Gardening: Take it Outside

By Betty Harris

As a watercolor artist who is hooked on gardening and teaching, I tend to be very aware of my surroundings. Recently I read some advice given by one artist to another. That advice: “take your act outside”. He said this because he knew it would impact the quality of her work. Let’s explore that concept, not just from the artist’s but from the citizens’ point of view.

An artist who does watercolors looks at the landscape and often “sees” it as a watercolor and imagines what it would look like on paper and the techniques needed to recreate an illusion that would remind him or her of this view. An arborist might look at it in terms of what needs trimming or thinning and where the dead trees are. A landscaper might see it as needing to be rearranged and some flowers, bushes, paths or benches added. A farmer might see it as a potential farm land that could grow corn and hopefully generate a profit. Basically, everyone sees things a bit differently based on our own personal slant on life. An environmentalist would see it as needing to be protected while a developer might see it in terms of profit or loss. Children would see it as a place to play and have imaginary adventures like I did as a child. Children still do this, don’t they?

Some see the world around them as potential profit or something to be exploited or like my mother did and ask “what’s it good for?” It is really our LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM. Without it life lived inside a bubble just to survive would be poor indeed. Humans really depend on nature for more than they ever think it provides like water, shade, oxygen, food, beauty and a calming peaceful existence. Perhaps we should think in terms of protecting it so that we might live a decent existence rather than of what we can make of it or do with it.

A 1500 Sanskrit text said, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it”. It would seem the ancients were wiser than we are.

Yesterday I was talking with my baby brother, he’s 58 now, about how dry our winter was and somehow we ended up talking about California’s drought and that they have been sucking water out of the aquifers to use to frack oil and gas wells. Then when the water is totally ruined and polluted, they inject it back into the ground as if they can actually control where it goes. They seem not to be concerned that it will pollute the same aquifers that are needed to provide the fresh water that they started with. It still surprises me when people are not aware of this but since he works all the time and comes home to fall asleep in front of the TV he must have missed this.

We humans, citizens of this planet and stewards of the same, need to take a bit of the watercolorist’s advice and take our act outside. Which reminds me, I have to prune my apple tree and my blue mist spirea today.


Gardening: Broken Links

By Betty Harris

Our collective understanding of how things connect is still being developed, as some have observed, by traveling the world and living with and around various indigenous peoples and wild animals that inhabit their space. Much of what is being learned is being tried all over the globe and an ever expanding trove of literature is gradually spreading that knowledge. A recent read of a book by Kristen Ohlson titled the soil will save us (yes, lower case letters) shows that we’ve lost a lot of connections or links in human knowledge, or that we never understood a lot of things from the beginning.

Did you ever think about how plants, soil and planet life connect? Who among us knew that when we disturb the soil, we release carbon that could be used by plants rather than be added to the atmosphere? Who among us had any thought about the fact that “modern” agricultural or gardening practices actually harm the soil and plant and animal life?

Well, more recent research shows that plowing the soil releases carbon (the sugars of life that plants make from sunlight) killing microbes, nematodes, worms, and other soil animals which thus requires that we spend more money on soil amendments, fertilizers, etc. It goes back to our lack of understanding of cause and effect and our lack of attention to what happens around us. Plowing destroys some extremely important links and costs us a great deal of money while requiring us to do more work. Who knew that less is more?

Plowing the soil has destroyed the connections between the soil animals and the plants, which then impacted birds, insects and masses of other life on the planet. Plowing used to release masses of animal life which flocks of birds would eat as they followed the plow. These days there are no birds following the plow, not because of a lack of birds but because of a lack of animal life in the soil. I’m old enough to remember those birds following my dad’s plow as the mules pulled it. By the time I went to college the mules had been replaced by large tractors which were small in comparison to what is being used to kill the soil in agribusiness these days. By the time I was 25, the birds had stopped following the plows as there was nothing to eat.

Now scientists and farmers are working together to understand what links have been broken and how to repair them. Most scientific work is done through college research grants provided by large corporations to “prove” that their products are the “solution” to everything the world needs. Most of these grants are for 3 yr studies. Understanding the connections between the soil and what humans do to it often requires more like 10 yrs of study so building this knowledge seldom gets done through universities but rather by observant farmers and ranchers who are going back to ground. But some scientists are increasingly trying to learn more and work on more research, even if there are no grants to fund it.

