The Worst Gardening Advice I Have Ever Received

“Jesus asked, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story shall I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed! Though it is one of the smallest of seeds, yet it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can build their nests and be sheltered’,” (Mark 4:30-32)

My family lived in apartments throughout all of my childhood and teen years. For much of those teen years, we lived in the inner-city where we didn’t even have a balcony to place a few potted tomatoes. How I got to be an herbalist and a garden lead at a local museum–and even how the gardening bug bit me in the first place–is beyond me. But bit me it has.

And it has been a long road.

So, what’s the worst piece of gardening advice I’ve ever received?

“Just get out there and get your hands dirty!”

Yup. You read that right. I can’t imagine anything more condescending from an experienced gardener to the uncertain novice thirsting for any knowledge they can absorb on the subject. Sadly, it was one of my instructors with the Master Gardener program who imparted this bit of wisdom. (Insert sneer here) as my inner gremlin asks, “How badly did you get your rocks off with that holier-than-thou bit of ‘wisdom’?” I mean, really, would you tell a would-be brain surgeon to go out there and just “get their hands dirty”??? Yes, I do have to get my hands dirty to really learn how to garden. But, please, a little quantifying might help (more on that later).

Confidence is a beautiful thing. I didn’t have confidence as a gardener when I first enrolled in the Master Gardener program. I enrolled in it in error, not understanding exactly what the Master Gardener program was/is. Years’ before, when learning about herbs and their medicine, the mother of one of my herbal instructors gave a lecture and demonstration about starting seeds. She had just completed her Master Gardening training so the light bulb went off in my head. I could learn how to do this sort of thing if I signed up for the Master Gardener program at my local extension center. It wasn’t enough that I learned what to do with the herbs once they were grown; I wanted to learn how to grow them so I could be sure they were organic and, especially, safe to use.

Four years’ later, I signed up for the Master Gardener program (yes, I am a bit of a procrastinator but it also required a bit of saving to afford the cost of the program…)

Now, before I go any further, I am not dissing the Master Gardener program. Experienced or not, knowing what pests and diseases may be infecting your plants is valuable knowledge to have and I have used it quite a lot over the last 9 months in my tenure as a gardening lead. But becoming a Master Gardener didn’t teach me the basics. The novice gardener has questions:

How deep should I sow these seeds?
How big should the plants be before I transplant them to the garden?
How much compost should I spread on each bed?
How frequently should I water them?
Are those little leaves popping up from the directly sown seeds I planted or are they weeds threatening to take over?
How early should I plant this plant?

The list can go on. Forget about the trade jargon of “potting out”, “hardening off” and “pricking out”. It’s all Greek to me. Oh, and I can grow these vertically? Why didn’t someone tell me? Dividing plants? Pruning??? (Gasp…)

It truly is quite daunting for the newbie gardener. These are living organisms. And, no, the vegetarian isn’t going to stop eating entirely out of respect for the plants. Many of these plants grow specifically for giving us food, others medicine. And, oftentimes, they don’t die immediately after delivering. I can harvest lettuce leaves over a number of weeks before the plant is spent; I know that now.

My first mother-in-law was/is an avid gardener. She grew mostly for beauty; her flower beds were/are gorgeous with beautiful water features–complete with koi fish, bird baths and feeders for the birds, and even perches for the squirrels to eat from. They are full of life. I learned some from her as I started landscaping the tiny stretch of front lawn I had while married to her son; it whetted the appetite to know more. Especially when I decided I wanted to grow as much of my own food as I possibly could on the current front and side lawns. Over the years, I’ve had some fairly successful vegetable patches from “just getting my hands dirty” but I knew there was more that could be done. And I knew these were basic gardening skills that the majority of my fellow Master Gardeners already had.

“Just getting my hands dirty” wasn’t enough. And it certainly isn’t advice that is going to instill some would-be confidence that you can do more, be more, as a gardener. I’ve heard this advice many times since the Master Gardener program. It’s cruel. And, always, the inner voice screamed, “But how???”

