building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Archive for April, 2012

Heaven is a World Overflowing in Dandelions

I think of this as weeding season.  Chickweed, pepperweed, yellow dock, vetch, mullein, clary sage, bindweed, shepherd’s purse, and an infinity of grasses can all be found growing with all out abandon.  I didn’t mention dandelions.  Nor did I mention the locally infamous, beautifully lace-leaved “burrweed”.  This last one is so pretty that everyone leaves it growing – that first year.  You never even notice the miniscule white flowers when they appear.  Then one day you step outside and return with your socks wallpapered with burrs.  They are not at all sharp and pokey like a foxtail.  It’s more like a profusion of velcro pellets covering any cloth or fur surface that’s available.  It takes but a few seconds to mat large sections of a dog’s coat, and they don’t brush out easily.

We call these things weeds, but Nature knows no such concept.  The term weed has come to describe something undesirable, rank, lacking in value or worth.  Nothing could be further from the truth, for these plants are all exuberant, prolific, and skilled healers.  Some minister to humans.  Some treat the soil and its many life forms.  Some are a blessing to all life forms.

Take dandelions, for example, one of my personal favorites.  This bitter flavored herb can keep your liver in tip-top shape while encouraging your gall bladder to produce and release bile, which is needed for fat digestion.  Dandelion is also a general tonic, improving your ability to assimilate nutrients.  Three dandelion leaves per day along with that one apple should do it for most of us.  Dandelion heals abused soils as well.  Its tap-root dives deep to fork open and aerate compacted, non-breathing soils while the leafy rosette spreads out to shade and protect within its canopy the soil surface and all that lives there.  Of course, the dandelion flowers are its crown jewel, offering a sun-covered lawn to anyone who has forgotten how to look up.

The other weeds are likewise tremendous healers.  Yellow dock is also a great liver tonic.  Slice the root thin and saute a quarter cup with other veggies in butter.  It is slightly bitter, like its dandelion cousin, but truly nourishing.  Chickweed is cooling and soothing and a great addition to salads.  Mullein leaves are useful for respiratory and ear troubles.  The list goes on and on and on.  Even plants such as bindweed  and burrweed, which seem to have no direct use for humans and are hard to like, are healers of the soil.  They mine for nutrients from deeper soil layers, correcting mineral imbalances and doing their utmost to move a soil toward greater fertility and well-being.

I do weed my gardens.  I remove many of these prolific healing plants when they overfill my garden beds and paths.  I feel no animosity or frustration in this process.  I do so with appreciation and gratitude.  Sometimes I leave their uprooted bodies in place to mulch the soil and add their nutrients to it.  Sometimes they become extra fodder for the goats and cows or find themselves on my dinner table.  Sometimes they are whisked off to a compost pile.  However it happens, I know I am harvesting, using, eating, recycling a tremendous gift.  What a blessing to be surrounded by weeds!

My favorite book on this whole topic is Judith Berger’s Herbal Rituals.  Her friendship with the plants shines through on every page.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to have a website, but her book is worth looking for.

What are your favorite weeds?  Which ones do you eat?  What other creative uses do you make of them?


The Incredible Edible Town

Between goat and cow births, seed starting and greenhouse births, and all the other activities of a warming Spring, I am swamped these days.  In the midst of it all my husband pointed out a brief snippet in his yoga magazine about the town of Todmorden in England.  For the past 4 years townspeople have been turning both public and private spaces into an edible cornucopia available to all.  “If you eat, you’re in!” is the motto of founders Mary Clear and Pam Warhurst.  (Don’t you love how her last name puts war into a hearst and takes it to its funeral.)  The whole project is about living the values of kindness, community, and sharing.  Their goal is to see the town grow all that its people need for fresh fruits and vegetables by 2018.  Their website:  Incrdible Edible Todmorden.

Charcoal: The Other Black Gold

I have some friends who offer a Bread CSA.  (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.)  Folks sign up to buy so many loaves a week for 3 months, pay in advance, and then enjoy receiving yummy bread deliveries each week.  My friends grow some of the grains and all of the specialty ingredients – think sunflower and poppy seeds – that go into their breads.  They bake them in a special, wood-fired oven and produce dozens of tasty loaves each week.  A by-product of the whole process is a 55 gallon drum of charcoal every few months.  That’s a 55 gallon drum of black gold for the soil.

Farmers and researchers in the jungles of South America first discovered the amazing effects of charcoal on soils about 200 years ago with the discovery of the “Indian Black Earths”, now known as Terra Preta.  These are soils that are especially fertile and stable, remaining productive over longer periods and requiring shorter rest periods than the majority of soils in the region.  Jungle soils are notoriously low in fertility.  Almost all the nutrients in a jungle system are held in the living biomass, so catching and cycling the nutrients before they leach out of the system can be tricky.  To have a system that catches and holds nutrients in the soil is almost miraculous.  The photo below shows the difference charcoal can make.

