The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

The Samhain of our Lives October 28, 2018

Just last week, we had our first hard frost. After homesteading for a number of years, you grow to be vigilant for the signs of the first frost. The air smells different somehow in the two or so weeks leading up to it. The bird and wildlife patterns change.  The nights have a crisp bite to them that they didn’t even a few days before. And then, just like magic one day, the frost is there, glistening in the morning light. The garden radically changes overnight–even for those things you covered–the entire landscape lies in disarray.

 

Sunrise at First Frost

Sunrise at First Frost

I could feel it on the air, and for the last few mornings, have been going to to see if it had arrived. That morning, I turned the corner and first saw it first on the strawberry patch–white and glistening. The frost is beautiful, magical, and yet, destructive. While the garden was growing powerfully the day before–with the last harvests of our remaining tomatoes, eggplant, beans, squash, and gourds all ripening and growing abundantly–this morning, frost covers all.  By mid-day, the garden of yesterday is but a distant memory. The garden of the frost is a disaster zone for summer crops–the tomatoes are wily, the half-ripened crookneck squash spongy on the top where the frost hit, the eggplant fallen over in sadness.  By the second day, the leaves of these plants are withered and dead, former husks of what they had been less than 48 hours before.  The first time you see this destruction, its really something to behold.  It is shocking in how the cold can do so much damage in such a little time period by a temperature difference of only a few degrees.

 

Samhain is certainly here, and already, my garden has gone through increasingly hard and bitter frosts. The temperatures continue to plummet, the leaves drop from the trees, the animals and birds fatten up, hibernate, or fly south–and winter sets in.

 

This year though, this Samhain, it seems a little different. Maybe its the general collective despair and demoralization present right now, at least here in the US, which is affecting so many (and what I was responding to in my post a few weeks ago). Maybe its the latest UN report that suggests that–if we are lucky–we have about 12 more years to stave off the worst of climate change, but only if we act now. Maybe its reading that report and knowing that action, at least in my own country, won’t happen.  And, knowing, I will have to live to see the results of inaction, results that will irrevocably harm the live and lands I hold sacred. Maybe its the growing open conversations I am having with my new college students about their own futures and their fears.  I’ve been teaching college for over a decade, but it has only been in the last 1-2 years that I’ve heard my college age students start to openly discuss these things and their impact on their futures.

 

This Samhain, the changes in the landscape and in my garden, seem to reflect the changes going on culturally.  We’ve had more than a few hard frosts.  We’ve had bitterly cold days.  Some of our favorite summer plants are dying off. I think a lot of people are asking–is this a sign of things to come?  Are the darkest times, at the Winter Solstice–still to come?

 

Kale loves the frost!

Kale loves the frost!

In my frosted garden, I turn my eyes away from the summer crops, the eggplants, squash, and tomatoes that cannot handle even a 33 degree night with cover. Instead, I look to the carrots, onions, spinach, lettuce, celery, kale and cabbage that we had planted in late July. These plants are much more resilient, and all of them are doing fine despite the glistening of frost on their leaves. Some, in fact, had been enhanced by the frost–the cabbage leaves are more succulent, the kale more sweet. Rather than harming the plants, the frost had simply made them better versions of who they already were. This, too, seems to be a powerful lesson, both for the garden and for our larger culture.

 

It seems that I’m not the only one smelling frost on the air more culturally, and processing what to do about it. A few days ago, I saw a new thread on a permaculture forum written by a 22 year old girl who was asking serious questions: “Given the state of the world, do you really think permaculture offers us what we need to save the world?  If the older leaders refuse to act, can individual action save us? And if you are using permaculture this way, how do you stay focused when all of this is happening around us?” It was a good question, a reasonable question, and had a range of useful responses. One of the most powerful responses was from a man who had seen a world war, had worked industry, and had retired to a little one-room cottage in the woods. He shared some of the things he had seen in his life and said, “Its the cycle of life. The reason we practice permaculture is that it gives us hope. This is a season, others will come and go. I always ask is how do I respond.  And my response is to hope.” I wonder, too, if that’s why so many of us practice druidry.  It gives us connection, it gives us peace, but most of all, it gives us hope.

 

The practice of druidry, of living by the seasons, helps me process the inevitability of the crisis of climate and culture that seem to be bearing down at present. Samhain is in the air, both for us this year, but also for us culturally.  It might be that this time will pass and spring will arrive quickly.  Or, it may be that the world will have to endure the difficulties of winter, for some time to come.  Most of us think, or already know, that we are in for the latter, but I must remind myself of all that I learned as a druid gardener, all that I learned from celebrating the wheel of the year is present here this Samhain.

 

So much wonderful food in the greenhouse!

So much wonderful food in the greenhouse!

As a druid homesteader, I respond to the frost–and the incoming winter– by good planning and good design. The “problem” of winter  becomes a “solution” if I simply plan accordingly. I choose my plants more carefully for the fall and winter season–knowing some are resilient and designed for the cold, and others, like the tomato, fall at the first brush with frost.  I start these plants in July, when summer appears to be endless.  But soon enough, the fall will come, and these plants will thrive.

 

Using shelter and layering, the plants can survive much more than a bit of frost. Our little greenhouse will have a third layer of protection this wee, and our spinach, lettuce, bak choi, and arugula will be able to be continually harvested till January or later. Carrots and potatoes will stay in the ground waiting to be unearthed anytime the ground is unfrozen enough for us to do so. The greenhouse itself, combined with a second inner hoop house and then a thick floating row cover offers shelter. Embedded stones and a back covered wall allow the design of the greenhouse to be even more resilient, pulling in the warmth into the stones when the sun is out. The stones radiate that heat into the soil in the cold nights. Nothing will succumb to the frost or cold in that greenhouse unless it goes considerably below freezing. And if it does, we will make our final harvests, put wood on the fire, and wait till mid February or early March when the soil to warm enough to plant again.

 

Further, as a druid gardener, I think about the “problem is the solution” from the permaculture principles.  With the right plants and planning, we can thrive and grow.  Our world *needs* to change. The current course of our society is radically unsustianable, and every bit of communication from this wonderful earth is letting us know that with in creasing frequency.  Finding new ways to live, to be, to inhabit this world will require us to adapt to the harsh realities that Samhain brings.  We can’t be tomatoes in the coming years to come: we must be kale, cabbage, carrots, tatsoi, arugula, spinach–all of the plants that can withstand the harsh winter and still offer abundance.

 

As a druid, likewise, I have many lessons that help me think about and process this difficult time. I have celebrated the turning wheel of the year and the seasons for many, many years. I know that looking to my ancestors and honoring the season in the moment brings me quietude and peace.  I also look to my ancestors to re-learn how to live more sustainably and simply, in line with the living earth. I know that winter is coming, and it will be dark, and harsh, and cold.  But somewhere in my bones, woven into my DNA, I know my ancestors got by with much less than I did, and they thrived–if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.  I also know of the beauty of winter when it arrives; I know of the freshness of the snowfall and the cold nights where the stars glisten.  And most of all, I know that spring will come once again.  The maples will once again begin to run, the crocuses will once again bloom.

