Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Botany Talk

                                           One of the season's first artichokes! > 

Hello farmers and gardeners! Caitlin here. Yet again, I've left the farm feeling ecstatic and inspired. I can't explain enough how unique this class is. The curriculum is holistic yet specific, personal yet broadly applicable, and realistic. We talk about scientific inquiry, cultural understanding, and cosmic revelation all in one lesson. How rare is it that you have instructers both fresh and new as well as wise and worldly teaching in the same environment? Not only are we graced with an abundance of diverse knowledge coming from different perspectives, but we also are, as a class, an incredible collection of like-minded, kind-hearted souls. Every week I connect with a new person. With a class of over 30 (maybe even 40?), we are also young and old, from many backgrounds, a symbol of biodiversity. I am so grateful to be a part of this experience. I want to thank you for being a part of it too!

Today in class we packed 4.5 billion years of evolutionary history into 2.5 hours. Our main subject was the vast Kindom called Plantae. This subject is not a light one. As in previous classes, our classmates helped Wendy and Henry teach and learn about botany by giving portions of the lecture.
  • I gave an overview of the way we use language to catagorize plants we know and love as well as explaining the catagories of plants: Bryophytes (non-vascular plants inculding liverworts, hornworts, and mosses) and Tracheophytes (vascular plants including club mosses, ferns, gymnosperms 'the naked seeds' such as conifers, and angiosperms, the flowering plants). 
  • Henry gave an awesome calender representing the evolution of the earth (with each week consisting of about 1 billion years!) and went on to break down the Kindom of Plantae into its smaller sects. He drew a great cladogram outlining the evolution of Plantae and what disiguishing characteristics separate them. The protected embryo marks the shift from cyanobacteria and other algae to the thallus-formed, gametophyte-dominant reproductive liverworts and mosses. The development of vascular tissue marks the leap from mosses to club mosses and ferns, plants with branching stems, conducting tissue, and sporophyte reproduction. Then came the transition to the seed plants, a catagory that the farmers are most interested in. These include the gymnosperms and angiosperms.
  • Henry also gave an awesome diagram explaining the wild radish ancestor, how the variations of the parts of this plant can be found as dominant forms in other plants. These parts include terminal and radial buds, stem, leaves, roots, stem flowers, and flower bunches.
  • Chester gave us a cool history of the origins of agriculture, a topic that is huge and could be studied for years! We learned about the Fertile Crescent of Western Asia and the domestication of wild emmer, where it is thought to be one of the first instances of plant and animal domestication. We also learned about Nom Nak Ta in about 14,000 B.C., Nillex in Central Africa, Tio Cente where corn popularized in Mexico, and Ecuadorian and Peruvian farming. All of these places shared a semi-arid environment and has seasonal change, conditions which led to a more simple development of domestication.
  • Wendy gave us a fantastic example of our newly earned knowledge of botany by discussing the history and phylogeny of the tomato plant! This really made me think about our last assignment, to discuss the implications for the self and the world when producing just one lil' tomato.We also talked about how the spread of agriculture is and has always been neighborly, as well as different examples of the spread of crops, including wild rice of Northern Minnesota, abundant and diverse Peruvian potato variety, and why the potato famine of Ireland occurred.
This tomato history really struck a chord with me. It made me think about how our oral history keeps our place and our culture in line and in the present time through communication, while the language of botany provides hard records that will stand true on a larger scale of time. Interesting to look at the strength that is created when we learn to speak in the moment and also through the steady language of scientists. An amazing book about how language shapes sensation is Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. I highly recommend this book! It's one of my favorites, and it is constantly becoming more and more relevant. Some classmates mentioned these books today that'd I'd been meaning to bring up as well!
The Botany of Desire -Michael Pollan
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus -Charles C. Mann
Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources - M. Kat Anderson
Plant and Planet - Anthony Huxley

Some books that helped shape the lecture today were:

Gardening at the Dragon's Gate
Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel
The Metamorphosis of Plants by Joann Wolfgang van Goethe
Micro-Eco Farming by Barbara Berst Adams
A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us by Sid Liebes

Coming next week: "Talk Dirty to Me: A Lesson on Plant Reproduction"
Check out the book Sex in Your Garden by Angela Overy

Also, in honor of World Water Day which was on March 22, check out Basins of Relations: A Citizen's Guide to Protecting and Restoring Our Watersheds
Brought to you by our friend Brock Dolman at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center.
    No homework assignment for this week! Enjoy yourselves!

    < Snapped a photo of Keri snappin' a photo!

      Sunday, March 21, 2010

      Celebrating Spring

      It was a beautiful day outside, I hope everyone had a chance to get out there and enjoy it!After spending the day in Point Reyes with Pam Pierce, reflecting on the week and what I learned in class on Wednesday, to a day of hiking through lush green meadows beaming with wildflowers, I am filled with gratitude to live in Marin County. Here we are celebrating the Equinox and a new moon, a time of fertility.

