Spring loaded

I finally managed to get my seeds in the ground last week. Between the weather, other responsibilities, and not a little bit of personal laziness, I was beginning to wonder if I’d even have a garden this year, so getting it done feels huge. I didn’t just check something off my to-do list, but instead took a definitive step toward a near future I’m desperate to live in.

Or a spring-loaded leap forward, it might be more accurate to say.

But that’s an analogy for later on in the post. Right now, since my seeds have yet to sprout, here are photos of some of the plants already in and around my home. First up? This charming lad…

Photo of a chili pepper plant growing in a jar.

This fellow is a chili pepper plant I started back about a year ago. It’s from one of those windowsill kits that comes with a jar full of dirt and a packet of seeds. “Guaranteed to grow,” they said! Well, as you can probably tell despite the poor quality of the photo, there’s only one pepper plant in the jar. That’s…kind of a problem, because self-pollination doesn’t appear to be a thing this species does. I tried doing the Q-tip thing, wherein I diddle every flower on the plant myself, but so far that hasn’t seemed to help. As a result, this leafy boi produces a lot of delightful white flowers, but no peppers.

Or does he?

Photo of chili peppers growing on a plant.

Those be peppers! And I have no idea what made him decide to grow them after so long. My best guess is that the absolute storm of pollen in my neighborhood these last couple of weeks must have included some chili pepper DNA or what have you. Either that, or this species actually will self-pollinate and I’m just bad at giving plants a happy ending.

Assuming these peppers ripen, I’m definitely going to save some seeds and try growing some more plants in jars. And yes, of course, I’m going to eat some of them.

I am a little worried about something, though. This green friend of mine has been in my home for quite a while, and I love him terribly. So I’m a bit concerned that his finally producing fruits means he might be getting ready to leave the material layer of this world behind, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to say goodbye.

But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, check out some of the plant friends we’ve got outside.

Photo of white violets and ground ivy.

White violets and ground ivy dominate large sections of my lawn and I am totally here for it. In fact, I’m here for just about every plant that isn’t grass, but I’m not allowed to rip it all out and replant the yard entirely with helpful new friends.

Still, no one has explicitly said that I couldn’t allow aggressive “weeds” to do the job for me.

Incidentally, there was a honey bee going about its business while I was outside getting this photograph, so I tried to do the paparazzi thing and chased it about with my camera for a bit.

Blurry photograph of a honey bee.

Turns out, it’s kind of hard to take a clear picture of a rapidly-moving bee in the wind. Who knew?

Speaking of rapid motion, I’ve been feeling very “Page of Wands” lately, what with signs that the Grand Re-Opening of the World looks to be on the horizon in my neck of the woods. So it’s probably no accident that I used the Wands as my primary example in last week’s post on how to read and interpret the court cards.

Prior to 2020, I wasn’t exactly “anti-social,” but I also could comfortably go days or weeks without interacting face-to-face with people outside of my own family. Now, in 2021, after a year of “anti-social distancing,” I find that I’m positively craving real-world meetups and gatherings. Like, to the point where I’m willing to host things like potlucks, cookouts, and book clubs just to fill my yard and home with friends and friends-to-be.

It’s a wild sort of personality shift, which the Page of Wands neatly encapsulated in a reading I did this morning. I won’t go into all of the details, but in the context of that reading, the Page very much signified an enthusiastic expansion just beginning. A journey into the unknown about to be undertaken. A person ready to venture out with only a walking stick and the sort of na├»ve optimism and passion necessary in the world ahead. A tightly wound spring about to be let loose to do its work.

I’m leaning into this energy as hard as I can.

Based on my rough napkin math and informal surveys, it looks like just about everyone in my family and circle of friends will be up for gathering and hanging out right around the middle of June. It also looks like my city and state will have Leeroy Jenkins-ed itself wide open by that point, for better or for worse. All of which means that it will be time to break out of the bubble and start getting re-connected with the human persons around me, and not “just” the non-human ones.

I plan to fit several seasons worth of fun and friendship into this summer, with every intention of more deeply connecting with the world than I ever have before.

Maybe I’ll see you around!

Let’s talk about plants (baby)

Would you look at that. I almost went a whole month without a post. Oh well. Hey, check out the seeds I’m planting this year!

Seed packets for mint, hyssop, echinacea, yarrow, lavender, and sunflowers.

