The Druid's Garden

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

Spiritual Practices to Finding Equilibrium in the Chaos: Grounding, and Flow through the Druid Elements July 22, 2016

A tremendous amount of really difficult occurrences are happening in the world right now. It seems like the more time that passes, the more we balance on the edge. The edge of what exactly, nobody can say.  But the edge of something, and likely, not something any of us are looking forward to. Things seem to be spinning faster, and faster; the light growing darker and darker.  A lot of folks are having difficulty just coping with reading the news or even being on social media, the enormity of everything–social, political, environmental, personal–weighing down.  Responses to this range from rage and anger to numbness. There is a heaviness in the air that cannot be discounted.

A good place to seek the stability of calas

A good place to seek the stability of calas

 

And so, many of us turn to spiritual practices as a way of helping make sense of it all, to find a way forward, finding a way to keep ourselves sane and to levy some positive change in the world. For me, any outer healing or change in the world begins with my own inner work, finding my own inner equilibrium in order to compassionately respond and enact change. I find myself returning, again and again, to the elemental work I did in my AODA and OBOD curriculum: working with the healing power of the elements, seeking balance within. And so, I’m not going to talk about everything that is happening (as a lot of it is well outside of the scope and purpose of this blog), but I am going to share with you some ways of self-care and balance seeking that I’ve found helpful in dealing with all of this. Specifically, I’m going to use the framework of the three druid elements: gwyar, calas, and nywfre, and discuss how we might use those elements (particularly the first two) to help maintain our own equilibrium during difficult times.

 

Equilibrium

We have a lot of terms that get raised when we are faced with instability (instability of any type: culturally, locally, politically, or personally). These terms most often focus on grounding, but may also include balance, composure, equilibrium. I actually prefer the world equilibrium, for a few reasons. One dictionary suggests that equilibrium is “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced.” What I like about the definition and concept of equilibrium is that it doesn’t require one response (e.g. grounding) but rather a range of responses based on the needs of the moment.

For example, if I am feeling really disconnected, scattered, and unfocused, I might do some grounding techniques that help more firmly root me back in place. But there are times that being rooted firmly in place is not the best idea, and instead, I need to let go and simply learn to flow. Equilibrium implies both of these things: finding and maintaining it is situational based on the context and your own needs.

 

Grounding, or the work of Calas

When I talk to spiritual friends about these times and all that is happening, I think a lot of them talk about “grounding” and grounding strategies. Grounding usually happens when we connect with the energies of the earth, of stability, of calm. In the three druid element system, this grounding is clearly represented by calas, which is the principle of solidity and substance. Calas represents the physical substance of things, the strength in the cell walls of the plant, the stones beneath our feet, the stable and unchanging fathoms of the deepest caves. When we ground, we plant ourselves firmly and solidly on the living earth–we plant our feet strongly and with purpose. We stand our ground, so to speak, we dig in our heels, we spread ourselves out upon the earth and feel its stability and strength.  Now, there are times when grounding is the correct response, and there are also times where I actually think it does more harm than good. The key questions to determine whether or not grounding is an effective approach seems to be: do I need stability in my life right now? Do I need something firm to stand on, to hold on, and to simply be present with? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then by all means, ground away. But recognize that sometimes, holding fast to something is a reactionary response, rather than the best response.

 

There are so many practices and ways of grounding–I’ll just share a few of my favorites.

Earthing and forest walking. I really love to take a barefoot walk through a path in a very familiar forest (even better if it is raining, lol).  I wouldn’t do this in an unfamiliar forest, or one that has a lot of poison ivy or brambles. But certain forests, dirt paths, and mossy areas lend themselves really well to this kind of activity. It is the most simple thing–you take off your shoes and socks, and simply walk on the earth.  Feel the land beneath your toes.  Walk, perhaps in movement meditation, for a period of time. You can combine this with energetic work.

 

Energetic work. When I do the forest walking, I like to stand a spot and envision the energies of the telluric current, those of the deep earth (envisioned in green-gold) rising up through my soles of my feet and into my body, clearing me and filling me with a sense of calm and stability.  The OBOD’s Light Body Exercise, for those that practice it, works quite well as a grounding and clearing activity.  Really, most kinds of energetic work can be good during the forest walking.

