The Alchemy of Ritual!

SONY DSC

A recent thunderstorm caused our power and internet to go out. The farm got quiet and calm, even during the storm.

Alchemy: (Noun)

  • The medieval forerunner of chemistry based on the supposed transformation of matter.
  • A seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.

Ritual: (Noun)

  • A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.
  • A series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone.

“Life is the ceremony. How we live it is the sacred ritual” — Wind Hughes

SONY DSC

Oops! There’s a peeper in my tea cup.

I was recently chatting with a friend of mine over a cup of Earl Grey tea and munching on some tasty scones. We were laughing over some of the habits we find ourselves doing as we move through our days. For instance, I often turn on  music when I am doing my housecleaning, even though I can’t hear it over the vacuum cleaner. And she rubs her Saint Christopher medal she keeps in the console of her car before driving to the city (for protection), even though she’s not Catholic.

As we sat there shaking our heads and sipping our tea, we both paused at the same time. “What if we looked at our daily habits and practices and called them rituals? How magical would those moments in each day feel?” my friend asked.

A few days later, I paid attention to my daily chores and routine and looked for the rituals in each moment.

Sunrise close-up

Sunrise on the farm.

I am almost always up and stumbling around at the (ass) crack of dawn. Ginger-roo, the rooster, usually crows until he sees that I am upright and semi-alert. The first ritual I perform is to look out the door and check the sunrise (or cloud layer), shush the rooster, and determine how I’m going to dress that morning. Then, I fill the tea kettle and put it on the stove medium-low so the water will be hot by the time I get back from chores.

After all my morning jobs are finished, I always sit down with my hot cup of tea, light a candle, and write in my journal. This is my daily writing practice, no matter what. It does feel more sacred when I call it my daily writing ritual.

Bella insists on helping me with my farm duties.

Bella has her own rituals. Each morning she greets me as I step out onto the side porch and follows me everywhere I go. She enjoys helping with the chickens. Although she can make the rooster a bit nervous, she can be counted on to participate in the feeding, watering, and cleaning of the chickens. We have two working coops at the moment, and she takes her responsibility seriously.

Her most import ritual as the farm cat is to rub against my legs and make sure I admire her soft fur and fill her cat dish full of kibble.

SONY DSC

The fresh baked apple pie ritual.

I didn’t realize it until my daughter Kayla pointed this out to me one day, but whenever I bake, I usually hum. Nonsensical humming. It doesn’t matter if I am kneading bread dough, rolling out pastry pie crust, or scooping cookie dough, I hum. Kind of like a baked goods humming mantra. I especially enjoy the repetition of kneading bread dough and often find my mind wandering through a possible blog post or story plot while I push the dough back and forth. And hum. It’s therapeutic.

The ritual of baking: turning yeast, water, and flour into a fresh loaf of bread. Alchemy at its finest.

SONY DSC

My writing nook.

Writing, for me, is practically a ritual all in itself. Mostly a forced ritual, if truth be told. I have to actually talk myself into placing my butt in the chair and working on a project. Half of the time, I am staring into space. The other half, I am putting words on paper or on my computer screen and hoping that somewhere in all of these sentences and paragraphs there is actually a line or a thought that lights up my imagination. Or sounds profound. Or at least, makes sense.

Writing consists of much pacing back and forth, furrowing my forehead, and copious amounts of ice tea. Or coffee. It just depends. And I can find so many other things that need my immediate attention beside actually meeting the page head on.

The thing is, I have found when I take a moment to light a candle, have my beverage of choice already in place, and give a quiet nod to my muse, I create an inner space around my writing nook that kind of transports me to this notion that it is now time to write. This ritual of preparation sets the focus for my writing. Usually it works!

SONY DSC

Sunset on the farm.

The alchemy of ritual is finding the magical transformation that each moment can possess when we look at our day with renewed perception. Who knew that humming, or pacing, or even greeting the morning with a hot cup of tea could take on the quality of a delightful ritual? Certainly, there are some days that are full of tedium and frustration. I can easily succumb to gloom and doom. But when I find myself humming while I roll out that pizza dough, I can practice the magical art of ritual, right in my kitchen.