      The seeds sown in the green house are really beginning to take off! By this time next month, beds will be beaming with spinach, arugula and lettuce, we should have a developing herb garden with parsley, chives, rosemary and chervil, and we’ll be able to harvest peas, rutabagas, carrots, rainbow chard and kale. We’ll be planting potatoes too! Eventually, once the threat of frost recedes we will be planting all varieties of tomatoes, along with basil, summer squash, eggplant and peppers.

      On Wednesday, Spencer offered the class an insightful analogy of the differences between industrial agriculture and small- scale farming. The big oak tree represented industrial farms and the small plants sitting beneath the oak tree represented small farms having endless capabilities, creating abundant opportunities for life. Steve calls this Agri- Dharma, that is the voice of truth, which is the voice of agriculture. A creative and balanced way of farming called micro-eco, gives rise to small farms that are mindful of the soil. They nurture it by re-mineralizing, bringing back microbes and by minimizing tilling. Farms that are REAL ORGANIC, are truly upholding the ideal of balance on the farm. Balancing the elements in the compost and then the soil, to the balance of plants and animals on the farm so that the cycle of fertility can begin and end without problems.

      Global industrial production is beyond falling short of reaching a balance. Unfortunately, 90% of the world’s food comes from our industrial food sources. As Wendel Berry said in a essay he published in 1978 called Agricultural Solutions for Agricultural Problems, “Technology can grow to a size that is first undemocratic and then inhuman.” If we didn’t have industrial size agriculture, I suppose many people would die, but that’s because they’ve been transformed of their knowledge to grow their own food. If people relearned the time-honored ways of farming, retraining their senses and will, there wouldn’t be a need for industrial farming, with centralized and limited ownership, where decisions and actions reaffirm greed for power, over ecological stewardship and health. Growing one’s own food is a revolutionary act. For homework we are asked to write one page the benefits of planting just one tomato.

      It’s all about rediscovering one’s connection to the land. I thought it was so interesting when Steve said that no new cultivars have been introduced since the industrial revolution. How is this possible? As growers we are facilitators, why is there so much of a disconnect in modern day farming? Honoring the sun, moon, elements and the planets, we’re all interconnected. Steve’s introduction into the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner and biodynamics was perfect way to test our brains and our abilities to adhere to our intuitions and to metaphysics. Seemingly enigmatic, I hope we will learn more about the study of energies and their effect on plants.

      Check out the Organic Consumers Association:

      And here is the link for the Whole Food’s/ China veggies scandal:

      Wednesday, March 17, 2010

      3.17.10 Class Photos

      Strikes and Cuttings from Propagation Class
      Sifting Compost for Potting Soil
      Planting Radish seed

      Friday, March 12, 2010

      Photos from 3.10.10

      Wisteria Seed
      Transplanting Lettuce, Kale, and Chard
      Wendy talks propagation

      Margaret mixes potting soil

      Wednesday, March 10, 2010

      March 10, 2010

      Today was a good day for a shift. The rain let up and the compost piles that we made last week are settling in, brimming with potential for life. We have been learning a lot about the soil, the basis of all our work in the garden as well as a reflection of all of nature's work on the planet. Today we reviewed what we've learned about the physical and chemical nature of soil, and the teamwork between living microbial and so-called non-living elements of the ground. We talked about the nitrogen and carbon ratios involved in a compost pile, empowering those who have dreams of starting a pile of their own if they haven't already established one. And we've had the chance to practice what we've learned through application! Gettin' all up in the dirt and feeling what we're experiencing in the classroom.

      Now it is the one year anniversary of the Indian Valley farm and how appropriate is it that we celebrate with propagation! We can now move our focus from the soil to relationship between living soil and growing beings.

      In our lecture we discussed the difference between annual plants, which grow from seed to seed in one year, biannual plants which grow in one year and seed in the second, and perennial plants which come back every year. There's also a difference between asexual (or vegetative) reproduction and sexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction does not require a male and female organ on the plant, therefore cloning of the plant is possible; no additional genetic material is combined during reproduction. In sexual reproduction, there is a combination of mother and father DNA, creating a larger gene pool and more diversity. It is important to note that, when asexually cloning plants, the selected plant must be healthy! There is no diversity so the plant is more vulnerable to every trait it already has. Make sure to check for disease or disturbance in any plant that you might propagate.

      It was a day of rebirth on this decided 1st year birthday. Out in the field, we transplanted baby plants and mixed soil. I came to the greenhouse late, but I really enjoyed watching everyone hard at work in their propagation. I felt like I learned a lot just by observing. The effectiveness of an interactive, experience-based classroom really stands out at times like these. I thought a lot about how grateful I am to be involved in a program that encourages an integrated, practical, and active curriculum.

