Today is the last day of February and I have a snow day. The days are getting longer by almost three minutes a day. I just learned that the rate of change in the lengthening/shortening of the daylight increases as the equinox approaches and decreases as the solstice gets closer.
It is something I felt but did not know.
The days are getting longer by almost three minutes a day now and by the time the end of June they will change less than a minute a day.
My friend Rick just explained that to me on our trip to the Winter Swim Festival in northern Vermont as we delighted in the fact it was still light after 5:00PM. He said daylight length is a sine curve and that the rate of change in the middle of any sine curve is faster than it is at the top and bottom.
The lengthening day, the fact that my seeds from Fedco have arrived, and a snow day meant it was a good day to write a new Carrot Day Post.
Please use this form to place your Carrot Seed Order for FREE CARROT SEEDS.
And what is a Carrot Day Blog without photographs. Below are three photographs I took in the last week in February.
From left to right and south to north, pecans under a pecan tree in Austin, Texas, the garden at 41 Western Ave in Hull, Massachusetts, and the pool cut into Lake Memphremagog in Newport, Vermont at the Winter Swim Festival. The temperature range was 84 in Texas, 33 in Massachusetts, and -5 degrees Fahrenheit in Vermont.
Please order your seeds and join us in another year of growing, tending, harvesting and celebrating carrots and each other.
I hope you had a good Carrot Day. It was a difficult year for carrots here in Massachusetts with the large population of bunnies and the drought. Droughts and wildlife are real and part of Carrot Day. That said there were many Carrot Day Celebrations. I personally celebrated in three of them and all were good. And the carrots tasted good.
This quartet of pictures show a range of outcomes from the year. The one on the left is from Jenny’s garden in Vermont, the next picture are June and Nikiesha, two teachers from South Shore Charter, where Carrot Day began. In the text June sent to me with the picture she said, “Sadly, this is our Carrot Day harvest due to the drought.” The third photo is of the plentiful harvest of carrots from the school garden at South Elementary School in Plymouth. The fourth is of a student with a big carrot he has just pulled from the garden at the Community Charter School of Cambridge.
A few days before Thanksgiving Christine Godfrey, the Liberian and the leader of Carrot Day at the South Elementary School (SES) in Plymouth, wrote me an email . She wrote:
I’m writing quickly, and I will send you a proper email later this week with all my pics. But man! We got crazy carrots again this year at SES!
125 kids + 1 seed each = 32.6 LBS of carrots!”
These are pictures for Carrot Day at SES.
For more pictures and information about Carrot Day at SES you can go to her Instagram account at @mrsgplymouth.
But Carrot Day is not only about successful harvests, it is also about unsuccessful harvests. One difficulties of our current American Culture is our general disconnection from the land. We have an artificial and false sense of the limitless of resources and a belief in infinite choice and the lack of a need to sacrifice. No matter the season we believe that we can choose any food on any day. Having a garden and especially a garden that has a hard season connects us with food and how difficult it is to grow food. When we see the plenty of the grocery store it is hard to understand the labor and the needed resources that produce that food.
Christine Godfrey of South Elementary School learned about Carrot Day from her sister Alene LaRosa. Alene’s children experienced Carrot Day starting about ten years ago at South Shore Charter and Alene has been part of many Carrot Days. While Christine’s carrots grew her sister Alene’s did not. Below is part of an email Alene wrote to me about this year’s carrots.
“Hello Dear Ted!
We had a difficult summer on a personal level for this family (our immediate family of four are all healthy and safe!) and I feel like our small garden reflected that. There was a need for growth on a foundational level, a return to “the soil” to fortify what was missed, perhaps in childhood or early on, and our garden I think was in the same position. We got little yield and — no carrots!!