 

Please take a moment to gander at our hand-crafted herbal soaps at whimsicalmoonfarm.com.

 

A little side adventure:

Several weeks ago, I found a most amazing sight right there in the parking lot of our local Tractor Supply store. I don’t usually get all giddy over such things as this, but when you are used to seeing beat up farm trucks, tractors, or hauling-ass grain trucks rolling along your narrow rural road, something just lights a spark of delight when you espy such a sight as this (well, it does for me):

BEAUTY!

This gorgeous, mint condition, 1977 Chevy Corvette belongs to Randy Hill. He was most generous in letting me drool (on myself, not the car) and take pictures. He told me it has a factory 4-speed 350 under the hood, but assuredly the headers, cams, and other enginey things he’s upgraded gift it with 450 hp.

Big thank you to Randy and his companion Jessica for letting us enjoy (while ogling) this treat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Wanderlust!

img_20150703_182354039

Mosey letting me know it’s time to get up!

It is definitely going to be another scorcher today. Early morning and the temperature is already wavering around 74 degrees. I am so ‘blessed’ to have a 175 pound alarm ‘clock’ let me know when it’s time to rise and shine and honestly, I want to get moving any how.  We are in the middle of high summer, and I need to get my farm chores done early; beat the heat.

Watering and feeding all the animals has its own rhythm, and it doesn’t take long to get them cared for. I check the gardens for ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, and summer squash. I had just picked several baskets-full the day before, so the pickings are pretty slim. For now.

I survey the farm and the animals with satisfaction, and realize I have a good hour or so before I have to get Kayla up for her breakfast. I have been wanting to take a hike to the pond and figure, why not? Wanderlust has been whispering in my ear for several days now and I am excited to finally oblige. I grab my point and shoot camera and a handful of almonds, and set off across the barn lot.

016

The path leading to one of the ponds on our farm.

This particular path is just wide enough for Farmer Matt to drive his Gator in between his acres of soybean. Matt leases this acreage from our landlord, who just happens to be my room-mate’s mom, Joy. Our little farm sits on about 4 1/2 acres which is situated within the 200+ acres Mindy grew up on. The land has been cultivated with corn and soybean even before Mindy was born.

It doesn’t take long for my pants to get soaked from the knees down as the grass and wildflowers are still covered in morning dew. I find myself high-stepping over the uneven ground, and concentrate on the path ahead of me.

It feels good to be out in the open, arms swinging, as I listen to the birds call and the buzz and flutter of jumpy, flitty, insects as they cross my path.

Weedy wildflowers grow all along the path, including creeping morning glory, Queen Anne’s lace, clover, and black-eyed Susan.

The path narrows as I continue my trek. I know I am close to the pond as I hear red-winged blackbirds call back and forth. I also hear the recognizable skronk of a Blue Heron, as it takes flight from the creek that runs just to the west of the pond. And the first soldiers of the mosquito brigade begin buzzing my head.

I make my way through the scrubby brush and wish I had remembered my Deep-Woods Off.  But the panic of being eaten alive by creepy mosquitos is quickly replaced by the breathtaking view of the pond.

022

The pond located on the back north of the property.

I immediately hear the splash of turtles as they slide into the water from the fallen trees they had been sunning themselves on. Another skronk across the pond, and I hear the heavy flap of the large heron’s wings. It takes flight, circling once over the pond and heads south across the fields.

I wish I could sit and enjoy the calm coolness of this nearly hidden pond, but the skeeters are pretty much driving me crazy.  I take one last picture of the serene water, and high-tail it out of there.

019

The pond dappled by the sunshine.

As I make my way back down the path, I decide to cut across one of the soybean fields (don’t tell Farmer Matt) and take a peek at the creek. Just a few weeks earlier, it was running over its bank, but now it looks almost passive and behaved.