      Everyone was practicing utilizing and managing vegetative propagation by using the striking or cutting method to clone baby plants! We learned out to separate stalks from their mother plant and organize them in perlite boxes according to how much moisture the need to get started and by color. We worked with willow, rosemary, honeysuckle, noble bay, as well as a multitude of others, using our hands to split the bond naturally, rather than using pruners that would damage the cell walls and cause more damage to the plant structure. If this was the case, more energy would be diverted to healing rather than taking root. We clipped their remaining upper leaves in a pointed-triangular shape and lay them at 45ยบ angles in the perlite. Then we watered them with willow water, moving them to the shade house to settle in and take root.

      Now for us to settle in and take root! Our homework for this week is to become familiar with the planting schedules in Pam Pierce's gardening guide. We can cultivate our interest in specific plants and grow more from our experiences with them. To turn in next Wednesday, we should write about a favorite plant that we dream of propagating OR write about our experience with and insights on compost.

      Also, news from our friends at Commonweal in Bolinas! Speakers from the Marin Carbon Project will be hosting an event this Sunday, the 14th, at 2:30. Luke sent me this flyer to pass on to you guys!

      Have a wonderful week and we'll see each other again on the 17th!

      Saturday, March 6, 2010

      Gearing up for propagation

      Hey Classmates,

      Hope you’re all enjoying yourselves this beautiful day and gearing up to do something really awesome. This morning at 9am you could join Goddess, Wendy Johnson in Point Reyes at the Dance Palace for a class on propagation. Abundant insight from Wendy, Henry, Steve and John on grafting. It feels like the we are enwrapped in endless food production, possibilities. After two weeks of grafting and over 100 trees, we can now whip and tongue like we’re experts! It’s real easy to envision the IVC F&G farm a few years down the road, brimming with bounty of apples and pears. It’s inspiring how hard working and eager to learn our class is! Despite what seems like an era of dominion over us, it is the amazing strides we make each day to simply do right, which gives us hope. Just as Wendy said in class

      A Zen mind is a beginner’s mind. A Beginner’s mind is where all kinds of possibilities exist.

      I read a really inspiring excerpt from “A little book on Love” by, Jacob Needleman,

      “There is another half of love . There is another have of human nature and there is another half to intimate human relations. The other half is the love that helps another search for truth. What is really the missing element in our experience of love?”

      Spencer gave a beautiful presentation on soil. He professed that the soil is the matrix of life which exist underground, kept in balance just as the food chain above. Functioning on a basis of mutualism and symbiosis. The bacteria in our soil, which keeps us healthy is just as important, every organism and microbe makes up the living net, matter cycles and energy flows.

      • Be read the chapter on soil and compost in Golden Gate Gardening. Pam Pierce is speaking at the Dance Palace on March 20th in the same series of classes Wendy is involved with this week. For homework complete the handout, Soil Assessment and read chapter 6 on propagation in GGG.

      • I hope that some of you may have had a chance to check out the Food and Farming Veterans Fair on Friday, connecting veterans with agricultural jobs. For more information and future events go to:

      • Maggie and Luke mentioned John Wick and Peggy Rathmann of the Marin Carbon Project will be holding a workshop, Sunday, March 14 from 2:30-4:30 at the Commonweal in Bolinas.

      There were also some books recommended for us to look at:

      • Teaming With Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
      • Seed to Seed, Suzanne Ashworth
      • Botany for Gardeners, Brian Capon

      Wednesday, March 3, 2010

      Photos from 3.3.10 Class

      Clearing out the Broccoli!

      Building the piles!

      More Green Matter for the Pile!


      Monday, March 1, 2010

      March 1st, 2010

      Hello fellow farmers and gardeners!

      Thanks to everyone for a wonderful lesson on grafting fruit trees! It was so cool to receive rounded multi-method instruction on this awesome agricultural tool and then be able to give back by grafting apple and pear trees for the Indian Valley Farm! A perfect way to experience and share the literal and metaphorical fruit of our growing education. In time, a recap of this lesson will be posted to the blog for quick and easy referral!

      This week's assignment is to read the ATTRA article called "Agriculture, Climate Change and Carbon Sequestration," think about it, and write about it in a one-page response. Also, read Pam Pierce's chapter on composting, cover crops, green manure, and soil fertility!

      After hearing of the huge earthquake in Santiago, Chile on Sunday morning and the subsequent tsunami warnings, a friend sent this article my way. (Notice how the article is from September 2009 and the research to back up the article was done partially on the Easter microplate, very close to where the epicenter of the 8.5 richter rumbling took place!) Most relevantly, at the end you'll find a perspective on artificial carbon sequestration and the possible environmental outcomes of this.
      For me, this makes the argument for a collective agricultural effort towards climate change mitigation even stronger. Natural forms of carbon sequestration work with the earth's forces and ecological wounds instead of against them by attempting to avoid them or cover them up. We have to foster the natural healing processes that the earth is already so good at and the resources are all right in front of us. What do you guys think?

      Speaking of you, anyone in the class who is interested in posting on this blog will have a chance to write her or his email address on a sheet passed around in class on Wednesday. Then we'll get blogland invites out to you guys asap!

      More posting to come! Hope you all are having a wonderful week!