Change and valuing life…all life

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Bench in Snow. January 7, 2017

 

The start of January brought snow.  It was deep (relatively speaking), and beautiful.  Looking out across the landscape I felt like I was in a winter wonderland.  The light reflecting off the snow was so bright it hurt my eyes and I found myself squinting.  How easy it was for me to see the beauty in the snow; after all I had a warm house waiting for my return.  What if I didn’t have a home?  What if through no fault of my own the home and community I knew no longer existed?  Would I still be able to see the beauty of a snow covered landscape?

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I’m a big softy.  Hell, I worry about the worms in the bin.  To help them survive the cold I added a thick layer of leaves and topped things off with compost that was still fresh hoping it would add some warmth.  While the bin is bottomless and the worms are free to come and go I wasn’t sure they would find a space that gave them the conditions they need to survive.  This bin has been home to generations of worms.  The bin has always provided a nurturing environment.  While they may burrow deeper they are not likely to leave.  It would take a catastrophic event to force them from the bin.  It’s the only home they know.

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Garden path. January 25, 2017

 

My worries were short lived.  Within a week the snow was gone and I was outside in short sleeves.  The worms had made themselves at home in the extra leaves and all was right in my little corner of the world.  As long as I didn’t listen to the news, glance at a paper, or look at my Facebook feed.  Those who know me, really know me, will tell you I’m a little eccentric.  Come on, I feel bad for killing ants that come into the house.  I carry spiders out side.  I say a little prayer for the plants I pull out as weeds.  At heart I’m a pacifist.  But I’m not a pushover and you would be remiss to think so.

 

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Olive Oil infused with Alkanet Root. January 29, 2017

It angers me when I see people attempting to use fear and intimidation to get their way or exploit others.  It angers me when others belittle and berate those who do not agree with them or who dare stand up for themselves and their families.  I refuse to be indoctrinated into a system that wants me to fear people because they are different.  A system that will drive people, though war, form the only home they’ve known and then refuse them shelter.  I refuse to accept that this is right, or just.  It is not acceptable.

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Soap Colored with Alkanet Root. January 29, 2017

In many ways I may be more fortunate then some in this nation I call home.  I was never taught to fear or belittle those who didn’t look like me, who spoke a different language, professed a different faith or had different traditions.  If anything because differences weren’t singled out I grew up understanding that we are each worthy of respect, compassion, and to be valued.

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Olive Oil Infused with Madder Root. January 29, 2017

 

I was also taught that respecting a position, such as the presidency, is different than respecting the man who holds the title.  I will continue to welcome people of all nations, who are striving to protect and provide for their families, with an open heart. I will continue to look beyond the labels our society places on others and treat all with dignity and respect.  Exploiting the earth and those who make it their home is not a just act because it’s encouraged by the leaders of a nation. And those who are mocked, ridiculed and insulted are not the enemy.

The true enemy is a hard heart, greed, fear and a willingness to blindly follow.  I will not blindly follow.  I will not say yes and agree when I know in my heart that what is being spoken is a lie.  Not at any price.  And I cannot follow someone whose power is a result of exploiting peoples fears.

There is an alchemy at work.  Change is taking place.  Like my soap making experience it can turn out well or it can blow up in your face.  There is much I cannot change in the world. And while I worry about where my county is heading, where our current president’s policies will take us, it is not something I can control.  However, I can have a positive impact on those I come into contact with. And as I have so often heard – I can strive to be the change I want to see in the world.

And I despite it all can still laugh, I can still hope, and I can still dream…

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Sometimes you just need to laugh. January 22, 2017

First Snow

I was told once, with kindness, that the only people who call to say it snowed are those who see it only on the rarest of occasions. I am one such person.  And last night while I was sleeping it snowed.  I’ll share more pictures later but like a child seeing it for the first time I wanted to shout out to the world.  It Snowed!!!!

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The Japanese Maple outside our front door covered with snow. January 7, 2017

The New Year

Happy New Year everyone.  It rained some last night and I decided to take a walk around the yard.  I’d be honored to have you come along.