037

Middle Fork Creek.

I scamper up the bank and decide to walk the road back to our farm. Our farmhouse looks sleepy and quiet as I make my way across the front yard. I pause to enjoy this time with myself, just a pocket of solitude that energizes me the rest of the day. I know, as soon as I open that front door, kittens will be hanging from who knows what; the dogs will greet me, tails wagging; and Kayla will be stretching herself awake, ready for her morning oatmeal and berries.

My wanderlust sated for the time being, I open that door and continue my farm day.

039

Ye olde scruffy farmhouse!

“There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.” — Buddha

 

Please take a moment to check out our cottage business at Whimsical Moon Farm.

Molly Mooching!

Morels

Freshly picked morel mushrooms.

My roommate Mindy and I picked our way through the woods, carefully stepping over fallen tree limbs and budding brambles. The morning was warm and the sound of bird call echoed through the trees. Mindy knew these parts of the woods well, pointing out a slight rise as she explained to me what I was looking for. You see, Mindy has been roaming these woods since she was knee-high to a grasshopper and she was about to share with me one of her family treasures: the coveted morel patch.

The previous evening we had a warm Spring rain and this particular morning was clear and bright. Perfect conditions for the tasty morsels to make their appearance. Mindy explained to me that they were a rare find because they require such specific conditions including old growth hardwood forests; the deer enjoy dining on them, often before we can find them; plus, they are only harvestable for about three days.

Mindy showed me areas around the rotted wood and spongy lichen where they are usually known to grow. Dried brown leaves from last Autumn still littered the forest floor, so we gently pushed the leaves aside as we walked hunched over like a couple of elderly nuns.

Suddenly, Mindy let out an excited squeak as she reached down between some flowering wake-robin and pinched off a small, wrinkled, knobbily gnome shaped fungus. “Got one”, she said as she held it out for my perusal.

Within a few minutes, she had discovered four or five more of the mushrooms in the vicinity. I had yet to find one myself.

Molly mooching, as morels are often called in the Appalachians and West Virginia are actually Morchella esculenta. They are a highly prized delicacy by both professional chefs and home cooks. Currently, you can purchase 16 ounces of these dried mushrooms for $305.40. From Walmart.

I had read earlier that mushroom ethics mandate a mesh bag for gathering the gems, so the spores can scatter to the ground as you carry home your harvest. This time, we were not quite as technical as we carried our small bounty back to Mindy’s mom’s house in a grocery bag. Mindy’s mom, Joy, submerged them in a bowl filled with water and placed a plate on top of them so they would stay submerged for a period of several hours. This was to purge them of dirt and crawly things.

When it was time to cook the mushrooms, Joy placed a couple of eggs lightly beaten in a shallow bowl and whole wheat flour in another bowl. She melted half a pound of butter in a large skillet on medium low heat. The morels were sliced in half and Joy first dipped them in the eggs then dredged them in the flour before placing them in the skillet to fry. She seasoned them with a little salt and cracked black pepper and allowed them to cook just until golden on one side before turning them over. She then cooked them a few minutes more on the other side, until lightly browned, and then scooped them onto paper towel to drain.

Fried morels

Fresh batch of butter fried morels. YUM!

There is nothing I can compare these tasty butter fried mushrooms to in flavor. They are uniquely mild and earthy with a savory umami deliciousness. Crispy and crunchy, they are a delightful treat.

Our harvest this time provided Mindy, Joy, my daughter Kayla, and I a taste of an elusive prized delicacy. After we were done licking our fingers and exclaiming our pleasure to one another, Mindy informed us she would be going back out again tomorrow morning.

SONY DSC

Nessie’s pond located in the middle of the woods where we picked the morels.

We would love it if you took a gander at our handcrafted herbal soaps made right here on Whimsical Moon Farm.

Winter on the Farm!

Snow plow

The snow plow moving Winter out of East Cornfield, Indiana.

