Article and photos by Donna Iverson
As the sheltering in place order continues to take its toll on our collective psyche, feeling a constant urge to go for long walks in Michigan woods ..to search out and identify Spring Wildflowers and say hello to my favorite ferns.
As you probably have read, the Japanese call this "forest bathing," and there is scientific evidence that being in nature and especially around trees and/or water helps calm the soul. Maybe it's all those negative ions.
But with the stay-at-home order in place, I turn to my local environment for signs of woodland plants and flowers. Less than a block from my front door, I stumble upon wildflowers springing up in the cement cracks. Somehow they symbolize trying to maintain functioning under difficult conditions. Wild violets are tough little beings who survive and even thrive no matter where they land....even in the most seemingly hostile of places. A lesson I am learning to emulate.
On one of my daily ambles through the city, I spy Ostrich ferns growing in a contemplative garden alongside the local Jewish synagogue. On closer inspection, discovered they were just past the fiddlehead stage, which was a disappointment as they are an edible delicacy.
Still I was thrilled to see one of my favorite native ferns which is easy to identify especially when it is full grown as it can reach 6 feet. It's only competitor is the Interrupted Fern which can grow equally as tall. By midsummer Interrupted Fern has a brown patch in the center of the stalk ...hence its name and its identifying tell. So you won't mistake it for Ostrich Fern. Both ferns are native to North America.
Ferns make wonderful additions to a home garden whether it be a native plants garden, a woodland garden, a wildlife garden (they provide shelter for many birds), a rain garden, a shade garden or just a shady spot in your yard.
Ferns have a primitive otherworldly look and are perhaps the oldest plants on the planet, dating back to the Neanderthal era. There are many native ferns to choose from that will grow well in Northern Michigan gardens including Maidenhair fern, Lady Fern, Woodland Fern, Christmas Fern (which is evergreen in winter ..hence its name) and of course, the Ostrich Fern. All can be purchased at garden centers and then propagated by division. Be aware that some are aggressively invasive spreading by underground rhizomes ..especially the Ostrich Fern.
So if you want to bring woodland plants to your yard, consider the native ferns ..they require little maintenance and will provide an unique addition to your environment. You might even harvest a few of those Ostrich Fern fiddleheads come early next spring.
By Tina Bury
I have this wool dress that I made 8 years ago from some lovely, purplish, brown herringbone wool I picked up at a yard sale for 5 dollars and a pattern I found online (the Ashland Dress from Sew Liberated).
This was my first really, really well-done dress and a woven dress at that! With finished seams and buttons. A hand-sewn hem. All the thoughtful finishing steps that I, at that time, did not usually have the patience for. And the fit is (well...was) perfect!
The thing is, it's a bit snug now (an accidental trip through the washing machine saw to that...okay, and time), but even before then I only wore this dress a handful of times. Not because it's not comfortable or lovely to me.
But, because there is some unknown, not-quite-right for me element to it that I can't quite place my finger on and I've gotten really clear over the last decade on what I love to wear and what magically makes me feel completely lit up, based on how I feel in my body wearing it.
And I'm unwilling to wear anything that doesn't do that...even if I don't understand why. (Not being able to zip it up also helps!)
But still, I've purged my closet probably a hundred times in the last 8 years and I can never seem to part with this dress.
...and it's taking up valuable real estate and hogging one of my lovely vintage wooden hangers.
I mean, I have other dresses, ones in regular rotation, ones I wear with gusto, who do not even have a hanger.
No, not even a hanger...they are unceremoniously draped over the top of the closet bar. (yes, I know I can buy more hangers, but, see I'm trying to create a self-limiting system!)
Seriously. Why can't I let this dress go?
I've been thinking about that. I think it is the elation that came from making a garment so carefully and intentionally that I love connecting with. I've been holding onto the memory and that's what brings me joy. This dress is a milestone project.
