28 February 2007

Spring Gardening in Layers

During the last half of winter I typically dream about what I'm going to do in the garden once spring finally arrives.
Working in the earth is a lovely pleasure to me. Mowing the lawn, planting a few new herbs and flowers, feeling the cold well water trickle between my toes, watching the buds push out on the rose bushes...
I love the manual labor.
I love the dirt.
I love wearing my threadbare overalls and going barefoot.
I love when my kids come to dig beside me.
I love the all-over soreness I feel when I crawl into bed at night.
I love watching my kids in their excited daily examinations of what's sprouting, what's budding, what's blooming, and what needs trimming, what's thirsty, what's fuzzy, what's prickly, what stinks, what smells divine, and what attracts the butterflies.

We moved into our present home a year and a half ago so I've not had much time here to review the lay of the land and all it's microclimates. I took at face value the landscaping plants the previous owners dropped in the ground to make the house look good enough to buy. The plants were there already, so I just let them be. I had three kids to homeschool and a boxes to unpack-- better to let the landscape do it's thing until we got settled and I could have a good look at it.
The time has come.
Last summer it started when I ripped out three purple Rhododendrons under my living room window. They were token plants placed there to sell the house. They were half dead (literally! One half of each plant was dead, the other half was alive and well) and had sickly purple-gray flowers that I found icky. I didn't feel guilty at all.

Here's where I'm starting in our garden this year. Lasagna Gardening.

This is an idea my mother taught me a few years ago. I used it for 3 years in Texas and I used it here in Maryland last year with great results.

Lasagna Gardening has nothing to do with the Italian pasta dish of the same name. Except that if you cut into a dish of lasagna, lasagna gardening resembles the cross-sections. The main idea here is to layer your gardening elements on top of the ground and eliminate the need for weed barriers, expensive soil enrichments and laboring to coax your garden to produce. It is very simple, uses several items we might consider trash, and is very effective for vegetables and flowers. The article I've linked above will give you the particulars, but here's what I've done in the past.

: Erin's Lasagna Garden :
1) Save all my corrugated cardboard boxes, flatten and store in the shed. ** Remember to do this around the holidays when gift packaging reaches a level near insanity. It doesn't all need to go to the dump! You can also raid the dumpsters behind furniture stores and liquor stores (or inquire with the managment).
Remove anything that is NOT biodegradable from the boxes. (Plastic windows, mailing tape, staples, wire ties, styrofoam supports, etc.)
2) Also save newspapers, circulars, and paper grocery bags. (Slick and polychromatic papers, like magazines, don't work. Toss those in the recycle bin.) If I don't have enough cardboard to cover my area I'll opt for layered newspaper, but it degrades faster than cardboard so I'll have to re-do the newspaper areas sooner.
3) When the weather gets warm enough, I clear out the area I want to work in by turning the soil, moving and removing rocks. And really, I don't even have to work the soil. I can start laying cardboard right on top of my lawn (or even do this on top of asphalt if my layers are deep enough) and it eventually kills everything underneath it without me lifting a finger.
4) If I need/want to move an existing plant or put a largish new one in the ground, this is when I do it.
5) I put down a layer of flattened cardboard. Puzzle pieces of corrugated boxes here, there and everywhere. I leave a space around the base of each plant (about 2-3 inches) so that I'm sure there's a good inlet for water. I use as much cardboard as I've got because if you imagine a weed trying to push it's way through a single layer of a U-Haul box, it's rather difficult. And if one layer is difficult, two layers are intimidating, and three layers are daunting. Those pesky weeds will just pack up and move to your neighbors garden! (Insert devil horns here.)
6) Next I put about a 3-4 inch layer of bark mulch on top of the cardboard. It not only holds the cardboard down in the wind, but keeps moisture under the soil and insulates my lovely plants in the summer heat and winter freeze. (I think the article recommends using peat, but peat is not an easily renewed resource, so you may want to steer clear of that.)
7) Then I do the layers again, which is where the "lasagna" part of Lasagna Gardening comes in.
8) Drop in my seeds or small plants.
9) Water generously.

Really, that's all the prep work I did last spring and it was amazing how weed-free and healthy my garden stayed all summer. Pulling the few weeds that DID take root were like cutting butter with a hot knife because all they had to hold onto were little bits of mulch.
The article also suggests adding bone meal, grass clippings and leaf chippings to the mix to help fortify your soil, but I skipped that expense and effort. If you're indeed planting on top of asphalt (and I'm dying to find out how that goes!), you will need nutrients for those plants (mulch is an insulator, not a good growth medium), so add lots of top soil/compost/manure.

Now I have you thinking I'm a gardening genius. Don't believe it for a second. But here's what I am...
NOT out there pulling weeds all summer long.
NOT pitching all my cardboard pieces and newspapers into the recycle bin.
NOT lamenting my poor soil or spending boatloads of money trying to get something to grow.
THOROUGHLY enjoying the life that takes place in, on and around our little plot of land in Maryland.

27 February 2007

Blogging Fast

I've not been using this here Compose box for quite a while. Life around our house has been B.U.S.Y. I assure you, I'm not dead. (If you wondered. If you cared.)