So, to add some of that quantifying advice, get out there and get your hands dirty by joining a local gardeners’ club. By volunteering at a local public garden. By asking a gardening friend, neighbor or relative if you can perhaps help them in their garden…or maybe they’ll be willing just to answer your specific questions when they crop up (no pun intended). Today we have a wonderful resource in YouTube, as well as other online gardening sites. I only half-jokingly admit that I learned everything I wanted to know about gardening from Monty Don, Charles Dowding and Jon Kohler. And they would be my personal recommendations if you want to learn. Both Charles Dowding and Jon Kohler have their own YouTube channels: No-Dig Gardening and Growing Your Greens, respectively. Monty Don is the host of both the BBC2’s Gardener’s World and Big Dreams, Small Spaces. The former is probably one of the most excellent gardening shows I have ever encountered. The camera crew gets in nice and close so you can see exactly what Monty is doing and explaining. And more, Monty always ends the program with some tasks you can do that particular weekend. It’s great step-by-step advice for both the newbie and the experienced gardener. Would that the U.S. had such a fine program; I might even reconsider TV (i.e. cable) for it. But, as always, we lag behind on such important matters. But that’s a post for another day…

In the meantime, yes, do get your hands dirty but, for that boost of confidence, find a gardening community to grow with. In the few short months that I have been a gardening lead, I have learned so much from my fellow gardeners–both paid staff and volunteers. You never really know everything there is to know about gardening, no matter how seasoned. Learning and sharing is part of the cycle of growth…whether you’re a plant, or a person.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it…Really?

“Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow”. (Psalm 51:9)

With last week’s nor’easter dumping over 14 inches on northeastern Connecticut, everyone in this part of the country should be almost virginal…or else we’re the bad apples of the country and in great need of that purification. (Chuckle)

And forgive my cynicism. In truth, there is none in my heart. Even about the snow. I am one of those weirdos who actually LOVES snow. I don’t mind a bit sloughing through 14 inches to get to the barn. And, as this was a light, fluffy snow, it was easy to shovel us out and about. However, it did chase away the gardening bug. A little over a week ago, I had been contemplating getting the garden beds prepped. Two nor’easters in as many weeks have put that activity on a back burner; ditto for the pruning of apple and crabapple trees–mainly because getting to them is a bit of a challenge at the moment. What little snow is left has turned to ice by morning, and slippery slush by afternoon.

This is mid-March. When I look back at just a decade or two ago, sure, winter extended into March but it didn’t start in late-February, early-March, as more recent winters have done. More, though it has only been a week, those 14 inches have melted down to about 2 inches; snow when I was a kid (granted, that’s like a few centuries ago) lasted weeks on end. I’m used to seeing snow in early-February, January, even December. Despite the 14 inches that fell outside my window last week, this is actual proof of climate change. It’s kind of scary; we need this sort of snowfall all winter long to replenish our waterways. Without it, we’re in danger of future droughts–not unlike that which California has been experiencing in recent years.

And, yes, I hear all of the climate change naysayers coming out of the woodwork. How is this “actual proof of climate change?” Warm air is forced to rise over cold air. Though the warmer temps are enough to melt some of our polar ice caps, as cooler air rises from that melted ice, it meets that warmer air, forms clouds, which then result in either snow or rain (Kitchen, 2016, p. 91). In this case, we got snow. And, judging only by a storm like this, we’re judging by weather, not by climate. “Weather is what we experience on a day-to-day basis. One day can be hot and dry and the next cool and wet. Climate can be related to the statistical probability that any day during the year will be similar to the same day the previous or following years” (Kitchen, 2016, p. 4). In other words, the earlier start of winter that many of us remember from as short a time ago as a decade, versus the late appearance of snow that has been happening for a few years now, is evidence of a change in our climate. The climate, our earth, is warming up. It should be in a cooling trend based upon the earth’s natural cycling. Oftentimes, we look at the weather, which is cold and/or snowy, and think how can this be “global warming”? I think, at times, this is a misnomer. It makes the whole subject confusing, and often scary, for any but the most seasoned meteorologist. The term “global warming” applies to the climate but weather may often be very different and seem at odds with the climate. A lot of it has to do with jet streams and how that melt off travels via those jet streams.