Some shagbark hickories can provide amazing grounding!

Some shagbark hickories can provide amazing grounding!

 

Weeding and Garden tending. Spending time with earthy things, like in the garden, can be extremely grounding and stabilizing. Planting, harvesting, weeding–even laying in the garden with a good book is a sure way to help do some grounding work.

 

Working with the stones. Carrying a small stone with you is a grounding activity in and of itself.  I have one that I’ve been placing above my heart if I am feeling really awful about all this stuff–I clear it once in a while by placing it in running water or sunlight, but at some point, I know I will be casting it off back into the earth permanently. This stone work is good for trauma and really deep healing.

 

Eating nurturing and nutrient-dense meals. Sometimes, when we are upset, we forget to eat.  But food has always been a grounding thing, and the more nutrient-dense and protein rich, the better.  An omelette of sausage and eggs and kale, for example, is just about as grounding as one can get!  Remember to eat.  The body and the soul both benefit.

 

Burying your feet in the earth. Similar to my earthing and forest walking, I have found great comfort in taking a shovel, digging a hole in my garden, and sticking my feet in it, covering them up with the soil. Sit there for a time in quietude, doing perhaps energetic work as well, or simply being and soaking up the sun while you sit. It works.

 

Sitting with Hardwood Nut Trees. When I am feeling ungrounded, I seek out hickory or oak trees and spend time sitting with them or hugging them. There is something about the energy of the hickory that I found extraordinarily grounding. Many of the hardwood nut trees also have this quality, as well as some others. I’m not sure I’d use a walnut, they have a bit different of an energy, like an expelling energy, which also has its own magic (but is not really well suited for this purpose). .

 

Sitting with a flock of chickens. Maybe this is just a personal thing, but I get great stability out of simply being near chickens. Chickens do many of the activities on this list, after all: dust baths, burying their feet in the earth, eating nutrient dense food, walking on the land barefoot–and they have tremendous connection to the energies of the earth. Spending time with them can be very grounding.  It is fun to watch them find bugs, peck, scratch, take dust baths–and most flocks that were raised with love will welcome your company and companionship.

 

Truthfully, as delightful as the above activities have been, I haven’t been drawn to grounding much lately–it seems like, in some ways, I am already too grounded and connected to what is happening.  Like my feet are planted so firmly that maybe I’ll just fall over if the wind comes by.  And so because of that, I have really been embracing the second druid element this year: the principle of gwyar.

Flowing, or the work of Gwyar

The element of Gwyar, often represented by water, represents the principle of fluidity and of flow.  Gwyar is the principle of change, opposite of the stability of Calas.  All things grow and change, and sometimes, we must learn to be adaptable and embrace that change.  Water teaches different lessons than the grounding of the earth–it teaches us the power of flow.  The babbling brook cascading over the stones, the water flowing off the leaves during a storm, the air flows pushing clouds and rain further across the landscape, the constant flow of time: these are all part of the power of gwyar.  Like Calas, there are times when embracing Gwyar is the right approach, and there are times when being too “go with the flow” is not the right strategy.  Questions I like to ask to determine this are:  Am I in need of letting go? Am I in need of trusting the universe to guide my path?  Am I feeling to rigid or inflexible?  Affirmative answers to these questions suggest a need to embrace Gwyar.

I have found that embracing Gwyar has been helpful for me as there are a number of things in my life, and certainly in the broader world, that are out of my immediate control. As much as I would like to control them, I am unable to do so, and attempting to exert control is only going to lead to my own suffering.  Instead, I must learn to accept these things at present, and flow with them, and the act of releasing my attempted firm hold is in itself a very powerful magical act.  And so, here are some ways to embrace the power of flow:

 

Getting on the water!

Getting on the water!

Get on the water. This summer, I bought a kayak, and have spent nearly all of my free time out on lakes and rivers, learning how to flow with the waves.  This has its own kind of healing work, but in a watery sense–rather than being firmly planted, I am learning the power of flow.  Of riding the waves, leaning into the current, anticipating–and simply moving along.  Not fighting the current. Putting up my kayak sail, and simply letting the wind and waves take me on an adventure.  Kayaks and other water vessels are easy to come by–you can rent them at many state parks or local lakes; you can also ask around and I’m sure at least 1-2 friends will have one you can borrow.  I would suggest a kayak, rowboat, or canoe for this kind of flowing work–you want to be closer to the water, as close as possible.  The other option is tubing–a lot of rivers offer a tubing option where you rent a tube, bring a cooler, and spend the next 4-6 hours floating down the stream.  This is really, really good for connecting to the principle of flow.

