I see your law of attraction and I raise you one: you’ve got it backwards. Still. Even after all these years of Abraham saying “just get happy”, the bulk of the mentality that I see on the webs is that if we get happy Enough, we will get all the Stuff we want. If you want stuff, get happy. You get happy in order to get stuff.
You know what that is? It’s emotional kindergarten. It’s still a bargaining game. You’re still bargaining with God / the Universe / your Higher Power / Santa Claus.
Yes, absolutely, take a few minutes and have some fun thinking “wow, I believe that I would be really happy if I had (fill in the blank with your dream house and your dream career and your dream vacation).” Sure, if that’s what you believe your highest self will manifest, awesome. Dream it up. Put it on your vision board.
And then flip that board over and start dreaming up who your highest self is. Who are you, exactly? Not what costume can you put on, but who are you Deeply? Why are you here on earth? There is something you are called to do. What is it? Maybe it’s to be the excellent neighbor who helps build community and broaden the sense of Home in that row of houses, so you have potlucks in your front yard every Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s to go be with homeless kids, to help be one of the rocks under them so they have a shot in hell at living their dreams too. Maybe it’s to be a millionaire and set up a philanthropic fund that plants trees in inner cities. Maybe it’s to own a coffee shop where other people can gather and talk or sit and read and be inspired. All you really need to be is who you need to be. Nothing more, nothing less.
What do you need to do to be who you need to be? Frankly, not much. Just put everything else down. The real you is buried under a bath of old triggers and thoughts that block your growth. Let it go. The best you is already here, it’s just underneath the complacent you, the you that is still in progress.
You want this law of attraction thing to work for you? Attract your best self. Be real. Start from where you are and keep walking forward. Show up. Show up for your life, show up for your lessons, show up for your dreams. Show up for your best self, because that, my friend, Is your real self. There is nothing External to attract.
Over the past couple of weeks, Boston, Massachusetts, has received about 7 feet of snow. That’s a lot of snow. It’s twice their annual average, and all here, right now, in town to party. Spring feels forever away for Bostonians, and the early blooming flower bulbs like crocus and daffodils are sound asleep. But be grateful! That snow is really helpful in all this cold weather.
You know who is just as cold as Boston? Western Kansas. But how much snow do they get, out there in the windy shadow of Colorado’s magnificent Front Range of the Rocky Mountains? Less than 2 feet, on average, in a whole year. The difference this makes is phenomenal.
Snow is not only the most efficient form of precipitation when it comes to getting water into the ground, it also forms an excellent insulation layer. A lot of the light rays go right through snow, so what’s underneath is lit up, warmed up from within and without, and protecting from the wild up and down swings and high winds that make standing at the bus stop brutal. Doubt me? Duck into one of those bus shelters when it’s sunny but windy and see for yourself. A little sunshine and a windbreak and wow, it’s a different ballgame entirely.
Yes, Kansas gets less water than Boston all year, so the vegetation there will be different just due to the annual moisture levels, but I promise, the short grass prairies of western Kansas endure much more in the way of temperature abuse than the lawns of Boston. So, shoveling it isn’t fun, but your favorites plants (at least, the ones that didn’t break under the weight) are so much happier with this snow than without it.
NOTE:This isn’t meant to knock Kansas. The Flint Hills of Kansas should absolutely be on your to-see list. They are as stirring and evocative a landscape as I’ve ever seen, especially at sunset or sunrise. The top sunset of my life thus far was out in the Flint Hills. There were colors I don’t know the name of, colors your imagination never thought to include in a sky before. I didn’t have my camera, but that meant I just drank it in, tried to memorize it as it happened. I’m telling you- don’t knock Kansas till you’ve seen what those prairies and skies can do to your soul.
I’m way ahead of schedule if the calendar is what counts, but I’m seeing birds arriving back in town and crocus leaves coming up and the tree buds in the warmest microclimates are breaking open… And I like to play a little bit of the daredevil.