This may seem a strange subject for a Christian minister to tackle. I know plenty of others in the Christian community who fall into denial based upon biblical promises that God will never again destroy the earth as He did in the great flood (Genesis 8:20-22). Am I doubting this promise? No. And climate change advocates are not denying this promise. Even after Noah’s time there are famines and floods described in the Bible (i.e. Matthew 7:24-25; Revelation 12:15-17), just not to the magnitude of covering (and destroying) the whole earth. As Christians, we often lament that God doesn’t appear to talk to us as clearly and directly as He did Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But maybe He is. Maybe all of these changes, all of the freak storms and natural disasters that keep hitting us in intensity and frequency are His way of telling us we’re not using His resources in a responsible manner so that there will be enough for later generations. If not God, Gaia is surely speaking. She’s gagging and gasping for an air that doesn’t sting and burn and destroy her.

I am reminded of the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew 25:14-30 where a man goes away and leaves each of his three servants a certain amount of money. The first two invest their keepings and double the money; the third, distrusting, digs a hole to keep it “safe” and only gives back what he was given. He is chastised for this. And the money he kept safe, taken and distributed to the first two men. We are given currency in the form of the air we breathe, the soil we grow our food in and build our homes upon, the water we drink, cook and clean with. Instead of keeping it all in clean and healthy growth, as the first two servants did with the loaned money, we’re burying it all in carbon emissions, chemical fertilizers and plastic waste. We call it progress. But how is it progress when the only thing that grows in these conditions are more cancers, respiratory ailments and greater poverty? How is it progress when there is a perpetual increase in species’ extinctions on a day-to-day basis? Yes, Man is given dominion over the earth. But we are abusing that authority.

So, what can we do? What can we do as average, blue–or even white–collar workers? Some of these suggestions may seem like a drop in the bucket but, if each of us takes a few baby steps to reduce our waste, our energy usage, that drop can become a flood of a different sort. Got a leaky faucet? If you have to save to have it fixed, save.
And then get it fixed. You’ll save water. You’ll save energy if that water is also warm rather than cold. You’ll save even more on your electric bill if you have a well with a pump that’s kicking on every couple of hours to replenish your tank. I sheared $25.00 off of my electric bill each month by having a leaky kitchen faucet fixed so there’s a win-win situation. Get rid of the lawn; it’s useless. This is the U.S. It will never look as pristine as the old English manor house because our climate (there’s that word again) is different than England’s. The only way to get “pristine” in the U.S. is to use chemicals. And you’re part of the problem if you’re doing so. Plant low-maintenance plants that don’t require a lot of watering instead. Better yet, plant some fruits, veggies, herbs. And grow them without the Miracle Grow and Round-Up. Create a backyard habitat for birds, amphibians and other wildlife. If you bake, consolidate your baking and do it all in one day as homemakers of old did, putting everything in the oven at the same time. This saves energy. And money. And, if all of this sounds more like thrifty homemaking advice, that’s because the two go hand-in-hand. If you can walk to the grocery store, walk. Get one of those little shopping carts in which to carry your purchases home. In the U.S. we have the freedom to vote. Use that freedom to vote for those who want to preserve life in all its forms: animal life, plant life, insect life. Human life…regardless of socioeconomic standing, skin color, orientation, country of origin or religious beliefs. Vote for those who will invest in better infrastructure so that walking, bicycling and public transit become safer alternatives. Google Amsterdam + bicycles and see what this great city is doing. Don’t trust politicians? I don’t necessarily blame you. The U.S. government seems to be heavily influenced by the oil cartels, big pharma and pesticide/fertilizer giants who don’t give a damn if you or I live or breathe as long as they get their 7+ figure bonuses each year. They can afford to buy a new oceanfront McMansion in Ohio; the honeybees and future generations of children can’t survive their chemical pollution. They can also afford the expense of trucking in what produce they can grow without honey bees from northern Canada. And, once that part of the earth is exhausted, well, they won’t be here to care…nor do they seem to care that their children and grandchildren will have to live with those consequences.

