Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers Day

Plants purchased from the Friends plant sale this past weekend. A wide variety of herbs, strawberries, two gooseberry, a serviceberry, two manchurian apricot, and assorted curiosities not commonly found in local nursery’s.

The focus today is on this boulevard. There are about two hundred sapling elm and maple to be pulled, including quack grass. It is rough work, made more difficult by the delicate spring plant growth; it would be best to pull these earlier in the season, after the earliest rains. But it can be done at any time, though always best a day after a rain.

Half done. This is the view from the corner, the full length of the boulevard weeded on the sidewalk side. Plus planting a few starts of lemon grass, sweet grass, trout lily, "arctic" strawberries, and leeks - about two hours. I consider it less like work and more like art; it is necessary to the aesthetic and health of this garden. While I weeded, a man dressed in synthetic running gear passed by, nodding to me, then stopping on the other side of the intersection and shouting, "I check out your house every week! I love it!" A beautiful woman walked by later, smiled at me and said, "I love walking by your place."

Another woman I do some gardening for, called yesterday and said, "Just so you know, I sprayed blue foam poison on the trees in the fence, and the thistles. In case you were coming by, I didn't want you to freak out." It's your yard, I said, basically.

I did this to my spade, pulling this elm. There were about two dozen like this, along the edge of the sidewalk, elm I have tried to pull in the past, which I ended up cutting off mostly out of laziness. Indeed, there are some now so deep, holding so fast, I cut them a few inches below the soil and hope for the best.

I get why people resort to poison. Saplings especially, as they are not easy to pull if they are more than a year old. That is the importance of pulling them the first year. It gets easier every year in this garden, as the soil is healthier each year. The woman who spread that poison, would be healthier if she spent time outside regularly, weeding her garden, pulling saplings, planting and harvesting. It is too much trouble, she has no passion for it, she is busy, she would rather watch television. 

Done. There are more saplings throughout the garden, but I will wait until after the next rain, to make it easier. There are other things to be planted, a house project inside, I am needing to finish. There is gardening to be done at that woman's house. She is a mother of two. It is a service I do.

The wild onions have taken well here, revealed after pulling the mini-canopy of maple. They will flower in a few weeks. A staple of the plains Indians, high in vitamin c. The corner smelled of onions, as many were damaged in the process.

We have been conditioned to throw poison at every problem. Indeed, it is difficult to participate in this society economically, without contributing to systemic toxicity. Indeed, we are not encouraged at all, to treat the soil, air and water responsibly, but to consume without care for stewardship. They say that cancer is an old people's disease, but that is mostly because they have been immersed in this systemic toxicity the longest, and they haven't lived otherwise with respect for either their body or the body of the earth. And in fact, cancer is no longer just an old person's problem, increasing among younger people. Each of us contributes to that, reaching for the toxic consumer product, before thinking what else might be done that is healthier for oneself, others and for the earth.

Many people say "mother earth." Few respect her. On this day, this Mother's Day, be good to your mother. Consider, every day is mother's day, like every day is earth day. Be blessed.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Post May Day

 Asparagus from the garden. The band on my wrist is a thing I wear in respect for a young maiden with leukemia I have never met, Lola: "Until Lola Gets Better."

 This doesn't look like much, but it is a wild banquet. If you were starving after a long winter, this would be quite life affirming. Young wild lettuce, nasty bitter as it ages, but young like this, lovely. Lambs quarter, also, with the pink leaves, which is the underside, as these are drooping a bit. I just watered it, as today, it is about 80 degrees, about 15 degrees higher than the average, this is the west wall and a sunny afternoon bakes this soil. There are prickly pear cactus to the left of this picture, which mid summer other than the wild lettuce, is about the only thing that can handle the conditions.

Next to it on the other side of the downspout, ferns and nettles. Nettles and lambs quarter are about the healthiest greens anywhere. I'm thinking of making a wild greens soup later*. Otherwise, the sort of weeds people spray poisons on.

Fiddleheads, of the bracken fern. I already ate two of these; there were five. Like the asparagus, I rarely cook them, but just break them off and eat them raw. Same with lambs quarters. The fiddlehead has a unique earthy flavor on the front end, and finishes like cucumber. 

