Sunday, May 23, 2010

A meditation in Gold

I wrote the following a few years ago after a particularly long spring of digging buttercups. I just came in from hoeing down those golden beauties and thought I would share what I wrote so long ago. It is surely still true today.

A Meditation in Gold

I am drowning in a sea of buttercups. Each spring their fecundity catches me unaware. By summer, I’ve spent untold hours digging them out of my gardens. When autumn comes, I throw up my hands in defeat as they spread their seeds with joyous promiscuity.

An occasional wildflower where I was raised, buttercups now rule my visual world. Left untended they stake their claim across my farmstead. Buttercups are surprisingly domineering. One summer of weeding left undone and an entire flower garden disappears.

“It’s only because the soil is too wet,” the nurseryman says.

Hmm, I think. That spot wasn’t filled with buttercups when we moved in. Did they bring their water with them when they grew?

Once my garden-loving aunt came to visit when we were new to our farm. Seeing all the buttercups she marveled at their sun-crested beauty. “I’d let them grow, they’re such pretty little things.” she said as she fawned over their yellow fairy cups.

“Maybe,” I hesitantly ventured. “But don’t you think there are an awful lot of them?”

Little did I know. The previous owners must have struggled to remove every trace of buttercups from all cultivated areas before they sold the farm. What harm could a few (hundred) stragglers cause? And so, I let them be.

Now seven years later, the tide has truly come in. Hundreds became thousands and thousands became -- dare I say -- millions. The lower pasture, once filled with lush grass, is now a golden meadow of delight, except the sheep would much rather eat grass than buttercups so what am I to do? The buttercups steadily encroach upon any area of disturbed or wet ground (like my vegetable garden, where I can pull ten gallons a day week after week and not make a dent).

I rail against their bright spirit as they haunt my days with their ever-present vitality. Their sheer numbers render me helpless. How can I rid my garden of them? And yet, if I stop flailing against this tide and relax into the flow, something mysterious happens. They throw me a lifeline. Instead of me subduing them, their passionate wildness reaches out to buoy me along. Buttercups become my meditation

Like early morning sirens, they lure me from my bed. I find them wherever I wander with my trusted fork and a five-gallon bucket in hand. Each morning I gather bucket after bucket of these golden weeds. The buttercups are my excuse to be with the green, growing earth beneath me. The peace of the land penetrates my cells as I silently work the soil. I place each plant into my bucket with care, an offering from the stillness of my heart.

Buttercups have taught me the power of surrender as they alternately yield to and wrestle with my fork. They cling to their home with tenacious intent. Roots of steel, I have often thought. Yet, there is a sense of knowing when and how to pull that gently persuades them to relinquish their earthly connection. If I fight them the stalks snap in my hand, and the buttercups re-emerge with vigor. But if instead, I soften, melding myself to their essential nature, I know just where to pull and how. They literally slip from the soil into my hand. Their surrender originates in mine. When we meet as one, the plant yields and soon my bucket is full.

I give thanks for this practice as I bring my chickens their daily breakfast of fresh greens. The hens happily devour their morning treat, graciously transforming the weeds into eggs with yolks as rich and golden as the flowers. Unlike me, my chickens have no difficulty with their profusion in my yard. They welcome every buttercup they meet.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Apple socka and late frosts

I just came in from the orchard with sad news. The late frosts kept most of our fruit from setting. There are a few cherries, some apples and some plums but there are MANY trees with no fruit at all. Very sad.

I was investigating the trees so closely because I went out to put little tiny nylon socks on the baby apples. This sounds goofy I know, but I was doing it to prevent apple maggots. We had a few last year and I decided to nip this problem in the bud (so to speak).

Apple maggots are as common as apples in this part of Western Washington. So, it isn't surprising we got them, but I still want to figure out how to help them not choose our apples for their homes. I decided to try a two pronged approach of ridding the orchard of them.

First approach are the goofy looking little nylon socks. Buying them in bags of 300, it is a project to put them out. Climbing on ladders and searching under leaves, you place one of these socks over each baby fruit when they are less than an inch big. Then the apple grows into the sock providing the apple maggots with a physical barrier that supposedly prevents the maggots and coddling moths to boot. I have never done this before so I can't tell you from experience how well it works but my gardening friends love them. It is a bit tedious to put all the little socks on the fruit babies, but it is also pretty nice being out there in the gentle spring sunshine listening to the creek all full of water from this morning's rain. Charlie stayed with me the entire time hunting things in the grass. We had a good time.

Apple maggots are a huge problem where we live. But like all pests, they are a sign that the vitality of the plant is somehow compromised. For this reason, I am planning on brewing as much biodynamic compost tea as I can and spreading it in the orchard as often as I can manage. I have heard of many people doing this and experiencing a dramatic increase in the health of their fruit trees. I figured I would give it a try. I certainly have the compost to make the tea with...thank you Kaitlin!

It is easy to brew this tea. All you need is a 5 gallon bucket, a fish bubbler and some tubing, some compost and a zippered net bag and lastly some micronized endo powder. Fill the bucket with water, turn on the bubbler and stick the tubing down under the water (I hold my tubing in place with a rock). Then put some compost in the zippered net laundry bag and float it in the water. Add the micronized endo powder (which helps the good bugs grow in the compost tea) and let it all brew for a day. Spread like you were watering the trees. Easy as pie. You can buy a fancy compost brewer for hundreds of dollars or you can make one of these for $20-$25. Either way, the brew is mighty powerful stuff, especially when made with biodynamic compost.

We already painted the trees with biodynamic tree paste mid winter. And if we get a chance we will dig the grass out from the base of the tree and put a good layer of compost around each tree. Hopefully, all this will be enough to stop those pesky apple maggots in their tracks. I like apples too much to see them get wormy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Busy weekend....

We are full to the brim with people around here. Fun!

Amanda the wwoofer from Hong Kong is still here and still weeding. The dear girl has weeded the biggest pile of weeds (buttercups!) I have ever seen. Becca and Seth are here for a few days before they take off for the pilgrimage walking trip in Spain (5 weeks--hundreds of is called the Camino, you could google if you are interested). And our friends Jacqueline and Joseph are here and we are having a weekend of biodynamic classes here...yesterday was Bees-The Other Way and today is Biodynamic Basics where we will be showing people how to stir and spray preps and make a biodynamic compost pile. Fun. But I have to run. Lots to do this morning.