In my opinion, if you lose absolutely no crops to frost on either end of the season (or to heat in the middle of the season), you’ve missed opportunities. Do you want to gamble with your most valuable crops and your most expensive seed? No, of course not, but there’s always lettuce.
Since a lot of this years “garden” will be on the porch (I’m an “apartment farmer”), I’m testing the limits of what the home gardener can do. I have lettuce up, collards up, and the very first true leaves on my very first tomato. The pepper varieties that I want to test for container gardening suitability, however, were not germinating.
Peppers are like eggplants: they need heat to get going. Yesterday, I moved the seedling tray onto a chair and the chair up under a lamp: dual duty- light for me, heat for the peppers. The results? 24 hours later all the seed pots on the left side have something germinating. I spun the tray around and will check the right side tomorrow.
Notes for success:
Neither the seed tray nor the chair they are on is flammable. I also don’t have them right-smack-up-under-the-lamp, just close enough to benefit from the inefficiencies of the bulb.
The bulb is not on 24/7, it’s on for several hours.
It doesn’t have to be a bulb. Does your desktop computer end up getting warm halfway through the workday? Put them on top of that (in a waterproof container.)
I am aware that the increased heat will dry out the top layer of soil faster, so I have an old dish soap bottle filled with water sitting by the trays so I can moisten the top lightly as needed.
I have a ton of seed for these varieties. If they fail, I haven’t lost something irreplaceable.
These are not varieties I’m intending to stick in the ground somewhere. I’m looking for the strongest two or three seedlings from amongst what germinates and then that will be moved to progressively larger pots. Pot size will be limited until after all worries of frost because I intend to cheat and move those pepper puppies up against the brick of the house under the cover of the porch on dicey nights. You just can’t do that once it’s in a garden.
Cavalier attitude, free spirit, whimsical nature… whatever you call it, you kinda need it for this type of “wanton gardening”. If you’re going to hate yourself if late April snow wipes out your effort, then play it safe and wait to germinate. There’s no need to be somebody you are not.
It’s the warm week in January! Quick! You want to be outside, your roses are all sound asleep… Prune them!
I call this Rose Pruning Week for exactly that reason: your rose bush and everything else in your yard is ripe for the snipping.* You can snip a little, you can snip a lot, it’s up to you. There’s just one group that you should NOT snip this week: do NOT prune your spring bloomers. Azaleas and lilacs and magnolias and other spring blooming woody plants got their flowering outfits laid out last fall. If you prune them now, they won’t replace the lost flower buds until this next fall, so you’ll miss a year’s bloom. Spring bloomers get pruned after they are done blooming.
There are three kinds of pruning: shaping, maintenance, and rejuvenation.
Shaping is just nipping off the tips. With my houseplant ficus trees, they keep trying to grow up, but my windows only go so high, so I prune off the terminal buds in general and especially the highest ones. The terminal (end) buds usually get the lion’s share of the growth hormones, so with them gone, the axial (side) buds get a nice boost. I end up with a fuller, thicker tree…. that fits in my window.
On less woody plants (begonias, geraniums, jades), this kind of pruning can be done with your fingers by pinching off the top growing bit, or sort of wiggle-snapping it.
Maintenance pruning can be thought of as “aggressive shaping”. Here the goal is not just to encourage a particular sort of growth, but a particular sort of RE-growth. You actually remove lengths of stem. For sidewalk hedges, this means thinning out the top and pushing it back so you have more of a trapezoid than a rectangle, which lets the whole shrub receive sunlight.
For blackberries and lilacs and forsythia, this means removing some of the older “trunks” in order to let the younger ones take over (blackberries fruit on two year old wood, so don’t take the “not young but not old” stuff). Yes, lilacs and forsythia are spring bloomers. It’s your call on the lilacs. On the forsythia, there are going to be so many blooms anyway, if you are itching to prune it mid-winter, go for it.
All three of those examples happen to be ones where you’re removing the oldest branches all the way down at the ground. A different maintenance pruning example would be fruit trees. Many of our favorite fruits are in the rose family, and that family is fairly susceptible to molds. A great way to keep molds at bay is to improve air circulation, which has a nice side effect of also letting more light deeper into the tree. With apple trees, the old rule of thumb is that you want to be able to throw a basketball through the tree. Perhaps with cherries, quince and other smaller fruits, we can say tennis ball or baseball instead, but the gist is the same.
