To get accepted into the All Souls College at Oxford, applicants have to take a rigorous test known touted as “The World’s Hardest Exam .” They have to answer three thought provoking questions in the form of an essay. Questions range all disciplines. For fun, I located a site that publishes questions from previous tests. […]Is gardening art? — The Windward Gardener
Tag Archives: gardening
Belated happy new year and garden update
Happy 2020 everyone! Not a whole lot of pleasant news around the world of late, so I thought I would buck the trend and show you how my garden is doing. My dog Kinako likes to “assist” me by digging random holes in the yard. During a recent play date with our neighbor’s dog, the two managed to dig a hole deep enough to plant a Hawaiian Ti leaf plant! The two dug a hole on the very most Eastern spot in the yard. As the East is auspicious, I took it as a sign to plant something that has deep significance to the Hawaiian culture. Ti leaf plants have tremendous powerful import. During the volcano eruptions last year, people would put Ti leaves in the path of the lava flow in efforts to appease Madame Pele. Having a Ti plant in the East part of the yard will bring protection and prosperity in the new year.
The man who cut our lawn retired this year and we hired a new person based on his recommendation. The new lawn service man did a terrific job, but also mowed over my whole garden! I couldn’t be mad because I did not direct him otherwise. When I saw all of my plants leveled, I “rage planted” the rest of my seeds. As a result, I have had a tremendous okra harvest this year. I grow both the green and burgundy varieties which makes for a whimsical harvest.
Our next door neighbor had to go to a care home as she was in her 90s and could not live independently anymore. Her late husband was an avid gardener and their whole property was lush with vegetation. Her son is renovating the property and took out all the plants. As a result, somehow a lot of the seeds from their property have migrated over to our yard. One day I saw a random bitter melon plant, tomato, and chili pepper growing. These are plants that I have grown myself, so I let them go. About two months later a large portion of my wall is covered with bitter melon leaves that trellis up wild tomato plants mixed in with peppers. This whole wall is edible! I didn’t lift a finger for this to happen and am letting mother nature do all the work.
Between letting dogs do the digging, my neighbor’s plants doing the sowing, and mother nature to the tending, I suppose my job is just to enjoy the process and harvest when ready! Have a happy new year!
This blog hasn’t gone to the dogs yet
Hi everyone! It’s been a busy few months since my wife and I got our puppy Kinako. When we first got her in November she weighed 10 pounds. Now she is clocking in at 50 pounds of Goldern Retriever! That’s a lot of dog. Some have said raising a dog is in many ways harder than raising a baby, as the dog is quite mobile and active even after a few weeks. After the potty training, the teething, the destroying of property, getting spayed, and a few weeks of puppy school, I think our family is now starting to sort things out into less chaos.
I am still teaching and practicing. In fact this past weekend I was lucky enough to sneak away from subbing duties to attend a part of Kofi Busia’s workshop at the East Honolulu Yoga Center. If you have read my other entries about Kofi’s classes, he pretty much gets you settled into a posture and then lectures about a wide range of topics that somehow relate to the asana you are doing.
He compared the design of a hammer to that of a mallet and cited the obvious refinement of the hammer design to that of the clunky mallet. He spoke of the designer of the modern weighted hammer, a blacksmith who was only interested in refining the design of an established tool. I was too busy maintaining my dandasana to get the name of the inventor who Kofi mentioned several times. But after thinking about it after class, it is an obvious parallel to BKS Iyengar who saw the asanas that was being practiced, and refined them to be more impactful. There were a lot of other deeper gems from the workshop, but that was the only one my mind had clung to.
From that small dissertation, I was inspired in many ways not just about yoga, but about other aspects of my life. The common thread is that the hammer designer, the ice axe designer, the golf club designer, and Iyengar all saw what was hiding in plain sight and refined it to paradigm shifting usefulness.
