Weeds and Diseases are Nonexistent

This may strike a lot of people as crazy. That’s fine.  It is a perspective and you can take it or leave it. I’m not trying to change your point of view. This post is simply question my perceptions, yours, and the masses.

Nature inherently wants to create abundantly healthy organisms and ecosystems. It is continually attempting to restore every individual and system through a continual feedback loop. However, the limitation is in our ability to listen to a speechless form of communication. Instead, nature communicates through the lens of reality. Weeds in the garden and immune disorders that consumes its host are a few examples out of many.

Weeds in the Garden
Common weeds in the garden are thistles, dandelions, and grasses. Each has their own  story but they are all common to poor soil conditions, unfilled space in the garden, or a lack of diversity. Taking the time to learn about each plant focuses more light into what Nature is communicating to us. Thistles are deep rooted, grow in many soil conditions, and grows in disturbed (tilled) or neglected soils. Dandelions are similar to thistles; they have a deep tap root and grow in disturbed/neglected soils. Deep tap roots mine nutrients and make them available to other plants when the plant finishes its life cycle. Instead of pulling out these plants we can allow it to grow and finish its life, eat it, or cut it back before it goes to seed (when you see the flowers cut it back). Grasses also tend to grow in disturbed soils. They tend to mat up and take over a garden if not carefully managed. However, they also have beneficial aspects to them as well. Grasses have fungi growing on their roots which help facilitate nutrient exchange. These fungi are known as mycorhizzal since they grow into the roots of plants. If these grasses are next to vegetables the fungi will also grow into the roots of those plants and also help facilitate the exchange of water and nutrients. Because some grasses do form mats and take over the garden, it’s fine to manage them by trying to remove them. Another way of managing them is to allow animals to eat them for you. The overall message is that everything in nature performs a function. If we take a step back, nature will always fill a vacuum like an empty spot in the garden. There are no weeds.


Honey Mushrooms in the Yard

No Diseases
Honey mushrooms are commonly referred as parasitic mushrooms that cause disease in trees. They grow into the roots of trees and slowly feed off of decaying wood within the trunk. Over time, the tree will die and the fruits of the mushroom will spring out of the ground to spread its spores. If we take a step back and observe the environment around our trees, there is a common pattern of nutrient and water deficiency. At my parents house in Arlington, Tx, we have clay soils that go down 2-3 feet before you hit hard subsoil. Every rain, the water tends to run off rather than soak into the soil to water and hydrate the plants. During the dry summer months, this means inadequate amounts of water. Every 250473_223451991017926_5317440_nAutumn, as the leaves fall they are raked up and hauled off. Nutrients are leaving the system causing greater devastation to the yard. In the past couple of years, the amount of trees being lost in my parents and neighbors yard has been more than 15 oak trees cut and removed. As these stumps decay, we see the honey mushroom rising out of soil. Now, what is the function of a mushroom? It is a decomposer which cycles nutrients back into the system. Since there are no nutrients cycling and there is little water, the honey mushroom is returning nutrients back and spreading its spores and extending its mycelium to infect other susceptible tree roots.
When we build up our soils, we are also allowing more water to hydrate and stay within the system. In time this creates a healthier ecosystem that can support the growth of these trees and other plants. In time, other types of fungi will grow and compete with the honey mushroom pushing back its growth.

Accept the Feedback
What we call weeds and diseases in nature and for ourselves is only a perception. If we look further and understand their functions we can begin to learn their processes and functions in these environmental and biological systems. When we begin to understand a little bit of why they are growing and becoming prevalent we can begin to change our habits and behaviors. This initial step forces us to realize that we are a part of this system, and we are influencing it. However, before we can even begin to change the world outside we must change the way we perceive the world within and around us.

So are there weeds? Are there diseases?
Or is it all just feedback loops?

Field Guide for Managing Annual and Biennial Invasive Thistles in the Southwest
Controlling Cynara Cardunculus (Artichoke Thistle, Cardoon, etc.)