 

 

In the meantime, I’m going to shore up this greenhouse and plant more kale.

 

Walking Meditation Garden with Hugelkultur Beds June 24, 2018

As a practitioner of permaculture and as a druid, I am always looking for ways to work with the land to create sacred and ecologically healthy spaces.  That is, to create self-sustaining ecosystems that produce a varitey of yields: create habitat, offer nectar and pollen, systems that retain water and nutrients, offer medicine and food, create beauty and magic.  But conventional gardens, even sheet mulched gardens, can falter in water scarce conditions.  So building gardens long-term for resiliency and with a variety of climate challenges in mind is key.  At the same time, I am also looking to create sacred gardens, that is, not just places to grow food (which is simple enough) but to develop sacred relationships and deepen my connection with the living earth. Given all of this, I developed a design for a butterfly-shaped garden that would use hugelkultur raised beds and allow for a space for walking meditation and ritual.

 

Meditation Garden

Meditation Garden

When I came to the new homestead late last year, one thing was clear–any gardening was going to be rough going with the acidic, heavy clay soil full of rocks.  Digging down into the sunny part of the yard that was once excavated for a pool revealed virtually topsoil or humus content–basically, I was going to have to grow on clay subsoil.  A soil test revealed practically no phosphorous either.  Becuase I also have abundant wood on the property, digging down and creating some hugelkutur beds seemed like a great idea.

 

Hugelkutur beds were popularized by Sepp Holzer and discussed in his book Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture. They are used widely around the world as a way to create beds that are enormously productive due to their ability to create vibrant soil biology and hold copious amounts of water. The key to these beds is sinking a good amount of wood–large pieces–that slowly rots down over time. As the wood rots, it becomes a spongy mass ready to hold water.

 

The Hugelkultur beds certainly take some sweat equity, but they will pay out dividends in the long run. Each year that passes, more and more moisture will be held in the bed from the wood.  Microbial life will flourish in this wonderful, undisturbed system of nutrients and roots. Each year with the hugels is more abundant and productive than the last as the underlying soil structure grows more connected and diverse.

 

Choices for Hugels

One of the challenges with Hugelkultur is doing it without heavy equipment or fossil fuels. I’ve seen people make amazing hugels using a backhoe, tractor with an attachment, etc. They dig a big hole then use the machinery to pile up even more wood, making these enormous hugels. I don’t have knowledge of how to operate such machinery, so I was going to do mine on a smaller scale by hand. The question is–what can we do by hand, given these conditions?  Can we still make abundant and productive hugels on a smaller scale?

 

One of the key conditions for us was the heavy clay soil–when it rained, the water pooled in the space.  I thought that if we dug down, then the water would pool in there a bit, being able to be sucked up by the rotting wood.  After digging out the hugels (but before wood was added) this proved to be true–the water literally just laid in the heavy clay, forming pools that took days to dry out.  Yes!

 

Others, however, may find it more beneficial to go up rather than down–the key is to get the wood in it and get some layers of compost and such on top.  Your own conditions beyond that determine a lot of how you want to create your beds.  Here’s how I created mine!

 

Choices for Garden Design

In permaculture, one of the principles is “stacking functions.”  The idea behind this is that you should try to get as many different functions out of a single space as you can.  For example,  the greenhouse offers not only a great growing space for fall and spring crops, it offers shelter from frost for seedlings, and it offers a wonderful place to hang out when its 35 out and you want some sun.  Its multiple purposes, then, contribute to the overall goal of the greenhouse.  In the case of desginging a garden itself, this is also critical. The title of this blog is, after all, the “druid’s garden”–implying not only a garden but a sacred space.

 

The Lawn and Potential Space

The Lawn and Potential Space

And so, I think it is really important to consider the role of the sacredness and design in a garden space.  It’s not just a space to grow things in, to serve the pollenators and create ecosystems….but also a place of sacredness, where the act of gardening is sacred work and considered sacred practice. As is the act of being in the garden for non-gardening purposes, such as meditation and ritual.  To me, making garden spaces that can “stack functions” in this way is an important part not only of gardening, but of living a sacred life more generally and building connection and communion with nature.

 

So for this garden, I had a limited 2/3 circle space after putting in the greenhouse.  I toyed around with a large number of designs before settling on a tree of life theme.  As the garden developed, I realized I didn’t just want a set of “branches” but rather a space to do walking meditation like a labrynth, so the tree transformed more into a moth/butterfly design.

 

Building a Hugelkultur Walking Meditation Garden

Now that we’ve talked through both the mundane and sacred aspects of this particular garden design, let’s take a look at how to build one of these gardens!

 

Step 1: Observe, Interact, and Create a Design

I already had a good sense of the sunniest part of the land that was near the house and easy to access; this, was where the old owners had once had a pool.  It was here that I decided to place both the greenhouse and the walking meditation herb garden.  I observed this space in rain and sun, and also measured it out, thought about how I wanted to move among the garden, how big the beds should be, and so on.  To do this most effectively, you can get some garden stakes or sticks and then string–actually map out the location of your beds, see how it will be as you walk it, etc.  If you don’t have this, some old flour also works, just pour the flour down where you want the beds to be in lines, so that you are essentially “drawing” with flour.

Once I had a plan and was ready to proceed, I called out some friends to help get me started.

 

Step 2: Dig Down

I was blessed with some serious help from friends one weekend just after I moved in to help dig out the hugels.  First we had to remove a burn pit the previous owners left.  Then, we dug them down about a foot and a half–as far as we could go. The clay will be used for a cob wall project(more on that later in the year) that will go in the back of the greenhouse. This doesn’t look like much, but it was literally about 5 hours of work by six people!  Clay is heavy and doesn’t play nice.

Clay garden beds dug down

Clay garden beds dug down

 

 

Step 3: Add Wood

The next step is to add wood to your hugel bed. A lot of it.  As much as you can fit in it.  Here you can see me completing one half of one of the hugels. I used a lot of medium sized logs, some sticks, and also large huge logs along the bottom (not all of which you can see in the photo). The bigger logs will take much longer to break down, but that’s ok!

 

Most wood is fine to use with hugels, but you want to avoid a few kinds.  First, don’t use any woods that have chemicals that prevent the growing of other plants (black locust, walnut and alanthus come to mind). You also want to avoid rot resistant woods (cedar, black locust) as the point is to get it rotting down quickly. My beds primarily consisted of maple, cherry, and oak, as that was what was available.

Adding wood

Adding wood

Step 4: Add Additional Soil-Building Materials

The next stage is to cover the wood with anything else you can–any non-weedy garden waste, leaves, fresh or finished compost, manure, and so on. I threw some old pumpkins that were rotting in there, coffee grounds, a good pile of leaves, mulched grass, horse manure, and more.

