Potatoes Taught Me Faith…

dirt I dig you potatos

There are hidden treasures below the surface…sometimes we merely need to dig a little while in order to find them…

So often this year, I have just stood there and stared at my garden after watering it. Sometimes after I get out of my car from wherever it was that I had gone, I step out and just gaze. I get wonderstruck in the effort of gardening and begin to daydream. As a first time gardener I want to do more than I do, but I don’t always know exactly what is specifically needed within each step, I am in the midst of learning tricks, so sometimes I revert to the job of simply peering into each bed and musing over it’s growth… it’s more of a fascination really.

A lot of times, it seems that it is after I have already finished something that I find that there is a “better” way that I could have done it. I planted potatoes on a whim.  They were not part of my original list of vegetables to plant in my garden beds.  One afternoon my nose lead me to a smell of rotting potatoes in the pantry, organic Yukon Golds wasting away.  They weren’t quite obsolete in value though; I noticed that all over the spuds there were sprouts protruding outwards.  Instead of composting them I decided, why not take a chance and plant them.

I loosened the soil with my hands and cut the potatoes into halves or into thirds.  Then placed them below to see what might happen.  After a couple of weeks the hibernating potatoes brought forth into view from the depths of the soil these adorable little green leafy plants! I was thrilled! I wondered though; will these be void of fruitfulness when all is said and done. Sure, the potatoes might grow up into these large and robust looking plantae, but what will I find within the soil after the growing season is finished, will it simply be a flourishing amount of greenery, or will there be a hiding harvest to be discovered?

I have heard that you need to purchase actual seed potatoes and that I shouldn’t use the grocery store bought ones because they may not yield any new potatoes.  I had also read that it is good to have your potatoes in acidic soil with a pH level of 6.0 or below and that one should add alfalfa meal, soybean meal or another high-nitrogen organic fertilizer. Lastly, I read that you should not plant your potatoes in soil that contains manure because this can create rough patches on the skin. All of this may be true and is very helpful information, however, I of course read all of the above after I had planted my “faith” potatoes.

I call them faith potatoes because against all odds and against the grain of conventional directions I planted them and I continued to hope that below the surface something was happening…

My garden beds have manure in it. My sprouting Yukon Golds were from a local grocery store,  I have no idea what my soils pH level is because I haven’t gotten around to testing the soils balance. I did not add a single dosage of organic feed to the soil.  I simply took the sprouted potatoes, planted them, and watered them.  Yes, I did sing them a song or two. My plants love it when I sing to them…

After a while my lovely potato plants, well more like miniature bushes because they grew so high and green and wide, they began to flower. Little dainty white flowers with a yellow center.  Again, I admired all that I could see; the flowers and the lush green foliage. Yet, I continued to hope and wonder what might be happening below the surface.  By this point I had read all of the do’s and don’ts of potatoes and I had discovered that I had accomplished a lot of the don’ts… My expectations were not extremely high at this point, but I waited and I wondered that possibly, just maybe, we might be getting some of our very own potatoes from this earthen patch.

Months had gone by, the plants continued to visibly grow untamed, tall and wide. Then today, a hot Saturday afternoon in July, we arrived home from a fantastic time at our local farmers market and all 4 of us did that thing that I tend to do. We climbed out of the car and just stood there and stared at the garden, watchful and hopeful.  My husband began to look at all the tomatoes that are finally showing up.  Then as I was introducing him to all of the green cherry tomatoes he began pushing his hands into the soft soil below one of the potato plants.