It seems that we’ve unknowing broken some important links between the fungi, microbes, nematodes and other soil animals and the soil itself. Observation teaches us that those links are vital to the production of food and the atmosphere itself. As humans have tilled the land, they have released massive amounts of carbon and broken the links mentioned above. By this process we’ve reduced the natural fertility of the soil which then requires application of chemical fertilizers that pollute and poison the earth and its water and air.

To reconnect the links between soil, plants, food, humans and other wild life, we need to stop plowing the land. It is far less expensive to stop rototilling gardens and let the worms and other soil life live. By adding compost directly on top of the soil, we can avoid releasing more carbon. We also end up storing more carbon as plant life improves and uses more carbon from the air. As we stop disturbing the soil, we allow mycorrhizae to thrive. This feeds plants which exchange the minerals and nutrients that the mycorrhizae offer in exchange for carbon sugars that plants make from air, water and sunlight. The mutual aid society that fungi and plants have had from the beginning reaps massive benefits for the planet. Plants convert more sunlight to sugar than they need themselves and exchange this with microbes, fungi, mycorrhizae and soil animals. These critters’ life cycle aids the plants as well.

How do you save money and do all this without chemicals and without a great deal of work? Cover all soil with plants, with compost, with mulch (rocks are NOT mulch) which reduces heat where you live, stores water in the soil, stores carbon in the soil and makes the space you live on cooler. Bare dirt holds little water and next to no carbon; it heats up and washes or blows away. It has been estimated that nature needs 1000 years to create 1 inch of soil but you can generate soil significantly faster with proper actions.

Save all clean organic matter including trimmings from bushes, trees, etc. You can leave this on the flower beds or raised beds, bury it in trenches, or make hugelkulturs. That 1000 years that nature requires to make that inch of soil can be accelerated by humans by collecting and composting massive amount of organic matter from plant growth each year. We can save the leaves from our trees in the fall and mulch them on top of our flower beds or garden boxes. We can collect the neighbors’ leaves before they give them to the trash man. Piling them up on our garden areas keeps moisture in the soil and keeps the soil from freezing, which then allows the worms to eat leaves all winter. This process is sort of like composting without the work and extra equipment of compost bins, etc.

By seldom disturbing the soil (as we do with plowing and tilling), the mycorrhizae in the soil continues to feed the plants and exchange nutrients for carbon sugars and builds soil faster than you can imagine. If we seldom break this chain of events we build a stronger chain of life that makes the planet a more wonderful place to live for all life. For we humans, it is also cheaper and less polluting and less time consuming, leaving us with a cooler spot on the block and more time to sit under a tree and enjoy nature.

Don’t have a tree? Plant one on your birthday and Earth Day each year. Find affordable trees available from the City for Earth Day here: or in the current Littleton Report. Buy a fruit tree from O’Tooles and plant it even if you’ll never get to personally eat the fruit. Plant trees, plant fruiting bushes, plant a garden, plant native species of flowers because they have deeper root systems which requires less water. Plant life, reconnect those broken links for you, your children, your grandchildren, your neighborhood, your planet.

We have a choice to make now and we must make it soon. We can choose to survive on a planet that is slowly dying or we can choose to live and help the planet survive. It is time to work at repairing those broken links.

Gardening: A Fungus Among Us

By Betty Haris

In the Blue Mountains of Oregon lives the largest single living organism on earth. It covers over 3 square miles of land but is 1 cell thick but eats everything it touches. It girdles trees and prevents water and nutrients from moving up and down the trees. DNA testing confirms that it is one organism. Based on its rate of growth the age is estimated to be between 2000 and 8000 yrs old. Its scientific name is Armillaria. And its common name is honey mushroom which is quite safely edible and also is called shoestring fungus.

This also exits in Michigan and Germany but the largest one discovered so far is this one in Oregon. It has been studied for over 40 yrs and the methods to remove it have been too expensive for lumber companies to do it because every little string of it has to be removed from the soil. The department of Natural Resources are experimenting with trees which may be able to live with the fungus instead.