Rejuvenation pruning is not something every plant tolerates. The older particular pieces of wood get, the less receptive they are to rejuvenation pruning. In this snip-style, you take the whole thing to the ground (or a few inches above) and it resprouts with vigor and health. This is great for forsythia gone wild, lilacs that have really dwindled, and all the decorative grasses. Just like in coppicing, what comes back is generally very slender and straight at first, and then branches again later, higher up. Fall (or late summer) raspberries fruit on one year old wood, so this is great for them. Do you have a good mid-summer raspberry crop? Those fruits are on 2nd year wood, so DON’T do this to them.
So there you have it: winter pruning for fall and summer bloomers. Now go outside, enjoy the reprieve! Winter will be back, whether you enjoyed this break or not.
*Yes, quite a few rose books will tell you to wait until bud swell or when the forsythia bloom or what not to prune the roses. The assumption there is that it’ll be easier for you to see the buds and so prune to leave an “outer bud” as the top bud. (a) That’s an aesthetic consideration relevant only to shrub roses and (b) you can see the freakin’ buds right now. Look at that branch and tell me you can’t tell where the leaves are about to come out. Of course you can.
In order to get to the Great Plains Grower’s Conference on time, I got up at 4 am, left the house at 4.30. To many people, this is a normal workday. To me, in the winter, this is not normal. Even in the summer, this hour is a little extreme. I drove through the dark, undulating across the Plains. In Missouri, it was still dark, but enough starlight gave form to my constant companion: the sudden escarpment that marks the edge of the mighty Missouri Rivers’s true claim upon the earth.
The Missouri River runs southeast here, and so do the bluffs, and so does the highway, so did I, and so does the state line. The river came first. Eventually, the sky before me relented, melting from black to navy blue, and dark steely clouds gained a faint mauve dusting. Navy blue became royal, royal blue shifted to peach, to gold. The clouds breathed in the mauve and swelled up, blushing crimson, then rose.
All the while, there I was riding the hills down into dark cocoons lit only by the headlamps, and up to spectacular views of silhouetted landscapes, bright snow sprinkled fields edged in black trees all dancing in the wind. (Usually the hours around dawn are calm, but not this day. This day a new pattern was pushing the cold before it, faster and colder.)
The drive is a metaphor for my life right now: I’m heading toward a gathering of people concerned about producing our food, I’m doing slightly absurd things to get there, and sometimes I can see the beautiful vastness of the life in front of me and sometimes I can’t.
Brené Brown speaks of the inability to numb ourselves selectively. In my early morning road-trip metaphor, it’s the inability to selectively ride a road that only goes up. Either your road is smooth and you avoid the valleys, or you accept the valleys and get the hills as reward. I say that from within my car, in which hills are not effort and valleys cannot see the sky. If you are a person who prefers the cool streams of the valleys and dislikes the upward trudge into the hot sun of the hillcrest, the metaphor still works, just in reverse. You still need your hills to gather the water and frame the valley.
It’s January, a new year has dawned. Many of us have not reached the climatic peak of the winter season (indeed, for the calendar addicted, winter is barely 20 days old), but we’re already gathering seed packets, plotting out our fields and garden, arranging and rearranging the fourth dimensional puzzle of plot size, frost dates, crop type, mature size, and days to harvest…
Behind me, in the dark of its own morning, there is a tray of lisianthus already developing a second set of leaves. Midwinter decadence in the form of micro greens sleep in a tray of soil until the timer turns on the grow lights. (I don’t have the room or lights for full size greens.) Last week, as the wind threw snow against the windows, I flipped open seed catalogs, defiantly optimistic. Spring is coming, dammit.