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Walking in the garden helps me to clear my head, relax, and regroup.

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Gray Sky, January 2017

This is a picture looking up through the branches of the Japanese maple tree just outside our front door.  The sky is gray and it looks like we might get more rain today.  That would be nice.  While we don’t often think about it plants do need water in the winter.

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Raised bed with Collards, Kale, and Carrots. January 2017

The plants is the raised bed next to the shed are doing well.  I’m pleasantly  surprised.   I’m going to keep my eyes on these.

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This is a cute little bench we picked up at a yard sale for next to nothing.  In our eyes it’s priceless.  The maple provides just the right amount of shade.  A nice little spot to rest and reflect.

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Berries on Dwarf Burford Holly. January 2017

This holly next to the garage is beautiful.  But oh is it a challenge for me to keep pruned.  Don’t be fooled by the word dwarf in its name.  A Dwarf Burford Holly will easily grow 10 feet tall in our climate.  The flowers are pretty inconspicuous but bees and other insects love them.

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Lunaria or honesty. January 2017

I had a dried bouquet of lunaria that I had kept for many years.  One day I decided it was time to let it go, but rather than place it in the trash, I took it outside and scattered the branches of seed.  A few seeds germinated and the rest is history.   Each year we are graced with it’s beautiful blue flowers.  If you decided to plant it remember it’s a biannual.

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Japanese Maple in winter. January 2017

We have three Japanese Maples on the property.  This one we affectionately call ‘Dixie Cup’ because of how I brought her home.  I first saw her as an eight inch seedling growing on the grounds of a local university where I was taking classes.  I saved her from the grounds crew and she’s had a home in our yard for the last 15 years.

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Forsythia. January 2017

The forsythia in our yard was given to us by a neighbor.  It had spread and he wanted to thin out the plants.  We were happy to take many of the rooted branches he pulled out.  This winter has been relatively mild and the buds are already swelling.

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Columbine. January 2017

We have a bed where columbine has naturalized.  The blooms don’t last long but while they’re here it’s extra special.  I was surprised to see the vegetation up this time of year.

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Nandina. January 2017

Lots of berries in the garden this winter. Aren’t the nandina’s beautiful this time of year?

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The main vegetable garden. January 2017

Here’s a look at our main vegetable garden.  The fenced in area is 25 x 25 feet.  I ordered our seeds today.  I’ve got to admit I’m already starting to get excited about this years growing season.

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Expanded garden area covered with leaves. January 2017

I’m going to leave the leaves here over the winter.  We’re planning on using this bed for the squash and cucumbers.  It’s about 12 x 20 feet.

One more and then we’ll call it a day.  Lets head up to the top of the hill by the fruit trees.

 

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A weed seed head. January 2017

Isn’t this absolutely beautiful.  It grows as a weed on the property but I find it to be absolutely beautiful.  And it’s providing food and nesting material to a lot of critters.

Thanks for spending some of your New Year with me.  Until next time…

… take care of the earth.  We need her…she doesn’t need us.

 

A time to put back what was taken

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Fall comes to the garden. November 2016

As I look around me I see huge trees, dense thickets, fields of grasses and herbaceous plants.  They grow without the help of man.  No one goes out and spreads fertilizer; no one sprays for pests; yet they grow.   They grow wild, they grow tall and they grow strong.

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The leaf pile is beginning to take shape. November 2016

As leaves fall off the trees and plants die back from the frost they slowly decay and return nutrients back to the soil.  What was removed is returned. A cycle that has repeated itself since life first appeared on this earth.

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A layer of leaves was added to the worm bin.  November 2016

Fungi, bacteria, and other living things assist in the decomposition.  It is life itself that assures this process continues.

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Lambs Ears. November 2016

Nature will provide everything plants need to grow; if only we let her.  I live in the suburbs and have found that fall provides the perfect opportunity to begin putting back some of what has been taken out.  To repair some of the damage that has been done through the years.

