Tag Archives: Greenwoman

Radish Gets Around

Greenwoman Comix Heading No Text USR_edited-5

I don’t think this one appeared in any of the Greenwoman volumes, but in each issue we (meaning myself, a.k.a. Mae Fayne, and my daughter Zora, a.k.a. Angus Skillet), tried to create a comic. Anthropomorphism, hooray!

—Sandra Knauf

Radish Gets Around Final

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August Raspberries

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Raspberry – Red Antwerpske, Danish Archives via Wikimedia Commons

August Raspberries

When life comes down to eating slightly white
raspberries, when aging purple ones dry up half
off the drupelets or bird plucked remnants hang
jiggered and some canes wither into brown,
I hardly recall solstice and what fresh coming on
felt like. Birds made off with the last blueberries.
Sure, the zucchini, onions, and bowling ball
squash signal time goes fat in spades. Kale
holds up its reliable head. This sun is hot
enough to melt the frozen raspberries we picked
and stored weeks ago. I’m just not ready to eat them.

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Photo by Darrell Salk.

Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet with two books in print – Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press 2016) and Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press 2014). Website: triciaknoll.com

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Sunflower

1024px-Sonnenblume_Nahaufnahme_Hüllkelch (2)

“Close-up of the involucre of a sunflower (Helianthus)”. Image by 3268zauber via Wikimedia Commons

 

Sunflower

Starburst
meteor shower
June drizzle
rainbow
gift wrap
birthday candle
one wish
wind blow
seed sow
wormhole
root raceway
green sprout
bean stalk
giant’s head
corolla choir
crown coronet
gold coin
soil bank
dig in
pull up
chin out
twittered perch
fractal dance
fall fling
seed spill
loose tooth
reboot
naked truth
sun salute
sunflower

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Photo by Darrell Salk.

Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet with two books in print – Ocean’s Laughter(Aldrich Press 2016) and Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press 2014). Website: triciaknoll.com

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The Green Wasteland

canstockphoto1881083 (3)vintage lawnmowers

Image from CanStockPhoto.

My sister and I ended many summer afternoons in the 1970s green from the knees of our jeans down, sweaty, and reeking of gas and exhaust. As servants of the Great American Lawn, we regularly mowed ours, the elderly Miss Howard’s next door, our grandma’s, and once in a while, our great Aunt Flora’s.

It was work that was necessary, and our lawn in particular was well used—the six kids in our family played games of tag, pitch and catch, badminton, and we used the space, as teenagers, for sunbathing. Dad saw physical labor as the best character-builder, so he “volunteered” us to maintain it. We received $5 a lawn, to share.

I didn’t mind the work, but Missouri summers were hot and humid, and occasionally at Miss Howard’s I ran over a toad (a horrifying thing).

I learned more about turf at age 20, verifying sales for a lawn-care company in Colorado Springs. I telephoned clients, confirming that they had joined our fertilizer/weed killer program, with insecticide and/or fungicide treatments as needed. With our help, their lawns would be the envy of the neighborhood!

During our one-day training, we learned to instruct clients with pets to remove dog and cat bowls before spraying, as there had been pet deaths from tainted water. We also cautioned them to keep pets and people off the grass until the applications dried. It sickened me to realize that the men who drove the trucks and sprayed these toxins daily would inhale them, get them on their clothing, their skin, and bring these toxins home. I wondered why people would pay good money for lawns you wouldn’t want a baby crawling on.

A decade later, as a college grad, mom, and hobby gardener, I had my own lawn—or, rather, weed/native grass lot. Seduced by the American ideal, we installed sod in our backyard. For a while, it looked gorgeous; but without pampering, chemicals, or a sprinkler system, it deteriorated fast. In Colorado, as in most parts of our country, lawns require not only constant maintenance but constant life support.

A few years later when I became a master gardener, I determined to get rid of our lawn. Bit by bit, with a tiny budget and lots of elbow grease, I created a garden instead—with fruit trees, herbs, flowers, native plants, sandstone paths, even a goldfish pond. I kept patches of grass/weeds for our dogs (and the occasional badminton game for the kids) and maintained it with a reel mower, enjoying a good workout in the process. Our established xeric garden requires less maintenance than a lawn. Except for the vegetable garden, I water once a week, deeply, and I do not water the grass/weeds at all.