I have to admit, in the hubbub of family challenges, and adding to that my working for the first time outside the home, I misplaced the envelope of carrot seeds you sent. I got out a previous year’s envelope with leftover seeds hoping they’d still be good. … But no luck, they did not germinate. My tomatoes did okay… we got a few small ones. A few good cucumbers, and plenty of herbs. And even one beautiful orange pumpkin from Tom’s pumpkin vine! But no carrots. …
And I feel like the lesson this summer — from the garden and within the circle of our family — was “tend the soil.” And tend it we did, and still are, as we learn and grow together.
I say yes to that!!!!! We need to find ways to “tend the soil.”
At the Community Charter School of Cambridge (CCSC) this year we got a late start and did not plant the carrot seeds until early July and then there was the drought. But I rigged up a watering system where I would fill a thirty gallon trash can and wheel it out to the garden and pour bowls of water over the garden. Once I even drove down from Montreal, where my daughter Josie was living, for the express purpose of attending a meeting. The meeting was on Zoom and I did not need to drive. I consoled myself that it was okay I did not ask if I could join by Zoom because the carrots were worth the drive. I gave them water that day and the rewards from that watering and the summer’s labor of tending (thinning, weeding, and watering) came on November 29th and December 2nd when we celebrated Carrot Day at CCSC.
The photo on the left was taken August 2nd. The carrots have germinated but they are being covered by purslane. The middle photo is of the same garden bed four months later with the hands of the CCSC sixth graders. The carrots are growing among the larger Swiss Chard and the early Japanese Mustard but the purslane, even though it is a very good green in its own right, has all been weeded out. The third photo is of some of CCSC sixth graders washing the carrots for their classmates to eat.
I love the joy that comes out when students pull carrots from the ground. While my instructions are short, a product of having pulled carrots with students for 25+ years, they sure know how to listen. The 6th Graders Humanities Teacher told me that she had not seen two of the students this engaged all year. When I asked the moms’ of the students washing the carrots if I could include that picture in the blog one of the moms wrote back: “Hello Ted, _____ was so happy about this experience. He even sent me a photo and brought a carrot home for everyone to try it. He was so excited! He said, ‘I got this carrot from Ted’s garden and I got the biggest and sweetest carrot.’ He then said, ‘the whole family can try it.’ I have to say it was the most delicious carrot I have ever tried and I love carrots so this was a treat for me.”
That is the why of Carrot Day. There is immediate fun and there is also the possibility of life long change. Both are worthy and frost-kissed carrots really taste good.
We had frost in Hull before Thanksgiving and many members of my family were joining together in Baltimore to celebrate Thanksgiving. I pulled frost-kissed carrots from the ground the a few days before Thanksgiving and brought ten beautiful carrots to Baltimore for our family gathering. The day after Thanksgiving I asked everyone what was their favorite food at Thanksgiving. There were many answers and I was the only one of the group who said frost-kissed carrots from Hull but everyone loved them as you can tell from the family photos.
That is four generations of Hirsch’s going from my father at 94 to the two grandsons at 15 and 17 months. The middle two pictures are from the Hull’s last carrot harvest. They were pulled today on December 11th. The third carrot pictures shows all the work of farmers from the first cultivation of Carrots for their roots about 900 BCE. The skinny carrot is either a wild carrot that I did not weeded out as it looks so much like the scarlet Nantes or red cored Chantenay carrots that I planted or some return to the seed’s origins. At Katy’s suggestion I tried the wild carrot and it was not too bad. It was woody but not bitter and had some carrot flavor.
The third Carrot Day Celebration I was part of was here in Hull on Sunday December 4th. Four neighborhood kids and several adults who lived nearby came over. We pulled carrots. I first gathered the kids together to show them how to find a big carrot. Before I got too far in the explanation one of the older kids took over and explained to the others how to find a good one. They each pulled a carrot and we washed them in a pail of warm water. The kids went off to play but they did not drop their carrots but ate and played for the next half hour.
If you have not yet told me about your Carrot Days I would love to hear about it. Be well, take care, eat vegetables, and if you have the good fortune to have land build your soil and grow your food. If you don’t have that blessing build your community as that is all of our soil and our soul.