Its main purpose seems to be recycling of trees for its own benefit. While this helps birds and other wildlife it does destroy a lot of trees. And it’s pretty obvious that if one wanted to grow trees in this area it would have to be a variety that the fungus doesn’t eat. Since evidence has been shown that fungi can be trained to live on just one food source it could be hard to find one this fungus couldn’t adapt to eating to survive.

It seems that fungi are totally focused on surviving (go figure) and take a long view of what survival means. They are extremely efficient in detoxifying the world around them. Would that we were that concerned about detoxifying the rest of the world.

On the farm we never mulched anything so when I started using wood mulch here I noticed some odd looking yellow fungus that was “creepy” to my human mind. Later I learned that this was in fact an important organism to help break down organize matter. Now I find that fungi help trees talk to each other and that some trees end up being parent or nurse trees and they send messages and food to seedlings of their own species but not others. Are you not amazed yet?

There are many places we don’t want fungi, like in your mouth which is called thrush (a recent 2 week treatment for H. Pylori left me with a bad case of it) or in your eyes, etc. In our bodies this needs to be treated. But there are many places that we do need fungi because of the benefits they provide. Besides some of them being edible like mushrooms they provide other important services to planet life.

We seem to suffer from microphobia – an irrational fear of fungi. As a result we end up destroying an organism that can actually save plant and animal life. It is time to understand our environment better. So how do fungi work?

Recently I brought this up to a group that is highly interested in food and farming, gardening, etc. and they gave me a blank look when I mentioned mycorrhizae. That’s when it occurred to me that we humans have been mostly ignorant of fungi in relation to plants and other life on the planet.

Plants and fungi do not have mouths and stomachs like most other species so to survive they do what they do best which is absorb nutrients and water from the soil and swap it to plants for food (sugars made from plants photosynthesis). So these mushrooms/fungi create great massive underground networks called hyphae which attach to plant roots and then put out tiny hair like filaments that reach far into the soil increasing the surface area of plant roots up to a thousand times. These mycorrhizal filaments produce compounds that improve soil structure and make it more porous. These same mycorrhizae decrease soil-borne pathogens and protect plants from root disease. These fungi are not fertilizers even though they serve the purpose of increasing growth and tolerance for drought and disease.

Mycorrhizae help plants by breaking down hard-to-reach nutrients in the soil and assisting with water retention (remember those water issues we’re concerned about?) Mycorrhizal fungi excrete unique enzymes and antibiotics that support plant health offering increased disease resistance. Because the mycorrhizae support plant health, they are most effective as preventative treatments with regard to disease organisms.

In our attempts to grow things we can over-water, over-fertilize and use too many fungicides which can eliminate mycorrhizae usefulness or even kill the fungi. As microbiologists and others learn more about these organisms it has become possible to buy mycorrhizae from nurseries and landscapers. Often these mycorrhizal fungi are mixed with other beneficial organic matter. As far as learning about how to grow more with less inputs we are way behind. What we know so far is that most commercial fertilizers kill many of the soil critters. What happens if we don’t figure out in time which are the most important players and find a way to preserve them? What can we do now before we learn all we need to know?

While we are learning we need to help build the right fungi in our garden soils so we can grow more food under changing circumstances. Evidence shows fungi help clean up pollution, which we humans seem to excel at creating. Our actions of tilling or excavating, covering the soil with pavement, adding chemical soil fumigation or fungicides and applying high phosphorus fertilizers is detrimental to us and the planet. If we just figured out how to use mycorrhizae we’d not need to use much fertilizer at all. Imagine what we’d save in money along with significantly less pollution.

Life on earth for humans was improved when early people learned to create fire but it really stepped up when they learned to carry fire with them from place to place in a mushroom called Amadou. Mushrooms are trail followers and the Amadou spread along trails made by animals and humans than in the rest of the forest. The same thing happens with most all fungi and or mushrooms. It seems that as humans and animals travel about we shed fungi. And we thought we’d bathed well before starting that hike.

Plants cannot exist without fungi. There are fungi that are parasitic meaning they exist on a host and eat it as they break down materials in plants. Some act as shields that protect plants such as trees, some do not break down dead trees but live in the dead matter when other fungi have broken it down.

