The return of springtime has released new energy in the Biogaians! As the snow melted out we discovered massive storm damage on all our properties. And the sunny days coincided with inspiration from Mary and Laura towards long-neglected care of our fruit trees and roses. The response has been positively heroic!
Below you'll see Brian, Ian, and Douglas R clearing the most dangerous downed limbs at Life Song Commons, and a photo of the first truckload of brush headed for disposal.
There's been work with chainsaws and big loppers as several other truckloads, as well as dumpsters, of brush have been collected.
Most of our fruit trees are being pruned.
And our rose-and-mulch team has been forging ahead, too.
These are not all of our local heroes--just the ones with conveniently available photos. Thanks be to the new season, and to all who love our community!
Today was great. Helen and I were at it again on a beautiful day in the PNW. The compost was hot and the ground was cold. We were not the only ones up early exploring the garden. Since all the snow melted different critters were poking their heads up and checking everything out. When the first ray of sunshine peered through the darkness and hit the ground this morning, it started a chain reaction melting the frost off of the sleepy wilted greens. It must have started somewhere on the south east corner and slowly engulfed the whole garden, and before you know it a lil caterpillar could be found scooting around doing a dance. Life was also poking above the soil in the greenhouse as the several brassicas that were planted in a flat and put under 24 hour light has started sprouting in a neat little line. Two little leafs soaking in the light, probably just realizing and getting ready to fulfill their entire purpose on this planet.
Rose pruning was also a priority on today's list of activities. Lucky for me, Helen has been expertly trained by a master rosarian, and is willing to pass on her knowledge to me. We collected our tool and headed out into the garden. Two individuals entering a very diverse ecosystem as champions at the top of the food chain. Our decisions today will, quite literally,shape the way the roses will live and grow for the rest of their lives. It is very important work. Upon our initial inspection we found the rose bushes to be completely untamed. They were wild and vigorous. Their goal in this life is to grow high above any other plant, and spread far and wide. The base was a cluster of thick, strong wood covered in razor sharp thorns. They came out of the ground and grew straight up above your head. It was difficult to even know where to start. We put on our gloves that were strong enough to resist the thorns and equipped our loppers sharp enough to cut them down at the base and began clearing the surrounding stocks. They were thin and just getting bearings before we flattened their progress and forbade their existence. We cleared anything not attached to the main cluster and threw them in a pile behind us. Soon we exposed the thickest and oldest growth and we were able to study it's design and figure a way to best promote it's growth and health while still clearing away most of the bulk. We decided to keep the young and new stocks, and remove the oldest and thickest ones. I imagine it's because they required the most resources to survive. So down they came, we sawed through their trunk and eliminated the cane. We looked at all the qualities and decided which would stay and which would go. In this situation, only the straight and narrow, young and healthy were acceptable, all others perished.
I couldn't help but feel a bit like an ultimate decider/ executer in the fate of each branch. If any were even slightly outside of my expectations, I swiftly eliminated their presence, and took away any chance of survival or reproduction it ever thought it would achieve. I thought about my own mortality in this way, and how relevant this perspective must be to a certain class/ tier of society. With the absolute power over others’ survival or chances to thrive. How does this relate to our everyday life if you don't fit into a certain expectation for society. Examples can be seen in today's world that society too wishes to eliminate individuals who don't fit into the mainstream culture. If an individual grows naturally in a different way than what is desired, they too will undoubtedly face resistance and will be cast aside. I felt bad for the branches that lived their whole lives only to be cut away because they were too old, skinny, twisted, or leaned a certain way against the crowd. I consider myself someone who doesn't necessarily fit into a box, and someone who walks against the crowd. This was starting to weigh on my mind, making me uneasy as Helen pointed and I chopped. In nature this plant would thrive and dominate regardless of what the stocks looked like, and nature would take its course. This plant didn't need us to help it survive.
But as we cleared away the bulk and took away the grass and dead leaves that were once just in the background covering up the main development, I could see that all the stocks we were cutting were all attached to a main bulb. This one bulb had produced so many other stems that we were simply thinning it. The chances that were being eliminated were not just individuals, but together part of one being. We were thinning the crowded stocks from consuming all the resources and concentrating the energy to the healthiest stocks to make the prettiest flowers. And because they are heirloom flowers, and just happen to be in our garden, we want to help the plant flourish in a controlled manner in order to produce the qualities we desire, and there's nothing wrong with that. It was absolutely the first time in a long time those beautiful rose bushes got the care and attention they deserve. And with all the benefits that come with owning heirloom roses, including seeing and smelling their beautiful flowers, they have equally as much maintenance needed. I was very pleased with the outcome and very thankful that I was able to be a part of their care. In the end this plant will live on much healthier to be enjoyed for years by many.
