The horse's pasture to the East...

Thursday, June 2, 2016


How I love to garden. I've been a Master Gardener for more than twenty years and, before that, just your good old fashioned, everyday Mom in the yard gardener. The title Master Gardener came in to my life because I had an opportunity to take a series of classes from K State University . How could I pass that up?

Shall I tell you what I learned from the University programs? The actual geography and biology, entomology and environmental science classes were wonderful. They filled some of the gaps in my education (and I am a life long 'Learn-a-holic' . I never pass up a chance to deepen my knowledge base.) And they reinforced what I had discovered along the way about how we all are interconnected. But the classes on how to use chemistry to garden? To farm? No, nope, nada, never. I have never used chemicals on the land, or in my house for that matter. There's no need to.

I learned how to garden from my Grandfather. His family as well as my Grandmother's family had been farmers for generations. His philosophy was to use what was available. Do it yourself. The earth is healthy on it's own if you know how to compost and rotate the crops and animals correctly. His love of the Earth, the dirt we live in and on, was profound. It's had a lasting impact on my life. I work everyday to carry it forward for my children, their children and their children's children. 

But what does that have to do with letting sugar and processed foods go from your diet? Everything. It's a cycle that interconnects. If you have an opportunity to plant seeds and grow your own food, no matter how small the space, DO IT! In fact I like the smaller gardens, especially if you're in a part of your life where you're going to school, working, raising your family . If you don't have the space, MAKE ONE. 

I've planted something in every place that we've lived even when I was a student living in a one room walk up with a grocery budget of $17 dollars a week. Putting my hands in to soil, whether it's in a pot or the ground, raised beds or even planting directly in to a bale of moldy hay, is always a satisfying process for me.


According to a survey by Gardeners' World magazine, 80 percent of gardeners reported being "happy" and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners.7 Perhaps it's no coincidence that gardeners are happier…
Mycobacterium vaccae is a type of bacteria commonly found in soil, which people may ingest or inhale when they garden.8 Remarkably, this microbe has been found to "mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide."9 It helps to stimulate serotonin production, helping to make you feel happier and more relaxed. No wonder so many people describe their garden as their "happy place."
In one animal study, mice that ingested Mycobacterium vaccae had a demonstrated reduction in anxiety and improved learning. The researchers noted that natural exposure to microbes may be important for emotional health and behavior: 10
"Recent studies show that contact with tolerogenic microbes is important for the proper functioning of immunoregulatory circuits affecting behavior, emotionality and health… 
Collectively, our results suggest a beneficial effect of naturally delivered, live M. vaccae on anxiety-related behaviors… supporting a positive role for ambient microbes in the immunomodulation of animal behavior."

You're still wondering what this has to do with letting processed sugar and foods go. If you are filling some of your time outside with your hands in that lovely soil you've been building for years, you aren't inside obsessing about potato chips and soda pop. You're focused on learning how to companion plant, using herbs and flowers to protect your vegetables and fruit. You're exercising outside, bending and stretching, in the sunshine and fresh air, watching the tiny hummingbirds that have discovered your mint garden, showing them to your children or grandchildren. And you're discovering the immense satisfaction that comes from eating your first radish that you grew, sliced up in thin slivers and decorating the top of the salad that is made with heirloom lettuces and spinach. Is there any better way to change your eating habits than growing some of your own food?

Want to teach your children how to eat vegetables? Start a garden with them; teach them how to mulch, pull weeds and tell funny stories while you're doing it, water the plants and playing in the hose at the same time. Ask them to cut some of the lettuce they grew, pull some of the radishes they watched and nurtured, and harvest some of the sugar snap peas off of vines they started. The sugar snap peas we grew, while our sons were growing up, rarely made it in to the table to eat. They were too busy eating them right out of the garden. And I watched from the kitchen window while they did it too and never said a word about it. It was exactly what I wanted them to discover!

All of the images I'm using in today's post are from our raised bed garden. We live on a preserve so vegetable gardening is better in an inclosed area. The wildlife around here loved me for the first four years we were here. We had some of the fattest, happiest deer, raccoon, opossum, rabbits and, well, the entire ecology out here thought we were the best thing to come along since sliced bread. I used everything I had learned over the years but, for the most part, they outsmarted me. I loved that! The goal for me has always been happy coexistence rather than battle. I learned from the scary smart four legged creatures who were here before me. And the process is on going too. I laugh every day at the ways they continue to out think me. So far, the best way for us to get a reasonable crop has been in 4 foot by 8 foot raised beds with a five foot chicken wire fence around it. And this year we're adding in a low voltage electric line top and bottom , not enough to hurt but definitely enough to get their attention. And I have no doubt they will, eventually, learn how to outdo us on that one too. It's a challenge that I love and it always makes me laugh even if that rascally rabbit did eat some of my heirloom lettuce.