We are more closely related to fungi than to any other life on this planet so when someone says you are a monkey’s uncle you can tell them that you’re mostly fungi – don’t tell them about the pond scum until you get to know them better.

Fungi eat rocks to get to the minerals in them. We live on this tiny rock (tiny compared to the universe) covered with a thin layer of soil that harbors fungi which sweat water as it eats rocks to get at minerals it needs and then shares with plants that use photosynthesis to make sugars that it trades with the fungi.
Mushrooms are the spore (seed) producing part of a fungus. Like all living things mushrooms can have many different shapes and colors depending on the variety. Some mushrooms are very edible and some are poisonous or simply just don’t taste good.
So how do we use mycorrhizae where we live? The research done by Paul Stamets and others show that seeds that are sprouted in the presence of mycorrhizae grow much larger faster and end up with significantly larger root system which then produces larger plants and trees, etc. They wondered how hemlock trees growing around the base of massive old growth trees could get enough sunlight to grow. So they took some of them to a greenhouse and gave them the same amount of light and the trees died relatively quickly. Their work showed that other trees of other species outside the old growth area were sending nutrients via mycorrhizae through the soil. Fungi take apart the residue of life and create soil. Sounds sorta like neighbors helping each other doesn’t it?

Gardening: Trees—Our Life Support System

By Betty Harris

Over the holidays we were invited to celebrate with friends and thus ended up spending a few hours with some really nice people, eating too much and talking and laughing a lot. As always happens there have to be bathroom breaks and thus I found on the back of the door a long list of things to do to make one’s life better. Reading down I came to one that stuck me immediately as a truly great idea. It said, “Plant a tree on your birthday.”

A little light went on in the brain and grew into a much bigger one as I mulled that one over. For years I’ve been a supporter of the Arbor Foundation and make regular donations so they can plant trees. Recently at one of the Community Conversations events we showed a movie titled Hometown Habitat: Stories of Bringing Nature Home. Since my birthday is coming up soon a lot of little pieces of the puzzle fell into place. At the moment I’m researching to see what trees are natives to Colorado and this particular part of the state with the proviso that they not be one that must be planted by some stream to survive. And I’m not looking for an evergreen either simply because their falling needles make it the soil too acidic which means nothing much grows under them.

Understanding that Colorado is in a drought situation, although not as bad yet as California, that it is predicted to be prolonged and worsen, and understanding the importance of trees to clear air, clean water and to calming environments it seems appropriate to consider what we could do to help ourselves maintain our Life Support System – Nature. One doesn’t have to be a scientist to see the impact that trees have on humans and other living things. One doesn’t have to be an arborist to understand the importance of trees. Considering also that the ash trees we have growing around all over town may soon be endangered by the emerald ash borer, it would not seem to be the right time to plant more of those. A cursory search for native Colorado trees showed a lot of evergreens and trees I am not that familiar with which also seem to grow along streams and creeks. Not what I was thinking of so the search goes on.

Meanwhile perhaps it would be good to review just how trees benefit us, how they create a Life Support System that makes it possible for us to live in comfort while we are here. Trees provide a great deal of benefits to humans and other living creatures just in the process of living and being. A reminder from basic botany might be in order. Or just remember that trees breathe in and out as we do but without lungs. They breathe in moisture and carbon dioxide and breathe out what we need – oxygen. All the while they are taking up nutrients from the soil and from fungi and soil animals to help create leaves which shade and cool our surroundings. These same leaves then return organic matter and nutrients to the soil which feeds the same fungi and soil animals. Everything really is connected!

Trees have been used in the west as wind breaks for over 100 years, especially on the plains. This wind break reduces the drying effects of wind around a house or barn while slowing the wind and wind noise.

Trees take moisture from the soil and from the air. And when it rains and snows the tree takes moisture down into the soil where it eventually makes its way to aquifers and water tables, creeks and rivers and on to the seas.

Trees add color and texture to our surroundings, value to our property, shade to ourselves and our neighborhoods. Trees make people feel good and improves neighborhoods and the people in them.

We can help build our own Life Support System by planting trees at any time but if we could find a way to create a ritual of planting a tree on our birthday every year we could rapidly increase the benefit to ourselves and our children.