 

In traditional hugel building, you would replace the topsoil upside down on top of the logs and keep adding more materials.  The issue I have with that is that I have 100% clay, and I don’t want to have any additional clay in my beds.  So I instead removed it for another project.

Adding leaves and materials

Adding leaves and materials

Step 5: Add Borders (optional)

A lot of people make hugel mounds and don’t add borders, but I find that the borders are really helpful to get them higher, especially with the design I was using (which consisted of fairly small beds.  Also, the borders give a clear demarkation line bewteen what your path is and what a bed is–and for good garden design, this is critical.  Paths determine garden space, after all.

 

After seeing my two friends who made a cool hugel garden with uprightlogs as borders, I thought I could do something similar.  In fact, this does not work:

I put the logs upright and then sunk them in the clay.  But…frost heaving in the winter knocked them all down.  I couldn’t dig down far enough to get them firmly in the soil without some kind of auger…. So I scrapped this idea and went to shorter beds with a rock linked edge.

This looks cool, but won't survive the winter!

This looks cool, but won’t survive the winter!

Since there is copious amounts of stone on the property (I just have to go digging and searching for it) and so I instead spent a lot of time hunting for stone on the property and moving stone for these beds.  It is empowering work!

Stone is quite heavy and moving it is a very good workout!

Moving stone is a very good workout!

 

Leaves and Stone

Leaves and Stone – I lined the beds with stone before adding the final layer. I packed the stone in with clay.

 

Step 6: Top with Finished Compost

The final step for the bed creation to top the bed with finished compost–I added about 5-6″ of compost over everything and then let it rain and settle, then added more.  This gives the plants you plant some room for growing. The beds, being so young, are otherwise difficult for the plants to take root.  Even so, the first year of the hugels as things are just starting to rot down can be not as abundant for plants.  You also want to suppliment with nitrogen–as carbon starts to break down (which is what most of your woody material is) it does suck the nitrogen out of the soil.  The most readily available form of nitrogen is, of course, liquid gold!

Adding finished compost to the bed

Adding finished compost to the bed

Step 7: Establish Paths

Becuase I wanted this to be a walking meditation garden, I needed to also think about the paths between the beds and creating them with something that would last.  I have done a lot of paths in the past at my old homestead with cardboard and wood chips; they are excellent choices, especially for a vegetable garden. Eventually, the wood chips and cardboard breaks down, and you end up with great soil you can move into your beds, then add another layer in.  However, these kinds of paths require regular yearly or at least every-other year maintenance and the paths quickly get lost.

 

But for this garden, which was more permanent and meant to also be a sacred space, I chose to use landscape fabric (which has a 20-25 year life and is breathable) and pea gravel from a local supplier. You could do a lot of things here for paths: brick work, stone work, other kinds of gravel, cardboard and wood chips, etc.  The key is to create something that you like and that fits the vibe of the garden.

 

So I laid the landscape fabric down and used steel pins to pin it in place. This fabric allows water to permeate but will not allow grass or other plants to grow.

 

Laying out the landscape fabric

Laying out the landscape fabric

Finally, I topped this with a 2-3″ layer of pea gravel (locally sourced) for walking paths.

Pea gravel going in

Pea gravel going in

 

Step 7: Plant!

The hugels can have both annual and perennial plants, trees, shrubs, etc.  I opted for this garden as a walking meditation garden filled with healing plants and some food plants.  There are three inlets and you can walk a figure eight or a loop in the garden and commune with the perennial plants.  The garden is planted with a variety of perennials and a few annuals: calendula, yarrow, horseradish, basil, thyme, new england aster, wood betony, garlic, chives, tomatoes, chamomile, rue, echninacea, St. John’s wort, and much more!

Butterfly-Shaped Meditation Garden Complete

Butterfly-Shaped Meditation Garden Complete

Another view of the garden

Another view of the garden

It is amazing to see how far this beautiful garden has come from the green, consumptive lawn.  It will now produce food, medicine, habitat, nectar, beauty, and a wonderful space for ritual and meditation work. This is just one variation–of countless others–to combine solid permaculture design techniques with sacred gardening.

 

Druid’s Garden Celebration: 300 Posts! July 9, 2017

Filed under: Triumphs — Dana @ 6:33 am
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The path through the forest is full of twists and turns, and also unexpected treasures and joys.  Sometimes, its tough to keep going up when the path winds ever upward or the rocks block your way.  But still, the journey continues for each of us.  Part of my own journey and that of you, my readers, is shared here on this blog, and I am so delighted you’ve found me and have been reading!

 

I began the Druid’s Garden Blog in October of 2010, almost seven years ago.  Today’s post marks post 300 and about 6.5 years of weekly blogging!  The blog is subscribed to via email by over 2000 people, followed on WordPress by 1000 people, and on Facebook by over 5000 people–I am truely honored and overwhelmed with graditude that my little corner of the digital world is paid such high respect!  Today, I’d like to share a bit about this blog and some of the themes that have emerged in the last two years and forecast some of where we are heading next.

 

The mountains I call home

The mountains I call home

Some History

I was born and raised in the Laurel Highlands region of Pennsylvania, and lived in a few different states for varying lengths of time (New York, Indiana, and Michigan) before returning back to Western PA two years ago.  I began this blog while I was in Michigan as a way to document my own process of learning and transformation to a more sustainable lifestyle and my explorations of permaculture in druidry.  This blog was my way of showcasing that, more for myself, and for the process of my Druid Adept degree with the AODA (which I completed in 2013).  At the time I started this blog, I was living on a 3 acre plot of land that I wanted to turn into a homestead and learn how to do that using perennial systems.  Two years ago, I sold it and shifted to a rental situation while I worked to figure out next steps.  I’m still very much in the process of doing that work at the moment!

 

The themes of this blog are the relationship between druidry as a nature-based spiritual practice and how that manifests through physical practice using permaculture and broader sustainable living strategies. Into this mix I throw in some other things I’m interested in and that directly connect to this theme, including wild food foraging, wild tending, and herbalism. Since stepping into leadership and becoming AODA’s four archdruids in 2015 (I currently serve as Archdruid of Water), I’ve also taken on a number of topics on druidry itself that I see people in AODA and elsewhere struggling with (my ongoing Bardic Arts series being one such example).  In other words, I focus on nature, relationship, and connection.

 

Land Healing and the Extraction Zone

During my special post for 200 in 2015, I showcased some of my favorite posts from my first five years blogging.  I’m going to do the same today focusing on the last two years of posting.  In fact, I think most of my best writing has occurred during the last two years on this blog for a simple reason: returning to Western Pennsylvania and seeing what had happened while I was gone really hit home, and a lot of that processing and spiritual work has made its way into this blog. As times of struggle and turmoil often offer us rich rewards if we embrace it, most of my best writing came from these events, and that work is ongoing.  I feel like I’ve been brought back to my home region not only to bring some of these tools into this region, but to a larger audience through this blog.