If you can not find a way to garden, there may be organic produce farms located fairly close in to you who would love to have you come out and volunteer in exchange for produce. Or, perhaps, there is a CSA program at a local grocery or Co Op you could join. In the big cities there are always weekend Farmer's Market's. Take your bags and boxes and shop there. You'll be directly supporting local organic farmers as well as meeting friends in an outdoor space full of beautiful produce stands. Better yet, go buy a flower pot and water proof tray or saucer, set it in your window and grow a tiny herb garden. I promise, it won't take long for you to be addicted.

If you're here, reading this, then you know how to use the search engines and browsers on Google, Youtube, Facebook and so on. There's a multitude of information available, right there on the little screen in front of you. It's the magic of twenty first century technology, the best part of it. Instead of reading the horrible news about who blew up what or terrified who, seek out some of those unlimited professional as well as amateur videos done by folks who are out there learning how to put their hands in to the earth and grow a garden.

Do yourself a favor and get dirty!


Plant marigolds, mint and borage around the outside of your garden. The marigolds bloom all the way to frost and borage reseeds itself all season long, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. The mint will spread over the seasons and create a lovely hedge that you can use to make tea. Simply mow around the outside of your allowed mint area and pull out what you don't want from the inside, sharing the baby plants with friends. And there are so many kinds of mint you can use too. Smaller wildlife do not care for the smell of mint and the marigolds and borage will help to deter the insects you don't want in the garden. I also plant zinnias and black eyed susans. They bloom and reseed themselves for most of the season and you can pick them for bouquets.

To build your soil find a local horse ranch and offer to take some of their composted horse manure. Around here we call it the 'gifts of the gods'. It's black gold in it's finest form. Mix it in to your garden space in the Autumn and it's ready to go in the Spring.

Want to start a new garden space without tilling? Mow the grass down as close as you can and lay out flattened cardboard boxes on top. Put hay or straw on top of that. Next layer could be composted horse, chicken and cow manure, then soil, more compost, grass clippings, compost (WHAT? You're not composting the scraps from your kitchen? Not hard to do even in a tiny apartment. Get a plastic tub, any size, put your scraps in it and add some red earth worms you buy from the internet. They will compost it for you.), newspapers (all newspaper companies now use soy based inks, safe for gardens), more soil and so on. It's called lasagna gardening. Build it up the first year, let it sit over the winter (the freezing and thawing will help to break it up) and plant your first garden in it the next spring. Use leaves raked up to add an acidic base, balance that with your compost and soil. There are endless combinations and none of them are wrong.

The best part of a raised bed, even without the sides, is that it drains well. Your soil will be loose and loomy and should end up being chock full of lovely, friendly earth worms.

Your garden is a wonderful classroom for your children. They'll meet all kinds of bugs, birds, snails, turtles, and other citizens they never had any idea were inhabiting the world with them. You can make up funny stories with them, draw pictures and send them to grandparents and friends. And you will have the opportunity to instill in to them a life long love for the earth. Heavens knows we could all use more of that.

This is the face and figure of a life long gardener! John is my husband and best friend forever (before there was a label created for that). He was, initially, dragged in to gardening with me. He's beautiful, isn't he? When you put your hands in to the earth your day to day problems melt away. You're focused on your next harvest, pulling weeds, and just looking at the beautiful space you created. Want to learn the fine art of Zen? GARDEN!

Nothing brings you closer to the earth than paying attention to the soil, planting seeds and nurturing them, harvesting the fruits of your 'labor' and enjoying them directly from your garden. 

Get together with your neighborhood and school and create gardens. Did you know that crime rates dropped significantly in the inner city areas where neighborhood gardening was introduced? When you get the 'tough kids' involved, they will protect, nurture and harvest real food. It improves their connection to their neighborhood, builds confidence, improves overall health and helps them to discover their inner selves where, before, they were fighting and destroying each other.

So my suggestion for week eight is to find a place in your yard, your neighborhood, on a roof top garden or on a window sill and begin a journey in to the world of discovering where good food comes from. I promise you, there is nothing sweeter than fresh mint crisp lettuce (an heirloom variety) mixed with baby spinach and purple rosa lettuce tossed with good first pressed virgin organic olive oil, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and pink himalayan sea salt and black pepper. Mind boggling delicious and so easy to grow. Look at that rich, black soil! 

I promise that you will become hooked on the pursuit of growing your own food, understanding soil, and seed catalogs. Let's not forget the seed catalogs! With the advent of the internet you can find excellent seed sources from anywhere in the world.

I hope you'll stop by as the season goes along. I'll post more images for you so you can see the variety we have here. 

So many plants to grow and all the time in the world to learn!

It just gets better and better, people. 

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling with greens between my teeth and dirt under my fingernails.

Go! What are you waiting for? The earth is calling. Now that the sugar is out of your system you can hear it...GO OUTSIDE!

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