The other day I was rifling through my too-full closet to see what I can pass along, as I am want to do when I'm feeling a little overwhelmed or have an urge to regain control in my life. (an illusion surely, but it feels good...allow me the illusion!)
There's nothing quite like checking in with what you own and deciding if it still brings you joy and whether or not it still deserves space in your life. And then releasing what doesn't.
I know you know what I am talking about, Marie Kondo didn't become a household verb for nothing!
That feeling that comes when you shift the old out and make room for...well maybe, the new, but ideally for me...simply for space.
Space in my cluttered closet and space in my mind.
See, I love the feeling of peace that I get when I have what I need and feel content with what I have. Not too much or too little, but simply enough.
So, this uncharacteristic keeping of this dress has been so interesting to me.
And then, just like that, I'm ready to let it go. hmm. But not, obviously without a last hurray!
To be clear, it would have been perfectly acceptable to continue to let this beloved garment hog it's space....forever if need be, but I'd like some more space please, in every sense of the word, and sometimes that means letting go of good things in favor of a tempered version of what truly matters to me.
So, here's to the things we've made where in the end it was the process and the feeling of empowerment that gave us so much joy! Those milestone projects...fists pumping in the air, smiling from ear-to-ear, projects.
What are you hanging onto because it makes you feel good to see it and touch it, even if you don't or can't use it?
Tell me about a milestone project of yours! It's just me behind the screen and I love to connect!
Tina shares her musing on making in her weekly e-letter and on her blog. Kinshiphandwork.com
By Tina Bury
I find I've been holding my breath; at odd times like when sitting on the couch and expected times like when I go on a grocery run. I imagine you might be too.
Last night in a wise move, I took a long bath after everyone had gone to sleep. I was physically exhausted myself (all that breath-holding after all) but I felt drawn to the water.
AND, here's the clincher, I heeded the call! (yes! Cheers all around.)
With great effort, I set aside my phone and picked up a book. A real, paper and ink, book! (Do you read in the bath too?)
Threads of Life; the history of the world through the eye of a needle by Clare Hunter.
I am thoroughly enjoying it. (I'll be honest here though, I struggled to get into it several months ago when I first picked it up, and last night as a last-ditch effort I jumped ahead a bit and found myself enthralled!)
Did you know that historically embroidery was often added to clothing to protect the wearer? I find the idea of stitches as a way to ward off trouble and protect our loved ones so, so lovely.
from the book...
"Traditionally, in many cultures throughout the world, embroidered textiles were thought to be as efficacious as a shield for protecting human beings in this world and the next. Imbued with the force of nature - the plants from which dyes have been extracted, from which thread has been spun - textiles provided a natural armory to ward off attack. Through needlework, however, greater defenses could be assembled, to ensure human safety.
"Evil could slip and slide into any opening. Clothes therefore were cunningly constructed to withstand danger, especially in areas most vulnerable to entry. The hems, cuffs, and necklines of many traditional garments were densely patterned in an array of different colors. This was no idle fancy for ornamentation, but purposeful safeguarding."
As luck would have it, I had already planned to do some hand-sewn embroidery along the neckline of a recently drafted knit t-shirt dress. (Maybe I need to consider the hem and sleeve opening too!)
I've always felt the "something extra" of a thing made by hand...slowly and intentionally. I'd like to believe that there is a bit of magic, protection perhaps, in the garments that we spend our time and energy in and in which we infuse our love.
I honestly have a very different connection to the garment I distractedly rush to make and the garment I take my time on, mindfully considering all the details and allowing the flow of creation.
And like the author, I've been enthralled with the possibility that plants could infuse their healing properties into the cloth they dye. Isn't it lovely that so many medicinal plants are also fabric dyes?
Like many, I've recently made some face masks for my community and while I've not embroidered them, I have sent my love and prayers for protection into them as I sewed. Perhaps it's the same thing.
And if ever we needed a bit more love and protection, it's now.
