Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gardening by the Moon


I am going to try something different this garden season; I am going to follow the planting advice from the Farmer’s Almanac.


I’ve been meaning to do it for a while just to see if it makes a difference.  There are many who swear by it and do well with it.  I know several farmers who refuse to budge without it and it has played a role in my family too.  But the question remains, isn’t the farmer’s almanac little more than the same hocus pocus that astrology is based upon?  Isn’t modern science and our ability to predict weather much more reliable?

In the 70’s when I bundled myself off to Oregon State University to get my agricultural education degree, farming by chemistry was king.  Whether it was plant or animal, manipulating biology with chemical additives “freed” farming from the capricious behavior of Mother Nature.  Who needed the moon when you had Monsanto?  I cheerfully participated by spraying pesticides and injecting hormones at every opportunity.  Organic was how the old people farmed because they just didn’t know any better.

Ah, youth.

So here I am, the same age as my grandfather at my earliest memory of knowing how old he was, poring over the farmer’s almanac.  And it’s not just me.  It is astounding to me that since I graduated from college in 1981 that the world of agriculture is slowly starting to pivot back to the sustainable practices of my grandfather’s time.  Turns out that chemistry wasn’t the end all answer.

Now please, don’t get me wrong.  I am not going to sit here on my nice couch and bash industrial agriculture.  After all, it is through the use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides that have enabled me to live in the city and work in an office instead of out in the fields like my grandparents.  It is also because of the industrialization of our food supply that we can stop thinking about where to find food and actually discuss the quality of it.

As a gardener, and someone who is not dependent on the land to provide me an income, I have a lot more freedom to choose and to consider the impact I am having on my health, the environment, the economy, and my role in the community.  Through my own gardening practices I have seen the benefit of turning away from chemicals and delving back into the natural cycle of life.  I have seen my crop yields increase as I put down the sprayer and actually attract more bugs, and thus more pollinators, into the garden.  Every day I open the newspaper to read about new assaults on the quality of our food supply.  Whether it is from genetic engineering or contamination.  People are dying from eating cantaloupe and spinach.  Scary stuff.

So I have become an advocate of organic methods.  Which is exactly what my grandparents were doing when they farmed.  And now I am going one step further and am trying to garden within the rhythm and influence of the moon.  After all, if that big satellite can cause the ocean to be tidal, isn’t it plausible that it have the same influence on everything else?

I planted my root crops yesterday per the almanac.  Carrots need a lot of light to germinate.  Is it any coincidence that I planted them at the full moon?  Hmm.  Stay tuned.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Congested Air Space


One of the things that makes me very happy is the number of butterflies in my back yard.

Gulf Fritillary butterflies getting a snack.
This spring during the Monarch migration, the backyard became hazardous.  As I gardened I was slammed into several times by wayward fliers.  I could seriously use an air traffic control tower or some guys on the ground guiding the Monarchs, Swallowtails and Gulf Fritillary fliers.

As a kid I was lucky to be surrounded by Monarchs.  In the 60’s the orchards and pastures in Southern Oregon all had masses of milkweed and it was one of the northern ranges on the migratory route.  All of us would raise caterpillars in jars and watch them hatch into those glorious creatures.  Our third grade teacher must have raised thousands in her classroom and instilled in each of her students an awe and appreciation for the whole cycle.

Imagine my delight to discover that my new home in Texas was right in the path of the migration.  I immediately began planting milkweed for the caterpillars and mistflower, zinnias, and other flowers for the adults.  The first spring saw just a few passer-bys but this year I had several and hatched out at least two batches of adults.

Sadly, I watched most of this from my window.

Unfortunately, I had another type of congestion – I came down with allergies really bad.   At first I didn’t know what it was.  I just thought I was losing my health.  I kept getting bad colds or bronchitis and my energy was zero.  I lost all interest in playing in the yard and had to drag myself to things I normally enjoyed.  My boss also seemed to be suffering and we teased each other about passing germs.  When he was finally diagnosed with allergies and put on medication, I was politely ordered to make an appointment.  He was right.  Testing revealed that I am officially allergic to my cat, dust mites, and tree/grass pollen.  Lucky me.

So now I’m on a drug cocktail to alleviate my symptoms and it is just in time for fall gardening.  I feel so much better!  Just the other day I was back out there getting my vegetable beds ready for planting.  I was weeding near the mist flowers when WHAM, I got biffed by a Monarch.  They are on their way back to Mexico.

Glad to be back.  A little butterfly wing dust never hurt anyone.