We investigated the process for breeding naked pumpkins from Patricia's seeds. The hopeful farmer identifies a number of about-to-open blossoms and tapes them shut on the evening before they will open.
Then, early the next morning, the farmer untapes the blossoms. She rubs the pollen from the male rod onto the female basket. If there are several candidate male blossoms, she uses them all. The more pollen the better!
Then the female blossom is taped tight again to prevent any further bee helpers from carrying in wayward genetic material.
This last year a local artist, Lou Cabeen, came out to help us. She tied a red-threaded chastity-belt onto our fertilized female blossoms.
The blossom is tagged so that if a fruit sets, the farmer knows to save those seeds for planting the following year. Luckily, one carefully fertilized pumpkin in both 2017 and 2018 "set."
Our vines produced many more pumpkins, but those fruits may or may not have been pollinated by other naked pumpkins. So we have enjoyed eating them, but haven't counted on them to grow next year's crop.
The mature pumpkin with its naked seeds looks like this, ready to make into a delicious soup.
In 2016 Patricia was given some seeds from an heirloom Eastern European pumpkin, one whose seeds lack an outer shell. Thus they are known as "hull-less" or "naked" pumpkins. The seeds can be eaten directly, without roasting or shell-cracking, and are high in protein and other nutrients. So, of course, we wanted to grow more of them!
However, getting squash (pumpkins are a variety of squash) to "breed true" is a tricky process. Their flowers are flamboyant and attractive to pollinators. How does one prevent an industrious little bee that has just visited a zucchini plant from carrying zucchini pollen over to our naked pumpkins? And you can't tell from the fruit whether or not the seeds will make new naked pumpkins. You have to do your best to ensure that the right kind of pollen meets the right kind of blossom and then wait a full year to see if those seeds produce the kind of squash you want.
The first step is to identify a male flower that is about to open, and a female flower that is about to open. The female flowers have a miniature teeny tiny fruit at their base, and grow further out on the vines. This is a photo of a female zucchini blossom starting to open:
The male flowers lack the mini-fruit and grow from the middle of the plant. This is a photo of a male zucchini blossom:
Inside, the male blossom will have a little rod full of pollen at its base, and the female blossom will have a little basket at its base.
The squash plant makes several male blossoms before it puts out a female blossom, perhaps to get the local pollinators used to visiting this particular neighborhood. The farmer's job is going to be outwitting those busy insects.
Yesterday, Laura and Mary met with John Harmelling from the Seattle Rose Society. He has been tending roses for 40 years. He also knows the woman who gifted us our rose collection! Nancy came by to let him know about Fred's involvement in the initial acceptance and planting of the roses and to ask if Rose Lee (the woman who gave us the roses) is still around. She is, and is still giving talks at the Rose Society. Perhaps at the height of bloom time we can invite her out for a little appreciation and perhaps even hear her story of the donation. Perhaps a thank you gift of some kind?
I digress. John gave us excellent advice. He shared his deep knowledge of pruning, had watering advice, showed us his favorite tools for pruning, suggested fertilization products and let us know what he is willing to do. He will come for 1 1/2 hours to do a pruning Demonstration. I will also be proposing to the Biogaians the possibility of hiring him to do a few of the older plants of distinct types. We may want to have him come back at the end of June as we learned that some of our plants need to be pruned again betwween the time the blossoms are done and the hips are formed.
The most important thing that came out of our meeting is a date for him to come out and give a pruning demonstration and kick off our Pruning Party!
You will hear more about this soon, but mark your calendar's. The event will happen on Saturday, February 23rd starting at 10:00.
May your love of growing be ignited by the Spring,
Wow, Dear Community, it’s been a while since I have shared with you in this way. I miss it. In addition to not making the time to do it, I have felt some sort of blockage on my voice since accepting the position of Garden Steward here. But I think it’s really important that I flesh out that blockage. Writing plays such a huge role in my own mental clarity, and I know it can be a way of connecting with the community that allows for a deeper look into a person’s thought processes and intentions. Thank you for reading.
I want to start with a story. As some of you may know, I am currently working on a Stewardship Plan for the Songaia forest, with support from the Biogaians, knowledgeable community members, WSU Forestry Extension, and the Outdoor Wellness Club at the University of Washington. It feels really good to be applying what I learned while studying ecology and ecosystem restoration at UW Bothell, especially in service to all you sweet people and to this piece of land that I have been cultivating an intimacy with.