Co-existing grass species have distinctive arbuscular mycorrhizal communities
Mycorrhizae and Turfgrass
SOIL FUNGI By Elaine R. Ingham, Oregon State University

Honey Mushrooms
Armillaria Root Disease – US Department of Agriculture Forest Service

Tea-ching Kids

Unintentionally. .IMG_4109

It was PTO, Parent Teacher Organization, night and for some reason, I was still there at 8pm listening to something pertinent to our students. It was late, I wanted to go home, and my energy was plummeting to life threatening levels. Then a group of kids approaches me and asks, “Mr. Chow, can we make tea for our parents?” I was shocked.

How Did this Happen?
I made a point to use tea as a method to enjoy class and to have an excuse to drink tea during work. At the same time I was able to teach kids about evaporation, closed circuits, condensation, the boiling point of water, the density of ice, phase changes of water (solid, liquid, gas), the properties of phases (liquids take the shape of their container, gases fill their container), observing, and journaling. Plus, they learned how to make tea. It became an instant hit during Junior Master Gardening. I had 30 kids sipping on tea every Wednesday. I digress.

The Result
My intentions at the beginning was to just enjoy tea in class and here comes a gang of students asking me for permission to make tea and serve their parents. Of course, I was going to see what we could do to make it happen. It was approaching the end of the presentation that I was supposed to pay attention to and I somehow became preoccupied in brewing tea once again. I send a group of kids on various missions: get cups from the kitchen, gathers herb from the garden, setup the equipment, and begin brewing. 

As each of the components arrived, we setup an assembly line and began brewing and pouring. A few students took it upon themselves to start serving it to all of the adults and themselves.

The Real Lesson
You never know how or what you’re teaching and doing is affecting the world around you. Recognizing the feedback loops ensures that it’s in a positive or negative direction. For me, it resulted in 2 gallons of tea to take away after a long day of work and a mess that I had to clean up. The lesson I forgot to teach is to clean up after yourself, but nonetheless, I think they learned something important.

Blind Observation

I see it so frequently in all age groups. People see from afar and believe they know what is going on.

The mistake is that they’re only seeing. They’re missing out on the experience. What happened to sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound? In addition, there is movement and repetition in every experience which adds to further insight. Otherwise, it’s just speculation on a few details.

True observers get a birds eye view, test the waters, dive in, and swim in the experience. They don’t just look and jump to the other side.

Deja Vu

is reliving similar challenges and obstacles in life: physical, mental, or spiritual. We all face the challenge of pushing our limits to greater boundaries. The difficult math concepts, the social problems in the family, or doing one more pull up, they all push us to new understandings.

As life progresses, the boundaries will revisit us to test if we are ready to move further or relearn basic concepts before we can grow. Preparing yourself for these challenges and knowing the limits in your life will prepare you to level up and move out of the infinite cycling of an obstacle. Once you’ve moved past the obstacle, it becomes a tool in the art of cultivating yourself.

Filter Out the Chunks

When I first began my search for a way of life, I reached for any available opportunity. It was an expansive expedition to do everything.

For a few years, this type of journey falls apart. It never gains traction in any area and it’s a common pattern for people who hold an idealistic view of their journey, everything will work itself out. In time, it does, but at the beginning, I found it was best to seek many opportunities and begin the process of filtering out the chunks that didn’t work for my present needs.

Because of it, I was about to determine projects that suited my visions and goals. It enabled a greater capacity to devote more time and energy rather than spreading myself too thin in many areas.

This is the process of reflection, knowing the areas in life to expand or contract. The timing in my opinion is less important. It’s far better to make a decision and take action than to do nothing at all. In this way, it’s not a matter of if it will happen just when.

Analyzing Limits

Limitations are like any tool in the box. They can be used correctly to build up a greater foundation or they can be suffocating.

The best use of limits that I have seen are when they are adaptable to a situation. For any particular situation, limits may either expand, remain dormant, or contract.