 

Whitewater Rafting: If you really want a more extreme version of “getting on the water,” whitewater rafting or kayaking is a good choice.  The stronger currents force you even more to get into the physical embodiment of flow and adaptability, which is a powerful spiritual lesson. In fact, the reason that this post is two days early from my normal schedule is that I am getting on the extreme waters this weekend and heading out to one of my very favorite rivers, the Youghiogheny, for some rafting!.

 

Water observations. Sitting by moving water (or even still water) can teach you a lot about flows and the importance of going with the flow. I love doing this by small streams and creeks–playing with the rocks, seeing the interplay between gwyar and calas as the water tumbles through and down the stream.  What amazes me even about still water, like lakes, is that the lakes themselves change as the weather conditions change–from choppy waters to still and clear waters–and this, too, is a powerful lesson.  As I observe the water, I think about the places in my life where I need to embrace gwyar and flow, and the places where calas is a more appropriate path.

 

Energetic work.  Similar to the work above, I have found that I can connect to the element of gywar energetically, especially at points of water or other kinds of movement or flow (a dance, for example).

 

Mindful drinking of water.  Drinking high quality water mindfully, paying attention to the taste and the feel of it as it flows, and sipping it quietly while you mediate, is another simple activity that you can do.  Try to find local spring water, if you can, for this, but any spring water or well water would do nicely!

 

Bathing.  We all need to be clean, and bathing rituals and activities can certainly help.  Even if it is simply a matter of turning your awareness for a few minutes to the flow of the shower around you, or the comfort of the tub, it can be tremendously useful for  connecting to gwyar.  I sometimes will let the water drain out of the tub as I sit within it, feeling the waters flowing around me and cleansing.

 

Getting in the mud....

Getting in the mud….

Standing and walking in the rain.  Take a walk in a rain without an umbrella (and preferably without shoes). Pay attention to how the water feels as it soaks you, flows around you.  Pay attention to how it runs down the road, down the trunk of the tree, see where it goes afterwards.  This is tremendously useful and I try to do it often!

 

Swimming in a lake or stream. Jumping in the water, and floating for a time, is a really fun way to embrace gwyar.  I have been combining this with kayaking–I kayak out to a secluded spot and then jump into the water for a bit.  It has really been great.  I’ve also been working to visit the many local swimming holes near this area!

 

Sitting with a flock of ducks.  If chickens epitomize an earthy and grounding being, the duck is a good representation of gwyar.  I like sitting with ducks a lot–they have a very different energy than chickens, and observing them can help teach the principles of flow.

 

Some Methods of Bringing Balance and Unity of Calas and Gwyar

A third possibility, of course, is that in order for equilibrium, you need both the energy of gywar and calas.  I have found that if I’m generally just so overwhelmed, feeling both ungrounded and unadaptable, the unification of these two elements in my life can really help me find my footing.  You can combine activities above together, or engage in activities that innately emphasize the unity of the two elements.  Here are a few of my favorites:

 

Playing in mud puddles. Playing in the mud should never be discounted as a fantastic method for seeking equilibrium.  We knew this well as children, but have often forgotten the most important truths as adults.  Wait for a good summer rain (it has been dry here, but I am waiting) and find a puddle in the field or abandoned dirt road somewhere–somewhere safe and clean.  And get on the oldest clothes you can, take off your shoes, and just jump in it. Or make your own mud puddle with the hose.  Make mud pies, just like when you are a kid.  This is a most healthy antidote to present day reality!

 

Natural Building. An alternative is to visit a natural building site and become one with the cob.  Natural building requires initial flow and wet materials that dry into strong structures.  Making some cob with the feet and the hands, and plastering it on there, is a great experience.

