building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Archive for October, 2011

Dinosaur Meets Pineapple Sage

The pineapple sage is blooming today in bright red exuberance.  I love this sage because I love being engaged in weeding or mulching or planting or simply being in the garden and hearing “zoom-zoom” go by, telling me that a hummingbird is about and is headed for the sage.

Many years ago I read Michael Roads’ Talking with Nature book series. (Hugely recommended!)  He describes an experience he had at one time, witnessing some of the Earth’s evolutionary history and seeing a time when Tyrannosaurus rex walked the planet  The guide with Roads asked him as they watched T. rex, “Does this remind you of anything?”  He realized it did.  The dinosaur reminded him of hummingbirds ferociously defending their territories.

There may be no direct genetic link between hummingbirds and Tyrannosaurus rex – or there may be.  In either case, I enjoy the idea that the energetic essence of what was once one of the largest fierce creatures on this planet has evolved into one of the smallest, stunningly beautiful, delicate, joy-bringing creatures in my garden.  I delight too in knowing that is has not entirely lost its ferocity.

The pineapple sage, with its long throat, is the perfect match to these beautiful birds, leading me to wonder:  How long have these two been together?  What dinosaurs did the sage’s ancestors know?  How entwined are their evolutionary journeys?

I am currently reading Lynne McTaggert’s The Bond, and have been delighted to learn that the theory of evolution through random mutation has been disproved and is on its way to extinction.  One interesting experiment that McTaggert describes was carried out over 20 years ago by John Cairns at Harvard’s School of Public Health.  He put colonies of lactose-intolerant bacteria in Petri dishes with only lactose as a food source after carefully confirming that no lactose-digesting genes were present in any of the bacteria.

The colonies didn’t die out, however.  In every single case he found bacterial colonies that had made changes to one single type of gene: those preventing lactose metabolism.  “The bacteria had defied the central dogma [of genetic science]: they had evolved purposefully, not randomly, in order to restore balance and harmony with their environment.”

Though these results were initially dismissed as “heresy”, other researchers have since confirmed and refined these findings.  Mutations happen, but nature has a process that deliberately creates many mutations and then selects the most functional replacement for an original gene that is no longer in balance with its environment.  Evolution is not random.  It’s a cooperative process, and the bond that ties the hummingbird to the pineapple sage could indeed be a very old one.

Finding Fertility at Light Speed

I came across a very interesting paragraph this week:

Livestock fed forage from poverty soils will still excrete dung rich in nutrients that differs only slightly from dung excreted from animals fed forages from an extremely fertile soil.  The enzymes and body chemistry of living organisms can seemingly create necessary elements out of nothing.  Students of such things call this process transmutation.  Most scientists don’t believe this occurs.  A biochemist friend of mine says that the cell mitochondria act as a cyclotron, spinning atomic particles into different molecules.  I don’t want to quibble over terminology.  All I know is that you can start with poverty soil, and without adding anything but careful management and nutrient cycling, create a soil that does not resemble in appearance, structure or productivity the original poverty material.

This is from one of Joel Salatin’s earlier books, You Can Farm, and he had just been describing the diminishing presence of broomsedge, a low fertility indicator, and the increasing presence of red clover, a high fertility indicator, on his farm – in spite of the fact that he had added no amendments to his soils.  It was that middle part , “The enzymes and body chemistry of living organisms can seemingly create necessary elements out of nothing….the cell mitochondria acts as a cyclotron, spinning atomic particles into different molecules,” that really got my attention.  A cyclotron, for those who don’t know, is a building-sized machine that accelerates atomic particles in a spiraling, circular pattern to near the speed of light.  I believe these particles are then smashed into walls and/or each other so that scientists can study the outcomes.

Having recently read David Wilcox’s The Source Field Investigations, I found that Salatin’s ideas tie in nicely with some other ideas out there.  Apparently, one of Einstein’s equations indicated that anything approaching the speed of light would also gain in mass.  This was one of the main reasons he believed that nothing could go faster than the speed of light.  However, Dr. Vladimir Ginzberg realized that this equation could be inverted in such a way that it still works.  Meaning it still fits in with the rest of relativity and space-time physics, but now this equation says that things lose mass as they approach the speed of light.

Is light speed really a limit?  What happens on the other side of it?

Wilcox believes that atomic particles (i.e. electrons, protons, neutrons) are mostly, possibly always, vibrating near or at the speed of light.  This would help explain the existence of that fuzzy, quantum state of creative potential that is a part of the nature of these particles.  It seems that light speed is where the possibilities for restructuring and reconfiguring atoms and molecules occurs.  And if atoms do naturally vibrate near light speeds, it becomes quite possible that the enzymatic and biochemical processes at work in any living organism can indeed bump them over a threshold, creating transformative, transmutative reactions aimed in the direction of greater fertility, greater health, greater well-being.

The wonderful thing is that Nature ‘s intelligence has the know-how to aim for fertility and health.  Nature’s aim is not random.  It’s quite precise, as Joel Salatin’s livestock and land attest over and over again, year after year.

The Animal Nature of My Garden

My hands love the feeling of moist, living soil and well-made compost.  The spongy, springy textures are a delight as I squeeze little clods between my fingers and feel them crumble.  The smell of such soils and compost are heavenly, in my opinion, even though I know “eau de worm castings” will probably never be a top seller at the perfume counters.  I haven’t spent much time tasting soils, though my husband was reading an article the other evening about the wine industry and the huge influence that the flavor of a soil has on the taste of the grapes and the wine, so perhaps I’ll start exploring soil flavors in more detail.

