• Category Archives Hydroponics
  • A Bold Return to Giving a Damn

    Winter and the Winter Solstice Moon

    Friday gratefuls: Tara. Her new puppy. Cold. Snow. Sleep. Gabriella. A Bold Return to Giving a Damn: One Farm. Amazon. New Phone. Wallet. 2024 on the way. Poetry. Road Less Taken. Lines Written at Tintern Abbey. Kubla Kahn. Notes on a Supreme Fiction. Circles. Leaves of Grass. Ozymandias. The Raven. Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. The Wasteland. Song of Myself. The Second Coming. And so much else.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Poetry

    One brief shining: The end of another year approaches, our penchant for deciding calendar dates as the always orbiting Earth’s journey around Great Sol continues, brings us to Pope Gregory XIII who chose in October of 1582 in his well known Papal bull: Inter gravissimas to change the rules for leap years to prevent the Julian calendar’s drift away from the solar holidays, oh you didn’t know, well neither did I but Wikipedia did.



    Gabriella. My adopted Axolotl. She’s swimming in the chinampas canals along with other wild Axolotls who will repopulate the ancient waterways of Xochimilco. I get excited about this project because it’s both the reintroduction of a wild species into its former habitat (see the five Timber Wolves released a week ago in western Colorado) and a project that supports indigenous farming methods healthy for the chinampas themselves. This kind of work will enable our grandchildren to have their best chance to adapt to a warming World.

    A Bold Return to Giving a Damn: One Farm, Six Generations, and the Future of Food relates the story of Will Harris and his disillusionment with Big Ag 30 years ago. The successful transition of his family’s farm to regenerative farming makes compelling reading if you care about the source of your food. This farm is in southwestern Georgia, but it’s an example, not singular.

    The USA Regenerative Agriculture Allliance, Inc trains farmers in regenerative practices. Yes, it’s about good food, food raised without pesticides, fertilizers and other “inputs” that defy the natural cycle and deplete the soil. But, it’s also about how to live in a warming World. Someday regenerative agriculture will use the perennial grains and other crops under development at the Land Institute.

    Want to volunteer in the work of Ecosystem restoration? Look at the Ecosystems Restoration Communities website. They do restoration projects all over the world. The expertise and practical knowledge developed as these organization go about their own individual missions will become the Seedstock for a World that can no longer afford any depletion of natural capital.

    What’s natural capital? An accounting method. That’s right. Accounting. The Natural Capital Project at Stanford University develops accounting methods that define the value of Ecosystems, Oceans, the Water cycle, Forests. Why is this important? Regenerative agriculture is a good example. Corporate farming, by far the dominant model in the U.S. and in most of the World, treats Soil, Crops, and Animals as so many widgets to be manipulated for increased profits. Their accounting methods do not have to take into account the value of the Soil, the Rain, the need for dna diversity in both food Crops and Animals. They don’t have to reckon with the future costs of ruined Soil, the dangers of monocultures in such critical crops as Corn, Wheat, Rice. Maybe they’re not as profitable as they think.

    OK. I’ll stop. For now. But I will return to these adaptive approaches that will help Ruth and Gabe survive in a much changed world.


  • Gardner Me

    Fall and the RBG Moon

    Kiss the Ground. Netflix. Not a huge fan of documentaries. Not sure why. I love fiction, not non-fiction books though I read them from time to time.

    But this one. Recommended by long time friend Tom Crane. Didn’t say much new, maybe nothing for me, but it pulled my heart. Reminded me of who I’ve been. Who I’ve left behind.

    Gardner me. That guy that used to spend hours planting flowers, amending soil, weeding the onions and the beans. Cutting raspberry canes back for the winter. Thinning the woods. Thinning the carrots and the beets. Lugging bags of compost. Bales of marsh hay. Planning flower beds so there would be something blooming during the entire growing season. Hunting for heirloom seeds.

    I had plans. I read books about adapting gardening techniques in xericulture. Thought about this idea and that. Read a lot before our move. But, then. Prostate cancer and a cascade of other distractions. Divorce. Arthritis. Kate’s troubles.