So, if you're inclined...dig out that needle and thread, stitch some protection and find some peace in the mindfulness of handwork at the same time. (I love a two-fer!!)
I'll join you, dear one!
In Deep Kinship,
Tina Bury called the Newaygo area home before tramping off to the snowy north where she found herself a mama and a sewing teacher. She hosts sewing retreats and workshops in Michigan for garment sewists who crave connection and finally want to wear and sew clothes they love. Tina also has an online course where you can get mindful and intentional about what you wear and how you show up in the world and give yourself more joy in your craft. She shares her musing on making in her weekly e-letter and on her blog. Kinshiphandwork.com
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
The months-long quarantine we are experiencing has had unexpected effects on my life and even my garden choices. Out of the blue, I suddenly developed a strong urge to grow potatoes. I've never grown potatoes, but was seized by a compulsion to store away food underground..... like a squirrel. Potatoes as human acorn stash.
Not having a clue how to grow potatoes, I serendipitously found myself one spring morning in the company of a fellow community gardener who was doing just that. So I pelted him with questions which he cheerfully and expertly answered. (If you want down-to-earth gardening advice, join a community garden) This is what I learned:
First you need seed potatoes which are basically potatoes that have started producing tiny sprouts. You can buy them at gardening centers or maybe even find a few in your own potato bin. Cut them I half if they are small and into quarters if they are large. Prepare your garden bed and plant them about three to four inches deep. The sprouts need to be pointed up. Potato plants need a lot of room, about three square foot of space each.
Seed potatoes will sprout in a couple of weeks and when they are about a foot tall, build a small hill around the base of the plant. This protects the potatoes growing near the surface. If you don't have garden space, you could plant seed potatoes in a large pot or barrel, making sure there are sufficient holes for water drainage. The potatoes will be pollinated by bumble bees. So growing a few flowers nearby would be helpful to attract them,
Come harvest time, you will be able to dig up about 10 potatoes for each spud you planted..an abundant yield for very small effort.
Looking into its history, potatoes are not native to North America but originated in South America, probably southern Peru. Evidence indicated that indigenous people were growing potatoes there as far back as 8000 BC.
Today, China grows the most potatoes in the world followed by India, Russia, Ukraine and then the United States. It is our fourth largest crop after corn, wheat and soybeans. White potatoes are members of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and eggplant. Nightshades cause joint pain in some people.
Childhood memories: remember the counting rhyme: One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four? It dates back to 1950s England where it was popular with children as seen in this video from the British library: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/one-potato
By Terry Grabill
During this spring of “social distancing” and “shelter in place”, there is a group of us birders that are really struggling. For many of us, spring means migration and the excitement of welcoming back our seasonal travelers passing through on their way north or setting up housekeeping in our backyards.
As I’ve described in past articles, these north-bound birds come in a relatively predictable sequence. I’m one that celebrates spring migration by travelling to migration “traps” where these little gems are packed together, and bird numbers can be tremendous. Birder numbers can also be tremendous, which creates a social distancing problem. As a result, all the Great Lakes region’s birding festivals have been cancelled. Well, the birds are still migrating and visible. They don’t care about COVID19! So, I’m always watching for new migrants to arrive in my yard and I go short distances to “hotspots” where I can look at the travelers. But SOMETHING just isn’t right. Something about my version of birding is missing.
First, I must confess that I’m a terrible record keeper. I have a friend named Dick who has a small notebook that he carries and with this he can reference sightings and conditions along with locations and dates. I have, well, a birder’s journal where I’ve checked off my life list. Regardless of the lack of detail in my journal, I do have a brief statement by each life-bird I’ve counted. You’d think I’d have location, date, weather conditions, associated species…you know, details. As I flip through this journal, I lament my lack of detail attention because it would be really great to know when and under what conditions I found this “lifer”. Instead, what I find is the key to why this spring is difficult for my birding.