Expansion is necessary when a situation has out grown the present. Easy example is when a child is growing. They need bigger clothing to fit their needs. If you expand too quickly, the child will wear clothes that fall off. This is the downside. Expand too quickly and you leave yourself with too much room for things to be left behind.

Dormancy is best for reflection. Before deciding whether to expand or contract, it’s best to determine where the current state of affairs are. The drawback here is staying dormant for too long. In nature, this is where things begin to stagnant and rot.

Contraction is good when there is explosive energy that can be destructive rather than constructive. When a child is misbehaving or someone is being reckless, their attention needs to be brought down to a level where they become aware of their actions. The drawback is when you never allow the child to gain that freedom or trust back again. Likewise for a situation, many people contract too easily due to unreasonable fears.

Knowing when to deploy these types of limits can be beneficial for those who need to contain, reflect, or expand themselves. The pattern can be crossbred to other disciplines, but I find it’s best to start within then expand out.

Inside Job

They’re the best. You work within to create a new system that changes the old.
Viruses, bacteria, and fungi all work in these ways to deteriorate or build up an organism.

The battle then becomes a challenge to create new paradigms within an organism, society, or organization. For myself, it’s been changing the paradigms of the family unit to accept and encourage the passions that I’ve chosen in life.

Words Are Not Enough
They just don’t cut it these days. You can only sugar coat a message so much. Without the actual cake or substance, words only go so far. I spent a lot of hours if not days on discussing the benefits of gardening with my family. It only convinced a few if any. The actual tomatoes, watermelons and squash got into them.

The taste alone says a lot more than any word can describe. It’s like tasting chocolate for the first time.

Challenge Yourself
When I finally realized that the watermelon actually made the change and my words started to have more meaning. From that point onward, it becomes necessary to start scaling up the operation and who better to do it than oneself and the ones closest to them.

The self is the best place to start when working on the inside. We often place blame on others without realizing that they have come from diverse backgrounds, all requiring different environments to change the old paradigms. By having the actions to follow through with the thoughts and ideas, you begin to live up to your words. People see that and acknowledge it without even having to say it; that’s trust.

Commune with Others
There’s no better way to invite other people in than by giving them good food and drink to eat. With nutritious food from the garden, the farmaceuticals will begin to transform the body through the tummy while your words begin to change their their brains with words of passion.

The results are phenomenal. The next step is to design the next actions to take, test them in the real world, and obtain feedback (a yield) to either try different actions, retest, or scale up.

Taking, Slowing Down, and Unlocking the Fertility of Nature

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and my views on land restoration are shifting.

Building soil happens in a variety of ways, but sometimes it entails: taking resources from other places, slowing down resources, and unlocking the fertility of the land.

Taking Resources
This is the most used method to regenerate a landscape. It’s most often the easiest. Buying compost, collecting kitchen scraps, and gathering your neighborhood yard waste, are all but a few examples of taking resources from other areas to make good soil. Importation of these resources are an easy way to get your garden growing, but it is also degenerating the landscape where it came from. Those resources are best used in the area that it came from. At the same time, if they’re not being utilized, then best to use it somewhere else. Another downside is the transportation of moving those resources to another location.

As a side note, selling produce to people is another form of transporting resources from the land; although it’s probably a small portion of the fertility.

Slowing Down Resources
It doesn’t matter where you are gardening, Nature has ways to move the fertility of the land by rain, wind, and even sunlight. Rain displaces fertility by sinking it further into the soil horizon, or washing it away (erosion). Wind can blow away organic material and soil during storms. Sunlight is Nature’s sterilizer, it can bake away soil if it is exposed and causes rocks to shatter and break from expanding and contracting from temperature fluctuations. Soil that is baked long enough will began to fissure and crack as well from exposure from the sun.

To slow down the loss of organic and soil material requires mulch and plants. Mulch will slow down the wind, rain and sun from harming the soil beneath it. Heavy loads of straw or wood mulch has been best in my experience. Plants will shade the soil, lock in nutrients and slow down water with their root systems. The roots will also enrich the soil by creating habitats for the soil microbes.