    The whole horticulture act slipped into yesterday. And I miss it. Even the cussing at the critters. A notable reminder. Heirloom Tomatoes. Oh, my god. I buy them when they’re good. Five bucks a pound. I eat them like the fruit they are as a fruit. The taste. So good. No comparison to those raised for mechanical harvesting. Not even the same thing, imho.

    Our carrots and beets and leeks and garlic and beans. Our honeycrisp apples. Granny. Plums. Cherries. The onions drying on the old screen door in the shed Jon built. A basement pantry filled with canned vegetables, canned fruit. Jars of honey from Artemis Honey.

    A greenhouse. That’s the only way I could return to gardening. I’m no longer strong enough for the kind of gardening we did in Andover, Minnesota. I’d need plants on a bench about hip height. But I’m seriously considering it. The dogs. Yes. Kate. Yes. But, plants, too. Our own food on our table. Nurturing plants. I’m sad I left it behind.

    We’ll see.

  • Greenman

    Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

    Tuesday grateful: The Lughnasa moon just setting below Black Mountain. That one violet volunteering near our front steps. The daisies. The faint whoosh of folks going to work. Ruth. Her eagerness to see us. Their garden and her joy in it. Seeing Patty yesterday. Banking. Socrates, the teller.

    Gardening. At the end of my time on the Ancient Ones zoom, I surprised myself by summing up my life as having one regret. Gardening. That we hadn’t pursued it here on Shadow Mountain. I miss, I said, growing our own food. Working with soil and plants. I do. Miss it.

    Once Kate and I moved to Andover a transition began for me from city boy to horticulturalist. I wouldn’t have predicted that necessarily. We’d done some perennials at our home on Edgcumbe road. Starting with the small bed I planted in the front yard, finishing during the great Halloween blizzard of October 31st, 1991. Daffodils and Iris, if I recall correctly.

    It’s true I had a big garden back in 1974 on the Peaceable Kingdom, my failed attempt, with Judy, to develop a spot for the movement to have respite care. My only Psilocybin journey happened there. I watched our Potato plants growing. But the Peaceable Kingdom did not last and neither did gardening.

    A bit of gardening at the first house, the one on 41st Avenue, but Slugs took over. There was no gardening at home in Alexandria. A few Flowers maybe, but nothing to remember.

    Andover, though. When we got there, the front yard was bare, as was a sloped area behind the house in the back. About an acre of Woods were doing fine, as undisturbed Woods will do. In between was a large patch of weedy, scrubby Grass with a large grove of Black Locust. They didn’t look good, some of them were dead. BTW: many of the Weeds were actually Hemp plants seeded during a World War II field planted in it.

    We hired a landscape architect who helped us with the bare Land. I wanted to sow a Prairie on all of it. Kate said no, we could never sell it. We settled on two large areas of Prairie with sod and some new Trees in between them, directly in front of the house. On the sloping area behind the house we decided to do a terraced garden. Irrigation went in with all of it.

    In the beginning I wanted to do only perennials. I imagined our house overflowing with fresh cut flowers throughout the growing season. I had a lot to learn. Having flowers blooming from spring into fall requires so many skills.

    I did not want to do annuals. And, I didn’t. Along the way I learned about soil amendments, spading forks and gardening spades, trowels, and hori-hori. Killed a lot of plants. Cussed at Rose Chafers, Japanese Beetles, Colorado Beetles. Along the way I fell in love with the families Lily and Iris and crocus. Learned the amazing recovery powers of Hosta.

    The Black Locust and their small swords taught me caution and how to use a chain saw, a commercial grade chipper, a Peavey, a Swede saw. Hired stump grinders. I cleared, with Jon’s help, enough area that we could imagine a vegetable garden. Jon built us raised beds from the start, anticipating the day when bending over would not be easy. He made some in whimsical shapes, others square, some rectangular. I filled them with top soil and compost.

    We had various compost piles, none of which worked very well. We built one that used split rail fencing and a large metal gate to keep the dogs out. Tully, one of our Wolfhounds, kept finding her way in. But she couldn’t get back out. Strange.

    Speaking of Wolfhounds. Jon built a fence around the raised beds to keep them out. They loved to dig in soft garden soil.

    More on this later. This has gotten long.

  • Reimagine

    Samain                          Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Jon sent these two links.  Wish I’d had’em when I owned that farm up near Nevis, Minnesota.  I might still be up there, motoring around on some of these very clever inventions.  They show what an ingenious mind can do when rethinking what appear to be over and done with ideas.