Cool Gardening Ideas: Bee Serious

By Betty Harris

Those of us who get the creeps when a bug gets on us, those of us who are allergic to wasps (which most people mistake for bees) and those who just hate bugs in general may be unintentionally causing some serious issues for bees in particular and insects in general.

How to get over our “creeps” about insects is not my main focus here. What we need to think of is how our attitudes towards insects in general can be detrimental to our own survival. For a long time I’ve been of the opinion (right or wrong) that everything connects and breaking some of these connections can be detrimental to all living things.

What we do know is that about 40% of all the food we currently eat depends on pollinators. These pollinators are various forms of flying insects. For a few years I grew Crowder Peas and am still trying to find the actual variety that my family grew one year that I truly thought was worth putting in my mouth. The variety they did grow was not my favorite and they didn’t grow the one I liked because it made a small pea and was more difficult to shell. In my opinion it was the only one worth eating and most of the rest of my life I’ve avoided those other varieties. What I learned when I grew these Crowder Peas a couple of years back was that for these to produce well they needed a pollinator…unfortunately these appeared to be wasps and yellow jackets (wasps) which didn’t bother me unless I made the mistake of picking the peas when the wasps were active. So thinking about bees I got to researching to see what foods we commonly grow need what kind of pollinators.

Some plants seem to need different kinds of pollinators, some honey bees, some bumble bees and lots of them use native bees that we don’t usually have names for and mostly don’t notice.

How does this effect us, if at all? Farming feeds the world for sure but most of us think of gardening in a different light than farming. This is probably because we think of what we do as fun food formats and not survival. Farming sounds more serious and it is serious business that grows plants for food for animals and humans as well as for fuel. It is also the attitude of agribusiness toward chemicals and insect and weed pests that fuels that 70% of pollution that poisons our water and air. But learning more about insects and food is important for human survival too.

“In their 1996 book, The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan estimated that animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops. Each of us depends on these industrious pollinators in a practical way to provide us with the wide range of foods we eat. In addition, pollinators are part of the intricate web that supports the biological diversity in natural ecosystems that helps sustain our quality of life.” Source quoted from:

It seems that stuff we plant in our gardens… squash, pumpkins, melons need honey bees for pollination. However, tomatoes and corn are wind pollinated. An aside: I don’t grow corn because I’m not particularly interested in feeding the raccoons and squirrels.

Some plants we grow do not need pollinators at all unless we decide to collect seeds… in that grouping are most all greens, kale, broccoli and cabbages, lettuces, Swiss chard, onions, carrots and radishes. So depending on what you are trying to grow for food in your back yard then honeybees might not be important to you.

So why worry about bees? If you eat animals they normally eat alfalfa which needs honeybees. If you eat fruit these need honeybees. Then there are nuts like almonds which require honeybees and other insects.. Maybe this isn’t important for us because we can’t grow them here but the honeybees that are used are hauled in by huge trucks and unloaded and left during the flowering season and then moved elsewhere. If in the environment they are affected by chemicals that interfere with their survival and masses of them die then there will not be hives to move to the almond groves in the future.

This is only a miniscule amount of info on the importance of honeybees and even native bees but we need to understand that like the chaos theory small changes in one area can have massive impacts in others.

With this in mind we can make our world beautiful by planting flowers in our yards that help feed the bees a variety of “foods” that help them survive. Doing so improves our lives and helps all kinds of bees survive. So when you are planning the landscaping of your yard, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to design, think seriously about including flowering plants that bloom at various times during the warmer months to provide food bee and insect food. Plan accordingly. Grow more perennials and fewer annuals (which have been bred for color more than anything else and may provide very little pollen or nectar for bee food).

Since I went back to gardening in 2010 I’ve learned a great deal by experimenting with various plants. For early bloom I’m crazy about grape hyacinths (even with their great tendency to spread everywhere), crocus and tulips. I grow iris for me because I’m passionate about them, regardless of insects or bees needs. But I grow masses of daisies, penstemon, salvias, coreopsis, nautica, penstemons, autumn asters, thyme, veronica, jupiter’s beard, blanket flowers, phlox, blue mist spirea and marigolds (yes, one annual flower because it seems to be the last to get frost bitten). Mostly from April to November there is something blooming for the bees. Each year I evaluate which are doing best. I also deadhead anything that I know I can get to bloom again and thus keep a steady supply of beauty for me and the neighborhood and the bees.