On March 10, 2019 I began sending you messages about gardening, children, and schools. There have been 33 posts on Carrot Day Massachusetts since then. In 40% of them the word soil appears. These posts have been centered on me and the Hull Garden as I tell the story of building the soil to produce food for family and friends. I want us to grow and eat really good carrots and have that process be a gateway to growing and eating a great many fabulous vegetables. The idea is to inspire us to care about our food and to embrace practices that can be a part of the change that is needed to continue to have a beautiful world. There have been so many who have helped me tell this story with over fifty schools and hundreds of carrot growers sharing tales and pictures.
The central idea of Carrot Day Massachusetts is to build a community. Having access to land is a privilege and for those of us who have that access we can grow our own food. While growing that food we can build soil to produce health.
List of the most common nouns in Carrot Day Massachusetts and I believe these words show the focus of these posts.
Soil has been at the center of Carrot Day from the start but every once in a while the scientific level of this blog is elevated when Dr. Laney Seigner writes for us. Three of the bogs have featured Laney and her wisdom about regenerative farming, building healthy soil and carbon sequestration.
My daughter Cleo, a dear friend of Laney’s, just sent me a podcast where Laney was interviewed. I want to share it with you because it is all about soil. Soil has been the core of this project. We grow carrots to inspire our children and ourselves to develop the soil to grow the food. I love thinking of soil and community as analogous. Healthy communities produce healthy people, healthy soil produces healthy food. In this podcast Laney passes on this short and potent saying, “healthy soil means healthier food and healthier people.”
Here is the podcast that tells some of the story of being the change we want to see in the world, one garden plot at a time.
Carrot grown in Jenny’s Garden in Vermont that has already had frost, I was told it did not last long on that windowsill.
Frost kissed carrots from Rob’s garden and the October 30th harvest from 41 Western Ave in Hull.
It is getting close and some of you have already had frost. I expect I will be writing you again in early December after we have celebrated Carrot Day here in Eastern MA. Please email me your pictures of your Carrot Day Celebrations to firstname.lastname@example.org
Here in Hull, when I last wrote in the middle of August, it was very dry. All the grass was brown and even in my deeply mulched garden the vegetables needed to be watered and the soil needed rain.
I am happy to report that the water did return and new growth has begun again. It is even raining right now. The sound of the rain on the skylights is cozy and hopeful and as thunder sounds water is coming to Hull.
As you can see from the photos of the butternut squash above there is a resurgence of green at the end of this summer. In August I cut back the mint and tansy to give the butternut squash room to roam and all three have responded with fresh green thanks to the rain. Each week as the squash grows I cut back a bit more mint and tansy as the bees are visiting the mature mint and I try to leave as many mint flowers as I can. It is a balancing act to give both the squash and the bees what they need.
On the 17th of September it was a joyous event to eat a salad of the young green thinnings with the cucumbers and tomatoes that are still surviving at the end of summer. There are so many small moments in the garden and each week is different and right now is the moment for the new crop of greens with the hanging on cucumbers and the tomatoes. As I ate I savored each bite and taste, first turnip, then arugula or radish or the mild lettuce and then the richness of the summer tomato and the crunch of the cucumber. It was a celebration of that moment.
Now this blog’s subject is supposed to be carrots and I pulled a few carrots as I tried to maximize yield of those that remain. They were young and tasty but not yet great. But with the rain coming down and still another 8 to 10 weeks of growing still to come I have faith that the promise of their Juneteenth sowing will be realized and I will share them with the neighborhood kids and that those kids will grow up and eat vegetables.
New crop of greens, cayenne peppers, resurgent sorrel, parsley, and of course carrots.
I am wanted to share with you a message from Laney Signer, a true expert educator in agricultural practices that can sequester carbon and heal our world. Laney is also a regular contributor to the Carrot Day Blog and the mother of a brand new baby.