    Makes me wonder what other ideas need a complete rethink.  Computers have followed a pretty standard architecture up to now, one based on a central processing unit.  I read an article in Scientific American last week about a neural computer which, in essence, gives each unit of a computer a cpu, allowing for massively parallel processing as an integral part of the design. It’s modeled on, but not attempting to replicate, the human brain.

    How about housing?  Cars?  Or, my personal quest and long time obsession, religion?  The family?  Electrical generation?  I’m interested in distributed generation where a cul de sac or an apartment building or a couple of blocks city residential units might get their electricity from, say, a combination of wind, solar and geo-thermal units sited in their immediate vicinity.

    Here’s another one that could use a complete overhaul, reimagining:  nations.  The nation state is a relatively new phenomenon, most experts date its rise somewhere around 1800, perhaps a hundred years earlier in the instance of Portugal and the Netherlands.  In the wake of the globalization of economic life national boundaries have much different meanings that they did, say, 50 years ago.

    Let’s go back to religion for a second.  Over the last several years, 23 to be exact, I’ve wrestled with the hole left by Christianity in my life and sought to fill it through what I call a tactile spirituality, one wedded to the rhythms of the seasons, of flowers and vegetables, of bees.  This direction took its initial impetus from an immersion in Celtic lore while I sifted for writing topics.

    Then, I began to follow the Great Wheel of the seasons, a Celtic sacred calendar focused on 8 seasons, rather than four.  That led me to integrate gardening with my sacred calendar.  In the wake of these two changes in my life, I began to see the vegetative and wild natural world as more than tools for food or leisure, rather I began to see that they were my home, that I lived with them and in them, rather than having them as adjuncts to my anthropocentric life.

    This whole change, this rethink of what sacred and holy mean, what the locus of my spirituality is and where it is, has had a long maturation, much thought and experimentation.  My hope is that my reimagining might provide a common religious base, a sort of ur-religion, which all humans everywhere can embrace.

    As in times past this base religion could certainly have others layered on top of it, its essence after all is to be non-exclusive.  What I hope further is that reasserting, inviting, even luring others to see the sacred and the holy in our planet and its other living beings, they will be more likely to join in to see it healthy and vital.

  • Walking and Talking

    Imbolc                                        New (Bloodroot) Moon

    Took a walk along the road that goes around the Monastery.  A beautiful day with a blue sky and sun.  The sun has, like me, been on retreat this last week, and it seems to have returned bright and shiny, ready to get on with its job of sending us truly elemental energy.

    While walking, I talked to Kate.  Cell phone reception is fine outside the Monastery, but inside, nada.

    It’s rare for a person to find someone whose life and lifestyle fit so well as Kate and mine do.  At least I think it’s rare.  We both enjoy time alone and we enjoy being together.

    She says the plants, the dogs and herself are doing well.  The dog are outside and  have been nearly all day.  She’s been sewing and made grandson Gabe a new shirt, this one with trains.

    Today I finished writing early, still putting out about 6,500 words.  I tried to go further but the well was dry so I’ve been reading Conspirata, the Robert Harris novel about Cicero’s Consul  year and his life immediately after.  Cicero is a favorite of the conservative classes, but he seems more pragmatic than conservative, at least as Harris portrays him.  It might be his deep suspicion of populist politics that gains their favor, but that seems more complicated in this fictional biography.

    Just as I was in a Chinese phase last summer, I’m in a Roman phase right now, learning Latin, reading Roman novels, translating Ovid.

    If our plans for a fall cruise congeal, at some point I imagine I’ll turn toward South America and its ancient and contemporary history.  Read a few travel books on various ports of call.  We’re leaning toward a 37 day cruise that starts in NYC and ends in Rio, passing through the Panama Canal and traveling around South America through the the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn to Buenos Aires and Rio.

    My lunch table  today had Hoosiers, monks from South Bend, north Terre Haute and Indianapolis.  We talked about the old home place, Wabash College, Indy, the crazy time change rules.