I realize that turf is a multibillion-dollar U.S. industry and many are wedded to the old ways. Lawns, those pretty green carpets, do have an aesthetic charm, and they are good for sports. But they don’t support butterflies, honeybees, birds, or other wildlife, and caring for one is the antithesis of green. Five percent of all our nation’s air pollution comes from gas-powered lawn mowers. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, one gas-powered mower, used for one hour, emits as much pollution as eight new cars driven at 55 mph for the same time.

According to the EPA, Americans burn 800 million gallons of fuel each year trimming their lawns. Of this, 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. This is more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Fertilizer pollution is a huge problem, and lawns require significant water, yet another burden on our limited resources.

In addition, nearly 80 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are used on U.S. lawns annually. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that “homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.”

It’s past time to see traditional lawns for what they have become: antiquated, wasteful, and harmful. I propose that we return to our roots—cottage gardens. Gardens assist nature on a meaningful scale, and they are excellent outdoor classrooms/playgrounds for children and adults. My children had more fun in our back yard than I ever did in the 1970s as they had chickens, and flowers, and a pond—and lots of places to let their imagination run wild. Our home landscapes can also provide us with locally-grown food. You cannot grow luscious plums, pull up sweet carrots, snip chives for your potatoes (and grow potatoes, too), pick wildflower bouquets, or provide bird sanctuary or forage for honeybees with a grass lawn.

As the industrialized world races toward green living, homeowners everywhere can make a difference. It’s easy—take up your shovel and start getting rid of your lawn.

References:
People Powered Machines (much of their information comes from the EPA),
http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm

Environment and Human Health, Inc.,
http://www.ehhi.org/reports/lcpesticides/summary.shtml

CSU Extension Service,
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/09952.html

Note from the author: This essay originally appeared in The Denver Post in 2009. I think it’s also one of the most important essays I’ve ever written, especially in light of the honeybee collapse that we now know is caused in great part by the use of insecticides and other toxins. The year I wrote this, turf was a billion dollar a year cash crop in Colorado. But the recession had just begun, and the numbers have changed as the lawn industry was impacted and continues to be. Times have changed (back then we did not imagine that marijuana would become our #4 cash crop in five years!), but lawns are still the norm for the home landscape. Fifty percent of all water used by homeowners in Colorado is used outdoors.

When I went to check the numbers last year, when this piece appeared in US Represented, I found few updates, but a new report on the EPA site showed, in alarming detail, the health impact on humans of not only lawn mowers, but all lawn and garden equipment. It is titled “National Lawn and Garden Equipment Emissions” and was written by Jamie Banks, PhD, MS, of Quiet Communities, Inc. and Robert McConnell of the U.S. EPA, Region 1. Here’s the link for this must-read.

—Sandra Knauf

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Green Thumb

TriciaGreenThumb

“I’m a gardener. I spend long periods outside pulling weeds, planting sprouts, growing vegetables in my front yard. I like to imagine my thumb is green although I’ve experienced my share of failures. My hand in my garden, tendering to vegetable starts.” – Tricia Knoll

Green Thumb

We share the opposable thumb with the great apes
and in none of us is it cast in green.

The green I claim is a dream,
false starts of nightmares, invasives

like ivy and morning glory that want to claim
dominion. And the plants that die,

for a time it was always lavender and no one
else has trouble getting lavender to bloom.

So the accolades for my garden, the secret
whispers she has a green thumb

are true in the sense that my thumb knows
green, loves green, never fears

plunging deep into mud and putting
in and pulling out the creatures that green up

on sun, water, and the silent talk
of roots with soil. When neighbors whisper,

I whisper back to the corn rising,
my thumb hitches a ride on your magic.

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Editor’s Note: Almost immediately after this posted, I received a comment about the nail polish. A reader loved it, and so do I, so I asked Tricia for the name and brand. “Verdis” by Revlon.

Tricia Knoll (2)

Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet with two books in print – Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press 2016) and Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press 2014). She is noticing that blueberries and raspberries are ripening in Oregon several weeks earlier than usual. Website: triciaknoll.com

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Be Careful of Little Lives

RedAnts-formica_rufa 001 (3)

Antique illustration of red ants, Formica rufa, Greenwoman collection.

