My husband's grandpa, Lewie, had a heart attack and it is difficult to absorb. As much as I'd like to be Zen about death, I always panic and feel regret about whatever it is that I didn't do to maximize my experience with that person. I don't know how to not feel this way or if I am supposed to just feel this way. Either way, it's hard.

Dolly and Lewie are gardeners. Every time we visit their home in central Montana, we leave with bellies full of grilled cheese sandwiches and edible goodies to take home. In the winter we get Special K candies (I promise to post this recipe). In the summer we get carrots pulled right out of the earth and Special K candies. Dolly grows the most amazing zinnias in all of Montana.

Gardeners are tough and adaptable. They work through the challenges of a late frost, aphids and blossom end rot. Gardeners readjust their methods and rotate their crops; they keep on keeping on. One season may yield scrawny radishes, but it can also be the tomato harvest of a lifetime.



photos: my house August 2006; my house October 2003 (when we bought it)

The largest crop in the United States is the lawn. Seriously. According to Cascadia Food Not Lawns, US lawns consume 270 billion gallons of water a week--enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables all summer long. So, what gives? Why grass?

My dad loves his lawn. It is perfectly perfect and green and luxuriant and persuasive. When I ask him, "Why grass, dad?" He says, "Because I like the way it looks." Hey, that is totally valid. Who wants to play croquet in clumps of blue fescue and rubber rabbitbrush? Here is what I am saying: Be realistic. Read the stats below (really read them) and then make a few small changes. Here are some ideas:
  1. Mow your lawn less. If it takes an hour to mow your lawn, that is equivalent to driving a not very fuel efficient car for 100 miles. Five gallons of gas=100 pounds of CO2. Do the math.
  2. Do not bag your grass clippings. Cut grass provides nitrogen to the soil. Plastic bags (made from oil remember) pile up in the landfill and take forever to decompose. Leaving the mulched clippings behind (or bagging and adding to compost) is a boost of beneficial nutrients to your soil. win win.
  3. Plant cultivars that work well in your climate and USDA Hardiness Zone. Check with your local nursery to see what is best for your climate and soil structure.
  4. Use a push mower instead of a power mower. How about a great workout and sense of accomplishment? Throw in saving a ton of money on gas and a mower.
  5. Only plant enough grass. My husband really wanted some grass in our backyard. To sit, walk barefoot, etc. I agree and we planted enough to do that. The rest of our yard is brimming with wildflowers, shrubs, and an edible garden. The front, where we never need grass is a low water, low maintenance garden that has great interest year round.
  6. Don't use chemicals. They are SO destructive; they kill all the good guys with the bad guys and then you are totally dependant on them because the good guys are all gone. Create biodiversity in your yard by planting things that fill above and below ground niches--if all the gaps are filled then weeds don't have any room to grow.
With global warming and all, I think it is time to step out of the illusory comfort of orderly lawns. It doesn't take much to make a huge difference and to redefine your comfort. Personally, I am much more comfortable knowing that I am not excessively contributing to the statistics below.

Some American lawn and food statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency and Edible Estates:

2,4-D is the most widely used herbicide in the world, 60 million pounds are used annually in the U.S.
-EPA Proprietary Data, 2000-2001 Pesticide Market Estimates

Studies have found that dogs whose owners use 2,4-D lawn products are twice as likely to develop canine malignant lymphoma. - Hayes, T. et al. 1991."Case-control study of canine malignant lymphoma: positive association with dog owner's use of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid herbicides". J National Cancer Inst. 83

Yard waste is second only to paper in the municipal solid waste stream. - EPA "Greenscaping Your Lawn & Garden"

Of thirty commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 are probable carcinogens, 14 are linked with birth defects, 18 with reproductive effects, 20 with liver or kidney damage, 18 with neurotoxicity and 28 are irritants. - National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns

Of thirty commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.
- National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns

Homeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

2,4-D, the pesticide in most Weed and Feed products, is a neurotoxicant and contains half the ingredients in Agent Orange.
- Extension Toxicology Network (ETN). 1996. Pesticide Information Profiles for 2,4-D.

Lawn chemicals drift and are tracked indoors where they may remain in carpets and on surfaces for up to a year when not exposed to direct sunlight.
-Nishioka MG, et al. 1996. “Measuring lawn transport of lawn-applied herbicide acids from turf to home: Correlation of dislodgeable 2,4-D turf residues with carpet dust and carpet surface residues.” Environmental Science and Technology 30: 3313-3320.

North Americans now devote 40,000 square miles to lawns, more than we use for wheat, corn, or even tobacco.
- "The Lawn: North America's magnificent obsession' by Robert Fulford (Azure, July-August, 1998)

Americans spend $750 million a year on grass seed alone and more than $25 billion on do-it-yourself lawn and garden care
. - from the exhibit at CCA, "The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life"

Hydrocarbons from mowers react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to produce ozone. Since lawn mowing occurs during the summer months, it exacerbates the already high levels of ground-level ozone present in the summer.
- Westerholm, Roger. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. June 1, 2001

Approximately 9% of some types of air pollutants nationwide come from lawn and garden equipment small engines. In metropolitan areas, the concentration of lawns causes this percentage to increase to 33%.
- EPA STUDY, reported in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, Westerholm, Roger. June 1, 2001

This is so cool:
Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator

today's insight: It can be really overwhelming to think about my effect on the ecosystem. I mean, I could always do more. So, I will. Always do a bit more. That's easy enough.


spring fever

My front yard, a low-water, anti-grass garden, is bursting. Also bursting is this high-energy, unable to run gal. I cleaned up all of the leaves I scattererd last fall and pruned all the dead back. Since I took the master gardening class with Missoula County extension officer Helen Atthowe two years ago, I have listened to her brilliance and not made everything squeaky clean in the fall. Leaving all the foliage and blanketing the earth with leaves prevents weed seed germination and increases soil microbial activity. It mimics nature and nature does pretty well on its own.