 

Frankfort Mineral Springs - Embracing Gwyar

Frankfort Mineral Springs – Embracing Gwyar

Visiting Springs.  Springs are another place where you can see the interplay and balance between gwyar and calas in a natural setting. I have been visiting springs all over Western PA since moving here a year ago. I recently went camping at Raccoon Creek State Park and had the delight of visiting the Franklin Mineral Springs while I was there. It was really a cool spring–completely unexpected–with heavy content of iron (I shared a photo of it above). It had a basin where the water flowed so cold–I dunked my head in it, soaked myself up in it, and observed the flow of this spring. It was awesome! What I have found about these natural springs is that, at least here, they really do represent the intersection of gwyar and calas–the flow interacting with the stability of the stone.  This particular spring resonated strongly with balance of the elements: the stone where the water issued forth and the basin for stability, the ever-flowing gush of the water from the stones, and the mineral content in the water itself representing the unification of the elements.

 

Stillness. Stillness of the body and of the mind is another way to embrace the intersection of gywar and calas.  We spend so much of our time running around, dashing to and fro, and never really just being present in the moment, in ourselves. After the AODA’s practices, I like to sit in stillness in nature, quiet my mind, and simply be present in the world around me. This work requires us to both physically stop moving and be more stable, but also flow into the moment and simply observe what comes. It is powerful and profound!

 

Dancing: The principle of dance is all about the intersection of the stable earth and other objects with flow, and participating in some dance yourself (even if you aren’t very good, it doesn’t matter, go do it in the forest or wild areas where nobody can see you). I like to do this with ribbons or flags or something to even more appropriately attend to the energies of flow.

 

Throwing Pots. Any art forms that encourage the intersection of calas and gwyar are useful activities for seeking equilibrium. I have found that pottery, for example, is one of the best ones (for reasons similar to natural building/cob building, above). The intersection of the water to shape the clay, and then the application of heat, offers powerful spiritual lessons and opportunities.

 

As we all navigate these difficult times, I hope that the above material will provide you with some strategies for seeking equilibrium.  Blessings upon your path and journey!

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Garden and Homesteading Update – March 31, 2014 March 31, 2014

The Spring Equinox was a mere week and a half ago, and today, for the first time, it felt like spring.  The snows are melting and the warmth is coming.  I think its been a long, hard winter for many of us, and not just because of the weather.  It was a dark time for many, myself included, and I am very happy to see the sun and feel the warmth again. This post provides an overview of the garden in its current state (March 31st) as well as the surrounding landscape.  I’ll conclude the post with some of the things I plan on covering on the blog in the coming year.

 

The Broader Landscape

 

The snows are not yet melted, and the lakes and ponds are still frozen over.  Here’s an image of the spiral labyrinth I’ve been walking on my pond all winter–its still there, and the ice is still quite thick.

Imbolc Spiral

Imbolc Spiral

I visited Lake Huron with a few friends yesterday, and likewise, the Great Lakes are still encrusted with ice.  Here’s a shot from yesterday at White Rock, on the Southwestern edge of Lake Huron.

Altar by the Lake

Altar by the Lake

Druid playing the flute on the frozen lake

Druid playing the flute on the frozen lake (March 30, the garden shots below are from March 31!)

Even with all of this ice, however, the land and lakes are slowly thawing.

 

The Garden and its Magic

 

Today I spent time out in the garden in the afternoon, and it was a really welcome and nurturing time.  I can’t believe how much healing one can gain with only a few hours in the sun and with the plants and soil!

 

First, the most important discovery–plants under my hoop houses survived.  I added an additional layer to their shelter, something called “remay” which is a spun fiber.  I added this in early December, after the cold really set in.  It goes under the main hoop and above the plants and helps give them one additional layer of protection.  This still typically only protects the plants to 5 or 10 degrees or so, however.  With the cold winter, and the evenings of -15 and -17, I thought there was no hope for my little hoops.

 

And yet…look what I found today.  You’ll notice in the first picture that the spinach only in the center survived–that’s because the ground freezes from the edges inward.  But I realized, as my hoops were covered with over 2′ of snow, that that snow itself must have provided a buffer for the spinach.  This likely means that my other zone 6 plants (like my pecan tree back by the circle) had a chance of survival.

Spinach Survived!

Spinach Survived! (And see all that snow, still?)

Hope returns to the world!

Hope returns to the world!

A small radish survivor!

A small radish survivor!