It is for our babies that we must fight to do all we can to reduce carbon in our air.
Message from California
As I contemplate Carrot Day 2022, now as a new mom of Juniper (born late June), I am struck by how farming and gardening seems to have prepared me so well for motherhood. The days of close observation, noticing subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes day by day, falling into a routine and rhythm (walk the fields, water/weed, harvest; feed, change, rock to sleep), there is a lot about my time spent with plants that lends itself well to analogies of mothering. I personify my plants and speak to them, just as I expand upon Juniper’s early expressions of personality and narrate the world around her. We have been walking out to the community garden at Green Valley Farm where we live in California since she was just a few days old, and I’ve been telling her about the progress our garden veggies are making. Living in this time of climate chaos plus a relatively year-round farming climate means we may not pull our first carrots on the day of the first frost, but rather we have a succession of carrots in the ground currently, some of which will hopefully be frost-kissed winter carrots. But who knows… We’ve had 100+ degree heat waves starting in May, late season rains and blessedly early fall rains last weekend, remarkably pleasant summer days in July, and a new spot carved into the sloping clay loam soil for growing vegetables for the land-based community this year. I got it started with the help of one other landmate, and since taking a break to become a mom, others have stepped in to tend to this lovely patch of earth and keep the successional plantings going. I thinned my row of carrots seeded in June recently, and pulled out some big ones to enjoy in a midsummer feast. The new carrots in the ground have just been thinned and are looking good, hopefully will be ready for the fall feasts to come. The joy of growing in community is not lost on me, as I am now out on the East Coast visiting family, allowing Juni to get to know her grandparents, the salty spray of the Atlantic, and hopefully meet her cousin coming soon. Meanwhile the community garden is tended by other hands, giving its best shot at responding to all the weather weirdness, responding to patient observations and responses of many sets of eyes. It is a real sign of social and climate resilience to build and nurture community gardens! And a signal of hope for the future, for me and for Juniper. I hope she comes to know many gardeners and farmers who shape her perspective in these early years, and beyond.
I close with a couple more pictures of the Hull garden and my favorite garden bed. That bed, as predicted in an earlier post, is finishing strong with Swiss Chard. The Swiss Chard has outlasted all of its neighbors. In the block of photographs below, which show the same ground from April to now, you can see how it has produced one kind of food after another. I think the most beautiful picture might be the September picture on the bottom right.
The last image for this post is photo of the zinnias and the arugula flowers that still welcome the bees. If things go as I hope the baby marigolds on the left will be bursting at Thanksgiving and we will be getting close to Carrot Day here in Hull.
On Saturday August 6th around 8:30 in the morning my Uncle Henry died. He was born in 1935 and was only slightly younger than my mother, born in 1934, who died seven year ago.
I am dyslexic. There were many things about my early life at school that were hard. But I was blessed to have a mother that saw me for who I was and she noticed that I liked to make things. I made things out of twigs, tinfoil, anything I could find. She thought that what I needed was to get to know her brother. So at 15 I traveled from Virginia to New Mexico to live with my Uncle Henry, his then partner and future wife, Mary Mikklesen and their toddler Matt. The plan was that I would be Henry’s pottery apprentice. We did not know how it would work and how long I would stay but it worked well and I stayed all summer.
That summer changed my life: I learned to make pots, I learned to cook. It was the first step in me becoming an artist. Henry was my first and most important art teacher. While teaching me how to make pots Henry also told me how he thought a person should exist in this world. Fifteen is a good time to have a mentor and Henry remained a mentor the rest of my life and he and Mary were particularly influential and helpful to me when Katy and I became parents in 1989 and 1990. Henry and Mary were models for us on how to live and be.
One thing I learned in the summer of 1975 was how to garden in a dry climate. Everything in Henry and Mary’s garden in Albuquerque was planted in a shallow well. When you watered you just watered that well. I now plant in shallow wells, even here in relatively wet Hull. But Hull has not been Hull this summer as it is soooo dry. Last Sunday as I watered the garden I thought about Henry and that garden in Albuquerque.
