on gardening

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    On Not Cutting Corners Paid Member

    I am a steadfast refugee from the computer age, a modern dinosaur, born too late and disinclined to type, send e-mail, or surf the Net. I know that in the time it would take me to learn to use the computer I could bud and graft disappearing strains of heritage apples, a far more compelling task for my hands and mind. Even though I am a techno-twit, hiding from the roar of the twenty-first century behind brocade skirts of black peppermint, cool mint lettuce, and burgundy amaranth, I know about Y2K computer panic with all of its triplicate zeroes and threats of disaster. I know about it and also brood over the potential danger of worldwide shutdown of nuclear power plants caused by millennial computer failure. More »
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    A Taste as Old as Cold Water Paid Member

    Timeless spring has its sharp teeth buried in my back flank, urging me to finish the last plantings of April before summer rises up out of the warm ground to claim the garden. Today, Sarah and I are planting a young olive tree on the edge of the Edible Schoolyard garden at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in north Berkeley, with the help of a few rapscallion seventh graders. And, hard as I try to resist, the primordial olive is pulling me down again into the well of time. More »
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    Everything, O Bhikkus, Is Burning Paid Member

    On New Year’s Day five years ago, I planted a handful of seeds gathered from a Paulownia tree that survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, fifty years before. The seeds were given to me by Japanese peace activist and painter Mayumi Oda, who was a small child when her country was bombed. It was freezing cold outside that New Year’s Day. Black hail pelted the roof of the Green Gulch glasshouse where we worked. We mixed oak-leaf mold and old forest soil together in a redwood seed flat and took off our gloves to plant the tree seeds. They fell in silence that frozen morning, dark tears on dark soil. Outside, the ice wind moaned and sucked at the seams of the glasshouse. More »
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    An Enduring Crop Paid Member

    I remember that late spring morning about seven years ago, working in the lower fields of Green Gulch Farm, harvesting rainbow chard for our local food bank with a group of elementary school students from San Francisco. The kids were fanned out in a rainbow arc themselves, spanning the field, chattering as they harvested crates of greens. One child, a pale and strangely mute boy of about ten, wandered away from his classmates to stand alone at the edge of the field, where farm irrigation sprinklers were watering the next line of crops. The May morning was warm, without a breath of wind. I watched as the child took his place in the back-mist of the irrigation jets, holding his thin, white hands out to the soft hiss of water. “He’s a new boy,” the classroom teacher whispered, following my gaze. “From Bosnia. He never says a word.” More »
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    The Breakdown Ball Paid Member

    These days I am obsessed with poop. Poop and rot. Walking the narrow trail that traverses the autumn headlands, I pause to break apart the dry scat of raccoon and grey fox to see what they’ve been dining on. In the garden I know the stellar jays are robbing the raspberries by their loose splatter of red-seeded stool. And there’s no better way to warm up in the morning than by shoveling hot horse manure into our vintage Apache pickup. In autumn we build compost with a vengeance. Long windrows of twisted sunflower stalks, smashed pumpkins, and blackened vines of fingerling potatoes are stacked under blankets of hot manure. In a few days the piles begin to smoke with decay on the fringe of the garden. Rot rules the windswept land. More »
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    Non-Zen Elements Paid Member

    I MET MY TAPROOT garden teacher, Alan Chadwick, twenty-six years ago at the end of his life. He had less than six months to live and he knew it. He was a gaunt, kingly man, seventy-one years old and impossibly handsome. A mixture of Old Testament prophet and renegade monk in the tradition of Ikkyu, Alan inhabited the still-fiery body and mind of an aristocratic mad English gardener and a Shakespearean actor. Although prostate cancer was ravaging his body, Alan had come home to Green Gulch not to die but to live out and teach his remaining days. More »