  • Stumbling

    Samhain                                             Waxing Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Hmmm.  The ablative absolute and the passive periphrastic did not get put straight into my brain.  I stumbled through my lesson today, learning by mistake, a common method for me.  Still, I added a few more verses of Ovid to my translated column, down to 52.  Greg is a patient guy, a good teacher.  I’m lucky to have found him.  He played the music at the Minnetonka UU when I preached out there two Labor Days ago.  We got to talking and he mentioned his Latin and Greek tutoring.  I’d never had a tutor, one on one teaching and I love it.

    A nap.  Then a lot of organization stuff, some for the Docent Discussion group I facilitate, some for the Sierra Club’s legislative committee, some for next year’s garden.

    On that last point I ordered leeks, kale, chard, cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, rosemary, spinach, lettuce and a Seed Saver’s Exchange calendar.  They’re on the docket now because cranking up the hydroponics is a before the end of the year chore and I need to have seeds to start.

    Most I’ll wait a bit on, but chard, lettuce, cilantro and rosemary I’ll start right away and grow them out in the hydroponic tubs for winter eating.  Then, around the end of February I’ll get other seeds started, some earlier, some later, getting ready for the start of the growing season.  Right now I’m happy it’s all under snow and out of reach, but come March, April I’ll be eager, looking forward to a new growing season.

  • Humanities

    Fall                                   Waxing Harvest Moon

    With Latin, the Baroque and a sermon on the future of liberal thought all coming up this week and the next, plus the horticultural fall chores:  plant bulbs, clean up, harvest the last of the vegetable crop and care for the bees, I react strongly to the recent closing down of humanities classes in SUNY.

    There is hope, though, since the humanities are academic disciplines that can be done at home with little discernible drop in quality.  Yes, there’s the problem of training the next generation in how to do the work at home.  It may be time for the disintermediation of the University’s original core curriculum, putting it on the web and in personal relationships, mentoring.  It may be time for Western culture to imitate the Chinese literati, the Mandarin bureaucrats who ran the country while painting, writing poetry, playing the Qin, doing calligraphy and focusing on the Tao.

    Let’s get a dialogue going about how we can preserve the humanities one classic at a time, one work of fine art at a time, one poem at a time, one language at a time, one faith tradition at a time.  Like the Great Work, creating a benign human presence on the earth, we must also labor to produce a humane human presence.  It is no easy task and one that requires facility in a number of areas:  literature, history, language, art history, the history of faith traditions.  We must not let the sacred deposit that reflects on our common life wither into dusts.

    Perhaps we need a new renaissance, a new enlightenment, ones that focus no longer on the application of science and technology, but instead return to the big questions:  Why are we here?  What is justice?  What is beauty?  What is a nation?  Why do we fight?  Who was Ozymandias?  What is Baroque music?  How many administrators can dance on the head of the department of science?  What is life?  What does it mean to be human?

    This is not an anti-science rant, science is fine; let’s not, however, throw out teaching the question askers of culture, the critics of public life, the dancers, painters and poets.  We need them, too, to know what to do with what science produces, in part, yes, but more to remind us that we have a past and that our big questions are similar and often the same as the big questions of that past.  That thought and that art helps us today.  Right now.

  • Seeing What We Really Have Here

    Summer                                             Waxing Grandchildren Moon

    We are well past midsummer here in the northern latitudes.  The garden’dicentra09s peak bearing season will commence although we have already had blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, garlic, lettuce, greens, onions, parsnips, beets and sugar snap peas.  Ahead of us are tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, more greens, onions, beets, lettuce, butternut squash, leeks, wild grapes and carrots plus the odd apple.   Our orchard has a ways to go before it matures.  And I have a ways to go before I can care for the fruit trees in the manner to which they need to become accustomed.

    All of which opens up the purpose of this little experiment in permaculture and the tending of perennial flowers and plants.  A long while back I bought three quarter-long horticulture classes from the University of Guelph in London, Ontario.  It took me a while to complete it, maybe a year all told.  The course helped me integrate and deepen what I’d learned by trial and error as I cared for the daffodils, tulips, day-lilies, hosta, croci, roses, trees and shrubs that then constituted our gardens.

    In its salad days (ha, ha) the notion involved a root-cellar and the possibility of at least making it part way off the food grid.  Fewer trips to the grocery store, healthier food, old fashioned preservation.  A mix of back-to-the-land and exurban living on our own little hectare.  Last year the notion began to include bee-keeping.  Now called Artemis Hives.