Helen's advice is true for all things: tidy, sterile environments aren't interesting or healthy. A well seasoned, lightly tilled, slightly messy life is what I want. However, in reading Martha Stewart's Homemaking Handbook, a gift from my mama, I am realizing that with my home it is also time to clean up all of the leaves I have scattered last fall and prune the dead back. Especially behind the fridge and under the bed.

I have spring fever. According to my Webster's
New World College Dictionary, spring fever is "the laziness or restlessness that many people feel during the first warm, sunny days of spring." yup.

today's insight: Don't bite off more than you can chew or you'll choke but always take a bite.
photos: day lilies in front yard; my garden gate made out of two old window frames; Alice's toes


feeling feral with rocket salad

Tonight I planted seeds by headlamp. The experience was easy enough. I mean, I do have two exterior lights in my back yard (my husband is a recent electrician and I am sure that number will grow soon).

But I felt sort of wild sowing arugula by moonlight.

I planted Botanical Interests Arugula Mediterranean Rocket Salad.

I don't know if it is the whole equinox theory but I feel a bit rough and uncultivated the last few days. I have been staying up late and unable to focus on the things I am supposed to focus on (like work, cleaning my house, blah). I am rabid for movement. It is the bum ankle thing too I'm sure.

vernal equinox

According to scienceworld.wolfram.com and solar.physics.montana.edu: The Vernal Eqinox is when night and day are nearly the same length and sun crosses the celestial equator ( the projection of the Earth's equator onto the sky) moving northward. On the Vernal Equinox the sun rises exactly in the east travels through the sky for 12 hours and sets exactly in the west. On the Equinox this is the motion of the sun through the sky for everyone on earth. Every place on earth experiences a 12-hour day twice a year on the Spring and Fall Equinox.

I think that is so cool and it happened yesterday. It was officially spring at exactly 6:07pm MST. Soon we will be sleeping with the bedroom window open, eating dinner from the garden at 9pm and swimming in the Clark Fork.


seeds in the ground

It's promising! I am talking about my ankle and my garden. I didn't get much in the earth because of my bum ankle but just placing those little kernels of hope in the fresh, perfect soil was invigorating. I also went to a physical therapist who did pain reflex release technique so that helped too.

That is Sam who loves to roll around in freshly turned dirt>

So, here is what I actually planted...instead of what I had planned on planting yesterday (all from High Mowing Seeds):

High Mowing Mesclun Mix

Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Peas
Bull's Blood Beets

I think compost is like magic. I have an especially great batch that I put on half of my beds today. I am not at all scientific about it but it works.

My current unfinished pile I turned this afternoon (I still have one good ankle):

Finished gold that went on beds today:


Later the First Day

Didn't get to plant a damn thing. I went on a run on Blue Mountain with Alice. I was in the middle of solving all kinds of problems when I went down hard. Nearly threw up from the pain. I sprained my ankle (resprain from similar loving-the-run-and-not-paying-attention scenario last Sept). As I was writhing and sobbing in the middle of the trail, Alice was happily smelling and trotting. Although she is a gal's best friend, she is not one of those dogs that becomes immediately alarmed when her mom is upset. Really she was just annoyed that the run was cut short. After thankfully encountering someone with a phone, a very painful hike out (it is amazing what you can do when you have to), I am doing the whole RICE thing. Although I am not very good at it. I would much rather be doing anything else really.

I know it doesn't look that bad in this photo but trust me it is.

today's insight:
Always carry a cell phone with you when you run unless your dog performs like Lassie.

The First Day

I have journaled about gardening and subsequent life endeavors ever since I managed an organic tomato and grape farm in the Rattlesnake Valley in Missoula, Montana. In journaling I recorded things I would likely forget like...start beets earlier next year or don't ever plant anything in the southwest corner of the garden because my lame neighbor's unruly, weedy, eyesoreish tree will completely block the sun by June...that kind of stuff.

A blog seems much more permanent and less likely to be left in the arugula row during an April deluge. Although those crinkled, barely readable pages offer nostalgia, really the whole point is for the information to be available the following year. And who doesn't love to save paper?

Every year I can't wait for this day. The first day I get to dig in the dirt, count worms and hope for a great tomato year. It is exciting and disappointing--I always wish I had done something differently the year before.

Yesterday I dug and weeded (why is that the first spring green in Montana is dandelions?). Today I spread my magic compost and plant Seeds of Change Butterking Lettuce, High Mowing Seeds High Mowing Mesculin Mix, Botanical Interests Arugula Mediterranean Rocket Salad, Seeds of Change Rouge D'hiver Lettuce, High Mowing Seeds Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Peas, Seeds of Change Oregon Giant Snow Pea, and High Mowing Seeds Bull's Blood Beets. These are all new varieties for me. I have to admit I am majorly influenced by a plant that references the french language or the rich color of blood. yum.

Good soil this year but not as many worms as I'd like>

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