The garden is still going well. Above are Meyer lemon blossoms which will lead to fruit late this year. Gardening with a dog is challenging. Especially given her predilection for flower pots (the kind with flowers still in them). They are by far her favorite toys probably due to their destructiveness when hurled against things. You learn to not get too attached to your favorite plants. I’ve had to install fencing around parts of my garden to keep her out. Sometimes I’ll see a plant missing and dug up, only to find its rooty shreds underneath my blanket along with a flower pot just before bedtime. I can’t get mad, it’s some twisted form of a love offering. I can honestly say I haven’t had a matching pair of socks since getting the dog. Sometimes I find a long lost argyle when watering my basil. I haven’t laughed this hard at personal loss in a long time.
I’m just winging it in the garden. And still getting results!
Happy belated Thanksgiving! I’m getting out of my writer’s block by posting a garden update. It has been a strange year as most of the seeds that I have planted before with success have not spouted. There has also been some unexpected successes where I have fallen flat before.
Annuals like my Hawaiian Super Pepper plant are doing well. It is become more like a pepper tree. Just two of these is enough to heat up a whole dish and I use them with care. I give them away to coworkers as there are way more than I can eat.
And I am getting yields from cucumber plants. Still not fully grown ones, but this cucumber was tasty. I’m calling it a win.
I have a higher yield of beans this year. Just harvested my first batch and they are nicely sized.
I planted a few packs of arugula seeds and only a few popped up in places where in previous years there were so many that they were borderline invasive. I think there is an intense hot spot in my garden where seedlings get burned from heat stress. As an experiment, I put a small potted Travelers Palm tree to shade the area where I am trying to grow the arugula. I got the idea when I put a leafy heliconia plant near a Ti plant I was trying to grow and the shade helped it grow heartier.
Another experiment is trying to grow seedlings, then transplanting. And after I felt that I am just planting seeds to feed my beetles in the soil, I am trying a new method of starting seedlings in this egg tray and repurposing a rusty old grill into a raised bed contraption using the old grills to weigh down the egg tray during strong winds. If there is a stormy night with gusts, I can simply close the lid until morning.
What I like about gardening is that it turns you into some sort of scientist that experiments with different methods and techniques. Every garden is different and needs to be adapted by trial and error. Most of my experiments fail, but I learn a lot from each failure and adapt.
I want to share a few resources that have helped me learn more about plants and gardening:
Here is a lecture on the eight rules of botany. This may be dry if you have no gardening experience, but after a year of gardening this information will supercharge your knowledge–particularly if you are growing fruit trees.
Growing your greens is a youtube channel from John Kohler, who started as a novice gardener to overcome health problems. His channel is a fantastic resource with techniques and interviews with master gardeners.
And of course, here is the pdf of One Straw Revolution from Masanobu Fukuoka, whose theory of “do nothing farming” is the one I am applying to my garden.
You don’t need an act of congress to heal the Earth
There are scary headlines these days of how our Earth’s climate is rapidly changing due to CO2 emissions caused by the burring of fossil fuel. Go to any Facebook page and you will get shouted down if you express any opinion about whether climate change is real or not. In the past two years in Hawai’i, I have had enough hurricane close calls to allay any doubt. Climate change is here and now.
It is frustrating to watch the news and see inaction from political leaders. The good news is that we don’t need to wait for them to debate on whether to take action or not. We can take action ourselves. Probably the most radical thing you can do is plant your own food. That doesn’t mean you have to live off what you plant, as that would take a lot of real estate. Start small. The smaller the better. Start a small planter in your window sill or patio. The aim isn’t necessarily to grow sustenance for your family. It is for you to slow down and watch how nature works.
We have become so far removed from nature that we are not even sure how plants grow anymore. By starting to grow your own food, you see the process. You even make errors and learn from those errors. Every year you gain confidence to grow more. After a few years, you are growing enough to feed yourself and family from garden to table several nights per week. You don’t have to garden the way I do, explore what methods work for you. If you can’t figure it out, just take a pack of seeds and plant them on a place on your lawn. Nature will guide you on what to do next.
By watching how nature works, you tend to develop respect for her. That leads to a lot of other choices: use less fuel, turn off lights when not in use, limit plastic use, and vote for candidates who want a sustainable world for their grandkids.
Its not too late. But we do have to act and the sooner the better. I would like to keep things nice for the next generation.