I can’t really describe to you the feeling of opening up that hoop house and seeing those living spinach and radish plants.  I had given up on them as the hoops had mostly caved in under the heavy snow and ice that I wasn’t able to remove, as the darkness set in.  I have always seen the garden as a metaphor for myself, and I’ve had so many cold, dark, barren months recently.  Seeing those spinach and radish plants renewed the promise of spring within me….something survived, and soon, it will be giving me further nourishment and strength.  It was a profound moment, there in the garden.

 

All of the fall garden preparation has paid off–the early spring beds are just filled with wonderful soil.  I am so pleased to see it, as I have spent years making this soil the best it can be. I moved my 2nd hoop house (the one that wasn’t protecting anything), prepped a bed of lettuce and carrots, direct seeded them, and covered them back up.

Amazing soil for lettuce and carrots!

Amazing soil for lettuce and carrots!

One of the other things I wanted to report back on was the effect of the cover crops.  With 2+ feet of snow and ice on the ground, all of the soil in the beds is very compacted–its probably 4″ lower than it was in the fall.  It appears the red clover died off completely….but the winter rye is the hardiest of plants, and it, of course, survived.  Not only did it survive, but it kept my beds covered in it mostly spongy and nice, instead of compacted.  The beds with the winter rye are a full 2-3″ higher than those with bare soil or just straw.

Winter rye bed

Winter rye bed

I began turning the winter rye under today–it requires a full two weeks of wait time before planting after you turn it under.  I’ll work to turn all of it under in the next few weeks–this is a laborious job and one that could be done with petrochemicals, but after the rather lazy winter months, I don’t mind the hard work :).   I also like to add some brown matter to the soil to help the bacteria break down the rye–I added some composted leaves (leaf mulch) as I turned.  A simple garden fork does this work beautifully (much better than a shovel, which I used to use before I discovered the fork).

Turning under the rye

Turning under the rye

Peas germinate at 40 degrees or higher and don’t mind cold soils.  I used the garden fork to aerate the garden bed, and reduce soil compaction. I just stuck it into the bed and tilted it a bit to loosen the soil.  Then I planted my first succession of peas (Early Alaska, saved from last year) and will plant another succession every two weeks for the next 6 weeks.  This will ensure a continual harvest into the early summer.  You can see my homemade trellises here as well (they move easily enough to the new bed).

Planting peas

Planting peas

I checked on the garlic I planted in the fall.  No sign of sprouting yet!

Hoop house, cover crop, garlic bed, and more!

Hoop house, cover crop, garlic bed, and more!

The last thing I did today was make a new, large compost pile.  I had the pile started in the fall, but I pulled out all of the food waste I had stored in my tumbler over the winter, added it to the big pile, and added several layers of leaves, some of the old straw from the garden, etc.  The pile is now almost 5′ high and 8′ wide and 4′ long, so it should break down nicely as the weather warms.

Looking Ahead

To conclude this post, I wanted to share a few more of the things that I’m planning on doing more this year:

  • Bees! Perhaps the most important news is that this year I am going to be a beekeeper for the first time :).  I have the hives, the bees ordered, and the rest of my supplies (suit, foundation, etc) are on their way! I’ve read every book on the subject I can find, joined a beekeeping association, found a bee mentor, have a friend who wants to learn as well, and feel I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.  I’ll have a blog post (or three) on the bees soon.
  • Garden expansion: I’m adding about 700 square feet of growing space (plus pathways, etc) to the garden this year to accommodate new vegetable and plant varieties.  In the fall, I added in numerous additional herb gardens in the front yard, and have seeds started for many new herbs.  The big job here will be fencing, and since fencing has been a struggle, I will share some of my experiences!
  • Herbalism course. I’m starting Jim McDonald’s four season herbal intensive course this upcoming weekend–expect even more posts on herbalism in the coming months.
  • Fermentation and foods: I plan to make my own miso, make more dandelion wine, make other kinds of krauts and fermented foods, and share those processes with you this year.
  • Sacred Trees: I’ll keep posting regularly on my research on sacred trees native/naturalized to the Midwest/Great Lakes area.  I think this is important work, and I am certainly learning a lot more about the trees as part of this series.
  • And lots more! I expect to engage in more natural building, foraging, and many other wonderful sustainable and spiritual activities this year–and I’m excited to share them with you.

