Monday, 27 July 2009

The Upside of Weeds and Weeding

Over the last couple of weeks I've been doing something sort of different for me: listening to podcasts while doing yardwork. Normally I like to just hear the sounds of the outside when I am outside, but since I discovered this whole podcast thing, I've enjoyed doing some listening and weeding at the same time.

Last week I was listening to yet another one of Noah Levine's podcasts and while I can't remember the exact details, the gist of the podcast was that the things we think are obstacles really aren't - they are more like things that we need to work through for a reason, and that it's not necessary or even desirable to remove all obstacles all at once. As he was talking and I was weeding it occurred to me that maybe weeds aren't as, well, 'weedy' as we think either.

For one thing, weeds can act as shade for newly sprouting seeds - I know my little bean plants appreciated the shade from some lambsquarters weeds when we had hot spell in May. And a bit later in the season, when it comes time to yank the weeds out, they can be laid on the ground as mulch, helping the soil to retain its moisture. Maybe it sounds corny, but in the same way some of our bad habits and unskillful actions, immature as they are, can serve to protect us while we mature and gain some life experience. Eventually it comes time to get these things out of our lives, but it's still not a bad idea to lay them aside as some 'mental mulch' - reminders of where we've been and what we've learned.

If our gardens didn't have weeds, we probably wouldn't spend as much time in them either. Having to go in there and pull out the weeds from among the deliberately planted plants means that we become much more familiar with what's in the garden and how the plants are doing. We have the opportunity to notice what's growing well and what's doing poorly, where the soil retains moisture and where it tends to be dry, what's a bit buggy and what's vibrant and healthy. In the same way, it's good to spend some time observing the landscape of our thinking, taking note of what type of stuff is flourishing or languishing (or rotting! ;)) in our head. And if some of that stuff isn't useful, if it causes deep dissatisfaction for ourselves or others, it may be time to consider turning it into mulch rather than letting it keep on taking root in space that would be better used to nurture something else. Meditation is one way to do this kind of 'mental weeding.'

Sometimes weeds closely mimic the plants we are actually trying to grow. For example, last year I pulled out many a carrot sprout because they looked a lot like a certain ferny-looking weed (namely, scentless chamomile). And, I left in some weeds that I should have pulled for the same reason. Based on that direct experience, this year I was able to discern what is and is not a carrot, so this year's carrot patch is much more productive. Similarly, sometimes a person needs to get up-close-and-personal with the problems and obstacles in their lives, in order to sort out what's what. Sometimes we keep certain things/ideas/habits in our lives because they seem like the real thing. It's only later, after we see the genuine article and the imposter side by side in full bloom, that we can clearly discern the difference. Those can be difficult lessons, but they sure do stick with you.

Weeding is also a thing that is never really "done." There are always more weeds sprouting here and there, sometimes the same type of weed and sometimes a new variety. Experience with the familiar weeds helps us figure out what to do with the new ones. And over time we get better at preventing the garden from getting overrun with them. The same goes for our head and heart: with some regular and compassionate maintenance, we can prevent things from getting too tangled and overgrown in there, with some space to breathe.

All of this takes time, awareness, attention, intention and effort. Definitely good investments though, both in the garden and in ourselves!

So how's your 'weeding' going?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Local Attractions

Yesterday Gord and I took in the "Country Soul Stroll," which is an annual event here in Sturgeon County. It showcases local rural attractions, like llama farms, horse riding schools, plant and tree nurseries, tea houses, artists, craftspeople, and more. There is a lot to see around here, more than we would have thought when we first moved here six years ago. Yesterday we took in two of the attractions, and one more today. We had planned to do more, but got off to a bit of a late start, which isn't unusual for us on a Saturday!

Yesterday we headed to Morinville's Vintage Petals Tea House, where we had some delicious tea (hot for me, iced for Gord), and tasty sandwiches. The proprietress gave us a little personalized talk on the different types of tea (white, green, oolong and black) which all come from the same plant (camellia sinensis). I sampled a delicious vanilla cream black tea, and Gord tasted the iced version of the mango blueberry herb tea. While we ate, another staff member gave us a short history of the ~1922 brick house and its various residents, some of whom still live in the area. I took a quick peek in the gift shop area upstairs, which was full of some vintage kitchenware, home made items and a few new items too. I resisted temptation there, but I did buy some of the delicious fair trade vanilla black tea.