Going through my journal, I have notes about the sighting and virtually every one of them has mention of who I was with when I saw it! Stilt sandpiper “met Jim Markam”, great black-backed gull “with Ruscos”, golden plover “with Kenn and Kim Kaufman”, black-crowned night heron “with Greg Miller”, “with Ted Gostomski”, “with D.W.”, “with Brennan”, and most often “with Andrea”. It literally JUST occurred to me this spring that birding, to me, is more about the people I’m sharing the experience with than the birds. I have NO idea what the weather was like when I saw my first Eurasian tree sparrow (or even the date!), but my records show that Trevor and I were together!
So, this year I remember welcoming spring arrivals as they make their pilgrimage north to breed but this “something” that’s missing is the personal relationships that arise from pursuing a common interest; sharing the experience with new friends; bumping into these new friends in places where birds congregate… and so do birders.
For Birdgoober, I’m Terry Grabill.
As a footnote, Trevor tells me it was sunny, windy, and in the high 50s when we saw the Eurasian Tree Sparrow!
By Tina Bury
Recently, while the sun warmed my face and I dug out the garden, I was thinking about perfection.
About how paralyzing our need for perfection can be and what a shame and waste of a beautiful gift, or dare I say life, that is. How many creative sparks dye in the glaring, unkind light of perfection?
About how sometimes folks don't make or create a thing because they fear they won't be able to make it perfect or they allow their fear minds to take over and completely block their ability to do a thing with the "I can'ts".
Or how sometimes the people in my classes won't wear the thing they've made because it has the wavy hems or how they may be dreaming of a garment to make/wear but don't think they can pull it off. Like their body isn't right.
One of my favorite lessons I learned from the venerable Julie Child went something like this....if you make other people a meal, never apologize for it. And while that may seem to be about other people, it's really about honoring in yourself what you have done and what you have learned and giving your effort respect.
Because that apologizing isn't about them, it's about our fear that we aren't good enough.
Give your effort respect.
Do that thing imperfectly, love your imperfect body...all we have is right now. There's no time to waste on "someday, when". And each one of us deserves to wear what we love, make what we love and feel pride and joy in those imperfect efforts...and to have the bravery to just do it.
Wear that wonky t-shirt with pride (I'm guessing no one sees it's imperfections but you anyway...). Give your tilting, hand-built mug to your mama for Mother's day (yes, I know you're in your 40's...all the better!)
That thing you've been dreaming of doing? The one that puts you out in front of the world. You have what you need right this moment, do it now, make mistakes, and laugh at them with tenderness and grace. Learn and begin again!
Because when you do, it gives us ALL permission to be our perfectly, imperfect selves. And that might be the most important thing we can do for one another.
Let's shine our lights no matter how imperfectly...shall we?
Who's with me?
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
"Grow something" shouted the headline of a recent article in my favorite gardening magazine. Good advice and I would add "grow something edible," even if it's only a pot of parsley. In fact, parsley is a good place to start. Seeds are easy to come by, it's easy to grow and you could use just about anything for a pot. Set it in a sunny place near your doorstep, or on a patio or balcony or even on a bedroom window ledge if that's the only space you have.
In the face of a pandemic, sales of seeds and plants are robust with some veggie seeds in short supply..like carrots.
Are carrots seeds the new toilet paper?
Gardens or even a pot of herbs offer reassurance of a brighter future, of learning to grow your own food, of caring for something, of watching something you created turn into an edible food source, of watching nature regenerate.
So a pot of parsley is a start. But maybe you are a little more ambitious than growing a pot of herbs but you aren't into tilling or building a garden bed. If so, consider straw bale gardening. It's cheap. It's easy. And it's quick.
All you need is a straw bale, a bag of organic soil and some seeds or seedlings. Straw bales cost less than $10 and provide the garden bed. Be sure what you buy is straw and not hay bales, as these are animal fodder and full of weed seeds. You can find straw bales at garden or feed stores or from your local farmer.