But not all is sad in the world. It is tomato and cucumber season in the garden and we are eating well as the arugula persists. But for a change there is good news from Washington. We now have a good law to help with Climate Change. I was shocked and so surprise and happy that we will be taking steps to incentivize good choices that will do something about Climate Change. There is so much work to do and we must all do our part but it was nice that, for a change, the government is helping us make better choices. Choices that value our earth and other species.
I know I am fortunate to have a garden. If you also are fortunate and have a garden may gardening in your garden and thinking about past gardens and thanking your mentors help you make better choices.
Here in Hull tonight it is predicted to rain. May the rain fall on you and your garden.
I planted my carrots on Juneteenth and they germinated about ten days later. Last year at Community Charter School of Cambridge a student and I planted our carrots on Juneteenth and in early December after we had frost they were a good size and delicious. I thought this would be a good thing to do every Juneteenth so I planted on Juneteenth again this year in Hull.
You can see the seaweed and sticks that give back to soil in this photo of the first leaves (cotyledons) of the carrots and on some of the plants the feathery true leaves of the carrot are just beginning to grow.
In our yard, the smallest in our neighborhood at one tenth of an acre, we grow lots and lots of food. Where many would put grass we put garden. In fact we have a front yard garden.
There are two aspects of the Hull garden that I take great pride in. One is the soil and the other is the yield per square foot. I write in this blog regularly about soil and how I try to dig as little as possible and put lots of mulch on top of the soil and let the soil grow in its own interconnected way. Good soil is the first ingredient in high yield but there are a few other things I do to increase yield. Among them are trellising and succession planting, as well as using the edge where mint and flowers grow for plants to spread out of the garden proper. The biggest invader of flower and mint space is butternut squash.
With succession planting you plant different plants together and harvest the faster growing ones first. Back in late March under a cold frame I planted radishes, lettuce, kale, chard, and beets. The radishes were first to be fully harvested, and now the lettuce too is all gone. Kale has been going strong and will continue to do well as long as it is harvested regularly and given the space it needs to fight off the aphids. The chard will not be bothered by aphids and by fall will be the dominant plant in this bed. In the past two weeks the beets have come in and are now being harvested regularly. Succession harvesting enables high yield and less soil disruption as multiple crops are harvested from a single sowing.
The photographs below are all from the same garden bed, with photos taken off the from April 3 – July 3. The photos show a bit of the succession of plants from this one garden bed.
One of the remarkable things about this little bed is how when one plant is harvested what happens to those around it. Plants that had been dominated and did not thrive begin to get the light they need and flourish. One thing is certain — yield does NOT INCREASE by having more plants. Over the years I have learned that giving each plant the space it needs produces more food. It takes strategy to get the most out of a mixed plant bed. Sometimes I will harvest individual kale leaves, sometimes the whole plant. Last week I pulled up a mature kale plant and in its shadow was a tiny four inch kale plant and a small chard plant. Now five days later the chard plant is taking off and come fall will be producing lots of food and will be shading out its neighbors.
My goal for the garden is maximum production in this and subsequent years. That means that there are times when the garden produces more than we can eat so I try to share with friends and neighbors. But this June we had a secret weapon, lots of people living with us in Hull.
Below are some of the pictures of our harvest and our garden feasts.
May your garden grow lots of food for you, your neighbors and your children and grandchildren.
Spring has been slow to come to Hull. In the last two weeks the high temperature has been below average 12 out of 14 days. But the sun continues its march higher in the sky and the cold frames have been stored in the basement. As you can see from the photographs above and below the food is coming in despite the cold.
Last month I wrote about arugula and told my story about this amazing green. I also proudly celebrated the meager food that came from the garden and the value of cold frames. A month ago it took about an hour to pick a salad. Now in five minutes I can go out to the garden and get greens for three days.