 

For one, I had to face, directly, the reality of what has been happening with fracking upon my landscape.  This meant seeing firsthand disrupted telluric currents, fracking wells, and recognize that I was living in one of the most intensely extracted and polluted areas in North America.  I was living in a place where coal power plants filled the skies with toxins (three around my town alone), where mountains were removed and land stripped, where logging was commonplace, where our streams were polluted from acid mine runoff, and where fracking wells were so abundant it is difficult to go on a hike without running into them.  Of course, the circumstances here are heartbreaking for someone who loves the land (and the idea of solistalgia, which I also talked about in the land healing series, is present and pervasive).  However, it also lead to some of my best insights to date, partcularly on land healing and posts in what we can and can’t do in these circumstances (this last link offers the final post in the series, which links to all of the others).  These posts, and my ongoing work with land healing, is a direct response to the circumstances.  In permaculture design, we say that the problem is the solution.  One of the things this has required me to do is to think deeply and engage a good deal of my own spiritual practice with figuring out the best way to respond.  Here are all of the land healing posts, which I highly recommend if you haven’t yet read them: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, and Part IX. And here’s a Galdr Ritual I co-wrote and led for the healing of the Eastern Helmock Trees–another kind of energetic land healing work.

 

A painting of the "hermit" I did a few years ago

A painting of the “hermit” I did a few years ag

The Problem is the Solution

Right as I was making my transition back to Western PA, I finally finished my Permauclture Design Certificate course, which was one of the most empowering things I have ever done.  I had been praciticing permaculture for a number of years on my homestead, but getting the actual PDC was a way to synthesize all I had been doing and practicing–I loved the way in which we looked at so many problems and though of the opportunities that existed.  Given the challenges that my own region faces with fracking, logging, and pollution, thinking about the solutions inherent in this problem was one of the ways I had of moving forward and not becoming distraught.

 

There are two running themes in this series of posts: one is exploring how we might tend to the wilds and become a force of good.  In this series of posts, I have showcased the work of my father, who has been diligently planting hardwood nut trees and cultivating rare forest medicinals to replant the landscape. I’ve also talked about seed balls, building refugia gardens, and actively working to replant the land.  Part of this also means making friends with existing plants and engaging in weedtending and recognizing their inherent worth.

 

The other running theme in this series is my ongoing discussion of permaculture, especially my work in translating the permaculture principles into a magical/druidic framework through the five elements.  These posts offered empowering ways that druids and those new to permaculture might see and use this as a tool for addressing the predicaments we face.  Tied to this, we can also look at how permaculture principles manifest on the inner planes and how they might be used for spiritual practice. Different design principles offer us specific tools for going deeper into this work of regeneration and both on the inner and outer planes.  A revision of this framework appeared in the AODA’s Trilithon that was released in June 2017 (you can order it here).

 

Self Care and Healing

Becuase of the circumstances of my immediate living, another theme that has emerged on the blog in the last two years focuses inward on self care, healing, and personal growth.  I have focused on these issues in various ways, from examining permaculture’s ethic of self care as a spiritual practice, to considering how we might live our authentic selves both openly and in hidden ways, and also how we can find balance and healing despite these turbulent times.  One other post worth mentioning was looking at how we can cultivate polycultures to address the predicament we, as a species, face.  I have realized, more and more, that self care is the foundation upon which any other healing or land regeneration work is done.

 

Nature Spirituality

Of course, nature spirituality and working with trees as been a long-term focus of mine in this blog, and the sacred trees posts and druid tree workings posts are nice examples of this work.  So far, I have covered a varity of trees local to the mid-Atlantic, North East, and/or Midwest temperate forests including: Ash, Hickory, Eastern Hemlock, Eastern White Cedar, Maple, Hawthorn, Beech, and Walnut.  I’ve also written a number of posts on druid tree workings, some of which fairly recently and some in the more distant past (the post here links above to all of those writings).  These kinds of posts, to me, represent some of the core spiritual practices of my own druidry, and I will continue to share them as I feel led to do so. These are the working tools of reconnecting with the sacred trees and forests (which are so abundant here where I live).   I’ve also been working a lot with rivers, which has come through in several posts, including one on thinking about the relationship of land health and connection.

 

The druid and a sacred garden

The druid and a sacred garden

Sacred Gardening and Sacred Living

Of course, the ongoing work of earth-centered living, through sacred gardening and through ongoing sacred action and sacred living, has been the most longstanding theme on this blog, and I have continued that over the last 100 or so posts. Of particular fun to me was my post on compost toilets (which will include an update fairly soon), descriptions of some new gardening projects (like making paper seed pots and recycled watering systems), and resources for folks living in rental situations.

 

Where is the Druid’s Garden heading next?

All of this land healing work and living here in such a place of extremes has really had me thinking about the core of what druidry is and what it offers the world.  I’m trying to tackle this broader question this year and into the coming year (and will likely be doing so, with many others, for a lifetime!)  But in terms of writing, this work will continue to spiral from my post on connection as the core philosophy in the druid tradition. I’m starting to realize that I have a very distinct “flavor” of druidry based on some of these experiences, and I’d like to get some of that out there in a more accessible format.  So my recent series on the bardic arts represents a move in that direction, and I’ll continue to explore the other core druid practices from this “connection” perspective.

 

I’m also working to continue my research on the sacred trees in the Americas. I have about a dozen or so trees that I’ve done at least some of the resaerch and meditations on, and I’d like to wrap up this series before post 400! :). And of course, there will be a smattering of posts about permaculture, gardening, wild foods, wild medicine, natural building, and more.

 

A lot of people have asked me if I’m planning on writing books.  At this point, after seven years of blogging, I certainly have more than one book in here.  In fact, I’ve finished my first manuscript and am shopping for a publisher and am actively working on a second manuscript at the moment.  I’ll share more once I have something worth sharing! 🙂

 

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey and for being a reader of the Druid’s Garden Blog.  I am truely honored that you spend time here and find my work of value.   If there’s anything you like me to cover, please let me know and I will do my best to cover it as the awen flows :).

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Permaculture in Action – Five Year Regeneration Model Site (My 3 Acre Homestead) August 1, 2015

Last week, I shared some inspiring words about permaculture design, and how it can give us a path forward and an active, regenerative response to the many challenges we face. I wanted to take some time this week to share a more extended example that is near and dear to my heart—and this will likely be the last post on my Michigan homestead, a “celebratory” post of the good work that was able to be done there on the land in terms of regeneration.  I’ve already written about the energetic healing work on the land earlier–this is about the physical space. My homestead in Michigan was recently sold to an incredible human being who will continue her own regenerative work on the land—and for that I’m grateful!

When I came to my homestead, the need for regeneration of the landscape–and myself–was obvious to me in some ways, and not so obvious in others. So here’s a look at my homestead and the healing work through permaculture design that was done there.  So this post is an example of what one determined person (with help from dear friends and her community) can do over a five-year period to regenerate soil and bring abundance and fertility to the land.

