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March 25th, 2011

Magic Mushrooms

Just a few days ago I returned from the annual Organic Gardening visit to The Natural Products Expo, aka Expo West. It’s just HUGE! There really is no shortage of organic goods to market, and far from being on the granola grind, these products are mainstreamable, if they aren’t already widely available.

At Expo, the most fertile hunting ground is in the New Products area in the basement. Here’s where you find the innovators. And we found two young men, Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, who having obtained MBA’s and other worthy degrees, decided, phooey. Let’s do something fun. So they concocted Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden as the first product line from their seedling company, BTTR Ventures, (as in Back To The Roots.)

The old saying, “There’s money in muck” may be familiar to these guys, but the cardboard box “garden” uses spent coffee grounds as the growing medium, which is not manure, and when one side of the box finishes cropping, turn it over and the other side begins. When all is done and the mushrooms have been eaten, add the whole thing to the compost heap. Perfect closure of the proverbial circle.

Ten years ago they might have started a .com. Yet that is what is so thrilling about the basement at Expo West. Discovering the  investment and invention in organics and in championing regenerative practices and lifestyles being made by … I’ll call them Gen O (as in organic), that gives hope for a healthier future. Something we sorely need to hold onto as events unfold in Japan, the Middle East, and just about anywhere on the map you care to push a pin. I wonder what they’ll come up with next.

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February 15th, 2011

The Chickens’ Return

An amusing story from Atlantic magazine, titled “Rebirth of the Guinea Hens” describing the writer’s attempts to get his guinea hens home to roost, reminded me of my early experience with fancy chickens and white fantail doves. The Girls arrived in pairs at our place, Sycamore Barn, on a spring day. I’d never had chickens before, so this was a steep learning curve. We let them out of the their cardboard boxes and stood admiring their feathered loveliness while they stood in stunned silence. And then took off like the sky was falling.

Our village was small, so we had regular reports of their whereabouts: the favorite spot being a neighbor’s old apple orchard. My mother, a former farmgirl from rural Ireland, urged my Midwest-born husband to go after them, implying that by not doing so he was failing in his marital duties (but even the things that he did do were signal of that).  So, off he went with a cardboard box, a forked twig and a length of string. All very Huck Finn, and the thought being that when the errant hen would wander into the box, he’d yank the string, the twig would collapse and the bird would be trapped. He got very cold, and ate too many apples while waiting for this scenario to unfold. I don’t have to describe what the result of that exploit was.

It took about a week to round The Girls up, by which point I had learned what I should have done (so much of learning is dependant on hindsight), which was to keep them penned up for a week, THEN let them loose.  If they’re given a chance to bond with their roost, they’ll always come home.

Same with the doves. When I finally removed the netting that swaddled the dovecote, they emerged from their nests, blinked at the light, and stood there. Until one took off. It was stunning to watch her circle the fields on either side of our property in turn, and then do a few loops above our garden acre before alighting on the ridgebeam of the barn. Then the other eleven doves took off in groups — it was like the planes taking off on D-Day. They followed the same pattern as the solo flyer, setting their internal birdy compasses, before joining the leader on the roof. And there they stayed for three days. Scoping out the scene, making recce flights before returning to base. Eventually, when the urge to lay an egg was too great to resist they returned to the dovecote and got down to business.

In the meantime, The Girls had got into their groove, eggs were being laid, and the compost heap was nearly ablaze with the collected quano. So, all came right in the fullness of time, and ever since then I’ve learned to at least try to get my bearings and get settled before charging off on the next mission.

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December 29th, 2010

A row of my own

The east coast was slammed with a blizzard the day after Christmas. The ground in my soon-to-be garden is frozen solid. C’mon spring, thaw that compost. This girl needs to garden.
How important it is in day-to-day living not to become disconnected from what pushes your buzzer. Some need to cook to enjoy good food, others need a linen table cloth. I need well-dug soil and a plant or handful of seeds to give my life meaning, and since arriving in PA to take up my job with Rodale I have been offline in garden terms. It was becoming rather a trial to read about other people’s garden joys, to go to the test garden and watch Doug and Therese work (they did a grand job! Most inspiring.) But I need my own row to hoe. And isn’t that just like life anyhow? We make it hard, we make it easy, but as long as we make it our own, we’re good to go. So I anticipate with happiness NOT leaning on someone else’s garden fence, kibbutzing. But doing my own thing in my garden, sun on my back, seed in my hand. At last. It’s been too long.

My post-modern formal garden

My post-modern formal garden

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