Unlocking the Fertility of Nature
All land is capable of growing the plants that it needs to create a richer environment on site. Those plants may not be the ones that you desire to eat though. A combination of techniques using plants and animals can be used to further enrich the environment without  transporting resources there.

Nitrogen fixation is one of the best ways to enrich the soil. The Pea family is notorious for having a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that take atmospheric nitrogen (N2) and convert it to ammonium, NH3. Nitrogen is essential for proper DNA replication, protein synthesis, and chlorophyll (the dark green color in leaves and the organelle that utilizes photosynthesis).

Ruminants enrich the soil by taking it’s growth and enriching it with nitrogen rich manure, and the microbes that dwell in their stomachs. One of the fastest ways to regenerate the land is with animals. By moving grazing animals daily, the nutrient and water cycle is enriched. In time, this results in ecological resilience.

Suburban Gardening
I imagine it’s going to take all three methods until we can shift to Unlocking the Fertility of the land. My desire to move away from using fossil fuels to transport and grow the fertility onsite. This way, more energy can be used to grow gardens in other areas around the metroplex, train people to nurture them, and continue the expansion.

Gardening on Land that Isn’t Yours

So I’ve made the decision to take ownership of land that is not mine through gardening. I ask permission or it has been offered to me. I know lots of folks that guerilla garden and it’s awesome. This post is not about that.

The idea that the land is ours has brought about a job at a school where I garden, and doing garden jobs when I have the time. It’s not 100% ownership; nature owns a good chunk of it and so do the people that have the papers to it. As the gardener though, I get to call the shots and so do you. Just don’t get too attached or financially strapped, and you can always let go and move forward.

Finding Land
is not hard. It’s actually the least important aspect. I’m afraid there’s a huge pattern of people who want to garden, but they think they have to do it on a hundreds of acres. Start with a family member who will let you use a small section of the yard, do some container gardening, or get started with some indoors plants. Land is simply the space that is around us. It’s everywhere and it’s just sitting there (waiting for us).

It’s best to start with a location that is nearby than too far away. Make sure you have easy access for at least a wheelbarrow and irrigation is always a plus. Just remember, slow and small solutions builds up into bigger and better opportunities.

Tell Your Story
Every time I meet somebody, I tell them that my dream is to provide the resources and knowledge that will create a restorative environment that supports mankind and nature. Gardening is part of it. Teaching and sharing exponentiates the ethics, principles, and techniques. For you it may be different or much of the same. The key is to find the words and ideas that ring for you and the people you are influencing.

When you know you are ready, all you have to do is add in the extra part of, “I’m looking for more land to:” garden, raise chickens, livestock, whatever you want. The people that have seen the progress and hard work that you’ve put into it will listen and provide.

It’s May Not Be What You Think It Is
It has it’s consequences though. The gardening job at the school requires me to take orders from a boss. My boss doesn’t trust everything I say, and she shouldn’t. So she makes me work on things, I don’t believe in. It’s part of it.

My Feelings really dont’ matter in the long run. Slow and small solutions are the key here. For most of the year I don’t get heckled but every once and a while there is a barking call in the distance or a late night/early morning phone call. I just do what she says and everything moves along smoothly. In the future, I make a note to get that done or find a solution to do it easier next time. As for you, don’t get too attached to any particular place or project. The experience and story are more important; they combine to form the bigger dream you should be building up to.

As far as I’m concerned, I get to do what I love, and the details don’t matter so much. In the long run, I’ll just add in, “I’m looking for a new opportunity,” or I’ll create that new opportunity at the school. The trust will build over time, and if not, I can always move to another project if I desire.

The key is to know that there are plenty of opportunities. Take your time to weed out the bad from the good and give it a try. It’s not going to be easy, and you’ll have plenty of learning experiences. Don’t give up because of a few or a lot of mistakes; they help to make a good story for you to share.