 

I also have some very tragic news on the homesteading front.

  • Chooks. In late December, when I was out of town for the holidays, all of my hens passed on to their next life; they made a good meal or two for a hungry raccoon.  My beloved rooster, Anasazi, did survive (he has many lives, clearly) and is living at a friend’s house till I can raise more hens.  This was a combination of an ice storm, insecure living arrangement, loss of electricity, impassible roads, and a bunch of other things.  I have mourned their loss and miss them terribly.  But, I look forward to new hens later this year.

 

I hope that everyone has a wonderful spring–I’d love to hear about how you are enjoying the warmer weather and melting snows and what plans you have for projects this year.

 

Garden Updates – July 2012 July 11, 2012

Hello everyone! Its been a while since I posted actual updates from the garden.  So here are some new photos!  We have had very little rain in the last two months, so I’ve had to water a bit.  The heat wave was kind to the corn, less kind to the strawberries and kale :).  But other than that, everything is growing really well!

Long Sweet Pepper (not hot!)

Long Sweet Pepper (not hot!)

So this little pepper plant was saved from seeds from a pepper I bought at the farmer’s market last year.  The person I bought it from didn’t have a name for the pepper, but she said she saved them from her grandmother (and she is quite old herself!).  It ripens into a wonderful sweet, long pepper with no hint of spiciness.

A path and butterfly garden (using permaculture techniques) that I've been working on for two years

A path and butterfly garden (using permaculture techniques) that I’ve been working on for two years

This is my butterfly garden + herb garden path.  Strawberries are behind where I took the photo.  I put up that archway recently and I have some hardy kiwi growing on it.  I’m looking forward to eating them in a few years!

Peppers and tomatoes in my wild garden!

Peppers and tomatoes in my wild garden!

My garden is really kind of wild…and honestly, what better way for it to be?  Tomatoes sprawl everywhere.  The heirloom tomatoes I’m growing are really….boisterous, perhaps.

View from the corner of the garden

View from the corner of the garden

The kale (which I’ll be posting more about soon) is in the front; you can see four of the 4′ x 20′ rows.  This is very early in the morning; the sun hasn’t yet came up through the trees.

View from the front of the garden

View from the front of the garden

Garden with 6′ fence and homemade wooden door.  Its about 1600 square feet.

Composting area with tumbler (for food waste) and piles (for weeds/yard waste/leaves)

Composting area with tumbler (for food waste) and piles (for weeds/yard waste/leaves)

Here’s my composting area!  I gather up leaves from other people’s yard as well as my own yard in the fall; they compost down for a year or more.  I also add all kinds of weeds, yard waste, etc.  I’m hesitant to gather much yard waste from other people as there might be pesticides in it.  I also slash down and add comfrey to my pile a few times a year.  Comfrey is an excellent nitrogen fixer!

Butterfly and Bee Attractor Garden

Butterfly and Bee Attractor Garden

This is the 2nd year of the butterfly and bee attractor garden.  I really am happy with it this year.  I did it all from seed; it didn’t really do much last year, but its really lovely this year!

Peanuts, Basil, and Beans, and some Corn

Peanuts, Basil, and Beans, and some Corn

Here are some peanuts (front, they seem to grow slow); basil, and a bunch of beans.  You can see some corn on the left and tomatoes on the right.

 

Sheet Mulching / Lasagnia Gardening – Instructions and Experiences October 12, 2011

Last year, I reported that I started my garden beds using a Sheet Mulching (aka Lasagnia Gardening) approach that I found in Gaia’s Garden and select places online, such as here, here and here.  A year later, and I’d like to add to the Sheet Mulching discussion with some necessary tips and feedback from the garden.

Why sheet mulch?

Sheet mulching allows you to create wonderful garden beds while using natural processes–no chemicals, no sprays, and no tilling.  Basically, with a sheet mulch method, you are replicating the process that you find on any forest floor where new material is continually added to the old, and a rich bed of black soil is formed.  This process is a wonderful way of adding garden beds and enriching a poor soil.