So bee serious about this. Understand how things in the universe connect and how they are important to life on this planet because if there is a planet B, the people with the money aren’t taking us with them.

Bee Serious in trying to save those parts of life on this planet that are responsible for our survival.

Cool Gardening Ideas – Cause and Effect

By Betty Harris

It would appear that most humans do not connect their actions or lack there of with the results of the same. Personally I believe this lack of understanding or connection has resulted in some major issues in our lives.

How does this relate to gardening? Remember that 70% of water pollution is caused by runoff and half of that is from what we do on our lawns and gardens. That alone is an example of cause and effect. Covering the earth’s surface with concrete and asphalt causes major issues with flooding as water is prevented from entering the soil. Building up to the sidewalks leaves no space for water to sink into the soil, thus adding to the issues of runoff and flooding. Removing grass, plants, and trees and spreading impervious materials on the surface of the earth contributes not only to flooding but to heating of the planet. Think overheating. Overheating contributes to further overheating as we like to live in a great deal of comfort so we air condition our homes by using fossil fuels to produce energy to run these machines to make our lives more comfortable. Cause and Effect.
Spraying chemicals on the soil to kill weeds and plants has deleterious effects on soil and plant life and on those people who spray this stuff without protective clothing or equipment. Failing to understand that the effect from this will not be fully understood for perhaps another generation causes us to not take the proper actions to prevent problems in the future. We do this without thinking. Designing plant life to patent it in order to make more profits will not feed the world, in fact all the research shows that areas of the world that ban the growing of genetically modified organisms actually have superior crop production. Designing plant life is not the same as early human’s developing plants that produce larger or better fruits or seeds by selectively choosing from among existing plants for those characteristics that are desired and help the people survive. That process itself can be attributed to cause and effect.

Designing chemicals to be used against other humans may result in the extinction of all humans. Redesigning those same chemicals to kill insects so that more profits can be made on crops shows that plants and insects can adapt faster than we can. Use of these dangerous chemicals on plants now finds some of these chemicals in our food and even in honey. Survival of the fittest has degenerated into survival of the greediest.

Refusing to accept that all actions have consequences, many of which may be detrimental for generations may doom us all.

Insisting on a lawn of blue grass causes a demand for more water than our environment may be able to accommodate going forward. Buying sod from an area where Japanese beetles thrive rather than from local sod farms because one kind of grass makes golfing more fun has brought the beetle to Colorado. Keeping green lawns, which by the way is a more recent innovation than we are aware of, uses too much water, creates too much work, too much noise, too much pollution and less time spent with the children talking and playing and teaching as well as habitats for the beetle.

Bagging leaves and organic matter and paying companies to take it to landfills where it ferments and creates methane does two things. First it adds a greenhouse gas to the atmosphere that is way more damaging than carbon dioxide. Second it trashes material that God designed to be recycled back to the plants. Cutting that recycling process reduces plants’ ability to survive and causes humans to fertilize with chemicals that are dangerous to our environment and our personal health. Digging phosphorus out of the ground to be used in other places for fertilizer causes massive pollution and creates further issues with “runoff” and disposal of the side effects of this mining creates issues where it happens. Since it is not in our own neighborhood we aren’t aware of it at all until there is some massive pollution event that somehow escapes into the corporate controlled media.

Cutting down entire forests and burning the plant residues in order to grow palm trees for oil to put in cosmetics and foods causes drought. Removing trees allows for erosion and loss of fresh water and nearly wiped out the population of New Guinea. Removing trees to be used to move huge stones to be used to show that one man is more important than another caused the loss of all trees on Easter Island.

Whatever your religious beliefs or lack there of, ignoring the natural environment or destroying it for profit will destroy life on this planet. If you believe in evolution or in a God that created everything then you must consider how all this fits together, designed or otherwise. How we deal with it, what we do with it will determine our own destiny. Whether plant life was evolved or created, the interactions between plant and animal life and between plant and plant is important to maintain. Returning dead plant matter to its source and feeding the soil life that feeds the plants and the plants that feed us is imperative. It would behoove us as the more “intelligent” species to observe and learn from what we do (the cause) and how it impacts other species and our own (the effect). We ignore this to our personal peril. We ignore this to the peril of all life forms on this small blue dot that revolves around the sun which Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, the first person to propose based on his observation of “cause and effect”.