Earlier this morning, I remembered about not numbing myself, not walling off from the less excellent bits of life, as I braced myself against the wind while the gas tank filled and the overarching night hunkered down around the edges of the brightly lit station. It was cold through my jeans and long johns, cold above my collar and under my hood. It was deeply cold, but would only be for a few minutes, until I got back on the road. I am lucky: I’m not a cow or an outside dog, a deer or a person with out a home or a fire. Two minutes of blasting cold won’t hurt me. I took a good breath and accepted the night.
Eventually, as I drove, the rose pink clouds and the golden sky mustered enough oomph that I crested a hill to be greeted by a flaming magenta stripe of clouds lit up from within; I whooped involuntarily, filled with the joy of the new day. We live on a beautiful world.
I think I was offended the first time I bumped into a vegan dietary restriction with a friend. We were in our 20s and I had grown up vegetarian, making me the default winner of the most restrictive diet award everywhere I went.
Up in that pool hall, though, while drinking beers that we stashed on the windowsill between shots, Claudia said she couldn’t eat something with cheese on it and it was really the first time I’d been on that side of the exchange. When I was a kid and vegetarian in the early 1980s, there weren’t other vegetarians that I knew. Now, as an adult I was surprised at having the appetizer choices narrowed by somebody else- I’d always been inside the zone of narrowing before that moment. It pinched.
I can’t say as I “got it” instantly. Claudia hadn’t been vegan before, now she was, but we used to like nachos before, so why couldn’t we like them now? I was the very picture of puzzled intellectual (name that song…)
Claudia noticed the moment, too. “I’m surprised you’re surprised,” she said, “you’ve been vegetarian so long.” Other people had been on learning curves and adapting party food and camping meals to me and my diet (some brusque and dismissive, some curious and open), and now I was on the flip side of that: I could respond openly or close off.
I don’t actually remember what happened next. I assume we picked a more neutral appetizer (hummus or french fries or something) and continued playing pool. It was a great learning moment on two fronts: one, the particulars of that situation (oh hey, there are actually people who draw a more refined line around their food choices than I do) and two, the power of the moment. It’s that second one that I’m thinking about today.
All of the learning about personal and social issues that I’ve ever done happened in precise moments like this. Perhaps it took a string of precise moments to bump things forward meaningfully enough for other people to see any progress in my thinking and behavior, but each little bit added up, and each little bit was crucial to the whole.
There are some hard choices staring at us from our near future. You know the stats, you know the earth is warming, either you already know our current agricultural system is a major culprit or you’ve just read that string of words for the very first time right here. Which ever the case may be for you, it is what it is. We cannot keep going the way we’re going, we cannot keep eating the way we are eating.
Collectively, the industrialized countries need to reel in their meat consumption. We don’t need to all be vegan- that doesn’t make sense for Barrow, Alaska (at least until the world warms a heck of a lot more)- but there is a lot of room between never ever and 24-7. We do all need to learn how to talk about things with each other. Not how to “score points” or “win” an argument, just how to exchange ideas.
No, not even “ideas”. We need to learn how to exchange authenticities with each other. My authenticity and Claudia’s authenticity bumped into each other. We weren’t hindered by defenses or shame or fear. That was the crucial piece: she was real with me. I was real about my response. She was real about being surprised by my response. I was real with myself about my own experiences, and all of those things allowed me to see how this moment stepped outside that pattern.
I ask you to remember that: remember that the person in front of you will only think over a subject and come to a new place on a topic in the precise moment that they do. They won’t get there faster for you yelling or being condescending. Most of the time they won’t get there today, no matter how long you stay online pressing your point. They’ll get there when they are open to getting there. So is this discussion you are having opening them, or closing them down?