 Here are the bracken fern, on the south wall next to the patio. Warmer here, they are more mature.

The ubiquitous dandelion. I make a lot of different kinds of wild homebrew, and I have always wanted to make dandelion wine, but I never get around to picking them, as I am otherwise so busy planting gardens. The greens of course are tasty and healthy too (best before it flowers.) They say the dried roots make a nice coffee substitute; I have never tried it.

A wild, native sand cherry. This one planted itself, or maybe from a pit I spit here, from one of two sand cherry I planted back in 2007, which have both since died of old age.

 With rhubarb and onions.

 This is the north side of the house. Foreground, raspberries. A kid cart I borrowed permanently from my sister, for groceries back when I had no automobile. Beyond that, three mulberry that showed up, which I probably cut at the base the first year, but now @ four years old, probably ready to fruit. Beyond that, two red elderberry, which blooming now fills the entire garden with the scent of their blossoms. Open the north windows and the house will fill with it. Not edible for people, but the berries are an attractive red and hang on all summer into fall, and birds will eat them.

 Hops. They are spreading and will eventually cover both sides of the garage.

Another young sand cherry, which found it's way here, at the corner between the alley, street and sidewalk. There are five now. None of which I planted. They are an excellent, meaty wild berry.  

A nice bench.  

 The bench is under this apple tree. It was in the yard when I moved in. I cut it down then, back when I was still under the spell of lawn grass, but it kept growing back. I moved it four years ago over by the pond; but then three years ago, I moved it here. I have no idea what kind of apple it is. It had three flowers, each of the last two years, but no fruit. This year it has two dozen flowers at least. I'm hopeful.

This is a black currant. I will trim new growth later this season, and propagate the cuttings. Last year I made a black currant/rhubarb/sand cherry/chokecherry homebrew, which was the best drink I fermented in 2014.

Wild strawberries, on the east boulevard.

The neighbor shovels around the fire hydrant whenever it snows, exposing the soil to the cold. I have wondered if that would blight the ground around it, but there are five different kinds of wildflower, quite healthy, circling it.

Next to the fire hydrant is this black locust. As trees will do, this get's bigger and bigger every year, soaking up more and more of the sun that would otherwise fall on my fruit trees. The spikes on these things are not for consumption. Nor is the city very friendly about cutting down boulevard trees, not even the one's with teeth. This one will eventually shade out the entire front garden.

 Sour cherry tree. About a hundred blossoms, it's first year blooming.

 An apple, foreground. A space for climbing cukes, etc. Beyond that, a sweet Stella cherry, which died back the hideous winter of 2013-14, sprouted with a dozen shoots above the graft in 2014, but I didn't cage the base of it last winter and the rabbits browsed it down to nothing and killed it. To be replaced by a Ranier cherry, as an experiment.

If you count the mulberries, most of which I will be cutting down to use as bean poles, and the fruit trees I ordered this year, there are 20 young fruit trees in this front garden. There are grapevines along the property line. There are nearly 40 fruit trees in the entire garden.

My neighbor's most excellent patch of creeping charlie, perhaps the most reviled of all lawn invaders. They did everything right, organic sod, organic treatments, and a woman I talked to recently about thistles in her lawn, I tried to explain that you can't have mono-cultural sheets of grass without poisons, that these pioneer species are just the soil healing itself. Lawn grass is a wasteland. All she wanted to talk about was how someone had given her the thistle poison for free.

I have grass, in places, and I don't use poisons, but I don't have weed problems either, because I only cut the grass about 2-3 times a year, and the soil is otherwise healthy. The increased biodiversity and wild character, also holds much more water, so my grass doesn't dry out like most sheets of sod, late summer, weakening it and providing an opportunity for weeds like creeping charlie and thistles.

This part of the boulevard is like a forest in miniature, so many sugar maple sapplings. There are also wild onions, wild ginger, wild shooting star, and a few other wildflowers mixed in. I need to pull the saplings.

 Wild trillium, west boulevard. A little closed against the heat of the sun. A little smaller this year, the whole plant, as the conditions are hot and dry again this spring.