 

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Getting My Neighbors Leaves, November 2016

I’m hauling my neighbors leaves home again.  They will protect the soil from erosion, help stabilize temperatures, provide food and shelter for a host of living things, and as they decompose add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

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The last rose of the season. November 2016

This system is a capitalist’s nightmare.  The need to buy bags of fertilizer and jugs filled with pesticides no longer exists. It allows those without capital to grown their own food.  It allows people throughout the world to provide wholesome food to their families and local communities.   There is beauty to be found in this system; we just need to open our hearts to it.


“When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”   Madeleine M. Kunin

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

October

On my way up to the garden I had a nice surprise.  The camellia’s are in bloom!!!  I think the bee in the image below spent the night on this blossom.  It’s the end of October, she’s cold and waiting for the sun to warm her joints before starting another busy day.

Bee on Camellia flower. October 2016

Camellia. October 2016

In the garden this has been the year of the peppers  They have really done well and for that I’m thankful but there is a but.  The but — it’s feast or famine. We go through a long spell when we really want peppers but none are ripe.  Then OH MY we have peppers, and more peppers and can’t keep up with them.  It seems that five pepper plants for a family of two is just too many.   I’m going to have to do some soul searching and if I don’t change the number of plants maybe I need to change the varieties we grow.  We do not need 4 bell pepper plants.

Bell Peppers. October 2016

Bell Peppers. October 2016

See the peppers in the basket below.  The green ones.  I have no idea what type of peppers they are but they  really taste good.  Someone very dear to me is going to create a wonderful dish tonight and they are part of the recipe.  Just out of curiosity: Do peppers cross pollinate?

Peppers and figs. October 2016

A few peppers and figs from the garden. October 2016

If you look in the basket you’ll notice that I also brought in a few figs.  As they ripen the squirrels, birds, wasps, beetles and ants have a field day.  The fig tree is a popular hangout for local wildlife.  Right now there’s not enough ripe fruit for both humans and wildlife.  For now I’ll let the wildlife enjoy the sweet fruit.  I think they need it more than we do.   This year I will not fight them for access to the figs.

Fig tree with unripe figs. October 2016

Fig Tree. October 2016

While the fig is covered with fruit I don’t think much will ripen before a hard frost.  It had been protected from the cold by the garage and a grove of large pines.  The first winter without the pines was a real shock to the fig and most of it died back to the ground.  It’s come back nicely and is once again over 10 feet tall.  Slowly it’s re-acclimating.  I’m thinking we’ll have a bumper corp next year.  Then I will confront the wildlife and let them know I also will be looking for ripe fruit.  We love fig preserves.  And these figs are wonderful in preserves.

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Sorting and sifting compost. October 2016

The last week of October brought a break in the heat.  It was less humid and a little cooler so I took the time to clean up the compost pile. It’s a two day process.  On day one I pull everything out that hasn’t broken down yet, fluff it up and set it aside.  Then I dug around in the finished compost and get the ants good and mad.  They need to realize that their home is going to be severely damaged if not destroyed.  I want to give them time to leave, to move their eggs, or at the very least, go down deeper and hopefully out of the finished compost.  It’s the end of the season and I’ve had my fill of ant bites.  If you’ve never experienced the alarm that sets in when you realize the burning sensation on your belly, around your waist band, or on your neck is the result of ants clamping down and stinging the bejesus out of you you’ve missed something.

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Finished compost ready to spread. October 2016

In the end it’s worth it.  Look at the finished compost that came from just this one pile.  As I clean the beds it will be spread.  Right now it’s piled where the cucumbers and squash were growing.  This bed will play host to tomatoes next year.  I hope to plant at least two rows that are 16 feet or about 5 meters long.  Tomatoes are the one crop that no matter how many I grow I’m told that I should grow more.

The days are getting shorter and I’m going to get the garden ready for spring.  Strange thing to say isn’t it.  But I find that the work I do now helps to set the stage for the following season.  My attempt at a fall crop in the garden has been a bust.  Cabbage worms and aphids had a heyday with the young broccoli and collard greens.  Lesson learned.  Cool season crops do not like hot weather and it’s been both hot and dry.