When we were farmers, our love of the Earth was a talent. It called forth in us skills of observation and attention. Farming bound groups together into communities, communities into civilizations. It also kept our group separate from other groups. It kept us scared of crop failure and starvation, so it called forth from us a scarcity mentality, division, fear, and hatred. When we moved to cities, our Earth-love talents became unappreciated and we stopped seeing, even as our food sources were becoming ecological wastelands. We forgot about them in the excitement of getting to know other people. Far from totally free of earlier distrusts, we have still made huge strides down the road to acceptance of difference and great gains in our ability to separate our response to difference from our response to scarcity. Now we need to put the two back together. We need to become gardeners, and tend to our planet like we tend to our friendships, tend to our neighbors like we nurture our gardens. Uncovering our love for Earth will call up those talents and through renewed attention we can learn about the million little plants who’d be happy to feed us. We can create ecologies of our food sources and share this abundance this each other, all of us. In the abundance of natural bounty, the final walls of fear can come down. We will know friendship in a way that the scarcity mind is unable to grasp. Peace on Earth.
Biodynamic agriculture is most tangibly distinguished from other beyond-organic farming methodologies by the use of the Preparations developed by Rudolph Steiner. It didn’t used to be true that you had to use the preps in order to be certified biodynamic*, but that changed around 2012. So the preps, which may or may not confer advantages to the farm, have become central in ways they weren’t before.
My personal favorite aspects of biodynamics are the consideration of the farm as a whole organism, the attention to detail, and the attention given to fertility via making the best doggone compost possible. There are 9 preps, 5 of which are to be added to the compost, 2 of which are to be applied in the field (one on the soil, on as a foliar spray) and a final one that can be used in either setting. Intriguingly, this last one is left out of most of the research trials I’ve seen. No clue why.
The initial scan of research projects focused on biodynamic compost indicates increased microbial activity and a higher retained soil carbon level. Good! Good composting habits are crucial to creating ACTUAL fertility (applying plant soluble nitrogens to the soil is FAKE fertility). The rub: nobody quite knows why. Yes, this is applying a mechanistic world view to a holistic farming practice, but hang with me here.
When you do an experiment, you have the thing you are trying to figure out (the variable) and the thing that is a known entity (the constant). If the results of the plot with the variable differs from those of the plot with the constant, then there is something in there that is making a difference. Scientists get all picayune with the details because they are trying to prove that the only thing that was consistent different across all the times they did it this way versus that way was in fact the variable being researched.
If all the shrubs with more leaves are also all the shrubs that are downhill and therefore have moister soil, then you can’t say that adding X to the soil around the shrubs is what’s making the difference because the moister soil is probably also a factor. The research has to “isolate the variable”.
Which is what I’m still looking for in this research. So pretend you are looking at a row of compost piles. They are all horse poop and wood shavings from cleaning out the horse barn. They are all on level ground, all get the same amount of sunlight, all the same size, all have the same wind exposure… after a year of decay, they should all have all the same properties. So we tested nothing.
Now pretend we starting over and this time we are going to add the biodynamic preparations to all but two of the piles. Now we have variables (the preps) and two constants (the “plain” piles). So any differences between the piles after a year ought to mean the preps did something, right? But what if the difference is just the adding of ANYTHING at all?
We know that biodiversity matters. It matters deeply, intricately, vibrantly. Horse poop and woodshavings is not very biodiverse, so maybe only a few types of composting critters (microbes, fungi, earthworms, etc) are needed, but if you add anything at all (a loaf of bread), then the whatevers that breakdown bread suddenly have to show up, et voila, the pile with the bread has different results.
There are ways to control for this in an experiment. The “we’re not adding anything” piles are known as “negative controls”, but we could have a “we’re adding something, just not the thing we are testing” pile and that would be a “positive control”. So far, I haven’t found anybody testing with a positive control.
What would that look like anyway? To really get it right and test for whether or not these biodynamic preparations positively impact the composting process, we’d have to make up a fake formula. Luckily, they basically follow a pattern: animal bit + plant bit + fermentation process. One of them has powdered quartz rock in place of the plant bit, and another is basically tea, and there are other variables, but if there’s a pattern, it’s that.
So a fake preparation (509, as it were, since the others are known as 500-508) would follow that pattern but not use the ingredients specified. Horse hoof (the preps use no horse bits) and basil flowers (the preps use no other herbs from the Lamiaceae [mint] family), fermented underground for a season would be a “fake prep” or a “fake 509″.