 

Every spring when I start working in the garden, I am reintroduced to my friends, the ants. I call them friends now, but years ago I didn’t view them quite so warmly. Like most, I would become unnerved if I moved a rock and found hundreds scurrying, dozens carrying eggs, rushing to get their precious cargo to a safer place. I never harmed them, but my squeamishness only began to weaken when a garden guru/friend said, “You know, they’re nature’s excavators. They aerate the soil. That’s a good thing.” My research showed the ones most prevalent in my garden, carpenter ants, did no harm to my plants. Nevertheless, last year I was a little disappointed to see a colony had overtaken an old whiskey barrel planter. It took a minute to decide to not plant there, to let them be. I told myself it would be the garden’s above-ground ant farm. Weeks later the self-seeded snapdragon seedlings were flourishing, along with the mini rose I had left there. Everything, was thriving. The ants were very happy, doing what they were intended to do in their little paradise.

DB Rudin’s fascinating piece on ants first appeared in Greenwoman #5. It’s one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it.

Sandra Knauf

Be Careful of Little Lives

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise:
Which, having no chief, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, [and] gathereth her food in the harvest.
(Proverbs 6:6-6:8)

Scripture praises ants, children are mesmerized by them, and yet ants in the garden are so commonplace as to be easily ignored by us adults. That however, would be a lost opportunity. Ants provide us a chance to witness the spectacle of miniature empires rising and falling in our own backyard.

It is not news that an individual ant is possessed of amazing physical abilities for its size. Scientists have put weaver ants upside down on glass where they can not only hold on but support 100 times their own weight. (Their secret is a liquid secreted from their feet.) However, ants don’t come into their glory as individuals; they all live in colonies and it is here that they shine.

There are ant colonies numbering only a few hundred individuals that fit into a single acorn (Temnothorax longispinosus) and others that include millions of individuals living in vast subterranean cities. One such grasscutter ant megalopolis was found abandoned in Argentina. Scientists pumped concrete into the entrances for days and when dry they carefully dug away the surrounding dirt. What they found was astonishing, a vast city where the ants had removed over forty tons of soil. It featured pathways and chambers that stretched down over 25 feet below ground. All accomplished without a central authority directing the activity.

It is easy to get swept away by the shock and awe of statistics, but it is the myriad ways that ants make a living that fascinates me. There are ant societies who make their communal living as farmers, ranchers, hunters and even slave raiders. One stormy July afternoon I discovered the hidden kingdom of the citronella ants, but that is a story for later.

Due to their complexity, ant societies are often thought of as the closest to human societies. And, like human societies, they have gone from strict hunters and gatherers to agriculturalists. Some of the most successful ants farm fungus in underground gardens. They feed their fungus grass or leaves harvested from their surroundings. Most amazing is that the fungus exists nowhere else in nature, besides the ants’ guts and their fungus gardens, and the ants must fight off other types of fungus and bacteria that threaten these gardens. They do this by applying their own form of antibiotics to any newly added plant material. They also have created ventilation systems that cleverly draw in fresh air and vent out carbon dioxide. This system is so efficient that over five million individuals may occupy a single colony.

There are not only farmers in the ant world, but ranchers as well. Their “livestock” are mealy bugs and aphids. These insects suck the sap from plants and then excrete excess sugar which the ants lap up. The ants in return protect their charges from predators and even hide them under leaves during rain. The ants pick up and move their livestock to “fresh pastures”, parts of the plants with more, and/or sweeter, sap. When the ants move they take their livestock with them.

436 (3) Ant Tunnel

Antique illustration of honeypot ants. The ones hanging from the ceiling are known as repletes and they act as living storage containers for nectar or sugar derived from aphids or scale insects.

Some ant societies have a more martial flair. They are highly mobile “armies” moving the entire colony on a regular basis, looking for fresh hunting grounds. These “army ants” not only feed themselves, hunting anything they can overpower, but many species of birds make a living following the ants around as well. Insects fleeing the ants are then snapped up by the birds. In fact there is a whole family of antbirds, Thamnophilidae , with over 200 members. There are antwrens, antshrikes, antvireos and the list goes on. Clearly it is a successful strategy to follow around hunting colonies of army ants.

Pushing the edge of the fantastic is the story of various slave raider ants. These ants raid other ant colonies and steal their eggs and pupae. They return to their own nests and tend the captives. When these captives are born, they are so immersed in the chemical cocktail of their captors’ colony that they assume they belong. Some slave raiders have become such specialized warriors that they can no longer take care of themselves. They rely completely on their slaves to gather food and even to feed them. One example from the United States, Polyergus breviceps, won’t even clean up after themselves or feed their queen without ant slaves from the genus Formica.