As most of you have probably felt in one way or another, creating a plan to care for our beloved forest is overwhelming. There are so many aspects to consider, from laminated root rot, to vulnerable new plantings, to liability, to our diversity of misplaced (non-native) species, to the increased habitat fragmentation due to development, to the changing climate. How do we responsibly steward a remnant forest surrounded on all sides by human development? Most days I’m able to step back from that overwhelm and look at it-- watching it pass by me, but not letting it color my days. Some days it consumes me. Earlier this month, the forest made an appearance in my dreams.
I woke up in a place that wasn’t my home, but I recognized must have been. It felt like home. Unit 10. I heard the wind ripping past my window. A mighty Pacific Northwest windstorm was moving through and had been since earlier that morning. I looked out the window to the north and saw huge Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees crashing down in the Crestmont development, flattening fences. In the flash of a panicked thought, I was outside, standing at the base of Spring Hill. The forest was gone.
All but ten trees had fallen throughout the night. Not only had the trees fallen, they had disappeared. It looked like Weyerhauser had come through and hauled all the trees away, leaving a tangle of dry and mangled organic matter around the stumps that dotted the hillside. I saw a group of people and pickup trucks up on the utility easement. In the flash of another thought, I was at the top of Spring Hill. I observed these people, who I recognized as owners of the houses in the surrounding developments, chopping the trees into rounds and taking them away in their trucks. Most of them just seemed like they were doing it mindlessly, like--why wouldn’t we do this? I somehow knew what to do.
Holding back my outrage and grief, I approached the people from the developments and asked them if they would circle up. I wanted to welcome them and ask them some questions. They did so, with the exception of one middle-aged white man who continued to load his truck. He was red-in-the-face, radiating anger and a masked desperation that came out as a determination to get his share. Once he noticed that everyone else had circled up, he joined, grumbling.
As we circled, my dear friend, soul-bud, feather friend Joey Crotty appeared. Playing off of one another, he and I asked these people a series of questions, ranging from the practical to the philosophical.
“You all have been neighbors of this forest. What did this forest mean to you before it fell? Did you notice it? Did you ever enter it? Did you know it was ailing?”
“Why are you taking these trees away? What have you to gain? What need are you trying to meet? What do you really need? What is it like to be you?”
Round and round the questions went, their answers knitting us together--humanity shining out the eyes of each person, awake in the world and seeing each other.
Hayra came. And as we turned to look at the denuded hillside, the dream ended with deep belly sobs. In the glow of this freshly woven human community, we felt the grief of the remaining Douglas fir trees, who had just lost the better part of the community they had known. We felt their grief as our own, knowing somehow that our well-being was tied to the well-being of this remnant forest stand.
Do you ever have those dreams that linger? They stick with you for days after you’ve had them, begging to be remembered, or told, or interpreted? This dream lingered for days after I had it, and I am still grateful every time I see the forest standing.
On Tuesdays, piglet meetings are normally a big deal, and today was no exception. Helen, and I, along with Brent and Nura all joined alongside the round table; Anita was there to lead the discussion.
The weather outside was grey and soggy, but it didn’t hold back our energy, and there was lots to be done. We all sat as equals, and discussed where our energy was in, these early days of 2019. Some of us were investing energy for traveling abroad, and some were investing in change from within.
Suddenly, in walks our good friend Laura, who had just arrived back home the night before. Alas, the gang was all there. We convened over tea discussing the tasks that lay before us. It seems that Songaia associate and long time friend of the community, Bay, had donated lots and lots of canning jars! This means someone had to take on the daunting task of actually organizing the dreaded canning closet. It would be no easy task. Secondly, the Happy Greenhouse needed some attention too, because February is coming fast and we needed that space to be organized and ready to use. The squad decided to split up and tackle these issues in two teams. Nura, Helen and I were to organize the greenhouse while Anita, Laura and Brent tackled the canning closet.
It was truly a daunting sight seeing Brent load several carts filled with jars, when the closet was already full and completely out of order. It took hours and hours of works and several people to complete, but you best believe we all got the job done. The greenhouse was the first, but the dustiest, to be completed. The canning closet, however, took vastly more effort. A big shout-out goes to all who helped, we’re like real life superheroes, especially when we all unite as one to fight for good. Go piglets!
Garden bloggers are community members, volunteers and interns at Songaia.