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: firstname.lastname@example.org. ) 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.
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
"Ugly," said a neighbor when I asked him what he thought about Norway spruce. He said he had one Norway spruce in his yard and he would cut it down if it didn't hide the garbage cans.
"Oh dear," Norway spruce happens to be one of my favorite trees. I know when it gets old it can look ratty and bedraggled but its inner beauty is what I see. To me, it looks like a tree from ancient times especially when growing next to century-old Michigan stone buildings. They compliment each other, calling up the mysteries of the past. A look right out of legend.
In fact, Norway Spruce is an ancient tree...one of the oldest on the planet. When its genome was sequenced in 2013, scientists tagged its origin at about 10,000 years ago. It really isn't indigenous to Norway but arrived there around 1500 BC from the Black Forest in what is now southwestern Germany.
But don't tell that to Norwegians, as far as they are concerned, it is their national tree. Every Christmas, Norway sends a huge Norway spruce to London, Edinburgh, and Washington DC to thank these respective countries for helping defend them during WWII.
My paternal great grandfather and great great grandfather who emigrated from Bergen around 1880 brought their love of the Norway spruce with them. Although long gone, the Norway spruces they planted still grace farmland in Whitehall where they settled. The trees are enormous and stand as sentries protecting the farm buildings from wind and weather.
It's only recently that I learned to identify Norway spruce from a distance. It has droopy branches, well, actually branchlets, which hang downward and a pyramid shape. These characteristics make it easy to spot. In the spring the tree has long cones, which vary in size from 9 to 17 inches. The tree can live for centuries and grows to 100 even 200 feet like the tallest Norway spruce in the world which resides in Slovenia.
Animals love it. It provides winter cover for deer, grouse, rabbits, and the woodcock as well as roosting branches for the hawk and owl. It's wood is used to make baskets and musical instruments, like the violin, including the Stradivarius.
Foragers eat the bark (don't recommend it) and foodies clip the new young spruce tips to toss in salads and flavor cocktails. It is especially popular with chefs of the New Nordic cuisine. But unless you are an experienced forager, or can go with an experience forager, the safest advice is to leave it alone.
As for me, I like that it connects me with my Scandinavian ancestors who planted the Norway spruce to remind them of home. The Norway spruce outside my apartment window does the same for me.
By Terry Grabill
Last year, I wrote a piece about spring migration that turned out to be more of a love note to Mother Nature and, more specifically, bird migration. To avid birders, this is the season we celebrate zugunruhe (migratory restlessness). My day-job is my middle school science classroom and ALL of my personal days-off are saved to travel to birding festivals where we join tens-of-thousands of birders from all over the globe to crowd on boardwalks and trails in search of little gems stopping on their trip north to breed.
This year, though, is a little different. Andrea and I will not be crowding onto the Magee Marsh boardwalk with up to 90,000 obsessed birders from every continent to witness the incredible phenomenon of thousands of songbirds resting and staging before their trip over Lake Erie. Nor will we march with masses along the trails of Tawas Point where these songbirds land on their trek north along Michigan’s east shore. I’m not sure what this year’s confusion means to the Beaver Island Birding Trail’s Warblers on the Water event in 2020. I just cannot bring myself to write this one off yet. What in the natural world does an obsessed birder do in a spring migration confounded by social separation?
As I sit writing this, I’m fortunate to have a great view of our yard and many bird feeders. GOOD NEWS! The migrating birds have no idea that we’re experiencing a crisis and are showing up every day! In fact, we can track migration from our home computer or device by visiting https://birdcast.info/. This site, administered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, watches migration progress using doppler radar technology (yes, flocks of migrating birds show up on radar!). Waves of migrants show up daily in a relatively predictable sequence from mid-March through mid-May. In the interest of following CDC’s advice and requests, Andrea and I are watching our yard and feeders carefully to notice old friends as they come back this spring. Not being anxious to get to distant locations to bird this year has made me more keenly aware of the birds I see locally. If the reader is interested in feeding yard birds this spring and reluctant to venture out to buy bird seed at a crowded store, consider visiting www.birdgoober.com where we make bird seed come right to your home!