Winter has descended upon Whimsical Moon Farm. The skies can change from gray to baby blue then gray again in a slight moment. The snow falls in tiny sparkling ice chips or fat fluffy flakes and I find myself moving through the chilly day determined to get from one farm chore to the next in the most expedient manner. The temperature usually hovers in the teens and muck boots, wool gloves, and thick layers are now the norm. My baseball cap has been replaced with a heavy knitted cap pulled down over my ears. My breath comes in silvery puffs and my glasses fog up as soon as I come back inside. Yes, Old Man Winter has made himself at home once again.

We have the chicken coop fortified with straw bales blocking the wind and holding in some of the heat produced by a warming heat pad hidden under the straw on the main floor. A heated water feeder keeps the chickens’ water flowing, but there have been a couple mornings I have had to scrape a rim of ice off the edge of the container.

Straw bales encircle the chicken coop. The girls peek out at me from their opened attic.

Neither of our Chihuahuas nor the farm cats want anything to do with the snow and frigid temperatures, but one of our beasts is totally in his element. Mosey, the St. Bernard, loves the snow. In fact, he often begs and whines to romp outside so he can plow through the drifts and sniff every little scent. He is certain the snow is here just for him as he claims every pristine area with his snuffling and galloping footprints.

SONY DSC

Mosey loves, loves the snow!

Although the Winter season has never been one of my favorite times of the year, I do appreciate the excuse to bake home-made bread and keep hearty soup warming on the stove for a quick bowl. The days are shorter lending themselves to getting chores done fast and then hunkering down with that good book I’ve been wanting to read. Piping hot chocolate steaming on the table next to me, a warm blanket tucked around my legs, and shivering Chihuahuas burrowed underneath.

Garden seed catalogs come in the mail regularly and I find myself dreaming of that new flower bed next spring and more raised beds closer to the house. I know, I still have a long cold slog ahead of me, but those seed catalogs can be a life-line to somebody that appreciates warmer days and abundantly bursting gardens.

SONY DSC

The Winter sunsets are remarkably beautiful even with the bare trees accenting them.

I try to greet each morning on the farm with gratitude. Winter provides opportunities to count different blessings as I appreciate a toasty warm home, the messy pile of books next to my futon for my reading pleasure, internet when it is actually working (unfortunately we can only get satellite here on the farm. Ugh!), hot coffee percolating on the stove, and rousing board games on the kitchen table with my daughter Kayla. She is a Candy Land maniac beating me 3 out of 4 games regularly.

I do look forward to Spring, but right now Winter has us in his grasp and we will continue to snuggle with puppies and stay cozy warm.

Hope you have a toasty warm Winter!

Please check out our handcrafted herbal soaps at Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

OH! You’re One of Those Farmers!

 

SONY DSC

Harriet greeting the morning, “I’m a farmer!”

So, there I was standing in line at the local Tractor Supply store, my cart loaded down with a 50 pound bag of Layer Pellets, a 50 pound bag of Scratch Grains, a small bottle of liquid wormer for the farm cats, and a diet cherry cola.

“Are you a farmer?”

I turned around and there sat a bright-eyed, smiling little girl in the basket of a shopping cart. Her mom was impatiently paging through last months issue of Capper’s magazine. “Don’t bother the lady, Cindy Lou.”

“Well, yes I am,” I told Cindy Lou and winked at her as I turned back into the line.

“Do you grow lots of corn like my pop-pop?” Cindy Lou asked.

I turned again and smiled at this darling girl. “No. I grow vegetables and herbs for the farmer’s market and my family, and I have a small flock of laying hens.”

I heard Cindy Lou’s mom snort from behind her magazine as she mumbled “oh, one of those farmers.”

“Next please,” the cashier said. I really wanted to ask Cindy Lou’s mom what she meant, but it was my turn to check out. I pushed my cart up to the register and moved the heavy bags around so the cashier could scan them. By the time I was finished paying for my items, Cindy Lou and her mom had already moved to a different register and I needed to get out of the way for the next customer.