Cool Gardening Ideas – Save the Pieces

By Betty Harris

My dad had a wicked sense of humor that intrigued us as children and when we talk about dad now we talk about the funny things he said and wish that we could remember them all now.

In our home there was always a bit of conflict over who did what jobs and once we got a TV it was harder than ever to get the dishes done. One night when it was my job to wash I couldn’t get anyone to dry and put them away. At one point I piled them too high and a metal pan fell off on the floor making a horrid racket and dad’s response was, “Save the pieces.” It got a good laugh but he had to threaten punishment to get the others to come dry dishes. Being a fast learner, in the future, when I couldn’t get anyone to dry them I would purposely drop a nonbreakable pan which made a lot of noise. I never had to say anything again.

I think about dad (because he was a farmer gathering a living from the earth) when I think about the earth because I see it as made up of so many pieces rather than just dirt, water, wind and weather with a bit of sunlight thrown in for good measure. As I’ve retired and gone back to my roots, growing flowers and food I’m thinking about it more, especially in our Colorado soils. There is so much to learn about how life fits together and works together and it more entertaining and interesting than TV which we stopped watching in 1998.

Personally I’ve always considered wild life as part of the earth the way Native Americans believe that we belong to the earth rather than the other way around. Later in life I spent a month with my elderly widowed mother and she saw something on TV (yes, she was still watching) about saving the wolves and her response was, “what are they good for? Since she was deaf and in depth conversation were complicated I didn’t try to go into it as much as I should have.

I think of this response a lot when there is news of one species or another going extinct or being threatened because of loss of habitat. I have to admit to myself that I don’t feel the same concern for rats or Japanese Beetles or mosquitoes and have a really creepy feeling about snakes. But mainly, now that I have more time I study and think about all the masses of critters that live in the soil and thus give plants and us life. And it worries me no end when the tendency of profit as the only goal asks the question “what’s it good for?” as if each piece must fit in a slot that ultimately leads the way to more money for some.

I was just reading about an IRS loop hole that allows farmers to write off the water they use as a tax incentive…which lowers their taxes (always desirable) but encourages more use. Studies show that were incentives are placed there is more growth or use. It applies to oil and gas, water, renewable energies, etc. Based on the result from these incentives we’ve run out of the easy to get at fossil fuels.
Based on agribusiness practices of using commercial fertilizers made from oil or gas and mining phosphorus from the earth decreases these natural resources (as in taken from nature) and pushes the price up.

What are the consequences of human actions? That goes back to understanding cause and effect which most humans seem not to have a great grasp on. So if we use the fossil fuels for energy only what happens when it runs out. If we use oil for making plastics then what do we make plastic out of in the future? If, or when, we mine all the phosphorus from the earth where do we get more? What will its impact be on farming and food? What if we kill off all the predators that keep at bay the insects and animals that end up consuming our food? What happens when pests are moved inadvertently to other parts of the earth such as Japanese Beetles which have predators in Japan but not here? Should we worry about saving the beetles or saving our plants?

What are bees good for? Ask farmers that need them for pollination – we’ve seen statistics that say about 30-40% of what we eat needs to be pollinated. So if we manage to kill off a massive number of bees what impact will that food for us? If we are afraid of bees or allergic to them then we might just decide that they are not worth protecting. If we produce poisons that kill many kinds of insects how does that impact the rest of life on earth, not just us? What are bees and other insects good for? Are these pieces we should try to save and what are the consequences if we do not?

We think that grapevines are more important than Japanese Beetles and we could be right but what else is effected if we do or don’t kill the beetles? I think we need to look at all life and consider how to save the pieces that matter. Those pieces must all fit together to make up our plant home and make it work for all life on it. Shouldn’t we actually start thinking about saving the pieces even if we don’t know how they all fit? If we toss some into the dumpster what impact will this have on the rest of life?

Next edition let’s talk about fungi as one of those vital pieces we should keep.