At the end of last month’s post I wrote, “I hope you can get out in the beautiful spring air and not just feel the warmth of the sun but the feel of dirt on your hands and the sense that the work that you do now will feed you later. May that food be literal food from your garden or figurative food for your souls, and may the work you do now be honored in the months to come.” I love sitting on the ground slowly thinning and picking. Maybe that love comes from the almost fifty years of tending a garden. I know from practice and experience that the tending and the labor of the present will bring me food later. Perhaps that is why I love sitting on the ground for hours gathering little tastes. Or perhaps it is because I was taught by both of my grandfathers who shared their gardens with me? Or perhaps it is because I was taught by my parents, who usually kept a garden?
In the garden I have seen year after year that the work of the moment gives my future life joy. That is experience. But what were the preconditions that allowed me to have that experience? Certainly among them were the privileges of land and stability. Carrot Day is a way of encouraging the experience of learning that work/time/labor/focus now produces something that can be celebrated later. That is why this simple act of planting, tending and waiting for the frost can be more than fun; it can be a lesson in why effort is important, but fun is enough.
This year has been a hard year for schools. I have been thinking a lot about why this is so. It seems to me that one reason for the challenge of the year is that it is even harder now than before the Pandemic for students to believe that effort in the present will be worth it and that a reward will come later. That struggle, “the-discomfort-in-the-now-for-gain-later,” has always been a challenge in schools. Schools acculturate. In a school the knowledge and wisdom of the past is handed from one generation to the next. The problem is that the world changes and the wisdom and knowledge of the past may not be what the children think they need and sometimes the children are right but sometimes the children are simply children.
This dilemma is not new and at least since culture was codified by the written word the old have been complaining about the young and the young have been complaining about the old. In schools the adults want to be able to explain and tell the students to “work now and it will pay off later and it will be worth it even if it is hard now.” But for many of us being told something and instructed on “our attitude” and how “to be” does not work. Being told to do something only works for some so now more than ever we need to figure out how the “group project” that is “a classroom” and “a school” can create space for the young to see that there is value in what the old know.
How do we set up situations where students can experience the joy that can come later from labor now? I got an answer to this question in the monthly Zoom Meeting of the the Middle School Network in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In a small group conversation I said that it seemed harder than ever to convince young people that putting in effort now will lead to personal benefit later and I wanted to know how others were handling that situation. Bo Lembo, the Director of the Gately Youth Center, in Cambridge, gave me an answer that rang true. Bo has worked with youth for over two decades and through his years of experience he has learned how to create space where students learn how to be a cohesive group and work now for gain later. He divides the year into four sections and he starts with joy, moves to gratitude, then to setting goals, and ends with celebration.
That feels right if we start with joy and end with celebration we might create a set of experiences for all of us that demonstrate that effort now brings reward later. I think Carrot Day follows that pattern, plant, thin, tend and then harvest.
Two weeks ago I sent out over 60 packages of carrot seeds. I still have over half of the carrot seeds left. Please order your free seeds here and remember to start with joy and end with a celebration and a love of hard work may come in the middle.
Spring is here in Hull and I have been opening up the cold frames to pick greens. Katy and I have had a few salads of lettuce, spinach, and turnip greens that were planted in October, arugula thinnings planted in November and radish, beet and lettuce thinnings planted in late February or early March. Those salads are delicious and precious as they take almost an hour to pick and contain 100’s of individual plants.
The most common of those plants in the salad are tiny arugula plants. The arugula in the garden just comes.
Arugula has special meaning for me. A neighborhood boy calls me Arugula Ted. Several times a year I host an open water swim called the Arugula Swim and Potluck. In May and June I harvest trash bags full of arugula and work hard to give it away.
This arugula, which I love, is the wild pointy tipped type that has deep tap roots and often overwinters here in Hull. These plants came to me almost by chance as I bought one packet of seeds over 20 years ago from Johnny’s Seeds. I didn’t think much about them or even really think about what I was planting. Every year since it has come back. What made that planting 20 plus years ago magical and surprising were that the plants were identical or nearly identical to the “ruchetta” my parents brought back from Rome in the summer of 1965.