I’ve been up to my elbows in compost and garden soil quite a few times this past week as I divide perennials and seed and transplant for the fall/winter garden.  As I’ve added compost to the garden beds, it’s gotten me thinking about how integral a component animals are to the health of my gardens.

I’m not sure of the actual numbers, but of the trillions of living organisms and microorganisms in a teaspoon of garden soil, I feel fairly certain that at least half or more than half fall into the animal classification in the plant-animal divide.  Which makes the soil itself partly animal in nature.  Then there’s the compost that my goats and donkeys make.  It’s as good as any from the compost piles that I build with their manure – and less work on my part.

The nighttime pen for the goats and donkeys is on a slight slope.  The hay they eat during morning and evening milking chores gets put in at the top of the pen, and then the debris – what they trample instead of eat – gets mixed with manure and urine and a bit of soil as it slowly migrates toward the lower fence.  I have no idea what the average migration rate for this material is.  What I do know is that by the time it reaches the bottom fence, we have perfect compost with some time-release goat pellet fertilizer mixed in.

I also clearly remember the first time I put my hands in a garden bed that I had composted cow manure on top of.  In the vegetable garden I do some composting in place every year, picking a bed or section of bed that needs a rest and layering the weeds and old stalks there along with manure.  The first year we had cows, I started using their manure for this process rather than the donkey manure.  That next spring I forked away the remains of uncomposted sunflower stalks and pushed my hands in to check the feel of that bed.  OH –MY–GOD!  Spongy as I had never felt before.  A rich, crumbly texture.  Honestly, I wanted to roll in it, but decided that would compact the bed too much.  Plus, I didn’t want to set a bad example for the dogs who get to be in the garden as long as they stay off the beds.

I understand now why biodynamic gardeners are so focused on cows.  With their amazing digestive systems, cows are almost literally a walking compost pile of the highest order. (This is particularly true of grass and hay fed cows.  Grains mess with those incredible digestive abilities.)  Really, they are better than a compost pile, adding in even more life to the materials passing through their stomachs.

I also have been thinking about the symbiosis that oxygen breathing-in/carbon dioxide breathing-out animals have with carbon dioxide breathing-in/oxygen breathing-out plants.  I begin to wonder why we’ve drawn so many lines between plants and animals.  After all, each requires the other.

In Fritjof Capra’s book, The Web of Life, he describes how in the very early history of this planet, after the carbon dioxide-in/oxygen-out breathers (aka: the bacterial ancestors of plants) had gotten well established, the oxygen levels in the atmosphere built up so much that parts of the Earth’s atmosphere began to experience spontaneous combustion.  Not good for biological organisms of any shape or size!  The response was the quick evolution of oxygen-in/carbon dioxide-out breathers – the forerunners of animals.  It’s a critical role that animals play here on Earth.

Without animals, plants would have much poorer quality soil, a spontaneously combusting atmosphere, and likely an array of other challenges making their lives impossible.  It’s time to recognize the animal component, so essential to a healthy garden.

Marrying Water to Earth

The rain has returned!  It came barreling in as part of a storm on Tuesday night, pounding and flowing and puddling in the low places.  On Thursday morning it fell softly and gently and steadily, soaking in where it fell.

Our last rain was sometime in June, making this a fairly short summer drought by California standards.  I do love that endless summer sun, partly because it makes the effect of rain so much more dramatic.  Overnight the mosses on the oak tree trunks have taken on giddy, vibrant greens.  With leaves newly cleaned, everything looks brighter, clearer, more alive.  The water drops sparkle as they hang at the very tips of pine needles or rest on the surface of kale and agave leaves.  The essence of Life is out and about and playing.

I spent the rainy morning making an end-of-summer soup: tomatoes, Lebanese green zucchini squash, Gypsy and Anaheim peppers, with onion and garlic and a handful of lentils.  It gets cold here when it rains.  From 90 degrees on Friday to 52 degrees on Wednesday, the rains have brought in the fall weather.

We catch some of our rainfall in cisterns, so it is time to sweep off the roofs.  We’ll be checking and repairing and expanding on the swales that slow down the fallen water and soak it into the soil and deep into the earth.  The best place to store water is in the earth, and the earth’s capacity for holding water is huge.  Water stored in the ground becomes the aquifer that waters the trees and keeps the streams and rivers flowing through a 4 month drought.  (An excellent resource on this is Brad Lancaster”s Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, volumes I and II.)

We have a place on our property on the North edge of a small meadow that always seemed a little greener – even on a hot September day, deep into a summer drought.  My husband was the one who realized we could plant a few fruit trees along that edge and take advantage of the extra moisture.  Four years later we have apples, pluots, and a mulberry growing there.  Not one of them received supplemental water this summer – we didn’t have any to spare for them this year – and while the apples and pluots are not big, they are tasty.

I have come to believe that water is the single most important and magickal substance on Earth, and quite possibly in the Universe.  I will write some more about its unique features another day because the starting place with water is in catching it and cycling it.  A water drop that falls from the sky and flows over land right back to a river and the ocean is living half a life.  It is the journey underground into the dark of the Earth that water seeks.  Victor Schauberger calls such water “wise water” as it emerges in a natural spring.  Just as relationships temper us, coaxing and stretching and pulling, until we become deeper, richer versions of our original selves, so too does the marriage of water into earth enliven the experience of a water molecule.

May we all become wise as we help the raindrops to slow down long enough to sink in and begin their own journey to wisdom.