Colorado’s “monsoon” season provides the backdrop to a tale of intrigue and power. To tell that tale I must return to the citronella Ants. Great thunderstorms erupt in July and August dumping torrential rains. Many animals depend upon these rains, including ants. One July afternoon, out hiking in our neighboring Garden of the Gods Park, I came across small, uneven holes in the dirt. Clustered around the entrance were tiny, exquisitely golden ants. I had never seen anything quite like them. Days later I came back and they were gone.

It would be another year before I had the chance to unravel this little local mystery. This time, as thunderheads again threatened, not only did I rediscover the golden ants, but small black winged ants poured out of the misshapen holes. I then started noticing larger, solitary reddish colored ants running around in the same area. One found a hole and, bypassing the golden and winged black ants, disappeared down it. I took pictures and started sending them off to myrmecologists, ant scientists, hoping someone would have a clue as to what was going on.

Turns out these ants are known as citronella ants, Lasius  latipes, (they have an alarm pheromone that smells strongly of citronella). They are completely subterranean except during the monsoon season when the reproductive winged males and larger virgin queens take off for their nuptial flights. The black males die shortly after mating, their role in the story over. The queens’ stories, however, are just beginning. After landing they rub off their wings, and unlike other ant queens, they don’t build their own nest but rather plot a coup.

The queen I observed stealing into the nest was on a mission. Most likely she was from another species of Lasius ant. Wafting her own chemical scent, she would seek to woo the small golden female workers while hunting the resident queen. If successful, she would kill the reigning monarch and take over egg laying duties, her offspring slowly replacing those of the former queen. All the ants will return underground, regardless of the success or failure of the coup attempt, and continue their existence, herding their aphids and scale insects who feed on sap from plant roots. The entire colony and their “livestock” won’t visit the light of day again until the monsoons return again next year.

In our gardens, ants are the great equalizers. By hunting insects that become temporarily more populous, they make sure no one group of insects gets out of hand. Their tunnels aerate soil and allow water to penetrate more easily. They have been around for over 100 million years and have formed complex relationships in the environment, many of these we are still discovering. So should you find ants in the garden, relax, they belong there. If you should find them in the house, remember the words of perhaps the most famous ant scientist, Nobel Prize winner E.O. Wilson. When asked what to do if you find ants in your kitchen, Wilson replied “Be careful of little lives.”

446 (3) Single Ant b&w

 

 

David-Praying-Mantis-Dean-Frankmore

DB with praying mantis, photo by Dean Frankmore.

DB Rudin is a freelance writer, teacher and environmental activist. He is currently the Education Coordinator at Venetucci Farm and Pinello Ranch projects of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation. David has been a columnist for Manitou Magazine and, most recently, Greenwoman Magazine. He is an avid birder and also has strong interests in herpetology and entomology. He lives near Garden of the Gods Park with his wife Margaret and their dogs, Gracie and Benny. He can be reached at dbrudin@yahoo.com. His blog, A Naturalist’s Journal, can be found here: https://naturethroughtheseasons.wordpress.com/

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Butterfly Ladies

Butterfly women (2)

Aren’t they beautiful? At first it dampened the fun for me to learn that these ladies were from cards that came in cigarette packages in the 1920s. Flappers as butterflies, one tucked into each pack, with the common and Latin names of each species. There were 50 in the collection.

 

The red admiral

The Red Admiral, George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library, public domain.

 

I thought (rather sourly) at first, well, that’s a nice way for men to “collect” women, maybe they could even pin them to the walls! But then I thought about lady smokers, women enjoying a new and wild (albeit unwise) freedom. It was an exciting decade of change for women, both politically and socially. The 1920s was when women got the right to vote and it’s when they began wearing short hair. If you think about it, it’s not hard to see the metaphor of women going from caterpillar to butterfly! I concluded that these ladies, and their non-smoking lady friends, probably loved collecting these cards far more than the men.

Sandra Knauf

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Rain Songs

1024px-Here_comes_rain_again Juni from Kyoto, Japan

Here Comes the Rain Again by Juni from Kyoto, Japan, via Wikimedia Commons

 

In Colorado we’re getting some much needed moisture this week, so I thought I’d share this weather-appropriate poetry comic by one of my favorite authors, Jessy Randall.