“Careful Josh, you might hurt the babies!” I warned him. I was thinking that if there was anything reproducing beneath the soil that they were still so young; vulnerable little spudlings that needed to stay within the dark cocoon of the earth…  And then…dirt I dig you potatos2

Out of the dirt rose beauty… Out of the unknown he starts pulling out these baseball sized golden potatoes, bright, fresh and gleaming; all covered in rich dirt. My children squealed in delight.  I gasped in shocked excitement. It was an amazing experience to see these edible treasures come forth from a place that I could not see that will now feed my family …

Beneath the soil things were happening that my eyes could not perceive…life was forming in the spaces of mystery.  There is a precarious line in life of visual-factual understanding and faith-understanding.  I have always thought faith was strange, because I feel like I have faith and hope; I feel like I can believe in what I cannot see…yet that doesn’t mean I didn’t ever doubt. Although, I was always taught to never doubt… However, without doubt how can one have faith? If there isn’t anything to wonder about, if there was never any reason to question things than faith would not exist…it would merely be factual and the guess and the mystery would be gone…

Here I am tonight with a bowl full of potatoes in my kitchen. Soaking them in vinegar water, cleaning all the dirt from their skins; like a baby birthed from the mysterious womb and then washed, cleaned and wrapped into the arms of her mother.

All I can say is I have faith in potatoes… potatoes taught me faith and that is good enough for me. I have learned that there are rules and tips and guidelines that will show you how to do something based off of what others have already done, but there are times when nature shows off it’s wild side, free and fertile; nature wants to thrive…all living things want to grow…it is the elemental connection that we all have, we all want to be and feel alive! Thank you Creator for this humble harvest.

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Making Earth

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I recently saw a documentary titled, “Dirt The Movie”.  I highly recommend this film, I just now watched the video clip of the film and it reminded me how much I love the message.  Without healthy soil there is no life, no growth and no food.  So on that note, I have decided that the first step that I should make is to learn the art of composting.  It is more complex than you might think.  Fortunately, this year my kids and I are studying under the wisdom of a master composter in which I am gleaning every bit of her good knowledge that I can.

Composting is to make earth.  When you compost you are literally taking organic material (living matter) and turning it into soil.  Everyday the earth is naturally composting, this is part of the rhythm of life.  The trees fall, leaves blow to the ground, apples drop, living elements fall and die; everything living, include humans, takes its course to become once again part of the earth and the living nutrients then decay into the earth and become soil; life giving and nutritious, enforcing growth and new birth.  Winter is near and one thing that I can focus my time on is composting, while it is too cold to practice gardening I want to create a habit of making earth.

Composting is an ancient proven practice, practiced by this beautiful created mother earth herself and also by the humans who have dwelled on this gifted land.  It is said “that The ancient Akkadian Empire in the Mesopotamian Valley referred to the use of manure in agriculture on clay tablets 1,000 years before Moses was born” (http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/history.cfm).  Also in our own North American continent the practice of composting is attributed to the Native Americans as being a main example and teachers of this practice. You can dig into the studies, historical and present, how every culture and creatures participate in the cycle of composting using their own methods, depending on where their geographical dwelling is…it is entirely fascinating.

As I attempt to begin this ancient practice I will use it in a rather new way– or perhaps simply “new to me”! My first task at hand: Lasagna gardening.  I keep a large jar next to my kitchen sink and put my compost into it as I cook or clear dishes.  One thing to keep in mind is there are certain things you should never compost and a simple guide of what not to put into your compost can be found HERE.

After my jar fills up I am currently dumping the compost into a pot which I will be using to plant garlic.  Garlic is something to plant in the fall, just as we plant tulip bulbs in the fall.  Lasagna Gardening is something new to me and works in full reliance on healthy compost, creating nutrient rich soil and gardening at the same time.  IMG_8362

Lasagna Gardening requires that you layer your garden area or pot with green and browns.  The following is a list of common greens and browns from Earth Friendly Gardening: http://earthfriendlygardening.wordpress.com/2006/05/09/browns-greens-what-to-compost/.

