building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Posts tagged ‘gardening’

The Gift of Rose Potpourri Sweet Corn

imageI harvested the first of the Rose Potpourri Sweet Corn on Friday and served it for dinner that night.   My husband and I each took our first bite, looked at the other and exclaimed, “Oh, My God!”  This is an amazing sweet corn!  The response to it seems to be universal.  Whether sharing it with friends, apprentices, or other farm guests, everyone has that OMG reaction.

The beauty makes it special: a feast for the eyes and mind.  The flavor makes it special: a delight for the taste buds and body.  And there is something more: an intangible quality that feeds the heart and soul.  This is Mother Corn.

We opened our weekly farm stand at Bluebird Farm a few weeks ago, and at the end of that first meal, I asked my husband, “How much would you charge for this corn?”

“$12,” was his reply.

“Per ear?”


And then we both laughed, because we know that few, if any, of our customers would pay $12 for an ear of corn.  And because we know that to put any price on it belittles its true value.  This corn – and every other ear of corn grown with love and attention and appreciation – is priceless.

We won’t be selling this corn at our farm stand.  It is a gift from Spirit, from Sun and Earth, from Love.  We are enjoying sharing that gift, as a gift to others.  And I love hearing those receiving this gift spontaneously exclaim, “Oh, My God!”


A Note:  For those who wish to try this corn next year – we bought the seeds from Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seeds company.  What an incredible deal!


Celtuce and Other Unusual Foods

Celtuce busy growing

Celtuce busy growing with perennial kale

Like many gardeners and farmers, I have this love affair with seed catalogs every winter.  The descriptions of vegetable are often mouth-watering, their potentials amazing.  The veggie beds in my wintertime imagination are filled with astounding wonders.

I have heard rumours that our ancestors of hundreds or more years ago ate a much broader array of plant foods than we do.  The buffet they chose from had a selection that numbered in the hundreds or even thousands of veggies and fruits. Knowing as we do what amazing chemists the various members of the plant kingdom are, this means that the selection of nutritives available to our ancestors was huge.  Fine subtleties in a plant’s chemistry can also make a big difference in the information that is downloaded to our bodies.  With the number of species that most Americans now eat limited to less than 50, we aren’t getting the same quality of nutrition or the diversity of information to which our ancestors had access.

As a food grower, I can reverse that trend, so every year I trial varieties or species that are new to me.  Last year I experimented with Oka Hijiki, a Japanese green also called seaweed plant because it is loaded with minerals.  A wiry little plant, it was a nice extra in my salads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t save seed for it and have discovered that its seeds don’t seem to keep for long.  This year’s germination was very poor.  I will be growing more, once I acquire more seed.

One of this year’s experimental selections is Celtuce.  Lettuce.  Celery.  Celtuce is not a cross of the two, but was promised as delivering some of each flavor.  Lettuce it certainly is.  The early leaves are tasty, but it is the stalk of the plant that is the interesting part.  It grows quite long, compared to a lettuce, without bolting.  I’m not sure it delivers on the promise of celery flavor except in the mildest way.  I have found I like it peeled and sliced in rounds, then tossed in near the end of a saute with other veggies.  It adds a crunchy lettuce flavor where leaf lettuce doesn’t survive.

Jelly Melon is another of this year’s trial vegetables.  I will let you know what it’s like later in the season.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog and Seed Savers Exchange are my favorite sources for odd and unusual foods.

Let me know what new, rare, or plain oddball edibles you are growing!

What Are Plants Talking About?

IMG_4100I am in the middle of Spring. Sowing seeds. Thinning or pricking them out. Forking air into the soil of the beds. Sifting compost. Spreading it. Transplanting. Watering. Mulching. Moving electric fencing for the goats. Moving electric fencing for the sheep. Thinning fruit on the peach and pluot trees. Weeding. Picking strawberries. Building support for the raspberries. Guiding the growing boysenberries. Building new compost piles. Sowing seeds.

On days when gray clouds billow in the sky and the weather shifts back and forth from misting rain to warming sun, I feel the thrill of Life awakening all around me. There is a freshness in the air that happens only at this time of year. Spring is bouncing out of the cave of the dark winter light, and I can’t get too much of it. Taking my hands from the fluffy, moist soil to send them tapping over a keyboard – a part of me asks, “Why do that, when there is so much beauty and fun here?” (Thankfully for this blog, day does end and darkness falls, or some afternoons do get hot.)

The Red Malabar Spinach germinated today. Yes! A friend returns for a long season of mutual affection. How do I know it is mutual? Because I know that plants have both senses and social lives. For a peek into them, check out this Nature program What Plants Talk About. The time lapse photography in it does a great job of diminishing the seemingly vast differences between plants and animals.