 

Site Analysis and Assessment: The Challenges

Zones and Sectors, Analysis - 5 year mark

Zones and Sectors, Ongoing Challenges after 5 Years

When I purchased my homestead in Michigan in 2010, much healing and regeneration needed to be done. Its no surprise that permaculturists often select sites that are in the most need of healing—the tools work, and they work well, and we like a challenge. This land was no exception. The landscape was just covered in trash, chemicals, and more. Here’s what I found when I purchased the property:

 

The Lawn and Mowing: First, there was the typical damage of the lawn: no water retention, chemically poisoned, extremely compacted soil, very low-nutrient soil, shallow root mass, lack of biological diversity, no habitat or food in the grass for just about anything. A full 2 acres were being constantly mowed—pretty much anything that could be mowed was being mowed. The grass wasn’t healthy, the soil was so hard you couldn’t even get a shovel into it.

 

Burn piles, trash piles, and garbage everywhere. The previous owners had decided not to pay for garbage service but continued to produce a copious amounts of garbage, so their solution for years was to burn it each week, spread it in random places in the yard, and dump it in the back of the property. In these burn piles, I found everything from nail polish bottles exploded by the heat to lumps of melted plastic, metal coils, and chunks of rubber. The land beneath these piles, of course, had all the chemicals leeching in. All along the edges of the property was a ring of trash—from old bedsprings to plastic containers, for YEARS I found more and more trash along the edges where the trees stood! There was also a full metal bus, which my neighbor was willing to remove and scrap.

 

Scary fluids in metal bins. There were several scary metal drums, stored about 20 feet above the pond in the brush. I looked at them for a good month, trying to decide what to do about them. Finally, my neighbor helped me sort it out—it was hydraulic fluid, and he offered to take it from me since he could use it. Luckily there didn’t appear to be any leakage into the pond.

 

Deforestation. A one-acre section of cedar and white pine trees had been cut about two years prior to my moving in—the google map view still had the trees, but they were all found in the back of the property. A neighbor told me the owners “didn’t like the trees” so they had them cut and dumped. The wood was not used and the land still bore the scars of that event.

 

Ox-eye daisy my first year

Ox-eye daisy my first year at the homestead

Alkali and degraded soil. Early soil tests from around the property revealed soil somewhere between PH 8.1 – 8.3 with almost no potassium to speak of and little to no organic matter. This kind of soil is a challenge—the high PH means that iron, phosphorus, and manganese are less available and may get locked up. I was, like many in my area, living on what had been old potato fields and the soil had been abused quite a bit in those days. You can learn a lot from the soil by the plants that were growing there—one of the few plants I had in the back of the property growing was Ox-Eye daisy; these are indicator species that grows in very poor soil conditions when little else can grow.

 

Water runoff issues. Additionally, the water runoff issues, especially down the driveway, put all the driveway runoff into a shallow ditch that went across the road and into the wetland.

 

Buried shingles everywhere. Someone thought it was a good idea to suppress weeds with toxic asphalt shingles—I found great layers of them under pine trees, down a pathway, in the barn.

 

Massive Garbage/Wood piles in back of property. When the previous owners had cut down all of the cedars and pines in the center of the property, they dumped them in the back, in the woods, and piled garbage on top.

 

Energetic issues. I wrote pretty extensively about energetic healing in my “about the land” page—I’m not going to be talking much about this here, but this is also a critically important issue. When something is mistreated, it closes off and curls up in a ball—that’s essentially what was happening to this land.

 

Site Analysis and Assessment: The Opportunities

Salvaged Cedar Logs for garden beds

Salvaged Cedar Logs for garden beds

Despite the degradation present, the site presented a host of wonderful opportunities to enact permaculture design—“the problem is the solution” as Bill Mollison would say. The site included:

 

  • Nearly 1/3 acre of full sun, including a north-facing line of trees that created a heat trap
  • ¾ acre pond (not well placed from a permaculture standpoint for regeneration, but in healthy condition minus the garbage floating in it). Indicator species, like spotted leopard frog, suggested the pond was ecologically healthy.
  • A pole barn and detached garage
  • A variety of microclimates: full shade, full sun, part shade, protected, high ground, slopes, and so on.
  • A lot of established hardwood and nut trees: maples (for tapping, 3 tapable maples on property); several hickories, many oaks, wild cherry for medicine
  • Protective, biodiverse hedges of trees, shrubs, and berry bushes surrounding the property on three sides where neighbors and the road were (these helped deflect noise, protect from pollution, offer food and forage to all life, and provide privacy)
  • A big pile of logs dumped in the back of the property ready to be used
  • A bunch of other supplies, like posts and fencing, dumped into the sides of the property ready to be used
  • Land energetically ready for healing!

 

The Design and Restoration:

In the first year, I spent most of my time doing the physical clean up of the land and observing the site. The trash cleanup took up most of my time on the land: picking up the burn piles, picking up the trash, fishing more trash out of the pond, picking up pieces of glass, dealing with scary materials in metal bins, and so on. I also sheet mulched three 4’ x 20’ beds in the area that I had the most solar gain and sheet mulched a rocky, gravelly area to turn that into soil. The winter came, and I began researching plants and thinking about the overall site design.

Looking back, I think the project evolved as my knowledge of permauclture design and organic farming grew. I wanted to regenerate the soil, to grow a wide variety of annuals and perennials (with a special emphasis on fruit trees, herbs, and biodiversity), to encourage pollinators, and to create a sacred space. My goals evolved as I learned more!

 

Soil Regeneration. Because of the state of the soil, my big goals for the property was soil regeneration using multiple strategies. As I mentioned above, ox-eye daisy was growing abundantly all through the property, and I was told when speaking to some people from our state extension office that I needed to chemically manage it—advice I chose wisely to ignore.

 

Red clover seeds

Red clover seeds

In my first year on the land, I sowed quite a bit of red and white clover in all the areas of the lawn that I knew I wasn’t going to do anything with for a period of time. Dandelion and burdock also popped up in those areas, breaking up compacted soil. I spread these as much as I could around the property (much to the dismay of my neighbors, I’m sure!) Dandelion and Burdock have deep tap roots and are dynamic accumulators of nutrients, so they are breaking up compacted soil and healing the land with their very presence.

 

Rather than mowing the whole thing and further compacting the soil, I chose to mow paths in the back 2/3 of the property and continued to mow the front lawn (especially after some legal troubles when I stopped one summer). The clover and dandelions (and other plants I later added, like boneset and new England aster) also provided valuable forage for pollinators. Looking back, being more intentional about this and sowing native grasses with deep root masses would have helped to build soil as well!