Yes, I’m hitting hard. I’ve had enough. I do trust God to provide for our needs. But I also feel that we should be taking better care of what He has given us. Because our resources are not infinite. And there is a price being paid that will only get bigger as time goes on unless we take some real steps to try and turn this around. I don’t want to start over again on Mars, creating another big waste dump out of what was once a beautiful planet. I love earth. And, what started as an itty bitty blog post about a recent snowstorm has turned into a full-blown tidal wave on climate change. But it’s important. Because life is important. And we’re destroying life on this planet. One species at a time.

May God bless you & keep you!

REFERENCES

Kitchen, D. (2016). Global Climate Change: Turning Knowledge into Action. New York, NY: Routledge Publishing.

My Apologies for the Delay…

Good morning (or whatever time of day it is in your part of the world…)

In the middle of some major “renovations” here on this blog. As soon as they are completed, I will certainly include more information about them. For the time being, I thank everyone for their patience. New content will be added soon.

In the meantime, keep working towards that faith-filled, sustainable and compassionate future. We CAN be the change we wish to see in the world.

May God bless you & keep you!

Poor Mom WILL be Groaning by End of this Term

I’ve been taking a sort-of “in house” vacation these past few days. My Intro to Drawing class ended last Tuesday and my new class, Global Climate Change, does not begin until today. As frigid, subzero temps have made going out of doors for any but the most essential activities unbearable, I opted to stay in and just veg out.

Well, within reason…

The spring cleaning prompted by December’s minimalist challenge is still ongoing. I didn’t complete as much as I had hoped but I did enough to keep me fueled and to keep me from becoming a slug for 5 days.

So, why is my Mom going to groan before end of this term? The title of the class should clue most in: Global Climate Change. This is a major passion of mine. Last summer’s Environmental Science class had me so fueled, all I did was chatter about both the atrocities affected by global warming, as well as the triumphs of environmentalists to mitigate those effects…ad nauseum. This particular class is more advanced, more in-depth, in regard to the science behind the environmental movement. And I am so looking forward to it.

One of the areas the class syllabus says it is focused on is how global warming affects economics. I remember last summer quoting my Environmental Science book in a Facebook post after an aunt called me out about an article I had shared in regard to the Paris Climate Change Summit (I think that’s what it was called…). It was just after the Paris bombing and terrorism struck at the hearts of many. The article talked about how the people who organized the summit planned to go ahead with it, despite the bombing, as a show of courage and solidarity in the face of that attack–in short, they weren’t going to let it stop them. I admired their brevity, the whole spirit of the thing. There was also something in the article about how economics play a hand in some of the tensions between the US and the Middle East–not so much in regard to terrorist attacks but simple politics. I do not have either the article or the textbook–which was written in recent years (2015)–in front of me, so will refrain going into the murky waters of memory–but suffice it to say, some of what I read, in both the article and my text, resonated. Yes, we know there is more to the tensions than just this but, my textbook in particular, outlined how the Middle East is very arid and many crops do not grow. They do not have even fresh water supplies to adequately hydrate their citizens or what crops they are able to grow. They have to rely on their one major cash crop–oil–in order to buy/trade what they need. When that market is threatened, tensions increase. Again, there is more to it than that–I know that–but this is often a contributing factor. I am looking forward to learning more about this, about how global temperatures and climate change affect the different economies worldwide.