By the time I got back to the farm, I had worked myself into a dither. What did Cindy Lou’s mom possibly mean with her snorting comment? Did I own or lease 250-300+ acres of land and plant it in agri-corn and soybean subsidized by government programs and supplemented by herbicides and pesticides? No. My tiny farm sits on 4+ acres right smack dab in the middle of those vast corn fields and I grow vegetables and herbs. I prefer not to use chemicals but rely on permaculture techniques, crop rotation, and just plain weeding and observation. Did that make me one of those farmers?

353

One of many raised vegetable beds.

I continued to consider my position as a farmer. What are the requirements and standards? Did I have to be raised on a generational farm to call myself a farmer? If so, I was again out of luck. I grew up in a small mill town on the banks of the Columbia river in Washington state. I grew a scrappy little herb garden in my mom’s old iris bed. I did want to grow up to be a farmer, though.

 

SONY DSC              The Columbia River gorge as seen from the Vista House near Corbett, OR.

How did I decide to call myself a farmer?

Well, I roll myself out of bed each morning at the (ass) crack of dawn with several of my chores staring me in the face. Mosey, the St. Bernard licks my hand while the two Chihuahuas, Winter and Autumn dance around my feet, eagerly waiting to be fed. The cats need to be let outside as they chase each other from one end of the house to the other, and I must put a pot of coffee on the stove. Strong (fair-trade) coffee just makes sense on the farm. For me, it’s a necessity, not just a fancy.

The mornings are cold now and I have to make sure the chicken’s water isn’t frozen. I grab a couple scoops of layer pellets and grain scratch to toss in their bowl, and I gabble and cluck at the chickens as I clean their nest box and check for eggs.

During the summer time, I try to get my garden and outdoor chores completed early  in the morning while the temperatures are moderate. Now that Winter is knocking at my door, I still try to get as much done in the morning as I can so I can get back into my toasty kitchen and determine what needs to be done for the rest of the day.

As one of those farmers, I have learned how to tolerate dirt under my nails, random chicken feathers stuck in my hair, and ‘farm fresh’ as my new favorite fragrance. Work gloves are my go-to accessory and muck boots and garden clogs now sit  forefront in my closet while the designer heels and loafers are piled way in the back gathering dust. Heavy duty Carhartt pants and t-shirts or flannel shirts round out the ensemble topped with a baseball cap; my hair pulled in a long pony-tail sticking out the back.

SONY DSC

Dusk on the farm.

More importantly, being one of those farmers isn’t about what I can take from the land, but what I can give back. How can I make this tiny piece of earth a better place than it was before I began calling it my farm?

I have chosen not to use herbicides or pesticides on the land, but choose to restore the earth with compost and manure, cover-crops, and vermiculture (earth worms). I plant only heirloom and traditional (open-pollinated seeds) so I can both save the seeds for next year’s gardens and be assured that I am not eating genetically modified organisms. I consider rebuilding the soil on the farm just as important as feeding my family and my animals.

I grow a variety of different types of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers in my gardens as I follow a permaculture system of maintaining diversity and building miniature eco-systems in each bed. This means I try to create habitats for the birds, beneficial bugs, and butterflies to help me sustain a healthy, co-operative farm. With permaculture I tend to plant my seedlings closer together so that as they grow they create a canopy that will reduce evaporation and block the weeds. (Generally.) I rotate my crops from season to season to maintain healthy soil and hopefully fool the invasive insects into thinking dinner is no longer available here. Plus, I grow many different types of crops in the same place. For instance, I have learned that I can grow sweet corn with pole beans and squash in the same bed. As the corn grows taller, the pole beans grow along the corn stock and the squash with its broad leaves ramble around the base of the plants which again hinder weed growth and reduces water evaporation. This technique is often called planting ‘the three sisters’ and is credited to our Native American elders.