It has occurred to me that social separation is not compromised by me birding in most local places. I’ve seen a wide variety of birds this spring from my driver’s seat! Yesterday, I saw a pair of Trumpeter Swans fly low over M-82 in Garfield Township, Newaygo County. I also found a bald eagle from the bus window as we delivered school lunches to students! Andrea reminds me that as long as we are not stopping to fuel or eat or visit, we are still in separation. I just read a post on Facebook that some American white pelicans can be found in Newaygo, on a lake right behind the high school. Fremont High School also has a wetland visible from the road that hosts a wide variety of birdlife. The Wetland Trail has a terrific boardwalk from which spring songbirds can be seen while still maintaining social separation.
This is still a terrific time in nature. Certainly, this season’s effect on you and me is not what we were expecting or prepared for but, just a step outside yields sights and sounds that calm the spirit and remind us that the natural world is still at work.
Birdgoober weird fact: COVID 19 is bad, CORVID is a word that refers to birds like crows and ravens.
For Birdgoober.com, I’m Terry Grabill
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
As a pandemic spreads around us, my garden bed is looking more and more like a refuge, a place of mediation, even free therapy.
While the temperatures are still too low to plant even cold weather crops, it won't be long before we can. Lettuce, peas, onions, arugula, collards, carrots and beets, to name a few.
Prior to planting, gardeners need to prepare the soil: pull out weeds and add some organic matter like compost, if you have it..even coffee grounds will enhance soil fertility. The big word in agriculture these days is "regenerative" meaning you need to feed the soil to get healthy plants and a healthier you.
Usually this time of year, I use a hoe to loosen the topsoil and a shovel to dig down a few inches in preparation for planting. But this year, I'm not so sure. All winter, I have been reading and learning about the no-till method of gardening. Horticulture experts say that it does more harm than good to disrupt the soil biome. For one thing, you kill earthworms who are your garden friends. But it is hard to resist grabbing that hoe and shovel and getting to work ..as it is often the only chore available to a gardener until the soil warms up and dries out.
So this year. I will experiment with this approach and leave the garden tools home. Instead I will weed and grab a handful of dirt and scrunch it into a ball. When I open my hand and it crumbles, I will know planting time has arrived. If it stays tightly packed, I will have to wait a little longer. Sort of like taking your garden's temperature.
As for me, guess it's time to buy a thermometer so I can take my own temperature. I have a feeling that spring will find me in the garden a lot more often, as I find gardening calming, my fellow gardeners supportive, and the promise of sprouting veggies seeds offering hope in a dark time.
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
There are fewer and fewer of them, but eye catching when you spot one. Especially a homemade one with a base of straw, old clothes and a whimsical head. Each unique in its own way.
We are, of course, talking about scarecrows. Traditionally a sign of autumn and the harvest, scarecrows often survive the winter to oversee spring planting. Their job is to scare birds away from freshly planted seeds. Originally, their job was to scare away crows, hence their name: scarecrow.
As you may already know, it doesn't work. Birds, and especially crows, are too smart to be fooled. After a few days they have figured it out that the scarecrow is not a threat no matter how menacing it looks. And even cloth or ribbons waving in the breeze doesn't deter them. Although adding clinking aluminum pie tins might.
But no matter. Gardeners love scarecrows and having a human-like mannequin supposedly guarding the crops makes us smile.
Historically, scarecrows can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who employed them to protect their crops along the Nile River from being eaten by quail. Around the same time, Japanese literature refers to a scarecrow called Kuebiko, a deity of agriculture and knowledge.
In colonial American, German immigrants concocted scarecrows they called "bogeymen," which were dressed in old clothes with a red handkerchief tied around their necks. Eventually, thinking these bogeymen were lonely, the farmers created female scarecrows to keep them company.