Browns

  • Fall leaves
  • Hay & straw, cornstalks
  • Shredded cardboard & newspaper (newspaper inks are soy-based which are OK)
  • Paper plates, bags, towels
  • Chipped brush, sticks, twigs, branches, bark
  • Sawdust
  • Pine needles (but not more than 10% of the pile)

Greens

  • Vegetable & fruit wastes
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds, filters, & teabags
  • Horse, cow, rabbit, chicken, gerbil, goat, sheep, rabbit, pig manure
  • Weeds without weed seeds & other yard waste (without chemicals)
  • Grass clippings (but not if you use harmful chemicals on your grass!)
  • Seaweed (give it a good soak to remove excess salt)

After piling my fresh greens from the kitchen into the pot I then spent some time raking leaves and twigs to use as my browns.  I have a dog and his turf is our backyard.  Because in the fall season the leaves can easily get mixed up with the dogs poop I will only use raked leaves from the front yard which I know is free from pet feces.  It is very important to never use manure from household pets such as dogs or cats.  I then take the browns (leaves and twigs) and pile that on top of my greens.  I step down on it all to press it down a bit and simply put my pot in a cozy corner of my yard and allow that to compost naturally while I wait for my glass jar to fill back up and do another layer.  Once I have a couple of layers I will then take some fresh soil and/or aged compost and layer that on top of it all and then water the entire thing. Ideally one might also add mulch and manure to the top in order to create a beautiful soil making environment that holds in the moisture needed but also naturally deters weeds.  At that point I will be ready to plant my garlic bulbs while the fall season is still here.  Lasagna Gardening is really fantastic and it makes use of my compost at the same time as planting, while literally giving your plants a base of nutrients to blend into soil all winter long!  I am thrilled to know that instead of just sending my extra food down the garbage disposal or into the trash can, I can actually use it to create incredibly rich, nutrient dense living soil!

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First Greens go into the pot. Little puppy Moonshine loves to hang out with me wherever I go, he is my little shadow.
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NEXT I gathered some browns. Fall is a great time to gather browns because we have them falling all over our yards 🙂 I was careful to only gather leaves where my dog doesn’t go to the bathroom.
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Then I layer the browns on top of the greens, compress it a little bit and let it sit. The magic of compost will begin to unfold slowly and more rapidly as I add more layers soil and water.

Of course you can also compost straight into a compost bin. There are numerous ways to do it. The lasagna version is simply a method to do it in a way that allows aging in the lower layers, creating immense nutrition for the roots of your plants to climb into and of course that top layer of healthy organic soil is a must as the lower layers age.

I feel like a little kid learning to ride a bike for the first time.  Sometimes I chat with some of my seasoned gardener neighbors and friends about the simplest of things and they look at me like this is old news for them.  But to me the simplicities of this process is revolutionary and I am learning and I am really really excited!  Isn’t it funny that a large majority of young adults in our society probably have no idea how to do this stuff.  In our society today gardening is profound, at least for my generation.  The practice is something sacred and cannot be forgotten and in our manipulative food system gardening is one of the biggest ways to peacefully fight the system, to be independent and to “feed thyself”.  In our nation where we claim to be such an independent society, we are actually far more dependent than we realize.  Independence is not defined solely on our freedom to say or do what we want with our lives… that can be part of it, but to me if one has the knowledge to survive regardless of how well your government or how badly your government is providing for it’s people, true independence is being able to work together, to create community and to not rely fully on societal systems to feed and care for you. I believe in taking my part to work the earth, to learn and to understand what it takes to feed myself.

With everything I am learning…forgive me if I get it wrong the first time, but that is what my blog is all about, I am literally taking what I learn, as I learn it and putting it into practice at home and vulnerably sharing it on here with you, keep in mind I am no master and only a person eager to learn, to try, to practice and to fail and to try again… I am experimenting and gleaning from what has been done before.  Your thoughts and your knowledge is greatly accepted and I want to encourage you to share with me what you know.  I believe we all have something to offer one another and I want to learn from you. Another important thing that I am learning is that there are no specific right ways, everyone has something to share, a trick of the trade. There is so much to learn and I cannot imagine that there is ever a master status that one can reach, it is a life long learning journey, a sharing of knowledge to one another in a way to lift and help each other up. I see that life is like that with everything!

Much love and peace to you!