Sandra Knauf

Rain Songs by Jessy Randall

Rain Songs by Jessy Randal (2)

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Jessy Randall’s poems, poetry comics, diagram poems, and other things have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, McSweeney’s, and Rattle. Her most recent book is Suicide Hotline Hold Music (Red Hen, 2016). She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is http://personalwebs.coloradocollege.edu/~jrandall/.

 

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The Dirt on “Dirt”

DirtLauraChilsonGW3LOWRES

Drawing by Laura Chilson

(This article first appeared in Greenwoman #3: The Victory of Dirt)

On his way home from a campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte wrote his wife, “Dear Josephine, I will be arriving home in three days. Don’t bathe . . .”

One of the dirtiest words in existence in the 1400s was “slut,” describing this unfortunate creature as a “dirty, slovenly or an untidy woman.” As I dream of the time I’ve spent in Colorado soil, fingers cracked, digging out the longest part of a dandelion root or picking purslane seedlings, one by one, like picking out gray hairs, I long for even that transference between weeds, soil, and the body. Am I a slut to the earth? Are gardeners mere sluts, wanton slaves to their soil? I wondered at other gardeners’ relationships to dirt and its sullied beginnings.

Let’s explore a “dirty” profile, find out where soil got a dirty name: My imaginary Victorian, let’s call her Lady Catherine, has nothing to do. She stopped her needlework years ago. She dabbled in painting and could barely get enough orange on a canvas to make an orange before she bored of it. Her mouth is something between a geisha’s pretty tied-up bow with the bottom lip too full and supple for anything other than kissing by wild princes (riding uncontrollably across craggy moors to save Lady Catherine from twisting her ankle) or, worse yet, ennui.

Underneath Lady Catherine’s many bandaged breasts (corsets, etc.) and her large dress-hoops is a sensual being that Victorian society deemed “dirty” and which by deeming it so converted the world under the dress, and at every gardener’s foot, as something unnatural. The most important virtue, in order to be of High Victorian society, as we all know from the scene when Scarlet is forced to show her grubby, working hands in Gone With the Wind, was to be the owner of a pale, lifeless hand that went limp and delicate in any suitor’s grip. Then it was swept up under his nose for the lightest and most normal of kisses. But wait, was that tongue?!!! I’m sure it was, recoils Lady Catherine, as she whips her porcelain fingers from the suitor’s lips. How dirty, she thinks. How invasive. How very naughty.

Dirt got really dirty in the Victorian era, stripping anything having to do with soil from it, thus vanquishing all roots between the natural, oozing, procuring earth and the natural, oozing and procuring body. You can read up on the era and its prude expectations of women by delving into any Austin or even Cooksin novel. Dirt existed, whether the Victorian prigs wanted it or not. Dirt will always prevail, regardless of moniker.

Who are we now, we tillers of the land, Gods and Goddesses with hands as roots, reaching and groping into the earth for its dark secrets, accidentally digging up a lost tulip bulb, finding coins from the ’70s, extracting someone else’s white landscaping rock to reveal a barren hardness that we must convert back to its humus soul? Dare we admit that we are, in fact, dirty minded? Have we entered into the truest scandal in gardendom?

And who ruined soil? There were just enough uber-sexual beings to keep the dirty connotation. A scandalous dirt fetish is recorded between a Victorian-era barrister and his scullery maid in Wellcome Collection’s London exhibition a few years back which explored attitudes about dirt (“Dirt: the filthy reality of everyday life.”) London journalist Giovanna Dunmall  wrote about the exhibit:

“Our 21st-century preoccupation with germs and cleanliness is clearly not a new one . . . There is hardly a dull moment in this exploration of filth . . .[for example] letters detailing the bizarre 40-year relationship, and eventual marriage, between barrister Arthur Munby and scullery maid Hannah Cullwick in Victorian London. The former had a thing for working-class women whose jobs involved hard, physical labour and there are photographs of Cullwick dressed as a chimney sweep or posing covered in soot and dirt.”

Anyone walking through the streets of London at the time either were used to grime, (perhaps being one with it or dying by it?) and some carried a perfumed kerchief or nosegay to cover the stench of foul conditions. So many maladies stemmed from “dirt” that it was easily equated with filth. Before penicillin and sanitary drainage, it was an honest mistake; however, in our current society, worries about getting dirty in the garden bed stifles soil’s natural yearnings. When I speak to real gardeners, and this is from the beginner through the pro, they always mention how important it is to get their “hands in the soil.”  Especially after winter’s thaw, spring stirs something in every gardener’s soul.  For me, I constantly check the surface of the yard, kick it with a toe.  Does it divot, indent?  I take a shoe off and dip my naked toe.  Does it accept any entrance?