As I focus on what I can do to create a healthier farm, I attempt to maintain mindful consumption and conservation. Waste is such a huge issue for me and I find myself not only recycling every little thing that I can, but trying to figure out other uses for items that would ordinarily be tossed in land-fills. Admittedly, this is not always possible to do, but I limit my purchases of items that I realize will end up being tossed and try to use things to their maximum output. If I must throw it away, I want it to be as small, used up, and compact as it can be.

As I work towards a simpler lifestyle, I have found so much stuff that no longer benefits me. As I decide what needs to go I always try to ask around to see if somebody else could use it. If not, I pass it on to Goodwill or one of the many ministries at the local church.  When contemplating a purchase, I spend time determining if this is an absolute necessity or just a passing whim. I have come to realize that each purchase I make has an impact on the planet. Will my money benefit or diminish resources on this tiny piece of earth I leave for the next generation?

SONY DSC

Wildflowers growing in our barn lot.

I have found that this farm has helped me to reconnect with the land. It has challenged me to learn new skills and to create a more socially responsible lifestyle. Whimsical Moon Farm has pushed me to be more creative and passionate about what I value and how I display those values to my family, friends, and community. I am absolutely doing what I love while I live in alignment with nature and the seasons. If this makes me one of those farmers, than I embrace that calling wholeheartedly.

 

Please feel free to check out our new Whimsical Moon Farm website featuring hand-crafted herbal soaps and products crafted right here on this farm.

Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallow’een Whimsy!

Pirates in East Cornfield, a pumpkin witch at Metamora, IN, and a toasty All Hallows’ Evening bon fire.

Hallow’een has always been one of my favorite seasonal celebrations. It marks the very end of the harvest for us here on the farm and it provides me an excuse to be creatively ghoulish. I have as much fun carving Jack O’ Lanterns and decorating the yard as my daughter Kayla.

As we light our bon fire and get ready to barbecue some weinies and burgers, we can feel a definite closure to the summer season as we pull our jackets tighter and warm our hands around the fire. We know that Winter will be knocking on our door soon, along with snow and freezing temperatures. But right now, we enjoy the riotous golden colors, the crisp fresh air, and spicy pumpkin cheesecake with tart apple cider. Oh yes!

SONY DSC

 Our little farmhouse in all its Autumn glory.

It seems like the maple trees turned orange and yellow overnight and we find ourselves shuffling as we walk outside, kicking up crisp leaves and giggling like the ‘mature’ adults that we are. Most of the major preparations for the Winter have been completed and I for one look forward to the quieter, calmer season of introspection.

My daughter Kayla reminds me (often) that her favorite celebration is only 53 shopping days away. But I feel confident that she will stay busy as she prepares for the holidays. She enjoys the process of creating gifts and special seasonal cards for her family. Her special needs require that we begin early, so that each card and gift has been crafted just the way she likes. Hallow’een is our special reminder that it is time to get creating.

This is Kayla patiently waiting to roast her hot dog, our old maple tree showing off its colors, and a passel of lazy farm cats.

One of the biggest enjoyments for me living on this farm is actually experiencing the seasons both in work and play. My daily life is intertwined with the changing seasons as everything ebbs and flows, withers and then blossoms again, resting and preparing for the next season of growth.

Whimsical Moon Farm has moved into its season of cozy retreat.

SONY DSC

Captain Jack wishes you an abundant All Hallows’ Evening!

The Humble Gardener

echinaceaEchinacea

I was sitting in the orthodontist’s chair when I realized something – I was considered a master gardener (yes, I have adult braces — let’s ignore that and move on). The revelation smacked me as the assistant settled in to remove my rubber bands and explained, “Oh! I’ve been waiting for you to come in so I can ask you a question….what do you think of Zoo Doo? Is all the hoopla worth it? Should I sign up for the waiting list?”

Whoa there, when did I become a master gardener?

The title is emphatically undeserved. I’ve only had a real garden for two years. Yes, I’ve had a “potted” garden for years prior, devoured many soil and gardening books, even got my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences with a focus on soil and land use, but does that make me the go-to gal for advice on manure?