Sensitive to the changes of season
Yoga practice and gardening have much in common. The one thing that stands out is that one becomes very sensitive to nature and its forces. This is the time of year in Hawai’i when it is brutally hot and humid. The air is so thick, that senior teacher Joan White was giving a workshop this time of year and said the air actually had “weight” to it. However, there is usually one day in the month of October where the weather changes radically from hot and humid to constant rain. Just before that is the optimal time to plant seeds in the garden. You have to time it just right. Every night I am aware of any temperature drop and feel of rainfall. Once it starts, it doesn’t usually let up for a month or so.
To prep for this auspicious time I prep my garden area which has been overgrown with grass with a hand sickle. I cut back the grass and let it decay for a while which makes a mulch bed for the yet-to-be-sown seeds.
Coming back from my trip a month ago has left me swamped with catch up paperwork at my regular job. Not to mention caregiving duties and surprise visitors. With the stress, the time change, and the weather, my immune system has lowered and I caught bronchitis. Lo and behold, at the peak of my cold, the time came to sow seeds.
Not to be deterred, I plotted along and scattered all the seeds I’ve been storing for this occasion. Here are a few. I am trying a few “red” varieties this year like burgundy okra (seen above) red malabar spinach and red Kyoto carrots.
With all the seeds finally planted, I went back into my sick mode and saw a doctor. Turns out I have bronchitis. I have found a good remedy is Korean tofu stew. I usually can’t stand in due its intense hot temperature and spiciness, but its all I have been craving.
As far as classes, I manage to teach as best I can in my state. It is very difficult to teach when you are not feeling well. However, I do feel that somehow teaching has gotten “easier” since I’ve been back. A lot of my students who have been a way for a while have been returning. There are a lot of injuries and issues, so I have to divide my students into groups. I never had to do that much before now.
We are on the second night of Navratri, and I can feel the grace of Brahmacharini, one of the nine manifestations of Durga celebrated during this time. She was said to be resolute and did tapas for 5,000 years until she met her goal. I always enjoy celebrating and trying to keep up with the time difference between here and India to “catch” the right goddess on the correct night.
This is an auspicious time. A time of sowing, a time of celebration, a time of season change, and a time of recovering after a long journey.
The treasures of gardening
I haven’t written much about my garden this year, but it has quietly produced about twice the bounty of the previous year. Even the size of the produce has increased and is even more delicious. I have been reflecting much about the readings of Masanobu Fukuoka’s books The One-Straw Revolution, and his general philosophy of farming, or in my case gardening. I sensed that he just like to watch plants grow regardless of what they produced. I am now seeing this two and a half years into my project. There is great joy in watching a pumpkin vine roam and sprawl, as with a bitter melon plant. There is great joy in watching a basil plant get so top heavy that it falls over and needing a trellis as a prop to support it. There is great joy in watching seedings turn to plants, and then bear fruit.
There are also surprises. Like purple carrots and random bitter melons hanging behind another plant that you didn’t expect to find. I also like that this type of gardening seems to attract nearby wildlife from the marsh. I different types of birds roaming around the lawn feasting on insects.
Even Fukuoka writes about how wildlife interacts with his farm. He writes, “We had just finished harvesting the rice, and overnight the rice stubble and low-lying grasses had become completely covered with spider webs, as though with silk. Waving and sparkling with the morning mist, it was a magnificent sight…The spectacle is an amazing natural drama. Seeing this, you understand that poets and artists will also have to join in the gathering.” (p.27-28 One-Straw Revolution)
At night I have been hearing the quack of ducks in my yard. That is not so unusual, but the quacking has gotten louder of late. I have even seen ducks roaming around in the garden looking like they were up to some type of no good. Then today when I was cutting down the grass under my trellis with a hand sickle, I caught a glimpse of something…
My mother-in-law said she sees a duck come out of the thicket once a day for the past four days, and was trying to keep their secret. It seems the nearby marsh ducks are planning to hatch their eggs right in the middle of the garden. My first instinct was to remove the eggs. But I have a feeling that Fukuoka would just let it ride, waiting for the mysteries of nature to reveal something greater. I’m am starting to think more along his lines.