Investigations in the last 20 years have led to the general conclusion that humans were largely responsible for creating these terra preta soils over a period of several thousand years.  By digging pits or trenches, filling them with biomass, setting it all on fire, and then smothering the fire with soil, the people of these jungles created areas where the soils have a very high charcoal content, called biochar.  These soils can support microorganisms and, therefore, hold nutrients and fertility.  Best of all the carbon in these soils is very stable, often lasting for thousands of years.

This is a wonderful example of humans enhancing an ecosystem and creating a legacy that benefits that system even to this day.  Who were these people?  What was their society like?  How did they come up with the biochar idea?  If there are authentic answers to these questions, I am unaware of them.

My husband and I are happy to receive some of the charcoal largess produced by our bread-baking friends.  We started hauling some home about 2 years ago.  Most of the initial barrels went around a young walnut tree along with sizable amounts of used goat and cow bedding.  Last fall, at only 6-years-old, our walnut gifted us with its first crop, almost a gallon – after shelling – of delicious nuts.  I don’t know if the biochar had anything to do with the early fruiting, but I’m sure it helped with the high quality of the nuts.

This spring I’m also experimenting with adding crushed charcoal to my soil mix for seedlings, following a tip from our friend Eric who swears it enhanced the growth of his veggie starts quite noticeably.  On Monday I pricked out some Komatsuna seedlings and set them up as my “official” experiment.  Half got the charcoal in the soil, half did not.  I’ll keep you posted on their progress.

If anyone out there has experimented with charcoal in soils or seed mixes, let me know what you discovered!

Link to Cornell University’s page on Terra Preta.

Inspiring Bloggers Unite!

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award nomination arrived last week, a wonderful gift from Gail Rehbein whose blog at worklearnlivewell I also admire.  Thank you, Gail, for including me in your nominations.

In the spirit of this award, each nominee is asked to:

  1. Thank the person who nominated them and include a link back to that person’s blog.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass the award to 7 nominees.

So, seven things about me:

  • Ice cream is my favorite comfort food, and mint chocolate chip has always been my favorite ice cream flavor.
  • My husband and I started weekly ballroom dance classes in November, and I especially enjoy the Cha-Cha-Cha.
  • I want to swim with wild dolphins.
  • I started blogging to help me organize my ideas for writing a book and discovered that I love blogging.
  • I spend an average of 3 to 4 hours on the internet each week.

Blogs that I have discovered and enjoy and would like to also nominate, or in some cases second and third their nominations for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

The Observer Effect by Kelly Neill

Cauldrons and Cupcakes by Nicole Cody

Flo’s Heart Opening Moments by Flo Li

LifeOS by jim cranford

Where the Dolphins Swim by Jo Anne Lowney

Live to Write – Write to Live, a collectively written blog by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network

Theosophy Watch by I don’t know who, but they do post really interesting stuff.

Thank you all.  I’m happy to have become a part of this wonderful blogging community.


Turn Right for the Light

I began the year by asking a question, “what is the potential ecological role of the human being on Earth?”  I may not be anywhere near an answer to that, but I have come to one preliminary conclusion:  Whatever ecological relationships we are capable of creating here will undoubtedly require that we use all of the facets of our multi-brained, whole-minded nature.  I have been very excited this week to stumble on two wonderful explanations of this multi-brained awareness, both offering the same insight on the role of the right brain and its relationship with the left brain.

The first is an article posted on OdeWire about a doctor, Roy Martina, who uses hypnosis to gain access to the insights of his patient’s right brains curing them in the process.  He has seen tumors disappear, cartilage grow back, and “big improvements” in multiple sclerosis. (Link here.)  The second is a video clip from a TED talk given by Jill Bolte-Taylor.  She is a neurobiologist and the author of Stroke of Insight.  She literally had a stroke that shut down her left brain and gave her tremendous insight into how the different hemispheres of our brains work.  (Link here for the whole talk, or here for a short clip – scroll down about half the page to find it.)

Both of these people have reached essentially the same conclusion independently: The left brain gives us a sense of separation, a sense of an “I”, allowing us to function in this allegedly 3-dimensional world.  The right brain, while often described as the creative side, is the brain that is connected to higher dimensions, to a much larger understanding of reality, to the “life-force power” of this world.  The right brain is a “receiver and transmitter”, channeling to us the insights of our Vaster Being.

The information describing this possibility of connection to a larger understanding of reality is exploding right now.  The right-brain dominant state described by Bolte-Taylor is analogous to the alpha/theta brainwave states I’ve mentioned in recent blogs, and to the coherent state that underlies the flow consciousness described by the HeartMath Institute and Accelerated Learning researchers.  These types of awareness are pivotal to our movement into a mutually beneficial, symbiotic, ecological role on Earth.

Fortunately, there seem to be literally hundreds, thousands, of pathways into these whole-minded states, most of which incorporate one or more of the following:  meditating, singing, chanting, relaxing, playing, dancing, daydreaming, imagining, conscious breathing, appreciating.  If anyone gives you a hard time for engaging in these activities on a daily, hourly, moment-to-moment basis, just tell them you are doing serious research into understanding why humans evolved.

And if you have any insights, let me know!