My blogging fast has been unintentional, and yet I'm struck by the sense of guilt I have that I'm not putting fresh material out there.

For WHO?!

I'm so thankful for anyone and everyone who lingers here to read and comment, and also for those who zap me an e-mail when I don't post for a long time, just to say you miss me. It's like lounging in a sunny window on a Sunday afternoon-- warm fuzzies galore. I didn't start blogging with a commitment to post updates everyday or even every week. My commitment was to write and post according to the rhythms of our life around here, and according to whether or not I actually have anything TO SAY. (I do recall that once, I told the cyberworld that I sharpened 48 colored pencils... and that my favorite color of all of them was Eggplant. I'm sure it totally rocked your world. Shifted all your paradigms. Made you rethink your purpose on this planet and all that. Colored pencils can do that to a person.) (And I also recall that that post was written because I felt so lame about not posting an entry for such a long time. See what happens when I post just to post? We end up talking about pencil sharpeners.)

Though I've been (unintentionally) fasting from writing to my blog, I've still been reading blogs. Here's one I read today-- Death of a Blogger. This post makes me laugh, cringe, hide my head, laugh some more, and eventually beckons me to look down and see if the ol' umbilical cord has taken on the shape of a computer power supply. I might, just might, be assimilating into the Borg hive. Or is that the Blog hive? ;)

More thoughts on purposeful, intentional fasting coming soon. Unless you'd prefer to talk about pencil sharpeners...

10 February 2007

Going Maasai

Ellie "goes Maasai" for homeschooling. (With the help of Mom's red pillowcases, a couple of painted paper plates and a piece of cardboard for a shield.)

Here we see the Maasai girl defending her family's herd of goat-horses from a cute little thief. Watch that spear there, missy missy!

Our co-op learned that as a right of passage, Maasai boys go on a lion hunt. As a trophy from their hunt, they are presented with the lion's mane. (Remember the White Witch from 2005's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe?)

Before the men go on their lion hunt, they participate in a Lion Dance.

Each child took a turn coreographing part of the Lion Dance.

We also built a model of a Maasai village. Thorn bushes are placed around the perimeter of the village to keep the livestock IN and the prowling beasts of the savannah OUT.

The cast of characters from my own little village.

09 February 2007


At 2:30 that day the doctor said,
"Nope, not today. I'll see you next week."
Nodding my head I walked out of his office
Assenting to his professional opinion, but feeling otherwise.

At 8pm that evening she was with us
No time for paperwork
No time for

At 1am I lay in the bed, cradling her to me
New and beautiful, sleeping peacfully
Nursing, snuggling- her head the softest velvet
Another daughter. I love this!

And now today she's grown by 3 years! I'm
Not prepared to let the baby years slip by.
Never enough time to smell her hair, watch her suck her thumb.
Agony for a mom, to watch their babies get big.

Ah, how she loves to be a big girl!
No holding her back. She's into everything!!
Now I can't even get her to snuggle with me in the morning.
As soon as she wakes up she's on the move.

Anything left of her babyhood, I'll hold as
Near to my heart as I can. Trying
Not to smother her in the process.
Ah, I love my ANNA!

03 February 2007

Africa: The South

** Warning to the public. This is a restricted area. **
No admittance without a hard hat.
This crepe paperly roped-off area is the entrance to a diamond mine in Southern Africa.
Highly dangerous.
Enter at your own risk.
Maybe, just maybe, you'll find something of value.
If you don't die first.

Gearing up. Miner's helmet required.

The inside of the mine (lit up by flash photography).

Diamonds are formed only in black carbon rock, which you can see, is a rarity in itself.

This miner prepares to enter the mine with her lifeline tied around her waist.

It's a tight squeeze!

Success! Riches! Wealth! It's mine, ALL MINE!

After a long day in the mine, the reward is worth it.

Another example of why I love homeschooling. This was so fun! (And the kids kinda liked it too.)

02 February 2007

Groundhog Day

Blogger ate my first post today, which had NOTHING to do with Groundhog Day. Perhaps when I get the energy to repost it we'll be able to talk about something besides buck-toothed rodents and crazy German folklore.

But until then...

Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow today. Spring comes early in 2007.

I always think of the Bill Murray movie on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. If you've never seen it, imagine being stuck in the same day over and over and over and over and over again. Ack! There are some days I don't relish going through the FIRST time around, let alone repeat them for all of eternity.

The intruguing thing for me about the plot of Groundhog Day is to see the change it brings in Bill Murray's character. He goes from a snobby and surly womanizer, to a grumpy and put-out snobby and surly womanizer, to a little less snobby (but still grumpy and put-out, and still womanizing), to slightly less put-out (more of a resigned) and grumpy womanizer, to... eventually... could it be?... embracing his fate to always live the same day over and actually doing something good and useful with himself rather than grump, surl, snob and womanize.
Of course, "Fate" was just waiting for him to make the connection before it released him to the rest of his life.

It brings up a good point about our existence- is the monotony and repetitiveness of life
(say, doing laundry) a punishment for being snobby and surly? Or is repetition just the way things are in a fallen world- that we must daily keep entropy at bay? Or is monotony appointed as an opportunity?