The different constitutions of loam, clay, sand, and organic matter implant themselves in my dreams so that I wake with their dark, dusky smell in the mornings, hoping I can get into the dirt. One gardener calls this tactile transfer a communication with the soil.  Tamara Mahoney, long-time certified Colorado master gardener has this to say, “Nothing calms my nerves or relieves my stress more than getting my hands in the dirt for a little bit. I love fresh carrots just dug out of my garden and washed in the garden hose . . . they taste like the dirt they have been growing in. No store-bought carrot ever tastes as good!”

Tasting the dirt is not the only vice we dirt worshipers have, but it’s a good one. Patricia Hampl stands up for eating a peck of dirt (a full two gallons) in her memoir A Romantic Education. She wrote about her grandparent’s dark and tuber-producing garden. “I ate dirt there. This is the first taste I remember.” After dropping a jawbreaker around the corner, the owner had said, “Well, you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die. “ After that, Hampl reflected on death and dirt and pictured herself without the proper amount. She ruminates, “So I ate dirt. I also ate it out of curiosity, putting it on my tongue like brown sugar and waiting hopelessly for it to melt.”

Our society and the media continue to sell us alcohol and other toxic cleaners to rid our hands of germs. Gardening gloves, like the corset, hinder transference. To combat dirt’s bad connotation, it’s not enough to just commune with the soil. Chuck Rise of Soil Science of America writes about soil’s healthy properties and that, ironically, many antibiotics come from soil. Under our feet, and indeed, in our hands as gardeners, we touch the key to existence itself. Rice asks us, “Did you know that there are more living individual organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on the earth? A teaspoon of soil contains over 1 billion bacteria yet we know only 1%. The remaining 99% are unknown and contain a treasure trove of products.”

I have so many friends who are new to dirt and slowly succumb to its call, accepting the lure, and therefore scandal, into their lives, but jump into their soil too soon, without finding out what it will do first. One such gardener had bad luck. On the Laguna Dirt blog, Janine Robinson even admits defeat when she didn’t gauge her soil correctly. Kind of like going out in the middle of winter in a spaghetti strap dress. Sure, you’ll ensnare a dude, but what kind of dude will he be?

“I started a winter vegetable garden in early November, and blogged about how I built the raised bed on top of my concrete patio, using concrete block . . . I filled it with seedlings and seeds, but even after weeks of rain and warm temps, things barely grew. With the help of some gardening friend experts, I learned my soil was way too compact, allowing little drainage and oxygen.”

I’ve made the same mistakes, stripping my gloves off, digging small holes to plop a seed that never has room enough to spread and writhe. I learned, in the clay neighborhoods of Denver, that Eko clay-buster was just going to be my heavy companion while I labored, digging up clods, sweating into the earth, getting in deep and mixing the two: old sad, dried-up souls with new vigor. The result admitted any seed, enveloped, and pushed out my ornamental horehound, my monkey flower, reaching straight up out of my dirty mind.

I needed to find other dirty minds in the search for support. That’s not hard when talking to gardeners. Ross Shrigley, Senior Horticulturist at Denver Botanic Gardens, agreed with the notion that dirt can’t be bought, but must be manipulated. He writes,

“I know it’s the soil because fresh potting soil doesn’t deliver the same sensation for me. Potting soil just seems like work.” He relates that when speaking to clients he tells them of “ . . . the sensual feelings I have when a garden bed is prepared properly. It’s digging and planting with only my hands in that bed that pushes the high until all is planted. Climax is reached when I stand back and look at it, and know what is to come.”

We can be captured by dirt’s call, succumb to all its earthy needs. Every spring, we are virgins anew and let our minds go deeply astray. From all outside appearances, our Lady Catherine still doesn’t know what to do with that kiss on the hand, but within, there is a deep knowledge of her body.  We own such knowledge now, coming back to our dirt, manipulating carnally, heaving ourselves, letting the earth dominate us until we can harvest and eat its sweet offerings.

