On the Pains of Xeriscaping: Toward Waterwise Living

It’s hard to have an ugly yard in California. Many residents in Southern California pride themselves on lush gardens with blooming flowers and Tennessee Bluegrass, but for environmentally-conscious people, watering thirsty plants in this hot arid land is untenable. Add the challenge of the dry Santa Ana winds from inland that desiccate the land and summer temperatures that rocket to the triple digits for weeks at a time. Basically, transforming a garden to a waterwise feature is not easy in the high deserts of Los Angeles County.

Owing to SoCal’s intense heat, gray water makes inhospitable ground for new plants, even adapted species and natives. The water here is mineral rich, causing calcification to household appliances like dish and clothes washers. One needs imagination to maintain efficiency will modifying a typical garden to a draught-tolerant, water-wise and creature friendly environment. Like all major changes, the transformation is not always easy to bear, to see or experience. Homeowner’s curb appeal may be temporarily reduced. That’s why many people pay gardeners and landscapers to do the work. But not me! I like to feel the dirt under my nails and the strain of my back as work this good earth.

Gardening always embodies mindfulness: One must pay attention to everything. I learned that the earth here is packed solid as rock in summer–especially without persistent watering. The soil is dense and claylike and water does not penetrate the top layer. It remains on the surface until the sun and wind evaporate it midmorning. The earth acts like a terra-cotta planter; roots cannot penetrate the solid surface. This hurts plant roots and hinders growth. All this means a gardener must use plants that will tolerate less water and consolidate plants in areas where water is used efficiently. Even so, to keep such a garden content, soil amendment is required.

Among the challenges of xeriscaping a property is adapting to the local conditions and climate as well as finding plants and arrangements that optimizes water use, while minimizing the demands for potable water, an increasingly scarce global commodity that is essential for life. I don’t mind the awkward transitions; xeriscaping my property gives me hope, because I can model a patient approach to land stewardship that embraces the local environment and creates a sustainable environment for all of us.

A happy draught-tolerant Palo Verde tree after soil amendment for better drainage.

Edissa is cultivating an organic edible garden and xeriscaping her SoCal property.

Wives’ Tales: Winter’s Cold Brew

Medicine is not only what can be bought with a prescription. Medicine can be grown in a garden, found on the herb rack, and prepared in the average kitchen. After our national and unsuccessful war on drugs, (more than 55,000 people died in 2015 from accidental opiate overdoses many of which were prescribed drugs; that number is expected to be topped in 2016) it’s time to look into traditional forms of healing to soothe the pain.

Since I was a girl, my mother would stop along the street in New York City to show me plants growing out of the cracks in sidewalks, or springing up along hedges. My mother would tell me the names of the plants and how to use them. Her wisdom is increasingly useful to me as I find that Western medicine does not always work in the way we need, want or expect. Sometimes, a little help from Mother Nature’s pantry is needed. Here’s a recipe that has gotten us through the bitter winter colds in resilient health. Try it.

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Winter’s Cold Brew

 

In a quart pan, combine the following ingredients in cold water:

Star Anise, 3-4 stars

Cinnamon, 1 stick

Jamaican Allspice, 10-15 pearls

Clove, 15-20 pins

Fresh Ginger, ¼ cup, thinly sliced

Heat the mixture under the lowest flame possible. It should take about an hour to boil. When the infusion is roiling, add 1-2 tablespoons of Echinacea let that boil for 8 more minutes (Okay to use 2 tea bags in lieu of fresh herbs). In an 8-ounce cup, add fresh lemon and honey. Strain the brew into the cup, and drink it as hot as possible. The various herbs and spices work to boost the immunity; many act as analgesics and astringents to soothe a sore throat, reduce and expectorate mucus and clear a stuffy head. You can drink as many cups a day as necessary to abate cold symptoms.

Stay healthy, and happy healing!

 

Making Peace with Gophers: How Personal Transformation Can Transform a Garden

 

 

In May 2015 I went to a Mindfulness Meditation retreat in the tradition of Community of Mindful Living, where I was reunited with old friends and made some new ones. The road to Ukiah was a long one, as it led to the journey within, to an interior of long-untouched places. There were many surprises, many unexpected openings, and even more healing and flowering of possibilities. Among my awakenings, I learned to care for my inner child with both historic tenderness and fierce protectiveness, both long overdue for my little girl. In the fertile ground of introspective work born of being thrown into close proximity with many people, the idea of equanimity both challenged and unfurled in me, holding my attention as I grappled with the realities of the concept as it applies to my emotional, physical and mental bodies. The question arose in me, What is it to make room for the other, the beloved?