 

A second strategy for soil regeneration was bringing in chickens. A good number of permaculturists are using animals and specified grazing techniques to build better soil—my goal was similar. These grazing techniques basically suggest that we can sequester carbon by allowing grasses to get tall, then in allowing an intensive foraging by animals to reduce them to the roots. The roots get smaller when the leafy mass is gone, shedding carbon and building organic matter. As the plants regrow, new roots form and the cycle can begin again. My chickens ate bugs, pooped, and built nitrogen with their good work on the land. I also used them when they were in their run to compost materials rapidly and I was able to spread that compost into the soil. I spread manure from a friend’s alpaca farm, then let the chickens come in and scratch it up looking for bugs.

 

Chickens as regenerators of soil!

Chickens as regenerators of soil!

I also used soil amendments when I had the opportunity—I made compost teas and spread them in all perennial and annual beds as well as my field. Because of the high alkali soil, wood ash was out (which was a shame, since I had so much of it), but I did spread chicken compost as well as sourced some free seaweed and spread that. A friend had some leftover granite dust, so I used that as well as rock phosphate.

 

The field started out all in ox-eye daisy, heavily compacted soil. In a period of 5 years, few ox-eye daisies remain, and now there are a host of beneficial plants, berry bushes, and more. Where Autumn Olives grew up, I cut them back in the early spring before they leafed out, forcing them to deposit a lot of their nitrogen and carbon in the roots into the soil. This created a more fertile, less alkali soil, which eventually allowed me to create other things.

 

The last technique, one that I did only a little before moving, was to make and bury biochar to help fix carbon and build soil quality. My garden (covered below) received many more amendments (copious amounts of chicken-composted leaves, organic matter, etc).

 

Now a lot of these techniques were initially focused just in my garden—and that was a mistake. My garden was about people care—but the whole landscape needed to be cared for. Later in my time at the homestead, I started building soil not just for the garden and perennial gardens but throughout the whole property.

 

Serviceberry - first harvest!

Serviceberry – first harvest!

Biodiversity and Perennial Plants and Trees. I really wanted to showcase perennial fruit and nut crops as well as perennial herbs for medicine. To do this, I created different small perennial beds: an traditional medicine wheel herb bed in the front, a small orchard of fruit trees with mini-swales behind the barn, a second row of fruit trees with guilds of beneficial plants along the driveway, a butterfly garden, and a mini food forest (there weren’t trees, but there were trellises and large bushes). These spaces were designed and implemented individually.

 

In permaculture, we think about “stacking functions” where a single plant has many uses – the cover, for example, fixes nitrogen, provides good groundcover that doesn’t require mowing, and creates a fantastic nectar source for bees. Many herbs and perennials have these kinds of multiple functions.

 

Butterfly garden, year 2

Butterfly garden, year 2

Pollinator Haven. In my third year, I really focused on pollinators. I added many more milkweeds, spreading them throughout the property. I planted and managed two perennial pollenator gardens with long-blooming plants. I added other blooming plants, especially mid-to-late season blooming plants like oregano, bee balm, boneset, joe pye weed, New England aster, and goldenrod. The goal here was to provide nectar sources well beyond the spring flows. I had my property certified as a wildlife sanctuary and monarch waystation.

 

And, of course, I added the two beehives. I paid close attention to what the honeybees vs. bumble bees and other native bees liked, and I made sure that all of those things were present on the landscape. Clovers, ground ivy, brambles, so many things the bees like!

 

Certification and Signage

As I mentioned above, after some difficulty with my township about my rather wild front yard, I registered the site as a Certified Monarch Waystation and Certified Wildlife Habitat. I did this mainly for education of those driving by my house—the signage showed people that something different, something regenerative, was happening here.

 

Pond regrown - beneficial bushes and groundcover

Pond regrown – beneficial bushes and groundcover

 Education, Outreach, and Healing

A final piece of the design of this site was using the site as a place for others to come, to grow, to learn, and to heal. This took on a lot of different forms: I had 9 other people, at various times, with plots in my garden. Many others learned about various garden techniques like sheet mulching, front-lawn conversion, beekeeping, perennial plants, herbalism, and more. Throughout my time at the site, over 150 people, many through our Permaculture meetup, came through and saw what was going on, and learned about it. I hosted many monthly meetups as well as hosted three permablitzes so that people could come and learn.

 

Others came, when they were in need, to use the land as a quiet retreat for healing or integrative work.   Still others came to celebrate the wheel of the seasons in the druid tradition. These spiritual and healing aspects were as important to the regeneration of the land as the physical ones!

 

Here’s a final map of everything that was planted and where! Thanks for reading :).

 

Full Landscape Map when I left (click to see larger version)

Full Landscape Map when I left (click to see larger version)

 

Celebrating 200 Posts and Five Years on the Druid’s Garden Blog! July 12, 2015

200 posts!  Here's the screenshot! :)

200 posts! Here’s the screenshot! 🙂

In permaculture design, we talk about the edges and the margins being the most abundant, diverse, and critical places in any ecosystem.  This is where we find the epic brambles and berries, with their thorns that snag and catch, yet bear fruit.  This is where we find the rose, which produces amazing medicine and will grab and tangle. Jewelweed, stinging nettle, wild yam, sweet violet, so many of the best medicinal plants can be found on the edges. Most plants on the edges and margins are thick, lush, and hard to get through.

 

In our own lives, the edges and margins often create discomfort and confusion, but also abundance. I’m certainly on the margin myself at the moment–I’ve recently left Michigan, sold my homestead to a most capable and incredible herbalist who will carry on my work on the land and do much more of her own (that’s how magic works, folks!), and I now find myself exploring a new town in the region where I was born. This week, I’m leaving for a two-week intensive permaculture design class, starting or continuing a few other major projects, and just really looking forward to my new life here in Western PA.

 

So perhaps its fitting, in the midst of all this change, that this post marks nearly five years with the Druid’s Garden blog and is my 200th post!  I’m so honored that you, dear readers, have continued to follow this blog and learn and share. In some ways, this blog has evolved quite a bit. But in some ways, this blog continues to accomplish exactly what I hoped it would from the very beginning, that is, to engage in conversations about druidry, permaculture, sustainable living, and all of the things in between. So I thought I’d step back from my regular posting and think about what this blog has accomplished–and where its going next!

Me in my Michigan grove with my panflute

Me in my Michigan grove with my panflute

The history of this blog….

Five years ago, I started this blog to help track my progress on my advanced druid studies, where I had self-designed a 3rd degree project focusing on sustainability and druidry for the Ancient Order of Druids in America. I finished that work in 2013, but decided to keep blogging. First, while I am writing professor by profession (meaning I teach writing, research writing, read others’ writing, publish articles, assess writing, and so on all day), I wasn’t spending any time on my own personal writing, and the blog was a wonderful way for me to do some writing on a subject that I’m knowledgeable and passionate about. Second, this blog sought to address what I perceived to be a large gap in discussions within the druid and earth-centered spiritual communities and druid community about real earth-centered and sustainable practices. I had hoped to engage in discussions about how to develop sustainable, spiritual practices to address the predicament we face as a species.  So I drew on permaculture design, traditional western herbalism, wild food foraging, the reskilling movement, natural building, organic farming, and more to try to do this. I’ve been so excited to see how far this blog has gone, how many people are reading and sharing, and I’m honored that all of you visit my little corner of the web.