The view from the corner. This is a patch of black cap raspberries. It is the healthiest patch I have ever seen anywhere in the Midwest. These are like the raspberry canes I saw growing in Oregon, which were more purple than red, and as thick as a silver dollar is round. A guy told me if you left much of that region of Oregon to nature, in twenty years you would need to chop your way through to get anywhere. I don't know about those, but the berries of these make a most excellent homebrew, and jelly. 

Impenetrable without a very sharp machete or a chain saw.

A maturing frontenac grape vine, which never really fruits because it is in the shade of....

This Norway maple hovers over my garden like a thief. Two years ago, I tapped it, the sap was sweeter and more prolific than the native sugar maple on this boulevard, but I tapped it again this year and a city worker came by and tried to steal my buckets. No tapping, that's a $4000 tree! he said. This precious non-native maple also reduces the food and fruit production of this garden by at least half. Even in the winter, the many branches block necessary sun from the greenhouse. Again, the city is not friendly about removing boulevard trees, even if I am adding three or four times the biomass in my garden.

Raspberries, foreground, with a mulberry. The city's Norway maple, lording over my garden. The comparatively modest, native sugar maple on the other side of the Norway maple.

A wild cherry tree in front of the greenhouse, and a giant silver maple in the neighbor's yard, poised over my little house like Damocles sword.

Peach tree in the raspberries, blooming.

The first of the cultivar strawberries. Next to wild violet.

Next to a young sand cherry, with some healing yarrow. The old dead sand cherry behind that.

The strawberry patch. I moved them here from the bed in the picture following, last fall. The city trees shade out more and more of this south end of the garden, so regular veggies don't do well in the late summer, early fall. Moving the veggie bed a little further north, hopefully more sun for increased growth.

Cabbage, cauliflower and romaine. With peas not up yet. A pioneer black cap raspberry on the left, colonizing the wildflower bed.

Because of the boulevard trees, this is a kind of wasteland, that would otherwise be very productive. I'm thinking of turning much of this area into pond, wrapping water around the wild cherry tree.

Summer veggie starts, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, melons, etc, plus the house plants: clementine, jasmine, South American morning glory, rosemary. Plus the plants growing in the ground, like leadplant and hollyhock.

Seed I planted very early. Not doing very well. It has been an exceedingly warm, dry spring.

Some wild hazelnut seed I am trying to sprout, in the containers in a line. Also, some old frontenac grape vines behind that, which I need to plant, sell, give away, or dump to make room for something else. With all my fruit trees, I am thinking about grafting, as a business opportunity.

The fish in the pond died this winter, as I let it freeze over for about a two week period in February, creating anoxic conditions that suffocated them. Sad. The liner is a reclaimed vinyl billboard, this being the fourth year without a leak - until now, maybe a small one. That, or it is just so warm and so dry it is evaporating quickly, with the fountain. The yellow flower is a marsh marigold.

Storm brewing. We need the rain.

Here were those asparagus, from the first pic in this post. I planted asparagus here in 2006, there were eight crowns, but now only four produce, and not so prolifically. They have been taken over by the raspberries, which are a very shallow rooted plant, while asparagus roots go very deep. Maybe they can co-exist.

It is early yet in the season. I will endeavor to post regular updates, that you might see this garden evolve. There are around 200 species of plants growing on this 1/8 acre, more than half of that more or less taking care of itself. It is an evolving micro-ecosystem, that I interfere with minimally, a refuge for birds and bugs (and me and my love.) It smells now of blooming fruit flowers, while so much of the rest of the city stinks like hydrocarbons and chemicals. Imagine if the whole city were landscaped something like this? It would be a great deal healthier and more resilient.

But this does not feed GDP. It does not feed the war machine. It does not feed the corporations that make the poisons that people spread with such blind alacrity. Why are there so many young children with cancer, why are so many women suffering from cancer in their reproductive systems, why are so many children born with some form of autism? And all we can think to do is throw more poisons at the problem? While no shortage of my sod and poison loving neighbors, hate this garden viscerally.

Many others love what I am doing here. I plan to do a lot more. I will keep you posted.

* The soup, I plan to rif off one nettle soup proposed by my friend Jason Heppenstall.  I also highly recommend his book. He and I (and many others) are on a very similar path of healing.