Usually straw bales come wrapped in twine; leave the twine on. Place the bale in a sunny location and soak it with a hose daily for four to five days. Add nutrients by pouring on compost tea. Once the bale has "cooked,", take a trowel and remove about six inches of straw from the top center. Pour organic soil and compost into this rectangular hole. This is where the plants or seeds will go.
The final step is to plant seeds or seedlings. Tomato seedlings purchased from your local garden store or farmers market are a good choice to start with. One straw bale will hold three tomato plants. Other seedlings that work well include eggplant, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. Or go the seed route with lettuce, radishes, beets, peppers or those hard-to-find carrot seeds. All these are easily grown by beginners. It is important to keep the straw bale garden watered regularly, especially during hot weather..
Like all gardening techniques, be forewarned, there is a downside. Straw bale gardens require a lot of regular watering, you need to add organic fertilizer on a regular basis, each bale will only support a few plants and a straw bale can only be used for one season. Still it seems worth the effort if you want an easy way to get started, or just want to experiment with a new gardening approach. At the end of the season, the straw bale can be thrown in your compost pile.
If you want more information on straw bale gardening, your local library has a surprising number of books on the subject.
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
Last weekend, I headed out to my community garden veggie bed. Even though it was chilly for April, I carried seed packets of a variety of lettuces and wooden stakes to set up for square foot gardening.
Square foot gardening is where you divide your garden beds into squares, measuring approximately 12" by 12." That is what is recommended by Mel Bartholomew, the man who invented square foot gardening back in 1981 when his book of the same name was published. As the years have gone by, I have drifted a bit from that specification, making squares and rectangles that approximate that size.
Gardening can be a daunting undertaking. By dividing the bed into squares, it breaks down the task into manageable sized spaces. I take it one square at a time. Every few days, I plant another square. As spring and summer progresses, if one square isn't doing well, I replant. But most squares sprout and produce veggies just fine giving me a feeling of success. Troublesome squares get extra attention and are coaxed along.
So if you are a gardener who fears she doesn't have a green thumb, or a new gardener, or a gardener who wants to try a new approach, square foot gardening may fit the bill.
The advantages of a raised bed are many. A raised bed warms up earlier in the spring helping with the sprouting process and stays warmer in late fall, extending your harvest. Because the veggies are packed close together in the squares, it deters weeds and pests. It also spares your back, if that is an issue.
Among the plants that thrive in a square foot garden are onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots, and tomatoes. Twelve radishes fit in one square while a tomato plant requires a square of its own.
While square foot gardening is usually done in a raised bed, it can also be done with in-ground beds. There are a number of ways to mark out the squares, including using string anchored at the edges of the bed. Or use stones or even small tree branches to create the squares.
On the down side, raised beds often need extra watering especially in mid-summer when they tend to dry out. And while a large variety of vegetables can be grown in a raised bed, it is not ideal for crops that take up a lot of room, like squash or sweet corn. However, you could easily put a trellis at the north end of the bed, and grow vining plants like beans and peas.
Square foot gardening is a way to create a small but intensity planted vegetable bed, and is ideal for gardeners without a lot of space. It's great for gardeners who just want a small veggie bed that is easy to start and can be placed outside your back door.
You can learn many garden techniques with a square foot garden, like crop rotation, soil regeneration, composting, and companion planting. Subjects for future gardening articles. For more information, check out Bartholomew's books at your public library or visit the Square Foot Gardening Foundation: https://squarefootgardening.org
Photo and story by Donna Iverson
In these dark days, sometimes it's the little things that keep our spirits up... watching a robin pull a worm out of the dirt, daffodils opening their yellow faces in the morning sun, rhubarb stalks pushing up through the garden soil. Each spring, rhubarb offers reassurance, a reliable perennial that performs year after year with little effort on your part.