Now if we add our official preps to all the piles except two, and add 509 to one, and nothing to the other, we’re closer to really finding out what those preps do, right? Almost. We’ve added increased biodiversity to our “positive control” pile, but the biodiversity of adding the 5 preps to the other piles is, obviously, higher than adding the one to the control pile. And that’s where science becomes a pain in the ass. To really do this right, you have to add one prep to each pile, plus a do-nothing control pile, plus a fake prep pile, plus a pile that is all the official preps together, and one with all the official preps plus the fake prep, and then maybe even some piles with various combinations of official and fake preps.
See? That’s a lot of piles of horsepoop and woodshavings, and we’re still trying to keep them all the same, which gets trickier and trickier… BUT! I have good news. They do not have these same European plants and animals in Brazil (at least, not natively) but they do have a Brazilian biodynamic association. So the next question is, what do the Brazilian preps look like? What does the research on the Brazilian biodynamic preparations reveal? ooooo. I’m like a geek in a new library.
It is with gratitude that I am watching (and participating where possible) the 2nd Civil Rights Movement grow from the long running tragedies of police brutality and systemic racism. I am 100% pro-this. Our first Civil Rights Movement made important changes to the legality of most forms of discrimination: housing, education, voting, and ostensibly the physical occupation of space (who can walk on the sidewalk, who can sit where in the bus, who can go to trial). Now there is a whole ‘nother level of work to be done, and while the problems are absolutely more wide spread than an overly simple A+B=C equation, beginning with the most flagrant violations of reasonableness makes sense.
So here I am, thinking about this issue and thinking I would like to do a blog post and how can I explain the intersectionality of my interests and this moment in history? With gratitude, then, I received this article in an email from the US Green Building Council, talking about the role of racism (and classism) in where we allow environmental pollution to happen and/or persist. Eddie Bautista gets it! Asthma is higher in inner cities by accident, but we allow that accident to remain true due to racism.
The 2nd Civil Rights Movement is about exactly this level of “subtle”, hidden in plain sight pattern of the same people being asked to “put up with” stuff (pollution, housing standards, air quality problems, police brutality) that certain other groups would never be willing to put up with, never be asked to put up with.
Whether it’s Majora Carter‘s work with Sustainable South Bronx, or the notion of food sovereignty, the work at the intersection of community food systems and oppression is already underway. Part of understanding that Black Lives Matter is understanding that people have a right to healthy food, a vibrant community, and an abundant , fertile, resilient, functional ecology. Song birds. Fruit trees. Clean Air. Neighbors that you know by name. None of that is too much to ask, and asking for only some of that is asking for too little. We all need it all.
I’m a houseplant nut. I have a small forest inside all winter, and a veritable Streuobst on my porch all summer. There are ficus trees and a ficus shrub, aloe, jade, spiderplants, snake tongue, schefflera, a smattering of dracena, begonias, flowering cactus…. you get the idea.
Mine is the sort of porch that receives mystery deliveries in the middle of the night from people who are moving and can’t take their large houseplants with them. I also fetch them from death beside the dumpsters. But change is in the air: I’ve started to sell and otherwise “re-home” a number of plants.
Do I have fewer plants now than 6 months ago? Yes, but though 12 left, there are several new ones already. I dug up my favorite garden pepper and brought it in. We’ll see how that goes- the garden is heavy clay. I added some lighter soil, used a clay pot (for moisture balancing help) and threw an earthworm in, too. Maybe the little guy can help me get that soil mixed and the pepper transitioned.
I also bought a good looking bit of fresh ginger and popped it in some water to sprout. I’m scouting around for a nice lemon tree (Meyer lemon or regular) and then maybe a kumquat or tangerine. The aloe is already edible (and good for tummy ache), and I’m hearing rumors about the jade plant.
So maybe this is a two way street- learning to grow the tropicals I love to eat as houseplants, and learning which classic houseplants I can eat. It’ll take some taste testing, no doubt, but that’ll be part of the adventure. What I know for sure is that it feels good to be expanding my apartment farming skills rather than waiting for the day when I have some actual land.