Happy New Year! Startin’ with the garden
As many of my readers are probably having to wear a heavy coat now, I’d like to start the new year right, with a few pictures of warmth from my garden. It is year two of my Fukuoka-style of gardening. An unusually wet Hawai’i December has yielded wonderful results.
Chilly? How about Chile? This pepper plant barely survived last year’s summer. Now it is producing long delicious capsaicin-rich Cayennes. I think these are the kind that Chef Pasquale uses and calls “Oh yeah babys.”
The tall grass is a natural trellis for these snap peas. Once they reach the “roof” of this table-like trellis my wife and I put up last year they start going wild. Can you spot the camouflaged gecko on the bamboo? Those guys help me control the unwanted pests in the garden.
This patch of bush beans produced so many green beans I was able to make a dish for Christmas dinner with family visitors.
Across the yard our Meyer lemon tree is staring to produce its first bounty. These in time will swell up to full sized lemons. Enough to give away to family and friends.
I don’t want to bore you with the rest of the produce, but there is also a pumpkin, eggplant, bitter melon, saluyot, and daikon sprouting in this space.
The only work I did in the garden was throw seeds and trim the grass with a hand sickle. Nature has taken care of the rest of the labor. Stay tuned and happy new year!
Simple dinner from my garden
I harvested a few items from my garden recently. My vegetables are so small that they would barely be a mouthful. Look how tiny my eggplant and Roma tomato turned out…
Since there is no good sense of scale here, the eggplant is roughly the size of a lemon, and the tomato the size of, well you can do the calculations based on the photo. I have a guilty pleasure of viewing Conor Bofin’s site called “One Man’s Meat.” Although I don’t eat that much meat, I like his sense of authentic preparation and photography skills. So I will channel my inner Conor for this blog and attempt to do with veggies what he does with lamb chops.
Luckily I had a good picking of leaves from a mustard spinach green plant and a few stray basil.
I chopped up the eggplant (not seen) the tomato and a half a shallot.
I sautéed the eggplant in a splash of olive oil soon followed by the shallots…
Then added the mustard-spinach and basil.
Once reduced in size I added a dash of salt and pepper and a twist of lemon to brighten it all up.
Voila! About two or three delicious bites.
And a nice mango for dessert given to me by one of the students at my studio. (Thank you Sandy!)
Then I scarfed a huge bowl of unsightly left over pasta (not seen). Hope I did you justice Conor!
My wife’s green thumb (more like nuclear)
If you have been following my garden escapades, you’ll know that my wife and I have his and hers gardens. While I have been somewhat successful in trying to retrace Masanobu Fukuoka’s method of “do nothing” farming, my wife went straight to the traditional method of spreading soil and planting seeds.
I have struggled mightily to grow cucumbers in my garden which is on the the sunnier, drier side of the yard. In Hawai’i we have “microclimates” which can vary in a short space like in our backyard. My wife has the more shaded, cooler part of the yard.
While I harvested this a while back, it was the only cucumber I have successfully grown as my plants have all dried out and developed gummy stem disease which renders the fruit dry and prickly.
My wife’s Japanese cucumber plant on the other hand has taken over most of the large trellis we put around it and has begun producing gargantuan results. I harvested this today. It was so big and ungainly that it scared my poor mother in law Toshiko. She could not even bear to be in the same room with it which verifies my suspicion that she is actually part cat.
This monster weighs about 2 pounds (a little less than 1 kg). It is spikey and you could probably use it as an effective battle club. My mother in law even questioned if it was indeed a cucumber. “I’ve never seen a Japanese cucumber like this, maybe this is an English cucumber or squash.”
After work today we all came home and tried a slice with great trepidation. It was probably the most delicious cucumber I’ve ever had. It was even a little sweet with a strong cucumber taste.
I snipped this off my trellis also. It is a tiny bitter melon from my Fukuoka garden. I sliced it thin and salted it, washed it off and added ginger, bonito flakes and shoyu (a traditional Japanese preparation). It was small but delicious. To get a sense of scale see that it occupies about a four inch circle on my table cloth compared to my wife’s battleship above.
The good thing about gardening with your wife is that no matter what size, you always get to share the harvest 🙂