If you are a rhubarb fan, spring is the time to plant. Most people buy crowns or divisions at their local nursery or garden shop. But you can grow rhubarb from seed. Rhubarb seeds can be purchased from catalogs such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co in Missouri ( email: email@example.com. ) Seeds need to be started indoors or in a nursery bed.
When transplanting to the garden. rhubarb needs a lot of space, about a square foot minimum for each plant. It is a heavy feeder, doesn't tolerate drought, and requires regular watering. Deer, sheep, cows and sheep will eat the leaves which are toxic to humans, as they contain oxalic acid. The plant also produces small inedible flowers. Rhubarb is best planted at the edge of a garden bed so as not to interfere with other vegetable plants.
Rhubarb is one of the first food plants harvested in spring, often as early as May in Michigan. Come June, it is in full production and ready to combine with fresh-picked strawberries in a Rhubarb-Strawberry pie. Because rhubarb is so tart, it needs the sweetness of strawberries to provide the perfect sweet-sour balance that our taste buds love. Rhubarb is also used in crumbles, jams, sauces, muffins and cakes. The Finns use it to make mead wine.
Technically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but back in 1947, a New York court legally declared it a fruit, because that is how it is cooked and eaten.
Historically, the rhubarb is an Asian native, dating back thousands of years when it was used by the Chinese for medicine. They used it as a laxative, although there is no scientific evidence of its efficacy. During the Middle Ages, traders carried it along the Silk Road and it made its way to Europe. It was considered a luxury item along with satin, diamonds, pearls and rubies.
In 1730, rhubarb seeds appeared in America, where it was first planted by the famous botanist and horticulturist John Bartram in his Philadelphia garden. It was during the 1700s that rhubarb made the switch from medicine to the food table. By 1809, President Thomas Jefferson was growing rhubarb at Monticello.
Somehow, just the sight of a rhubarb plant in spring, renews my faith that we will make it through this. And gardening can be a helpful tonic to our troubles.
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
Like sprouts? There's a good chance you have nature's wild version in your garden or lawn. It's called chickweed. It's edible, delicious and nutritious. And all you have to do is go outside with a kitchen scissors and clip the top inch off. Rinse it in a colander and pop it on your next sandwich. It doesn't keep well in the refrigerator so the sooner the better.
Chickweed is plentiful right now, as I found out when I walked over to the community garden where I have a raised bed. As if by magic, there was a mat of common chickweed growing. I welcomed it as a sign of fertile soil and also as an early-spring snack of free locally-grown greens.
As an apartment dweller, I definitely love having my own garden bed, to grow lettuce, tomatoes, kale, arugula, and beans. But at heart, I'm a forager. In fact, like a forager, I often find myself nibbling the veggies I grow in my garden bed right there on the spot. It's my own version of farm to table, but in my case, the veggies never make it to the table.
Identification is easy. According to Lisa Rose, who wrote a book about identifying, harvesting and using wild herbs, chickweed is a "low-growing, mat-forming Spring annual. It's small leaves are arranged oppositely on slender stems." The flowers are white with five deeply notched petals. To be sure of identification, a single line of hairs runs along the stem. A magnifying glass may be needed if you need proof positive.
All its parts are edible, including its flowers, leaves and stems. It can be eaten raw or cooked like adding it to soup, for example. While many consider it a weed to eradicate, wild-crafters are contrarians and often deliberately sow the chickweed seeds in the garden, where they will appear year after year. It tends to die back in the summer, but will reappear in the fall as it likes cooler weather.
Medicinally, chickweed is used to treat skin abrasions and wounds. While not an herbalist myself, I have bought salve containing chickweed at my local farmers market and highly recommend it,
While chickweed is not native to North America, it has been naturalized around the world for centuries. Chickweed attracts bees and butterflies, both of which are endangered. It is also food for birds and chickens. Plus you can enjoy a nibble yourself if you are so inclined.