We returned that summer of 1965 early from Rome because my mother had breast cancer and my brother and I were sent to live with family in Memphis Tennessee. My father and mother and younger sister went home to live in Woodbridge Connecticut where my father took care of my younger sister and my mother recovered. Later I asked my mom if she was worried that summer about dying from the cancer, and she calmly said no. She had three children under five and she felt there was no way she would not be there for us. I find it so interesting that in the summer of 1965 those seeds traveled with them and then persisted for the next thirty plus years in their yards. But that is arugula or as it is named in the Roman dialect “ruchetta,” it just comes.
Even though I know the arugula will come, I push it a bit by throwing seed stalks on the ground in November and put a cold frame on top. This will make a solid rectangle of green in April and May but to get to that there is a lot of thinning that needs to happen. As simple as this technique is it may be the only invention I have made in the garden, certainly I did not learn it directly from anyone else or from reading any book or article, and so I take great pride in this arugula planting.
I hope you can get out in the beautiful spring air and not just feel the warmth of the sun but the feel of dirt on your hands and the sense that the work that you do now will feed you later. May that food be literal food from your garden or figurative food for you souls, and may the work you do now be honored in the months to come.
Thinning and weeding are joys for me and I hope you join Carrot Day and the joy of the garden.
Don’t forget to order your free carrot seeds. There are still plenty left and I will be sending them your way soon.
Please use this form to order your FREE Carrot Seeds. I can’t wait to send them to you.
Well, two pounds of carrot seeds sit in our kitchen. According to the Virtual Carrot Museum there are about 288,000 seeds in a pound of carrot seeds. They also tell me that Carrot Seeds will last seven years when stored in a dry place and I have about another half pound of seeds from previous years. So it is safe to say that I can not manage 700,000+ carrot seeds all on my own. I need you.
Please use this form to order your FREE Carrot Seeds. I can’t wait to send them to you.
Well this weekend I finally collected seaweed for my garden. On Saturday I gathered seven big black trash bags “of the plenty” form the ocean and piled it onto the garden. In Hull on Saturday it was very warm and the beach was crowded with folk and I got into several conversations about seaweed and gardens. One conversation was with a woman who told me a story of how her grandfather had had a farm in County Kerry on the West Coast of Ireland. She told me how every year he would take a donkey and cart to the shore to gather seaweed for his farm. At 85 he broke a hip and the doctor told him he had the bones of a 60 year old. I suspect those strong bones and his health came from his farm and that the health giving qualities of the farm came from his land and the land’s health came from the seaweed laid down on the land year after year.
On Sunday I was back for 13 more bags and the weather turned cold and it was snowing.
In the cold and snow of Sunday I found nearly perfect seaweed. The seaweed was broken up and free of rocks and trash. It had been washed ashore in the Nor’easter at the end of January. It was trapped by some rocks and had been pulverized by two weeks of exposure since then. And while I was late to spread the mulch on the garden it will be okay as this seaweed was amazing.
I loved my Sunday in the snow on the beach as I gathered those 13 bags and thought of the seaweed lesson I taught year after year to the students in the Garden Project. The idea of the lesson is to always put more into the soil than you took out and to use that act as a metaphor for living a life, having friends or a happy classroom. The principle of always trying to give more than you take is a guide to community and a good life. When the students (Kindergarten, First and Second Graders) and adult volunteers and I would gather seaweed for the school garden from the beach I would tell them that this was the day to make me “suffer.” I told the students that all year I made them work and do things they did not want to do. I had been asking them to do things like practice their handwriting or sit still and listen to each other, and now was the day to make me carry the heavy trash cans of seaweed to the two pickup trucks and it was time for them to make me “suffer.” The many hands would gather more seaweed than the adults could carry and the beds of the truck would fill before the children tired. I thought of that experience on Sunday in the snow as I again toiled with seaweed flung over my back. In our class we frequently talked about “little buckets.” It is a basic and old concept, “the longest walk begins with a single step,” “many stones build an arch,” “Rome was not built in a day.” Despite the students being small and only able to carry “little buckets” they could do and did big work.