 

Some of my favorite posts…

I wanted to direct your attention to some of my posts that aren’t as visited as my more popular posts, but are some of my favorites:

Trio of Sacred Manure Balls with an Oak Leaf

Trio of Sacred Manure Balls with an Oak Leaf from “Holy Shit” – Sometimes I crack myself up!

 

Holy shit. This was my very first post on the blog, where I spent time reminiscing on the importance of compost and my experiences in spreading it over my new garden.  Ah, the good old days!

 

Mystery of the Stumps, Revisited: One of the most important lessons I ever learned was described in this post–the incredible healing power of the forest. This is also, consequently, when I really got into mushroom hunting.  The forest has always been my best teacher.

 

Ode to the Dandelion. I just love the dandelions, and I think they hold some of the keys to rekindling our relationship with nature.  After posting this on Facebook and sharing it with some friends, it was amazing to see people’s reactions. I have some exciting news about the dandelion coming up soon, in fact!

 

Sacred Sites in the Americas (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6): I did a whole series of posts on sacred sites in the Americas, which I feel was critically important work. Part of this was because in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (of which I am a druid grade member), sacred sites comprise some of the curriculum–and we just don’t have them in the USA like in the UK.  And when we do have them, there are serious ethical issues of cultural appropriation and such. So this series of posts represented my own solution to a very “American” druid problem. I had originally three posts, but then I felt the need to keep writing, so now there are essentially six parts in this series.
Druid Tree Workings (part 1, part 2, and part 3): Another recent series of posts I really love is the Druid Tree Workings series.  These posts came from my very long work with the land and the trees.

 

Sound of Silence: Mass Extinction and the Music of the World: This was one of my more recent posts and definitely one of my favorites. I think a lot of us following druid or other earth-based paths really struggle to effectively accept and respond to everything that is occurring, especially to events beyond our control.

 

Druid’s Crane Bag:  This is another older post examining the druid’s crane bag, and what is in this druid’s bag :).

 

Where do we go from here?

Even though I’m still very much in the discovery mode of what this new life will be–and eventually, what kind of land I’ll end up on (urban farm, intentional community, another small homestead? who knows?), I’ll still have plenty to cover in the upcoming year on this blog:

  • Continuing my work on Sacred trees in the Americas (these posts come slowly, because each post takes about 20 hours of research and meditation to complete).  Some examples are maple, hemlock, and eastern white cedar and my most recent post on American beech.  Next on the list include black birch, white pine, chestnut, ash, elder, and hawthorn! 🙂
  • Continuing to present recipes, harvesting information, and medicinal information on wild plants, mushrooms, and herbs, similar to these posts: candied violets, chicken of the woods mushrooms, and jewelweed salve.
  • A longer series on Permaculture Design and its connection to earth-centered practices like druidry. I’m doing my Permaculture Design Certificate at Sirius Ecovillage in Massachusetts–I’ll be posting about their village and some of the material that I learn.
  • A series of posts on urban gardening and other sustainable solutions for those renting and those living in a town or city (both of which conditions I find myself in for the next year or two till I’m ready to buy again).  This will include visiting a few urban garden sites, urban composting, container gardening, solar ovens, and more!
  • Spiritual insights and suggestions to handle energy-based disruptions to our land. In Michigan, it was oil pipelines and more oil pipelines.  In Pennsylvania, it is fracking.  So many earth-based, awake, and alive people I know are dealing with these all over the world–so I’ll be sharing some of my experiences in energy-based work here.

Ultimately, this blog is a joint project–I consider my readers just as critical to the success of this blog as I am.  So what would you like to see? What would you like to see more of?  I’m all ears!

Joyful tree in Spring (by Artist Dana Driscoll)

Joyful tree in Spring (by Artist Dana Driscoll)

 

The Druid’s Garden as a Metaphor for Living June 14, 2014

A metaphor for mindful living can be found through the understanding and application of the principles of the garden.  The more you spend time in a garden, the more you’ll understand the power of this metaphor (and I suggest that everyone spend time in a garden as often as possible and through as many seasons as possible). We can understand everything from the foundation of our lives (the soil) to the balance of elements (air, fire, water, earth) as necessary for a successful garden.

 

A well tended garden

A well tended garden

The Passage of Time and the Garden. In our lives, we have things that grow for just one short season  (annuals) to those things that grow each season (perennials) to what grows tall and bears serious fruit only after substantial time (trees/shrubs).  Small things in our lives may bear abundantly in most years and require practically no tending, like a black raspberry, while other things we must tend for very long periods of time (peach trees) before we see fruit.  Other things grow and produce, but only for a season, and must be cultivated carefully and protected from extremes (tomato and basil pants). Occurrences at the wrong time, like a chill period or a three week period with high temperatures and no rain, might hamper the fruit for the whole season.

 

The Seasons. The seasons pass in our lives just like they do in a garden; there is a time where the annuals die off, the perennials and shrubs and trees send their energy back into their roots, and the land lies fallow. There are times of harvest, when so many good things come our way.  There are times to plant seeds and tend them.  Recognizing what season we are in–and EMBRACING that season, whatever it may be, is critically important.  Recognizing also that we cannot stay in the late summer and fall harvest time forever, continuing to rake in the benefits and the harvest.  Enjoy the harvest when it lasts, but recognize that harvest comes only so often, and only after the hard work of cultivation.

 

The Soil. The soil is critical in a garden–gardeners often say that they don’t grow plants, they grow soil.  The soil, be it rocky, loamy, sandy, or full of clay, and the soil’s ecology (nematodes, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, etc) determines the health of the plants, their growth, their production, their resistance to pests and disease, and their general well-being. Compost, made of rotted down plant matter undergoing an alchemical transformation process, is added to the garden for nutrients and to help retain water. How will you build good soil?  Will you do it naturally, working with the soil ecology? Will you allow beneficial plants, like the dandelion, comfrey, clover, blue false indigo, and so on, to help build soil with you?

 

Composting. Composting happens in our lives–sometimes what is growing has grown out of control or used up the nutrients in the soil, or plants that we don’t want and that don’t bear fruit (or even may be harmful, like poison ivy or water hemlock) are growing and we must pull them out.  Sometimes, the whole garden must be started again as the seasons move in our lives from fall to winter.  In the last year and a half, this is what happened to me–fall set in, my garden had to be cleared for the winter months, the old material piled upon a heap and simply let to rot, and my work in the broader world had to lay fallow for a time.  I resisted this mightily at first, I thought there was something wrong with me, but as time went on, I realized that this period of composting and laying fallow was entirely necessary.  I think our culture assumes we should always be working, always productive, always DOING something.  But that’s not the way a garden works–it must have its time of rest and fallow….as do we.  Embracing this time of fallow, of composting, is a necessary part of healthy living.