Traditional Sheet Mulching for Garden Beds

Traditional sheet mulching, permaculture style, has the following steps, also outlined in the links above:

1.  Mow down or flatten the grass in the area that you want to mulch.

2.  Lay down a weed suppression layer (cardboard or newspaper, no colored dyes, as these dyes can contain heavy metals).  Wet this stuff down.  Some instructions call for a layer of compost or manure placed under the weed suppression layer (but I didn’t do this).

3.  Next, layer different materials in thin layers on top of the cardboard.  These materials might include: manure, compost, grass clippings, yard waste, wood chips, fall leaves, etc.  Wet down each layer good as you are layering.

4.  Pile these up a good 2′ – 3′ or so, and then cover with straw and allow the sheet mulch to sit over winter.

5.  In the spring, plant in your beds and enjoy your garden!

If you might recall, this is exactly what I did last year.  I used about 10% compost that we had generated throughout the summer (pictured) and then 45% fall leaves (mulched up with the mower a bit) and 45% composed horse manure from a local farm.  And overall, it was fairly successful, but I think I have some revisions to this process and additional suggestions which can make a good process even better.  The photo to the right shows my sheet mulch in its early stages, after laying down my compost and newspaper in Fall 2010.

Successes and Limitations to the Traditional Model

Since my sheet mulching to establish my first three garden beds (4′ x 20′ each) last year, I’ve had a year to work with these beds, grow veggies, and get a sense of their limitations.  Here are the four successes of this approach:

  • Success: A rich luxurious soil.  When I planted my veggies in the spring, the mulch was still breaking down.  I had to add some pockets with finished soil to compensate.  But as the summer progressed, the soil that had been leaves and manure became a wonderful, spongy, soil.  So I’d say the soil sheet mulches produce, given time, is wonderful.
  • Success: Weed suppression.  If you are looking for weed suppression, the cardboard and newspapers certainly did the trick!  I also tried sheet mulching another area with a thick layer of wet leaves–this worked less well, but I also didn’t add as many mulch layers on top.
  • Success: Sourcing Local Ingredients: Sheet mulching allows you to recycle ingredients such as cardboard and newspapers and use locally produced materials rather than purchasing expensive soils that have been shipped from who knows where using fossil fuels.  I used four main sources for my sheet mulches: 1) my own organic compost; 2) horse manure from 1.5 miles down the road; 3) fall leaves that fell on our property and some of the neighbors properties; and 4) other “yard waste” from the neighbors that I would drive around and pick up.  (Note on this last issue–you have to be very careful about what you pick up–lots of neighbors like to use nasty chemicals, so I only picked up tree clippings and fall leaves, which I knew were less likely to contain chemicals).
  • Success: Fantastic Veggies (for the most part!)  The veggies, tomatoes, lettuce, and kale, especially, really seemed to enjoy the soil that was created as part of this process.
  • Challenge: Inadequate Soil Composting in one winter: I established most of my beds in the fall – late October and early November (this was based on when I could get my hands on that great horse manure!)  I started planting veggies in mid to late April.  We had a fairly typical winter for Zone 5 in South East Michigan in the 2010-2011 year. So in about six months, I had hoped for some really great soil.  I didn’t quite get that. When I started planting, much of the leaves, manure, and grass clippings weren’t composed down quite enough.  To compensate, I added potting soil (also locally sourced) into the beds in an area around the plants.  This seemed to work well.  If you want really great soil, you’ll need to establish the beds and wait a longer time (or do what I did).
  • Failure: Soil depth.  Now I understand the point of a raised bed is to have your bed raised out of the soil.  But after 3′ of mulch (which composts itself down to about a foot or less), I was really surprised by how little soil I really had.  This caused issues with my garden, especially in plants that needed root depth.  Specifically,
    • I found that the cardboard, and resulting hard-packed dirt underneath, caused the roots to spread wide rather than deep.  When we had 2 weeks with no rain, my plants in the sheet mulch areas dried up.  My plants (same varieties) in the non-sheet mulched areas that I dug up later fared much better.
    • Veggies that need thick soil also had difficulty. My carrots, when they hit the bottom of the mulch, went off in odd directions.  My corn, after getting about 4′ tall, all fell over.  Both of these issues could have been avoided with a modification to the basic sheet much instructions(and I’ll describe how below). I didn’t even attempt potatoes in this bed–I dug out a separate potato bed by hand the old fashioned way, lol.
    • Because of the problems with the soil depth, I ended up removing all the rich sheet mulch soil, removing the remaining cardboard/weed suppression layer, and digging out all those beds this October.  More on that below.