(And, obviously, being challenged about this, even by someone close to me, hasn’t altered my interest in this subject, or the desire to understand…and, yes, I know it is a hot seat; with the way the planet is heating up, I may as well get used to it–literally and figuratively)

So, yes, Mom will be groaning. Suddenly, I will be spouting phrases like permaculture and the greenhouse effect; quoting statistics about lines and bubbles in the icecaps and icebergs that show changes in ocean temps…and zeroing in on less waste of resources and living a more organic, biodynamic lifestyle. I do this anyway but, knowing Mom is of a different mindset in regard to this whole homesteading, holistic health and environmental awareness thing, I tend to go a little easier in-between these passion-fueling classes. The passion is still there, but it’s tempered a bit once I come up for air from the lessons. And, with the climate-denying administration currently entrenched in our nation’s capital, understanding where we are, where we are headed, and what we can do, even in the face of such political ignorance, in my not-so-humble opinion, is worth learning.

Yup. Poor Mom…I’ll try not to spout too many stats. Really, I will.

May God bless you & keep you!

Spring Fever

It’s a little early. It’s only February. But this week the temps have been in the mid-50’s up to lower-60’s and it feels great after the snowstorm a couple of weeks ago that dumped 18 inches on us. Just walking out to the barn has been a challenge and, as soon as the rest of it melts, I’ll have a few minor repairs to attend to as the bottom board of the chicken coop came off. Actually, there may be a bigger repair in the form of cutting out the rotting wooden floor (ducks play in the water no matter the temps outdoors, leaving the floor around the waterer perpetually wet…) and pouring cement instead. This is murky territory for me; I haven’t done this sort of thing before but, homesteading equals a lot of DIY (do-it-yourself), especially on a very limited budget.

But before I go into “overwhelm”, this caress of warmth on my skin has me planning out this year’s garden and getting itchy fingers to finish landscaping the front and side yards for more raised beds. I do everything “no-dig”, which puts more traditional gardeners off, but this year I “discovered” a man named Charles Dowding in the UK who has landscaped 4 acres using this method. He gets a significant yield; fewer weeds; good, rich soil, and he has a plethora of videos on his YouTube channel. I’ve been obsessed with watching them.

What is “no-dig” gardening?

Exactly as it suggests: no digging, no rototilling. Instead of digging up, or rototilling, the sod–something that seriously disturbs weed seeds in the earth and causes more of them to grow in your garden (i.e. more work to do), you lay a piece of cardboard down (or several sheets of newspaper if no cardboard is available) and start layering compost (or you can layer kitchen scraps, leaves, etc.; things that would normally go in your compost bin), vermiculite, potting soil, etc. on top of it. Another name for this type of gardening technique is lasagna gardening. The cardboard acts as a weed barrier but, as it is biodegradable, it also feeds the soil. You simply plant your seeds, or a plug if you’ve started seeds indoors, directly into the layers of compost and soil. Charles Dowding uses straight compost; I don’t have quite as much of that as I will need to finish this landscaping project. However, each spring, these beds will need a new dressing. And, with several rabbits, some goats and a flock of chickens and ducks, that situation is rapidly being remedied.

I scored yesterday. When I went in to work, there was an enormous box being readied for the trash compactor out back of the automotive department. I claimed it immediately and am grateful, indeed, for the help of a fellow co-worker for taking it home for me. This box housed the liner for the bed of a pick-up and was too big for transporting in the backseat. I am envisioning the healthy vegetables and herbs I can grow atop of this box.

And that only gets the fingers itching even more. I am ready for spring. How ’bout you?

May God bless you & keep you!

Squirrel Leaps

That’s what my mind feels like it is doing today–squirrel leaps. I have so much to consider right now. It’s time to take a deep breath and try to center myself.

Breathe. In. Breathe. Out.

Phew! There, that’s better.

Well, not really. My mind is still jumping from one avenue to the next. I’m thinking of making a nice long list of things that need to be done if I’m going to make this move. Especially since I don’t really know where I’m going yet geographically. (insert sheepish grin here) But it might give me a better sense of direction.

Or not.

I typically make lists and then forget about them. Or else scan the length and overwhelm myself.