We have big work to do. What are we going to do to slow climate change? Yes, politics is very important and there are systems at play that structure our lives that make each of us hurt our earth and make us less friendly to our future than we should be. But we can’t just wait for enlightenment and change from others; we need to carry our “little buckets.” This past weekend I finally carried mine and I feel better for having done it. The approximately 800 pounds of seaweed will I hope produce 200 pounds of vegetables from the Hull garden next year and it will help the soil. I hope that home grown food will strengthen my bones just like the farmer from County Kerry had his bones strengthened by his farm. I just hope I never break my hip.
Hope you order the free carrot seeds. I cant wait to send them to you.
It is MLK Day and I took the morning to read a book my sister Lizzy gave me for Christmas, Braiding Sweetgrass: Idigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
That is what I want, Wisdom, Knowledge and Teaching. I got all three this week from Dr. Martin Luther King and Kimmerer, wisdom, knowledge and teaching. I learn directly from Kimmerer by reading her words. This week I learned from King indirectly through the sixth graders at the Community Charter School of Cambridge. The students made a “quilt” of his quotes. The paper quilt was their drawing of King’s words and how those words fit with their familys’ and their own wisdom, knowledge, and teaching. The paper quilt is a gift to me as a teacher and King’s words are gifts to us all.
Kimmerer is teaching me about the ways a “gift economy” works and the lessons of plants. So far I have only read about sweetgrass, pecan trees and wild strawberries. From reading Kimmerer I realized that Carrot Day is part of the “gift economy.” Here is what Kimmerer says about a “gift economy”
“Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their community. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well-being of the wiinggashk. The braids are given as gifts, to honor, to say thank you, to heal and to strengthen. The sweetgrass is kept in motion. When Wally gives the sweetgrass to the fire, it is a gift that has passed from hand to hand, growing richer as it is honored in every exchange.
That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage. …. The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes.”
In the Hull Garden
One of my favorite lessons as a garden teacher was and is that the soil gives us the gift of the harvest and we in return need to give the soil gifts. I believe and have taught that lesson for more than twenty years. I believe that the goal of the gardener is not harvesting vegetables but building soil. I looked at the garden today and saw many things I liked, but I also saw where I had not given back to the soil and had not followed my own teachings.
Pictured above: Left to right spinach under a cold frame, lettuce and mustard under a cold frame, kale unprotected, and collards with their protective buckets for cold spells.
Back in December after the neighborhood kids and I had harvested the carrots and celebrated Carrot Day I did nothing to give back to the soil. To be good to the soil a gardener needs to be continuously adding and giving back and it is selfish and unwise to leave the earth bare in any season, including winter. The central focus of regenerative gardening is to protect the soil from washing away and to create conditions where the soil can develop a healthy and carbon capturing ecosystem. In this case of the carrot bed I have not done that and the degrading of the soil is clear to me in the photo below.
Only once since the carrots were harvested have I tried to collect seaweed. None was there the day that I went. But there have been many days when I did not go and there were a huge gifts from the sea that I did not take.
My goal this week is to keep checking and when there is seaweed to lay it on top of the garden.
I hope you can read King today and I hope you can read Braiding Sweetgrass someday. King and Kimmerer’s words are gifts that are there to be accepted. May we all embrace the “gift economy” and the notion that, the more gifts are shared, the more value and love there is in the world.
The seeds have been shipped to me from Fedco but they have not yet arrived here but I can’t wait to send them to all of you when they do come! And I promise to give back to the soil and I hope you do so too, no matter if “your soil” is in your garden or in “your community.”