Who are your favorite plant friends?


How to Train Your Houseplant in 5 Easy Sessions

mimosa pudicaA friend recently sent me a link to an excellent article by Michael Pollan published in The New Yorker magazine, entitled “ The Intelligent Plant”. It’s a great overview of what science knows to date about the behaviours and awareness of plants. (Check it out here.)

I found the work of Monica Gagliano particularly intriguing. She is an animal ecologist who designed an ingenious experiment to determine to what extent plants are capable of the most basic form of learning: habituation. Gagliano used mimosa pudica, the sensitive plant, so-called because of its tendency to fold up its leaves in response to being touched, shaken, or dropped. She designed an apparatus that would drop each potted plant a distance of 15 centimeters every 5 seconds for a total of 60 drops per “training” session.

Of the 56 plants in the experiment, all of them eventually disregarded the dropping experience, leaving their leaves open once they determined it to be a “safe” experience. Several of the plants began leaving their leaves open after as few as 4, 5, or 6 drops. When these plants were later shaken by researchers, they all folded their leaves in response. They easily distinguished between being dropped and being shaken. In addition, when returned to the dropping experiment after a 28 day vacation, the plants remembered their previous experiences and left their leaves open. They had learned about being dropped.

The nascent science of plant neurobiology (a controversial term for many scientists as plants have no neurons or brain) is demonstrating that plants are fully capable of learning and remembering. They communicate information to each other through chemical and possibly other forms of signalling. They recognize kin. They form networks of mutual support sharing water and food. They have a minimum of 15 distinct senses through which they perceive their environment, using these to perform such amazing feats as sending their roots around rocks and toxic materials before they have even touched them.

Plants are more akin to animals than most scientists are ready to admit. Though many in the scientific community find the words “plant intelligence” to be offensive or unsettling, I find it reassuring. After all, we rely on the plant kingdom for oxygen, food, water purification, soil stabilization, soil creation, primary chemical research, and a host of other services. Clearly, they know what they are doing. Clearly, they have our backs.

Love Those Soil Creatures!

imagesSeedling2I spent last weekend at the Nevada County Sustainable Food and Farm Conference.  One of the speaker highlights for me was the presentation given by Elaine Ingham of Soil Foodweb fame.  This is the woman who has single-handedly put soil biology – as opposed to soil chemistry – front and center over the past decade.  The January/February 2014 issue of Horticulture magazine has an article entitled “The Root of Good” that offers an excellent synopsis of Elaine’s work.  The compost tea craze that started up in this county about 2 years ago is a direct result of Elaine’s work.  I assume eco-farmers and gardeners around the country are experiencing a similar explosion of businesses making this microbiologically-rich tea available.

Even the most conscientious of organic growers often create biological monocultures in their soils through the practices of ploughing and tilling.  Breaking up the soil like this creates an environment that strongly favors bacteria over the fungi, protozoa, beneficial nematodes, and arthropods, all of which  are essential to the effective cycling of those soil nutrients – all that nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium that we hear so much about.  If we focus on the biology instead of the chemistry, we create an environment where nature can step in and do the necessary tweaking to get it all flowing.

Compost that is well-made, through processes that ensure good aeration, is essential to reintroducing the vast range of microbes to a soil that has leaned too heavily in one direction.  It can be applied directly or used to make a tea that is then sprayed over the plants and soil.  Mulching or perennial plant cover are essential strategies in maintaining good habitat and food resources for those fungi, once balance has been re-established.  Minimizing the amount of tilling and the size of area that is tilled also helps to maintain a diverse soil ecosystem.

The advantages to focusing on your soil’s biology rather than its chemistry are great.  The practices needed to maintain a healthy soil biology also conserve soil moisture (as California heads into a serious drought!), enhance plant health through the balanced nutrition that the microbes unlock, minimize pest damage because healthy plants have greater immunity, and create foods that are more nutritious for us.

The other big benefit lies in the connection.  When we tend to the health and diversity of all biological beings, we tend to our selves at the deepest level.  We acknowledge the power of the smallest creature to make a difference in our lives.  We acknowledge our own power to make a difference in the lives of others.

Note:  Click the link above on Elaine Ingham’s name to hear her on YouTube!

Finding the Garden-Farm’s Heart

IMG_3847A garden or a farm is a living organism.  This is not only the ideal, but the result of following through on the principles of permaculture.  Every defined garden space has the ability to be a cell in the body of the larger ecosystem.  Each ecosystem is an organ in the body of Earth.  Holons stack inside holons: bounded infinities stack into bounded infinities.

