The horse's pasture to the East...

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Good, real food. There's such joy in the process of discovering food. All of the flavors, textures, colors, smells and even the sounds associated with eating and food bring us such joy. We're hardwired for it, need all of our senses focused on food because, without it, we die. 

Do you remember how much fun it was when your Mom gave you a beater loaded down with real whipped cream? Ah, now there's a sadness. Some of you reading this have never had whipped cream except from a can full of aerosol. It's fun to play with, makes cool looking little clouds on top of your pie, but it isn't real. Your Mom didn't whip it up in a bowl from thick, heavy cream. And you weren't there when she sweetened it, just a little, with vanilla and a few teaspoons of honey or sugar. And you never got to lick the beaters or the bowl, feeling like a prince because it's a treasure better than any shiny metal. Real food equals good health and anyone who has dealt with illness can tell you that your health is worth more than a king's ransom. 

Somehow we've lost our way, disconnected from Nature, the soil, the water and weather, the animals and our place on the path. We buy our food in plastic packages and tubs, metal cans and boxes with bright pictures on the outside and we have no idea where or how the stuff we eat was prepared, where it came from. We're always in a hurry, hurry, hurry, rushing here and there, keeping schedules and appointments. We watch the clock, tap our feet, loose our patience because there's somewhere we need to be. 

Food gets put on the bottom of the list, eaten on the run, bought from fast food drive in restaurants and coffee shops. We've forgotten how to enjoy and rejoice in our meals. And we've forgotten how to grow our own food, how to harvest it, the excitement of seeing the new sprouts come up in the spring from carefully hoarded seeds we've saved all winter. We've lost the rhythms of weeding and composting, adding to the value of the soil. And animals? Forget that. Hardly anyone knows how to care for chickens, pigs, cows, goats or horses. Meat, if you eat it, comes in tidy little plastic wrapped packages. There is no connection to the animal who gave it's life for you!

Farming is hard work and not all of us are suited to it, but gardening is something that anyone anywhere can do. Even if you live in the middle of a big city in a tiny apartment you can find one window sill and place three little pots on it, grow your own herbs. Or you can grow your own salad greens on a rack vertically on the wall with a grow light over it.

Better yet, join in a community garden and if there isn't one, start one. Find a vacant lot, some friends who are interested in helping and gardening with you, clean it up and begin! It's going to take some patience on your part but then that's what a garden is about, slowing down to match the natural rhythms of the world. That's what all of us need, our hands in the soil and the physical process of getting dirt under our fingernails and reconnecting. At first you'll laugh at yourself in disbelief because you become a weather geek, paying attention to the humidity, rain patterns, temperatures . But the first time you see a tiny seedling uncurl because you put it there is going to make it more than worth it, I promise.

You'll hover over that tiny green sprout, encouraging it to grow, exclaiming over the miracle that it's there, came out of a tiny seed not much bigger than a grain of sand because you took the time to work the soil and planted it. Magic! And you'll find yourself wanting to teach your children how to garden too, even just giving them a place to live surrounded by green living things is a gift.

One of my life long passions has been learning what to eat, how to balance my diet, hearing that inner voice that says I would rather have a peach or grapes than an apple. If you listen to your body it will tell you what you need. The problem is that most of our population is now addicted to highly processed , greasy, salty, laden with high fructose corn syrup and white sugar, chemicals and preservatives, herbicides and pesticides crap. We are a nation and rapidly becoming a world addicted to nothing that comes even close to real food. And the other half is starving for lack of food. There is no balance and we've done it to ourselves.

Thankfully we can turn that around. When you begin to research the possibilities in your area, you'll find there are seed exchanges, horse ranches with an abundance of compost available for free, seed companies and grants for funding a community garden project. There are vacant lots that have been unused for decades, sitting there, waiting. You can buy second hand flower pots at garage sales and flea markets for 25 or 50 cents, information on youtube and google, libraries and garden clubs for free. For those of you living in suburbs with yards, the choice is very simple. Stop spraying your lawns, period. Plant part or all of it, putting in winding paths, with vegetables, fruit and nut trees, flowers and prairie grasses. Get rid of your lawnmower and create a wild life habitat with bird feeders, places for butterflies to drink water, a bench or two to sit at and enjoy the little paradise you've brought back.And if there's an issue with your neighborhood association, hire a landscape expert to design your gardens(although I think you can do it yourself using online information sites).

If you've never gardened before it can be intimidating, overwhelming even. But it is doable and the value it brings to your neighborhood, your part of the city or suburb, is immeasurable. People will stop to exclaim over it, ask if they can walk there. And when you share with them (a gardeners ritual, perhaps because sharing abundance is one of our oldest traditions) they'll walk away smiling, in awe of the fact that you've given them something as beautiful as a red pepper and a bunch of carrots with a real green top to them. And you will have friends for life too. No one will vandalize a garden that is shared from. And the gift that you bring to children that have never seen a tomato growing or a bee dancing from flower to flower is the gift of a lifetime. Everyone who gardens as a child always comes back to it later in their life. 