However, gardens that lay fallow (bare) for too long, however, aren’t healthy either.  Perhaps you find yourself in a holding pattern, not able to move forward for a time.  Don’t let that garden stand bare, ready to plant, with soil exposed to the elements.  It will erode, and you will lose valuable nutrients and humus.  Instead, plant a cover crop to give yourself time to move forward….cover crops are temporary things that fill gardens.  I mean this literally and figuratively; clover is one of the best cover crops we have as gardeners.  I’d also say that if you are in this state, you might work with clover (as a tea, sitting by the plant and meditating, as a tincture) and it will help you through this time.

 

Shelter and Growth. If we use additional shelter to protect our plants, they may grow better but be weak.I can put hoop houses up, to protect myself, my heart, my emotions, and for some plants they work well.  But hoop houses can only be used in the spring in fall, as a buffer–if we use them throughout the summer, the plants will smother, wither, and die.  This is another important lesson of the garden…know when to take shelter and make shelter; when to shelter yourself…and know what seasons that shelter no longer serves you.

Careful timing and sowing

Careful timing and sowing

Plant Allies. Plant allies are one of the most important things in a garden. These are plants that serve a beneficial nature, like companions, to those we want to have bear fruits.  As we are going through our times of plenty and times of sorrow, look to the plant allies in a garden for help as to where you are.  Dandelion breaks up compacted soil; dandelion may also help you break up stagnation in your life.  Mints provide substantial, long lasting forage for pollinators, who help pollinate various developing fruits in our garden–mints might help cultivate inspiration and allow us to draw upon the awen within.  Learn carefully what plants do in the broader world–I think you’ll find that they can perform similar roles within us if only we are willing to listen and learn. Will you draw upon these plant allies in your life when you need them?

 

Metaphor for life. When I look at my own life recently, I recognize that I’m coming out of a fallow period and now I look across this great garden, prepared with the soil that contains the compost of so many things I had to pull out of my life (or that were pulled out for me).  While those old plants are gone, the nutrients haven’t been lost, and if I’m careful in my own thinking process, I can transform them and use them again.  So the past experiences, people, and so on that may no longer serve us still can be used for new growth.  Introspection and meditation can help us work with this old plant matter and transform it–that’s a lot of what I did in my fallow period, where my garden was barren but the bacteria were working hard throughout the winter to convert dead plant matter into rich earth.

 

This post was a lesson that my plant ally teachers, specifically, yarrow and dandelion, have shared with me.  Its a lesson that I think can be useful to others, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Sowing the Seeds of the Future: Spiritual Insights on Seed Starting and Growth December 16, 2013

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

There is so much magic in a tiny seed. Dormant, still, silent, the seed speaks of unimaginable potential. The seed is the first—and last—step in the cycle of most plant life; they complete the circle of life. Seeds can lay dormant for years, decades, and in some cases, centuries.  When parched earth finally gets rain, when the fires die down and only ash remains—the seeds carry new life forth.

 

Growing a plant from seed is a magical experience. Through this process, a magical transformation takes place both in the druid gardener and in the seed. You nurture and support the seed, giving it rich soil, light, warmth, and water. The seed nurtures you, providing lessons, healing, and strength. In the briefest of moments, the seed sprouts, sending tendrils up into the heavens and down into the earth, uniting the solar currents of the sun and the telluric currents of the earth. For some fast-growing plants, you can literally see them growing early in their life cycle. This same process is mirrored within the soul of the grower, hope and life are born anew.

 

As the seed springs forth, its first two leaves (called cotyledons) are not “true leaves” but rather represent the seed’s first tender steps into a larger world. Once true leaves develop, the plant takes on the characteristics of its variety.  Like a human infant, springing forth is only the first step of the journey of growth and development.

 

Sorting seeds in December!

Sorting seeds in December!

I know that for many, the period between Alban Arthan and Imbolc can be challenging because of the darkness and cold. But I, sitting near my warm fire with the seeds of hope and life, enjoy such times. As a druid gardener, December and January are times of such joy, for these are the times when I return to my seeds. I spend weeks sorting through saved bags of seeds, remembering seeds given to me from friends, re-establishing relationships with seeds I have been saving for years, or studying new seed packets I purchased.  Part of this is just to reconnect to the plants, to look forward to what is to come.

But, this is so I can plan how much seed I need to start and when I need to start it. For the seeds I’ve saved, I think about the relationship I’ve shared with that plant, that strain of seeds. Now in my fourth year of serious organic gardening, I have strains of kale, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and herbs that I have had many years of friendship with—the seeds represent a way to carry our connection through the darkest of times before it begins anew.  As I sit with my packages of seeds, I reflect upon our past history and look forward to future harvests.

 

This year, dear readers, I suggest that you sow at least a few seeds. If you have the space for a larger garden, consider sheet mulching an area in the spring  and planting some vegetables. Create a sacred garden space for growth—of the druid and of the garden.  Growing a bit of your own food puts you in a sacred relationship with the land and its cycles—and all of it begins with the seed that you grow. If you only have room for a few pots on a porch or a windowsill, you can still experience the magic and teachings of the humble seed. I suggest starting some herbs (mint, oregano, or chives are all very easy to grow) or growing some vegetables in containers.

 

Once you start your seeds, consider your relationship to the plants.  I have found that plants really enjoy music, and I play my flutes and panflute for them often.  I speak to them, listen to their stories and secret tales, and open myself up to their teachings.  This is a very personal process, but you will your way. Meditation with the seedlings can provide great insights.  Connect with the spirit of that plant—each species has a spirit, and you can see that spirit out and learn from it.

 

If you decide to start seeds, ask around.  Chances are, someone you know has seeds and is willing to share.  If you are purchasing seeds, it is important to know that not all seeds are created equal.  The seeds of our ancestors were all what is now known as “heirloom” and “open pollinated” and could be easily saved from year to year and were adapted to the localized climates that they lived in. The seeds of today—including nearly all you would purchase in a big box store—are often genetically modified and hybridized. GMO and hybrid seeds are modified so that you can’t save them, and often have other modifications to the plant and/or are treated with chemicals. Energetically, these seeds represent the worst of humanity’s shattered relationship with nature, and buying them supports industries that are actively causing harm to our planet.

 

For seeds that are open-pollinated and heirloom, you can visit the Seed Saver’s Exchange, Horizon Herbs, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, or High Mowing Seeds.  For information on how to start and save seeds, the book Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners (Ashworth and Cavagnaro, 2002) is a wonderful reference and one that I have used for many seeds.  I also have a post on seed saving spinach and lettuce seed this blog.

 

There is no greater magical gift in the world than that of a seed, and no greater magical act than that of growth.  If you have questions about seeds, seed starting, or magical gardening please feel free to contact me or respond here.

 

*I’d also like to acknowledge that some of my insights gained in this post came through mediation from the first knowledge lecture in Greer’s Celtic Golden Dawn system (which I have been studying for the last 8 months).