 

I borrow from Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s book, Embracing the Beloved, for their work of naming the conscious relationships that can unfold and are encompassed when one allows for and embraces the “beloved”. They write that the “Other is the basis of every cruelty, all bigotry and war” for it is a practice that permits us to dis-identify as connected, a state wherein we are “nonfamily, nonfriend, nonrelationship, nonhuman, nonfeeling.” Indeed, these are all the many ways we separate ourselves. We can see this behavior and thinking everywhere. It is the most terrible disease of our modern times. Yet, it is all too easy to fall into this casual Othering and judging. For one, I am the Other, and two, the Beloved is me. The Beloved is all of us, our neighbors and those we don’t wish to hold close or dear: The shooter and the shot. We cannot chose. We must hold all in our center. That is equanimity.

 

As I breathe into this new-found understanding, I touch hesitation and resistance, discomfort and relief. When we hold the Beloved, the precious one, we hold ourselves all the more tenderly: Our adorable screaming infants, as well as our well-behaved and compliant studious children, held with the same love. We don’t get to choose any more than we select our skin color, birth order or origins. When I get angry, I aim for a smaller tilt and less unraveling. I come back to myself with purpose.

 

The mindfulness retreat was a place to practice all the things I’ve been studying in Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies for six months. With most of the day spent in silence, the focus turned naturally inward. I found myself utterly depleted after Dharma talks, crying uncontrollably after meditation, enraged by a benign comment. Could I really be carrying all that unclaimed emotion around with me? Yes. In fact, I have been moving in the world, unconsciously acting on a lifetime of unacknowledged feelings, sensations and urges. When feelings are not taken care of properly, they act out on our physical and mental bodies. They will be heard. They will kick, scratch, ache and strain to be seen. By opening the door and committing to my whole self, experienced in the full breadth of my existence on earth, I have felt more than I ever imagined. Part of my work was also attending to my needs: To cry and be held; To laugh and share joy; To risk shame; To open and be rejected; To stand firm in my own convictions. I had no idea of the degree of capaciousness in me, that I could feel so much and not explode, and I found myself alive like a newborn star, delicate, bright, precious.

 

This process is not surprising to me, since as the years pass, I’m more inclined to look for and invent the path of least resistance. That is not to say that I’m afraid of conflict and confrontation, for I’m learning to deal with both, as they arise, with skillfulness and tact though it is not and has not been easy, and they will doubtless continue to instruct and inform me as firm and loving teachers. Still I look within and without for solutions to the habitual patterns, some destructive, some not, that have kept me from growing spiritually and emotionally, and these are surely the treasure troves of my own renewal.

 

Even before leaving home for the retreat, some calcified, implacable obstinacy in me had already begun to give way. Perhaps tired of the hunting, I had asked Hal to construct some cages from chicken wire we had in the garage. I had the idea to bury the cages to protect the dahlia bulbs and the broccoli roots in the garden, favorites of the gophers, who seemed to have voracious appetites and greedy spirits for my own favorites. As I returned home to my full self, the container of violence in me seemed to crack open, if only a hairline. I saw the chicken wire as protecting the gophers from me, from my need to control and contain the order of the universe represented as my garden, according to my plans. The chicken wire, then, has become the symbol for my own countermovement away from fighting toward boundaries that allow and invite. After all, what is an organic garden for if the gophers cannot roam there as well? Why has so much hate and violence been activated in me and directed to a creature whose own natural habitat I have cultivated with rare and delicious delicacies?

 

Through meditation and the observation of the land and my own habitual reactions, my own vigilance and anger have subsided, and I have begun to see fewer signs of the gophers’ presence though they’re clearly still in residence. The furious hiding, tunneling and unearthing seemed to have quelled into a gentle, beneficial tilling of earth and dirt. With less resistance, I have found that our gophers have eased up on their devouring, ravishing hunger and have become the tunneling resident foragers they’re meant to be. Could this all be my imagination? I don’t think so. I hope not. Hal now puts in shallower cages as we consider the needs of vegetable roots. There’s enough here, a whispering says.

 

I’ve stopped worrying that the dahlias will be eaten or that the blueberry bushes will disappear one morning. This is life, the very reason I garden, to witness the cycles of life up close, participating in the dance of seasons with the Beloved.