I'm going to list some of my favorite seed companies. All of them have on line websites and will send you a free catalog if you request it. Over the next month I'm going to write articles on how to compost, how to amend the soil, different types of gardens for areas suffering from drought. And I'm going to share recipes using real food, easy things you can teach your children how to make. I'll connect you to other websites and bloggers who are passionate about the earth, growing and nurturing. 

I've been shopping from Eden Brothers for more than twenty years. Their seeds have a more than ninety percent germination rate, at least for me they have. I've bought vegetables, herb and wildflower seeds from them and can highly recommend them as an excellent source. And don't forget to look up their coupons also. Once you get on to their mailing lists they will send you emails about upcoming sales and some of them are doozies, up to seventy percent off! I usually buy from them during their winter sales. This year was my year for buying several pounds of different types of wild flowers. I'm celebrating a soon to be new addition to the family. (And I'll let you know about that when it happens!)

You'll love the catalogs from this company. They're chock full of lovely illustrations, excellent prices and selection on non GMO and heirloom seeds, most of them organic. It's a whole book and in the back are some of my favorite tools such as dehydrators, compost bins, hand tools for the garden, canners and just about anything you could want for saving seeds and preserving your food for the winter. And they have sales too so be sure to get on their mailing list.

Everything this company sells is organic and non GMO, certified no less. There's a huge selection of heirloom seeds too, and it's a virtual dictionary on each of the plants, how to amend the soil, expected yields and the best times to plant. This one would be a wonderful educational tool with a whole section on the seed from pollination to harvest, how to save the seeds for the next year and begin the cycle again. I met these folks at a Mother Earth Festival a few years ago, super nice and excited about gardening. They are highly motivated and love to assist new gardeners as well as experienced gardeners.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a cornucopia of information. Their online site is beautiful to look at with images of rare, old forms of every vegetable you could possibly want. It's an excellent resource to learn from, showing you what the seeds look like as well as the vegetables you'll be harvesting with a history showing their point of origin . They also have a free catalog that is like a book with stories about where they've found the seeds they sell, and how to save those seeds to replant the next year. Really nice family who love their lifestyle and are, again, highly focused on customer satisfaction and the preservation of organic, heirloom seeds.

It really is all about your family, your health, and the connections that we haven't begun to fully understand but we've always known, intuitively, were there. If I could take you all out in to my world, where you can hear the birds, watch the bees and butterflies, the ants finding their way back to their home, show you what it feels like to kneel in the wet grass after a rain and, literally, see the seeds come up. Gardening, like horses, is an opportunity to learn all the way through the passage of your life. 

Good food, soil that is alive, and the green, growing things that sustain us body and soul... it all comes together in perfect circles. 

Oh, the recipe for today. This one has to do with the soil. Ready? Set? Go!

You'll need as many old cardboard boxes as you can save. Choose your garden site, preferably one that gets at least six hours of sun but there are shade plants and shade gardens too, so find your location and mark it out. You can do that by mowing the shape, if there's grass on the site, or by laying a piece of string on the ground. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes; oval, round, square, rectangle and even triangles. It's your garden so have fun with it.

Take the boxes apart and, after clearing the area you're going to garden on of trash and debris, if that's an issue, or mowing it as close as possible to the earth, begin to layer the boxes over the surface. Leave no space uncovered. The cardboard will help to prevent weeds from coming back and it will decompose so a nice way to recycle. 

Add a layer of hay or straw or grass clippings. Add another layer of newspapers over the hay, making sure all surfaces are covered. 

Add a layer of compost (this is where contacting horse ranches in the area or outside the city will help. They have, I promise you, more composted manure than they know what to do with! An average horse creates 75 to 100 pounds of manure every twenty four hours. Believe me, they want you to cart the stuff away. And it's the cleanest most blameless manure in the world too, very easy to work with. Most ranches have active composting going on. We have three horses and a donkey and usually have up to thirty tons of active compost we are happy to share.) over the top of the newspapers, as much as you want.

Now add soil. Top soil is the best but construction sites will also have soil available. You may have to sift it for nails and rocks but it will be free. Some cities have soil available for free also. 

Repeat the layers; cardboard, hay or straw, newspapers, compost, soil. Now leave it for the winter. Come back and add coffee grounds (you can usually get big bags of it for free from most coffee shops), ground eggshells (you can smash them by hand or toss them in a blender), and work it in as you add to it.

If you're keeping an active compost pile next to your garden site, save kitchen scraps, shredded paper and paper towels, eggshells and grass clippings, leaves and other greens that have died back and keep adding them to the compost, turning it ever so often. In the spring you'll top dress your soil and gently work it in.

While you're working and layering your new garden bed, begin to think about whether you need a fence or not. In the country you almost certainly will or you'll be feeding every raccoon and opossum for miles around, not to mention bunnies and deer. In the city a fence might be there for vines to grow on and flowers to put in front of, something that is more ornamental. And some gardens need no fences. It's all up to you.

By the spring you will have a lovely one to two feet deep garden bed, ready for your seeds and your imagination the only thing that inhibits you...or sends you on a journey that gives inestimable pleasure.

I am, ever yours, Nancy, mellowed out with dirt under my fingers and flowers in my hair, smiling...

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