Mom and I have been talking about this on and off all week, this whole relocation thing, as well as starting our own aquaponics’ farm. She likes the concept of it, seems to be fascinated by it almost as much as I am. And, of course, living with me, she keeps getting regular updates as I learn new things about it. As I consider my Mom’s gifted way with people, if we were to start a commercial scale aquaponics’ farm, Mom would be unstoppable where customer relations are concerned. She’s definitely a people person. She’s also very persuasive. Yes, Mr. I-just-drove-up-in-a-2017-Jaguar, you do want the 10 lbs. of spinach; 5 lbs. might not be enough to feed all of your guests.

Actually, doing the aquaponics thing right here in Connecticut isn’t a bad idea either. Having utilized the local food pantry in recent years, I know how hard they struggle to get the donations needed to feed so many individuals. Friends of Assisi Food Pantry in Danielson is only open Tuesdays and Fridays but there are often 25-30 recipients each day. If we take the conservative side of the range, this is 50 families per week X 4 weeks = 200 families. At least. And while The Pantry receives some produce, much of what they distribute is more of that packaged, processed crap. I’m not dissing The Pantry over it, nor the purity of hearts who opt to make the donations. I am grateful that so many care and are willing to help in whatever way they can. And the packaged, processed crap has a longer shelf life. I understand this is one of the reasons Mom invested in it growing up. But it doesn’t give the consumers of it a longer shelf life with it. And, no, I’m not going to go into one of my usual rants about the food industry but it does seem sad to me that it is the ones with lesser means who are forced to consume this agri-poison. When you’re receiving a measly government check the first of each month, whether it is welfare, unemployment, disability or social security, it is hard to stretch it for a full month. Again, I feel a sense of gratitude that our government has such provisions for our citizens but cost of living isn’t really factored into it. And it is worse with the SNAP program, or what was formerly food stamps. There was a man who used to visit The Pantry (he may still) who was so crippled up, his hands, fingers, all of his joints, severely twisted, one elbow perpetually frozen at a 90 degree angle. He used a walker. If I had to guess, he was in his late-50’s, early-60’s. Probably a forced early retirement. He was talking one day. He only qualified for $16 per month on the SNAP program. How the heck does anyone feed themselves on $16 a month? Especially if you’re only living in a rental where you likely can’t have a garden, outside of a few containers on the back steps. And, considering his crippled body, he likely wouldn’t have been able to tend it unless it was made up of raised beds. And most rentals won’t allow you to install something that’s even semi-permanent like that.

I am not a politician. I don’t know how to influence others into making certain decisions. I wouldn’t know where to begin to lobby for better, more humane provisions for the sick, the elderly, the infirm who cannot work 40+ hours a week to provide for themselves. Yes, there are the occasional lazy-bodies who do not truly want to work but, at the food pantry, they are far and few between. And, yes, I am of the mindset that it is better to help someone learn how to fish than to provide the fish. Again, I’m thinking of those who cannot. I’m also thinking of those who are working but their income simply isn’t enough to cover basic living expenses. Northeastern Connecticut has plenty of minimum wage and/or part-time jobs but few with full-time, competitive wages. I can’t force our government to up the cap or quota that determines a person’s eligibility but, with a commercial-sized aquaponics system, I could provide more produce for the local food pantries.

I am ruminating a bit with this because I’m trying to flesh it all out in my mind. But it is a worthy goal. And I am holding onto the faith that says if this is His will for me, then He will provide the means–both the financial and the mental/emotional support to keep going. Educational, too, as I may know what to do with the plants, but I have never put together or maintained an aquaponics system, so there will definitely be a learning curve involved. If these changes are signifying some doors being closed, then I am assured He is opening some new ones for me. I’m going to hold onto yesterday’s biblical passage from Jeremiah 29:11 that His plans are to give me “a future and a hope”; faith can move mountains. I’ve only got a few steep hills to climb.

May God bless you & keep you!