You might notice a few themes here, not the least of which is that everything but the sunflowers are perennials. It is my firm hope that not only will these plants survive and thrive in my garden, but also that I’ll never have to replant a thing after this year.

Another theme is that these perennials could perhaps best be described as “wildflowers,” or more accurately, “able to hold their own and spread.”

This year, I’m taking a more hands-off approach with my garden and the surrounding yard. Rather than fuss about, pulling “weeds,” and constantly watering, I’m more or less just going to let it be.

See, back a couple of months ago, I was flipping through one of my many Peterson field guides and recognized a few of the “weeds” I pulled last year. More specifically, I learned that half the plants I yanked were either edible, had medicinal properties, or both.

Free food and medicine, just torn out and tossed on the compost heap.

For this and other reasons I’ve decided to treat my garden and yard as a kind of “learning laboratory.” I’m going to stuff the garden with the seeds I bought, then basically just sit back and watch what happens. By which I mean that I’ll be spending a lot of time outside, sitting on the ground with a stack of field guides, and making friends with whichever plants show up.

And believe me, I’m ready for the plants to start showing up. Winter has been…winter.

Speaking of my garden, last year I tried something different. Or, at least, I tried to try something.

I had heard of this thing called the “Ruth Stout Method” of gardening, named for this amazing woman who, at about the age of sixty, realized that modern gardening is kind of silly actually. Tilling the soil, fertilizing it, etc.? Nowhere in nature did this sort of backbreaking manual labor occur, and yet the woods are full of plants. So, one year she decided to just throw a bunch of straw mulch down on the earth at the end of autumn, and the next year she dropped her seeds into the mess and waited to see what happened.

And plants were what happened. Her garden not only did absolutely fine, but it did better than ever. The straw held moisture so she didn’t need to water, it prevented invasive plants from coming in so she didn’t have to weed, and as the straw broke down it fertilized the soil all by itself.

Photograph of my garden, covered in broken down leaves.

This kind of “no dig” gardening really appeals to my lazier side, and I’d hoped to use all the leaf litter and pine needles we rake up every year in the fall as my mulch. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t exactly work, since it turns out that we don’t actually have enough leaves to get the six-to-eight inches of mulch the Ruth Stout Method requires.

I can’t tell you how surprising this was, given how much work it takes us to clear the yard of detritus every year. Still? Free fertilizer!

The leaves sat out in the garden all winter, and I plan to till them into the ground in a few weeks. I also plan to drop another half a dozen bags of good garden soil into the mix, since I’m still trying to build up the soil quality of the yard.

As for the sunflowers? We have a strip of lawn which sits between our driveway and our neighbor’s fence. Not only is lawn something which I hate in principle, but this particular stretch of lawn is a nightmare to mow. The soil is soft and prone to bogging down the wheels of the lawnmower, and the grass itself is some kind of extra-thick super species which even a freshly-sharpened blade struggles with.

So this year, it dies. We’re ripping it all out, tilling the ground, and putting in seventy-five sunflower plants. Hopefully we’ll get to eat a few seeds, but my guess is that the neighborhood squirrels are going to treat these sunflowers as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But whatever. At least the yard will be a little prettier.

Photo of a forsythia bush full of yellow flowers.

And speaking of pretty, check out our forsythia. This thing has really taken off these last couple of years. Fun fact: forsythia fruits are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an antibiotic and antiviral, so I’ll definitely be learning how to collect and process them this year.

Which brings us to the point of this post, I suppose.

Years ago, I was standing around in my local bookstore when, for some reason, I picked up the first of those Peterson field guides I mentioned. I flipped through its pages, glanced at the drawings and color plates, then decided to buy it. To this day, I couldn’t tell you why I bought it, just that I had the feeling I should do so and I’ve come to trust those feelings…to a certain degree. (I’m a terrible, impulse buyer and so I do have to pump the brakes on these feelings from time to time.)

After buying that guide, I ended up going down the rabbit hole of wildcrafting, foraging, and what is commonly called “wilderness self-reliance.” I watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos, dug through dozens of websites filled with herbal info, and bought several additional field guides. All of this basically so that I could go into the woods and look for plants to work with.

And yet, sitting right there in my backyard, and “clogging up” my garden, were dozens of plants which I had been ignoring. Or “weeding.”

What’s in your yard?