Thanks for stopping by.  Until next time…

All we need is love

If this post appears a little disjointed let me apologize in advance. It’s been a long time since I last talked with you and a lot has happened; both at home and in my community. We had a flash flood in August that hit the neighborhoods along Free Nancy Creek pretty hard.  It includes an area with doctors offices,  the town’s high school, several parks and older homes.  While the water was gone within a day the damage, especially to homes, will take much longer to repair. The city did not sustain a lot of damage and for that I’m grateful.  But it should be a wake up call.  We are not immune from flooding.  And for those whose homes were destroyed it’s hard to hear people talk about the event like this wasn’t a big deal.  For them it’s a very big deal.

Photo by David Jenkins

Flooding in Statesville NC August 3, 2016 (photo credit: David Jenkins)

At the house we had almost 10 inches of rain in 24 hours. The rain was accompanied by a good deal of wind and a rotten limb fell off a tree in what I affectionately call the back forty.  It’s the lot next door where I have the vegetable garden and one of my compost piles.  When it fell it crushed several privets, a locust, and my compost pile.

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Wind damage was limited to the compost pile. August 2016

What a mess but I’m not complaining.  That’s all the harm we sustained and I consider us to be very fortunate.  I’ll clean it up later this fall.  While there was a lot of overland flow our house sat high and dry; our property did not flood.  What concerns me is that despite the flood it has been a very hot, dry summer. August was miserable and September hasn’t been any better. Temperatures hover in the mid 90’s (35 celsius) and coupled with the high humidity my ability to work outdoors is severely limited.  The air is so wet I joke about growing gills and after an hour in the garden I have dishpan hands.

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Dinner. Green beans and potatoes. August 2016

I neglected the garden this summer.  I think I watered it once.  I know… I’m horrible.  So far this September we have had less than a tenth of an inch of rain. It’s hot and dry and I’m not watering.  The moisture you see on the plants is dew.  It’s often noon before the dew is off the plants. The garden would have been more productive if I had watered.   But I didn’t and it’s still provided well for us.

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Peppers and butternut squash. September 2016

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Getting some tomatoes ready to roast. September 2016

Now I’ve noticed the days are getting shorter.  Slowly I’m pulling out plants, adding them to the compost pile and getting the garden ready for winter.  I’m planting a few beds with cold hardy plants like collards and kale.  Hopefully I’m not getting to late a start but it’s just been to hot.

In addition to the flood an old hospital filled with asbestos was being demolished. The section they knocked down was filled with friable asbestos and now it was all over the site. An apartment complex sits right next door.  The risk posed by the asbestos was being minimized by all parties (City, County, and State).  It felt like the emphasis was on getting it out of the news and to make light of the situation by either ignoring it or making the citizens who cared look like idiots.  It is only because of the determined and unrelenting efforts of the people living next to the site that the EPA finally stepped in.

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The EPA stepped in and removed debris filled with asbestos. July 2016

The demolition debris was misted, dumped into trailers lined with plastic and wrapped to secure it before hauling off site.  I can only wonder whose neighborhood hosts the dump it was sent to.  One community rejoices in the removal of a hazard while another laments.   The building, filled with asbestos, still stands.  Cleanup will cost more than the land is worth.  As a result it is highly likely that it will sit there for years a blight on this West End neighborhood.  I wonder if this would be allowed  in a wealthier community?  I wonder how the powers that be would want this handled if they lived next door to the site?

There is much that happens in this world and in my own community that is beyond my control. To preserve my sanity I’ve limited how often I bang my head against the wall.  On my next birthday I will be 60 years old.  I feel that I can do more by living a life that leaves  what I touch a little better than how I found it.  Planting fruit trees, berries, flowering plants, a vegetable garden.  It brings me peace and lets others see that it is possible to have a beautiful and productive garden without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. .

I’ve also started making soap.  I’m amazed at what is in the soap offered for sale in the big box stores.  A little time spent researching soap on the internet and I’m able to make a soap that contains wholesome ingredients.