The Revised / Improved Model of Sheet Mulching!

I am proposing that you make two changes to the traditional sheet mulch method if you are using this for a vegetable garden.

1.  I know it is much more work, but I strongly suggest digging out or turning over your soil before you start your mulch.  Those veggies that you have that need deep root depth will sincerely thank you for it, especially down the line.  I found that the hard packed dirt, combined with the weed suppression layer, pretty much made an impenetrable barrier, even to things like carrots, which have strong roots.

2.  This may not work in heavy weed areas, but in part of my garden, rather than use cardboard or newspaper, I used a very thick, wet down, mat of leaves.  The leaves worked great–and these are easier for veggie roots and worms to penetrate through.  I had a few pesky pieces of grass and dandilons growing up through that one section, but it was quite minor and nothing a 5 minute weeding job couldn’t take care of.

So enjoy your fall garden time, and remember that sheet mulching is a fantastic way to use up those fall leaves! 🙂

 

What is a Druidic Garden? October 26, 2010

Filed under: Definitions — Dana @ 1:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hello and welcome, friends.

I’m starting this blog to document my path as a druid gardener.  I thought my first post would detail this quest, including what being a druid and a gardener means.

Druidry. When you ask five different druids for a definition of druidry, you’ll likely get five different answers.  Druidry,

by its very nature, resists definition.  It is flexible and fluid, like a moving river.  It is refreshing and stimulating, like the spring breeze.  It is insightful and wise, like the snowflake or frozen countryside. It is inspirational and powerful, like the peak of a mighty volcano.  Druidry is a life path, a spiritual tradition, and, to me, a way of seeing the world.  Druidry asks us to investigate, enjoy, and strengthen our own bond with the natural world.  Druidry sees the land, the animals, the water, the sky–all as sacred.

As a druid, I live my life in a sustainable, ecologically friendly way.  But druidry goes beyond environmentalism–rather, we view the land itself as sacred and worthy of reverence.  These are my definitions of druidry.  Some druids may disagree, or may add or subtract as they see fit.  Druids are pragmatic and adaptable folk–we understand that tolerance is key to our continued harmony and peace.  Our tolerance  is also key to the nature of druidry–like the seasons, we come in many varieties and walk many different paths.  But the one thing that unites all druids is our belief, ultimately, that nature is good and that through healing nature, we heal ourselves.

Strength: A Tree Growing from a Rock

Strength: A Tree Growing from a Rock

The Garden as a Site of Druidic Practice

The druid path encourages us to seek out the natural world and to find spiritual meaning in its embrace.  The garden lends itself very well to the druidic tradition–it is a source of life, balance, growth, and seasonal change. Druidic practice looks at the connection of our lives with the elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and with the flow of Awen (divine inspiration).  We dig our hands into the earth to plant and harvest.  The air brings clouds, storms, and the water falls with the rain.  The sun provides the fire that allows the plants to grow.  We are inspired by the garden’s bounty and growth.

But druidic gardening is more than just growing vegetables.  It asks us to garden in a sustainable, earth-friendly manner.  To consume less, to conserve more.  A druidic garden is one that is at harmony with the land.  To this end, a druidic garden:

  • Is organic and locally sourced, using natural materials such as manure and compost to fertilize and condition the soil (and preferably only coming from a small radius nearby)
  • Is a place of sustainability and embraces the idea of permaculture: sustainable gardening practices encourage us to live with the land, rather than off the land
  • Allows for a reduction in consumptive behaviors currently killing the planet; reduces our dependency on fossil fuels and goods transported by those fuels
  • Reconnects us with the spiritual and healing aspects of the land
  • Is a place to grow spiritually and learn to better respect the process of life
  • Is a place to seek knowledge and to learn about plants, food and seed preservation, the cycle of the seasons and planting, harvesting, and so much more.

I am new to this gardening path.  I grew up with a garden as a child, but the process was never explained in depth.  As a college student, the most I could manage was a few tomato plants in a container.  But here, now, on three fabulous acres of my own land, I will learn, grow, and become a druidic gardener.  And I hope to take you on this journey.