Our acceptance, our carnal deeds don’t go unrewarded. Shrigley also told me, at the end of planting, the reward of our earthen relationship, our dance, after we’ve let ourselves get soiled, planting beds, learning our soils, is rejoicing at earth’s reward. Shrigley states, “When I prepare a bed, I imagine it as my wife describes the great sensation of shaving her legs and climbing into the clean sheets of a nicely made bed. I can easily imagine her sensation when she climbs in and I picture myself being the sheets. That’s the sensation I seek when I properly prep a garden bed.”

Lady Catherine would outwardly be appalled, touch her laced glove to her lips and intake breath. As the gardener is raking clods of moist earth in front of her, shirtless, a new world awakens under and inside, where she has the fantasy of rolling with him, dirt and all, in the flower bed.

References:

Dunmall, G. http://www.iconeye.com/read-previous-issues/icon-096-|-june-2011/dirt
Rice, C. http://wiredsoils.blogspot.com/2011/01/soil-is-fundamental-for-life.html
Robinson, J. http://lagunadirt.blogspot.com/

 

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Born in Northern California, Elisabeth Kinsey was raised amongst her Italian and Jewish families. Her parents converted to Mormonism, which is the basis of her memoir: The Holy Ghost Goes to Bed at Midnight: Half a Mormon Life, that she is now shopping around to agents.
She has a BA in Writing from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a MA in Creative Writing from Regis University. She teaches writing and composition.
Her published works appear in Greenwoman Magazine, Ask Me About My Divorce,Seal Press, Wazee Journal, The Rambler, and Emergency Press among other journals.
Elisabeth can be called upon to speak about: divorce, leaving a strict religion, zone 5 gardening, Italian cooking, and andragogy.
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In the Spring a Not-So-Young Woman’s Fancy Lightly Turns to Thoughts of Bees

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Apiary in the Village Varatic, 1980s. By Ion Chibzii from Chisinau. , Moldova. Via Wikimedia Commons

 

A Facebook friend’s post this week told how a large honeybee swarm had  taken up residence in an empty hive on his property. All on its own! He’d left the hive out all winter, “seasoning it with lemon grass every month,” (rubbing lemon grass into the wood), and the day before saw a scout bee checking it out. The next daya colony moved in! Free bees!

How incredibly exciting! I thought.

I’ve been dreaming of beekeeping for years here on my city property, but I’ve never made the move from dream to reality. Two neighbors on my block have given it a try. One had a hive for a couple of years, and a new neighbor across the street has a hive, or she did last summer. I’ve taken classes, and one year was thrilled to participate in a swarm capture, but I’ve always been just a little too wrapped up in other projects to take on yet another responsibility. (I would want to do right by the bees, you know!) I do take a lot of pleasure, though, in growing two big city lots full of plants that produce great bee forage flowers: lots of catmint, blue mist spirea, and borage, in addition to flowering trees and shrubs, vegetables, flowers, weeds, etc. We also provide water in a few birdbaths and a pond. The bees love to drink from the lily pads.

And every year I thinkhmmm, maybe next year.

This year’s musings were ignited first by the beekeeper, then by Pinterest, which sent me some suggested pins that included honeybee art. That took me to Etsy, and that took me to Wikimedia Commons, my favorite place for copyright-free antique images.

There I found a few more images I hope you’ll enjoy.

Bee well, and remember to love and care for our friends the honeybees!

Sandra Knauf

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Just one of many Etsy offerings of bee-you-tiful digital images. These are available at the shop Digital Magpie.

 

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I would love to have a room wallpapered with this. From British Bees: An Introduction to the Study of the Natural History and Economy of the Bees Indigenous to the British Isles, by W.E. Shuckard. Published 1866. Via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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From How to Keep Bees for Profit, by Anna Botsford Comstock, 1905. I learned that Comstock was a well-known  American artist, educator, conservationist, and leader of the nature study movement!

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Note the bees on his arm, a little stunt that beekeepers can have fun with. From How to Keep Bees for Profit.

 

How_to_keep_bees_BHL18160755 (2)By Comstock, Anna Botsford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another image, this one very lovely, from Anna Botsford Comstock’s book.

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From The American Bee Journal, 1916. The accompanying excerpt about women studying beekeeping looked promising, but soon I became very annoyed at the  condescending stance on women’s most important role in society: homemaking. “Their sisters may paint beautiful pictures, write wonderful stories or rise to exalted positions in business or the professions; but the home builder is, after all, the greatest producer of beauty and happiness.”

 

1917, book, The Home and School Reference Work

And, to end this post, a pretty color illustration from The Home and School Reference Work, Volume 1, 1917.

 

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