Colonial scarecrows were designed to be as ugly as possible and there were contests to rate their appearance.
The scarecrow is featured often in American literature, poems and musicals. Perhaps the most famous Is the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz who is searching for his brain. Eventually, he finds it.
In Nova Scotia, a farmer named Joe Delaney began to enjoy his scarecrows so much that in 1984 he created a scarecrow village. Unfortunately, the scarecrow village was closed in 2011 after it was vandalized, someone destroying the 46 scarecrows he had on display.
Making your own scarecrow the old fashion way is fairly easy...all you need are some old clothes and straw to stuff it with. Pumpkins or gourds are traditional heads although a stuffed burlap sack will also suffice. Once completed, tie your creation to a pole or fence near your garden beds. The birds may ignore it but I'm pretty sure neighbors, family and friends will be stopping by to admire your handiwork.
Photo and story by Tina Bury
Recently, while on a ship (sofa) in the ocean (living room) with my wee fella, on our way to Mackinac Island (still in our living room), I was mending the knees of his pants.
He "fished" while I mended. He wasn't sure that we were both "working".
In fact...he proclaimed "How come we're not both working?!"
Hmm...we may need to have a talk about what "work" is.
It's sort of disconcerting that perhaps my son, MY son, doesn't value "women's" work. Is it in his DNA? What on earth?!
Or perhaps it's the age-old quandary of your work/effort doesn't LOOK exactly like mine, so therefore I can't see it's value.
That great divide between Me and You and the struggle of overvaluing our own efforts and undervaluing the efforts of others. Interesting to ponder, but I digress.
What I really want to talk about is making and "finding" time for making.
Honestly, nearly all of my making is in the tiny bits of time that I (gently..now) force it into.
I'm guessing you can relate.
And yes, I'm claiming mending as making time.
Gah, making - it's the one space in my weekly tracking that often remains empty, okay, that and moving my body. Sadly. (If you've been here a while, you probably are not surprised at my nerdiness! Weekly tracking...ha ha ha)
So, I'll claim mending, because it makes me feel good. And peaceful. And connected. And that assuredly counts.
But sometimes I have no energy for it and those little pants with ripped out knees snuffle and cry and pile on all the guilt...until in a moment of overwhelm, I cut them into rags, ha - the power!, and begin again!
And then one gets through. And I'm just sitting on a ship in the ocean after all, doing nothing...sure, maybe I should have been "fishing", but how many fishermen does one ship need? Someone has to do the tending.
It's like that, right, life moves along at its swift pace and if we don't make the time and space to do what fills us up, we won't just have the time.
Sure, you can argue that perhaps while on the ship at sea I did just have the time, but I would argue that, I had to intentionally choose to make with my hands while engaging with my wee boy with my imagination and self.
I plan at least one making outing every week, generally a knitting circle in my town...because I KNOW that making with my hands enhances my life and fills me up.
I know it soothes my, very active, mind and allows me to be a better human. And bonus...making and friends are both values of mine, so it's a twofer!
I've been thinking a lot lately about making for the pure joy of it and scheduling bullet-proof time in my week for it, beyond the weekly knitting night.
I find that living mindfully and making space for self-care requires constant recalibration at any given moment.
I make a plan, I follow my passion, diving into what's pressing at the moment and eventually I feel off.
Feeling off is my indication that I need to reconnect to my core values - family, engaging work, friends, play, making, tending home, moving my body - and re-balance.
Add a little more of this in my week and a little less of that.
We have more control than we think. There are times when we mindlessly choose to engage in something that is not enhancing our lives and we have the power to choose instead to fill that time with what does take care of our needs. And those little moments add up, they do!
And I think that knowledge is exciting...it means I can do this, regardless of how "busy" I am. I can sew a seam here and there, I can cut out a pattern in the evening or knit while watching a show. I can.
So, here's to choosing mindfully and making space for what matters to us and letting go of what does not.