steep, south facing slope. We have decided to use this side of the ex-pond to reconfigure it into a gardening area.

By terracing the slope we will be able to take advantage of its depth for wind protection, and by using sandstone rock for the retaining walls we will have a radiant heat source for cool spring evenings, preventing frost damage and thereby extending the growing season.

We are also going to cut into the bank and build a cold frame-greenhouse, using the surrounding earth for insulation.

So, instead of a large fish pond, our hole has become a cynosure of adaptation.

Wenda Gu, a Chinese artist, notes that “...human knowledge in general is nothing but an artistic interpretation.” Just as food provides energy for our day’s endeavors, time allows for the digestion of events.

It is by transformation that we will grow.



our dog Kodiak standing in the middle of our road in mid-winter at giannangelo farms southwest

January 2007
Filling the Rictus


The other night we were invited to neighborhood winter solstice gathering/pot-luck. A table was filled with a platter of turkey, dressing, salads, and a variety of other foods.

Later, after everyone had eaten, we gathered outside in the dark under the vast starry NM sky, and stood around a rock fire pit filled with sticks; each had first been lit in the hearth of each household represented, and then added to the pile to be re-kindled. Our hostess then lit the paper underneath, giving life to the soon to be blazing fire.

There were chairs and benches around the perimeter, while others choose to stand. Our hostess then spoke of community, commitment, and the commonality symbolized by the burning sticks each had brought for starting the communal fire.

A round of drumming and singing followed, with several gleefully jumping over the burning fire. It was also the birthday of one of our neighbors, so we sang “Happy Birthday,” and then broke into a rousing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

Looking around the fire circle, it was evident that many lifestyles were present. In the bathroom there was a book of photographs depicting the flavor of the sixties. The photos captured a spirit and energy that many of us that evening remembered well.

Later, as the embers dimmed, we said our “Good Nights,” and drove home down the snowy two-tire-track back road. One of our neighbors had plowed our roads using the front “V” shape from an old house trailer, after a foot of snow had fallen.

Progress needs enthusiasm. No project can get finished without a goal, determination, and the desire to make it all happen. One is easily propelled in the spring when the days are pleasant and warm, the newness of activity is novel, and one’s vision of what is to be is stimulated.

It is only late in the gardening season, when, day after day, one has nurtured, urged, and tried to provide a consistent environment for plant growth, that a certain weariness begins to set in. The garden provides us with foods to nourish our bodies, but sustenance for the spirit can only come from others in spirit.

These winter days, with sub-zero temperatures and snow that will now remain on the north facing slopes until spring, seem to represent a condition of spirit throughout the world.

While many can find food for the body, few can find food to nurture the spirit, allowing it to be productive. And, it will only be by spirit recognition that the world will be able to bring about group understanding, mutual appreciation, fraternal fellowship, spiritual communion, and divine harmony.

All over this nest of a world, people, like baby robins, stretch upward with an open rictus, desiring a parent’s feeding.

It is an opportunity incumbent upon us to feed each hungry mouth as we pass by; a smile, a nod of recognition, a kind word - fruits that are plentiful, even in this frozen season. It is only when others have been fed that we can grow.


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

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

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

You can grow!





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