When an embryo begins its journey to fetus and then infant, one of the first things that happens is the development of the heart and circulatory system.  The heart cells are the first cells to differentiate and specialize.  In the creation of your garden or farm, the first order of business is to define the space, to set the boundary lines.  (These can grow out later on, but all organisms begin with a sense of the edge.)  The second order of business is to find the heart, the circulatory center.

At Bluebird Farm, it took me 9 months to find the physical location for this heart.  It took time to get a sense of the whole, to get my feet and my own rhythm in sync with this place.  We discovered the locations for hedgerows and labyrinths, vegetable rivers and sheep pastures, berry patch and salad garden, but the heart felt like something I was still carrying inside myself.  The full conception of this garden-farm had not yet come into being.

Then one day in early October, understanding unfolded.  A patch of ground occupied by six-foot tall wild lettuces kept attracting my attention.  It wasn’t on the list or the schedule, but I knew the time had come to create a water altar, to give Bluebird her center, her heart. It didn’t take long to remove the lettuces and create a mulched pathway to the spot.  The granite rocks needed to frame the area had been waiting patiently for months.  A  few simple statements infused the space with the necessary intention.  It took another week for the water bowl to show up.  Some pretty rocks volunteered to participate: amethyst, emerald, and shungite.  Because Bluebird is open to a variety of people, I wrote a short message, inviting others to also participate in empowering the water of this farm-heart.  That message reads:

Water is one of the most amazing substances on this planet or in this universe.  In 2012, scientists in Germany confirmed that water has memory.  It records in its molecular patterning the energies of the people and things that come in contact with it. This water altar is a place for sharing love and appreciation with water.  Think of someone or something in your life that you love deeply, or remember an experience that made your heart sing.  As you feel that love and joy and appreciation in your body, place your hands on this water bowl and let your love flow into the water.  It only takes a few moments, but the water will remember! This water will be sprinkled on the soil, plants, and animals that live here on Bluebird Farm, charging all with the powerful energies of love and appreciation.  Thank you for your participation!

The flow of water lies at the heart of all living organisms.  A trickle of water can erode the most solid of rocks.  How might your garden change when you find its water-heart?

Singing Strength to the Garden

Bird Song

Bird Song (Photo credit: e_cathedra)

I remember reading a story quite a few years ago about an anthropologist who was staying with the Hopi in Arizona.  On a blistering hot summer day, he came across an elderly Hopi out in his field, singing to his corn.  The singing, the Hopi explained, brought strength to the corn, helping it to withstand the intense heat of the desert.  I don’t know what words, tone, or tune the Elder sang, but I assume that a specific set of sounds were traditionally used to help the corn in the heat.

The idea of singing strength into corn is not as fanciful as it might seem at first.  Sound is vibration, and vibration is both structure and energy.  The science of cymatics has demonstrated that certain sounds create certain geometric shapes and patterns, and sound therapies are increasingly being used in clinics and hospitals around the world.


Example of Cymatics, Sound creating form. (Photo credit: evan grant)

Studies have shown that house plants generally increase in vitality when exposed to classical music, while too much heavy metal can wilt them. Sonic Bloom is a system of foliar feeding plants in the early morning hours while serenading them with selections such as Vivaldi’s Spring – though a healthy symphony of natural birdsong will accomplish the same effect.  The sounds cause the plants to open the stomata on the underside of their leaves, drinking in the morning dew or any nourishing foliar feed applied at the time.  Plants have no ears, but clearly they are sensitive to sound vibrations, responding in many different ways.

My own use of sound in the garden has been minimal, but I’m starting to experiment.  Inspired by the book Free Your Voice, by Silvia Nakkash and Valerie Carpenter, I’m bringing my voice out to play.  Humming, toning, freestyle chanting, and simple made-up melodies are a new part of my gardening repertoire.  Whether breathing out a long ahhhhh, playing with mimicking the sound of the rain on the roof, or warming my heart with a rhythmic ah-ray-ray-ray-ray-ray, I’m having fun entertaining both myself and the landscape I live in.  It doesn’t all sound good, but it’s surprisingly satisfying.

One of the books of the New Testament tells us that creation began with the Word, with sound.  The human larynx is shaped like a vesica piscis.  In sacred geometry the Vesica Piscis, whose shape is also found in the female yoni, is the gateway through which manifestation/creation happens.  As Unity becomes Duality, the possibility of three, then four, then more arises.  Every human has a larynx, and we may well be harboring more creative power than we like to admit.

Vesica Piscis shape

Vesica Piscis shape (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Breath, tone, sound.  New tools to play with – if you aren’t already.  Happy Creating.