Let’s rewind this a bit. In fact, quite a bit. My love for growing things came about when I was about eight. I meticulously prepped a bed for my vegetables. I weeded, tilled, and worked all day until I had the perfect fluffy bed. When I excitedly showed Dad the fruits of my labor, he said, “That’s great dear, but that spot doesn’t get enough sun to grow anything”. You see, in my ignorance I had only accounted for 2 of the 3 necessary requirements to grow plants (besides a few tenacious weeds, anyway). I’d thought of land (soil, check) and I had thought of water (watering can, check) but I had neglected to think of solar requirements. The spot I had chosen was basically smack in the middle of a grove of rhododendrons. Barely a ray of sunshine made its way through the gnarled branches and thick leaves. My dream of being a farmer was immediately shattered. But only temporarily.

Fast forward about 5 years and I found myself transplanted onto a small island outside of Seattle. My mother had decided that she wanted to garden, and I was determined that she would not have all the fun. But I had no knowledge, no understanding of how to grow things. I just possessed an unexplainable desire. With a bit of whining (as teenage girls are prone to do) she conceded a small plot of my own to grow herbs. Perhaps not as exciting as tomatoes and cucumbers, but still important! And most importantly, less fickle to grow. This is where I cut my teeth and quickly learned growing things wasn’t as simple as scattering a few seeds in the soil, crossing my fingers, and letting Mother Nature take her course – that is if I wanted to cultivate anything other than dandelions and creeping buttercup. I learned quickly that gardening was a series of constant little battles. Is the soil to dry? Oh, I better water it. Is the soil to wet? Then maybe I should mound the rows to keep the roots from drowning. Not getting enough sun? Well perhaps I should chop down those darn blackberries that are towering overhead. And the battle royale? The slugs. Oh those pernicious slugs! The garden turned into a mine field of tubs filled with Miller High Life in the hopes of luring the slimy monsters to their death with the champagne of beers.

If gardening doesn’t teach you anything else, it will teach you persistence. It took me years to unlock the secret to successfully growing plump, tasty tomatoes. And I’m still learning to properly thin the carrots (it just seems such a waste to pull any of them!). And I’ve discovered that it’s not a single-season endeavor to cultivate the perfect soil bed that’s rich with humus and teaming with microbes and mycorrizae. In fact, it can take many, many years.

Regardless of all the “little battles” and the patience it takes to garden, I’m hooked. I can’t imagine at this point in my life not having a garden. Where else can I get dark red, super-flavorful tomatoes that put those hot-house fruits to shame? How else could I pick candy-like sugar-snap peas right off the vine? And how would I fuel my love for cool cucumber drinks on hot summer days? Yes I’m hooked. And I’ll enthusiastically share my love for all things gardening if you dare to ask. But am I a master gardener at this point? I don’t think so. Though it is a title I hope to earn one day. Instead, I think I just happen to be the only person many of my co-workers and friends know that gardens at all. And because of this, I’ve become the de-facto pro.

So back to that question the orthodontist assistant asked me. What do I think of Zoo Doo? You may be surprised to learn that I’m not a fan. Why? Other than fundamentally not supporting the confinement of wild animals, I’m also not confident that manure from the zoo is free of antibiotics and other residue (sedatives, anyone?) that is left over from treating the animals. These left-overs can have a negative impact on the soil biota as well as be translocated (taken up) by the plants you grow to eat. While most of these medications would have broken down during digestion, some simply do not. Heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury, sometimes used in animal supplements, persist. I’d rather not risk it. Instead, I choose to compost the nitrogen-rich manure from my chickens. Chickens are little poop-machines – so why waste it?  And if you don’t have your own chickens, find a neighbor that does. If they are like me, they always have excess chicken poop. Otherwise, check out Craigslist or reach out to local farmer. It may take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.

Happy gardening.

Guest blog courtesy of Chelsie Johnson at Humble Bee Farms.