The Guilt-Free Garden: A Water-Saving Suggestion

 

In California, three years of bone-dry, rainless weather are making many of us start to think outside the box. Harvesting greywater is not something most of think of doing. In fact, in this country, we’ve had the luxury of flushing clean, potable water down the toilet for decades now. But, things are beginning to change as more areas experience drought, fire, flooding and other drastic climate change. My latest practices are motivated by my love for my edible garden. So in addition to the many small changes we’ve made this year—simple things like replacing all the faucet and shower heads with low-pressure ones and reducing the number showers we take by half or better—we now keep a 4-gallon bucket in the shower.

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This is how to make a bucket work for you. If you run the water to let it warm up before showering, collect that first cold flow directly into the bucket. When the water warms, start the shower and stand in the bucket. Once you’re wet, I recommend you shut the water off while you soap up. Rinse off, and collect a bit more in the process.

 

When you see the bucket quickly fill with the run off, it inspires you to shorten those showers. After all, the goal is not to fill the bucket, but to see what might have otherwise been wasted. Some of the unexpected benefits of bringing a bucket into the shower are:

  • Shorter showers! More awareness brings its own changes
  • There’s more water for your container plants and garden
  • You can use it to flush the toilet, too

After the shower, we cart the bucket to the garden, where we use it to water our vegetables first, and the extra goes to any flowering plants. When you do this, a new mindfulness takes hold, and the garden is happier; I can breathe easier, too, knowing that I’m doing all I can to conserve this precious resource.

 

A Beneficiary of our Greywater
A Beneficiary of our Greywater

 

You may want to check out other ways to harvest greywater: http://greywateraction.org/greywater-recycling

There’s Still Time for Broccoli!

 

 

Hello, all you fresh-vegetable lovers. This message is for you. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s definitely not too late to grow your own greens. This includes collards, kale and broccoli, known as the Brassica—the mustard family. In fact it might be an excellent time to start them, since when it cools down around here, these veggies thrive and the white moths that obliterate them during the summer months seem to disappear altogether.

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To start, get yourself some organic seeds at a plant shop or supermarket. I recommend you start the sprouts on a sunny windowsill and transplant them outside once you have a true leaf or two. You can put them in the ground or in a planter box with some organic fertilizer and organic chicken or steer manure. Don’t worry about the foggy weather; these guys love it. You’ll be eating fresh broccoli in about six-to-eight weeks. You could be ready to serve them by Thanksgiving. Imagine that!

 

I almost forgot: Brassica includes delicious homegrown cauliflower. It’s the best when it goes straight from garden to table. Come to think of it, it’s the only way I really like cauliflower. It’s gotta be fresh.

 

Let me know how it goes, please.

The Sweet Success of Grapes Grown in a Pot!

 

 

Everything I learned about grapes, I learned during my visit to Stonebridge Farm in Colorado, where the viticulture is a force of empowerment and a return to the grow-your-own values of self-reliance and sustainability. Even though I know a bit more than I did when I first put my grapevine in pot, I just mostly like eating out of my garden, so I’m also game to learn all I can about how things work. Before I knew what I didn’t know, I put the grapevine on the front walk. The benefits of this are that I can see it as I come and go and give it attention and water as needed. Plus, it gets full sun for most of the day, while still enjoying the relative shelter of the house, which protects it from wind and inclement weather. What a rush it’s been to see the vine reach up toward the sky like an Olympic champion with her arm held up in triumph. This is the kind crazy wonderfulness that I want to live with every day.

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Our new grapevine is productive and healthy. She grows quickly, but the shape is wrong at least in my mind. (By the way, most producing plants are female to me, just as all cats are female and all dogs males. That’s just how it is for me. Isn’t it the same for everyone?) I’m thinking about how to prune and train her. We have time to work on these things next year once she’s in the ground.

 

I found out from Farmer John that because we don’t add hormones, something that is often done to enlarge commercial grapes, they have a thin, delicate skin, which breaks open with the slightest pressure, releasing their sticky-sweet syrup for a finger-licking delight. They’re simply delicious, but there’s no way they’d make it to market. We had only one cluster to sample this year, but the future seems promising. Our plan is to plant the vine in a sunny spot this fall and let the monsoon do its work.

 

So, the plan is, ahem, rain this fall. (Hope someone out there is listening.)

 

Grapes are just another of the pleasures of urban farming. Soon I’ll be able to add them to the menu when Hal asks, “What’s for dinner?” I can always say, “There are plenty of greens and grapes in the back.” Today there’s mostly a lot of curly and dinosaur kale and collards, but that’s food. The new lettuce is in, and it’s tender and delicious. Next year we might have grapes to go with our blackberries and the new bed of strawberries we put down. Really, you don’t know what you’ll get until you try.

 

Here’s a little peek at grapes growing at Stonebridge Farm in Colorado:

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