    As the reality of the size of our raised beds, the likely peak production of the fruits and vegetables possible has become clear to me, I have a more modest though not substantially different goal.  We will eat meals with fresh produce and fruits during the producing part of the growing season.  We will preserve in various ways honey,  grapes, apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, squash, beets, greens and parsnips.  These we will eat during the fallow days that begin as the garden goes into senescence in late August and early September and last through the first lettuce and peas of the next growing season.  We will supplement these with greens grown hydroponically and use the hydroponics to start seeds and create transplants for 2011.

    None of this will remove us in any major way from the store bought food chain.  We will not solve or resolve much of our carbon footprint.  But some.  More than most perhaps, but far too little to claim even a modest victory.  So, should we give up?

    Not at all.  Why?  Well, there is a richer, deeper lesson here than living wholly off our own land.  That lesson, taught again, day by day and week by week, and again, lies in the rhythm of the plants, the bees, the land and the weather.  An old joke from the 50’s asked, “What do you call people who practice the rhythm method?” (Catholics at the time)  Answer:  “Parents.”  The permaculture and perennial flowers here at Seven Oaks is a rhythm method.  What do you call folks who practice this rhythm method?  Pagans.

    Ours is a life that flows in time with the seasonal music of the 45th latitude, the soil on our land, the particularities of the plants we grow, the energy of the bee colonies that work alongside us, the various animal nations that call this place home.  This is the profound lesson of this place.  Seven Oaks is a temple to the movement of heaven and the bees of Artemis Hives are its priestesses.

  • You Say You Want A Revolution? Yep.

    Summer                                            Waning Strawberry Moon

    It’s been done, I know.  Still, I’d like to put in a call for a 2nd American revolution.  Oh, ok, I don’t care what number it is.  I’ll settle for another American revolution.

    My American revolution has a bit of  Norman Rockwell, a touch of Helen and Scott Nearing, more than a dab of Herbert Marcuse, Paul Goodman and C. Wright Mills, some Benjamin Franklin, the spirit of pioneers and native Americans alike when they relied upon on this seemingly limitless land for food and space.  There’s a Victory Garden or two in there as well, plus generations of smart women who canned, dried, jellied, smoked and pickled all sorts of produce and meat.  This New American Revolution demands no marches, no banners, no barricades, no guns and no repression.  And you can dance all you want.

    What is it?  It is a revolution of and for and with the land.  It is a revolution that takes the wisdom of a 7th generation Iroquois medicine man who said:  “We two-leggeds are so fragile that we must pray and care for all the four leggeds, the winged ones, those who swim in the waters and the plants that grow.  Only in their survival lies the possibility of ours.”

    What is it?  It is a revolution of and for and by the human spirit.  It is a revolution that insists, but gently, that we each put our hand and our back to something that feral nature can alter.   It could be a garden.  It could be a deer hunt.  It could be a potted plant outside where the changing seasons affect its growth and life.  It could be a regular hike in a park, through all the changes of the seasons, seeing how winter’s quiet fallow time gives ways to springs wild, wet exuberance, the color palette changing from grays, rusts and white to greens, yellows, blues, reds the whole riot.

    What is it?  In its fullest realization this revolution would see each person responsible for at least some of their own food, food they grow or catch or kill.  In its fullest realization each person would use whatever land they share with the future in such a way as to increase its natural capital, using the land in such a way that it improves with age and gains in its capacity to support human, animal and plant life.

    What is it?  In its fullest realization this revolution would find each person closer, much closer to the source of their electricity, their transportation and its fuel, their work and their family.  In its fullest realization this revolution would shut down the coal-fired generating plants, shutter the nuclear generating plants and have maximum and optimum use of wind, geothermal, hydro, solar and biomass generation. In its fullest realization each person would eat food that had traveled only short distances to their table, the shorter the better, the best being from backyard or front yard garden to the table.

    What is it?  Well, we have a ways to go yet.  Perhaps a long ways, but if we want our descendants to have a chance to enjoy the same wonders in this land that we have known, we will have to change.  We will have to change radically.  We need, as I suggested, another American revolution.