Then it was on to our next destination, First Choice Tree Nursery. There we were treated to the sight of flowers grown into the shape of puffy skirts around wire manakins - picture Scarlett O'Hara's dresses, but made of flowers - just gorgeous! There was also a cabin-like gift shop, with window boxes full of rainbow chard, and Christmas-themed decorations inside. They keep their Christmas shop open year-round, apparently. It was also a full fledged tree nursery, and Gord and I found two trees we may plant in the Fall: a Burr Oak (the only oak hardy enough for Zone 3) and a "Rugged Charm" Maple. The oak tree will (eventually) produce acorns; it could be wishful thinking that the maple would yield syrup. We'll wait until the Fall to plant anything, and hope that we've had some more rain by then.

And today we returned to one of our favorite spots, Prairie Gardens and Greenhouses. It was a bit too chilly to partake in any ice cream or strawberry shortcake, but we enjoyed puttering around the perrenial greenhouses, considering what we can plant next year that will be both pretty and useful.

It was a really nice weekend, with these two leisurely outings, and some fairly long periods of rain overnight.

What are some of your favorite local attractions?

Pictures courtesy Country Soul Stroll Website, linked above.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Radish Leaf Pesto Rotini

So I tried out the radish leaf pesto recipe for supper yesterday, and it wasn't half bad. I forgot to put the garlic in, unfortunately, but even without that it was quite tasty. I had some on a cracker as a dip/spread, and that was even tastier than my rotini dish. In hindsight, I don't think I put enough pesto on the pasta. I will be trying this recipe again though, since it is very very easy and quick, and there is very little mess that needs cleaning up later.

First, I gathered my ingredients: washed and de-stemmed radish leaves from my garden, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese (just the pre-grated stuff) and some pecan pieces.

Then, I chopped the radish leaves just a little bit, so they would more easily fit into my small food processor/chopper. (This can apparently be done with a mortar and pestle as well, but I don't have one of those yet...) Next, I buzzed the chopper for about 30 seconds or so, adding a few more leaves when there was room, along with a bit more cheese, oil and nuts.

The result was this 250 ml jar of pesto, which I immediately tested on some crispy crackers - delicious! This amount of pesto came from the leaves of about 8 radish plants, so even with my reduced number of radishes this year, there are still a lot more leaves where that came from. I realized when I made the pasta dish for supper that I had left out the garlic, but oh well - I will do that next time. I may also try using almonds instead of pecans, since both Gord and I like almonds better. The nice thing about pesto is that you can use pretty much any type of leaf, oil, nut and hard cheese you like, so there are lots of variations to try.

Every summer there are more and more things I can just pick from my yard to eat, and that is a really good feeling.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Rain and Radishes

It seems fitting somehow that on the day it finally rains, I was able to harvest the first fully grown thing from my garden: radishes. I have been sneaking out some kale and chard leaves, but these are still by all means in the miniature stage. I'm happy to report that the radishes were not bug-eaten at all, and were nicely spicy and crisp. I planted just one small row of radishes this year, since last year I had a huge overabundance of them, and they had become buggy and woody by the time I got them all out of the ground. Last year I just chucked all the radish leaves into the compost too, but this year I am going to try making radish leaf pesto instead!

The rain has left the garden moist and fragrant. Rainwater is so much better for the plants than tap-water, judging by the growth spurt that occurs after the rain falls. There's just nothing more essential than water, yet it can be so easy to take it for granted -- at least until it stops raining.

One of my favorite verses from the Tao Te Ching is about water. I've posted it before, but after last night's welcome rain, it seems to be a good time to post it again. We could all stand to be a little more like water, I think:

Chapter 8

The highest goodness resembles water
Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention
It stays in places that people dislike
Therefore it is similar to the Tao

Dwelling with the right location
Feeling with great depth
Giving with great kindness
Speaking with great integrity
Governing with great administration
Handling with great capability
Moving with great timing

Because it does not contend
It is therefore beyond reproach

Translation by Derek Lin