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This is what went into my first batch of soup. September 2016

Organic extra virgin olive oil. organic extra virgin coconut oil, grape seed oil, 100% lye and distilled water.  That’s it. And it looks great.  My first batch used a box lined with a trash bag as a mold and made 5 lbs.  I’ve gotten some smiles as it seems I’ve already made more soap than we use in a year.

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For my first batch I used a box as the mold. September 2016

I have a good life.  Our home is an oasis providing shelter from the drama that surrounds us. I think the world would be a much better place if we would treat people as we wish to to be treated; if kindness and compassion were seen as strengths and not something to be exploited. If we understood that all people want to be loved, appreciated, to have the ability to provide for themselves and their families, to be treated with respect and afforded their dignity.  If we understood this and acted on it the world would be a much better place.  Rather than spread fear and hate we need to start spreading love.   Most of the world’s problems could be solved if only we were willing to love our fellow man and the creatures with which we share the earth.  All we truly need is love.

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without
leaving happier.”   Mother Teresa

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
― John Steinbeck

Don’t let others stop you

We each are on this earth for just a brief flicker of time so be kind to one another and live your life.  Don’t let others tell you what is and isn’t possible.  Explore.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Don’t be afraid to be different.  And just because a book, or research center, or professor say’s this is the way something should be done doesn’t mean you have to do it that way.  It doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

Hyssop and Volunteers. July 2016

Hyssop and Volunteers. July 2016

I’m told quite often that the way I garden just doesn’t work.  Yet, it works for me.  In the picture above you’ll find hyssop, winter squash, tomatoes, and a hint of marigold.  Look how nicely they’re getting along.   We’ve had temperatures well above 90 degrees fahrenheit for over 30 days.  And while it’s rained all around us, we’ve had very little.  It has been hot, dry, and humid.  Yet the plants in this picture look happy.   Guess which ones I planted?  The hyssop and marigold.  The rest are volunteers.

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Bell Peppers and Volunteer Tomatoes. July 2016

This year our bell peppers are producing.  Bell peppers can be temperamental.   I think they like growing with the volunteer tomatoes.  The foliage shades the soil, keeps it from drying out and helps to keep it cooler than if exposed to the intense heat we’ve been having.

Zucchini and volunteers. July 2016

Zucchini and volunteers. July 2016

The zucchini above has produced more than I ever thought possible.   We’ve eaten it fresh, pickled, and in bread.  We also have it grated and frozen for use throughout the winter.  I pulled it out Sunday.  It was time.  The center had long since been devoured by squash borers and I wanted to clean up the area for a fall crop.  What’s that?  Yes, we had squash borers.  But we had a bumper crop despite them.

Second planting of green beans. July 2016

Second planting of green beans. July 2016

I wish I had planted more green beans.  We’ve had enough to eat but not enough at any one time to can.   The beans planted this spring are slowing down but still producing.  The ones in the picture above are about two weeks old.  It won’t be long and they will flower and produce more beans for the dinner table.  Next year I’ll plant more so we have some to can and enjoy over the winter.

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Unknown Sweet pepper with asian long beans. July 2016

The asian long beans got off to a slow start but once the ground and nighttime temperatures had warmed they took off and were very prolific.  Unfortunately, they were not a hit on the dinner table.  I gave quite a few away and let the rest go to seed. The pods are being shelled and we will try them in a soup.  The vines have been pulled and the bed is ready for a winter crop.  The sweet pepper above is wonderful.  It’s our first time growing it and I can’t say enough about it.  There’s just one problem.  I have no idea what the variety is.  Time to pull out the catalog.

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Leaves and kitchen scraps. July 2016

The way I garden works for me.  But I’ve been gardening most of my life.  Overtime you develop an instinct, a sense for what’s needed.  If you’re new to gardening learn the basics.  But most importantly learn why something is done.  If you understand ‘why’ then you’ll know when you can improvise or come up with another way to accomplish the goal.  If you choose to garden without chemical fertilizers learn patience.  It takes time to build a soil capable of supporting vegetables without purchased fertilizers or amendments.  And remember the goal is to have a garden that is productive not one totally free from pests or disease.

Life is short.  Don’t let the naysayers stop you from living your life, trying new things and having the garden you know is possible.