Oranges and apples? Osage trees=good wood, hedge apples/Osage oranges= worthless?

 

Osage wood

The far border of the small pasture next to the house and barn on our farm in Illinois was marked by a hedge fence.  The hedge trees were growing (did someone plant them that way?) close enough together that even small calves could not push through the gaps between the trees.  Occasionally I was required to trim out branches that were hanging too far down.  Cutting the branches with a bow saw was hard work. Especially for someone in their early teens.  The wood was very hard.  Later I found out that it is the densest wood of any tree in the United States. Hedge trees have thorns making trimming them more challenging.  This was my first exposure to Osage orange. The Osage orange tree is native to the southern plains area of parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana and adjacent states.  I did a bit of research and found that Lewis and Clark brought the tree east.  Maybe the western Virginia osage trees came via Lewis and Clark.

I wanted locust boards for raised beds in my Virginia garden. My supplier didn’t have enough eight inch or wider locust boards.  But, he said, he had half a dozen hedge boards.  However, the price was nearly twice that of the locust.  I was about to leave when he said he had the hedge boards a long time and was unable to sell them.  But, I could have them at the same price as the locust.  I remarked how unusual it was to find ten-inch hedge boards, ten feet or more long.  The tree was standing in the middle of a field, he told me.  It was not in a fence row as had been most of the hedge trees I had seen previously.

When I told a former Kansas resident about the find, he said he had helped pull out fence posts that had been in the ground fifty years. The underground section of the post was nearly the same diameter as the above ground part.  Rot had little effect on the hedge wood.  In Virginia a friend had a line of osage trees.  Son Nathan and his wife, Karen thought a good use of the fruit would be to roll them down the steep, two block-hill in front of our house to see if they could hit the baseball field fence at the bottom.  After one or two rolls, they realized that, even though the streets were then empty hitting anything that might come along would be serious.  Maybe the oranges were worthless.

The osage fruit

 

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Not long after that, a visitor from Ohio said that they were selling hedge balls at their Mennonite Relief Sale (held to raise money for disaster and famine relief) as an insect repellent.  You can

Google the results of experiments attempting to validate this.  Even so, I found an ad on the Internet for hedge balls for $3 each as spider repellents!  So, I collected a box of oranges to take to our Virginia sale the first weekend in October.  I do not remember how many we sold at ten cents apiece.  The next fall I saw a vase ad in a furniture store flyer with three Osage oranges.  The vase was listed at $120!  We raised the price of our oranges.

Several years later the popularity of the hedge balls increased as people wanted them for fall arrangements.  The price went up to twenty-five cents each.  So, whether apples or oranges, the osage tree fruit clearly have value.

 

Pictures from

1 http://chattafabulous.blogspot.com/2013/11/low-cost-and-easy-thanksgiving-table.html

2 http://www.blimpygirl.com/personal-what-not/the-osage-orange-fall-centerpiece-done

 

 

 

The Great Peppermint Patch Disaster

Developing trust, hope and new skills

Our mint grew along the property line between us and a lot recently purchased by the college.  The peppermint and spearmint patch furnished us fresh leaves for cool drinks in the summer and dried leaves for hot tea in winter. The gas line had been dug on the other side of the line.  Then, the backhoe filling the trench, scraped across my mint bed, apparently destroying it.  I wanted to complain about the destruction.  But the property owner happened to also be my employer.

The Great Peppermint Patch Disaster came a year or two after I experienced a major hearing loss.  The Meniere’s disease brought me recurring dizziness, nausea, ringing in my ears and then hearing loss.  The hearing loss left me nearly deaf.  Hearing was essential to my work as reference librarian. Losing my hearing was threatening, both to my work and to my faith.

I was transferred out of the position of reference librarian that I had enjoyed for ten years.  What a disaster!  Especially I felt frustrated with this change because I had just completed a post-master’s specialist degree.  I was looking forward to applying the ideas learned during that study.

Struggling to understand God’s working, I complained to God about this loss.  I questioned how and why my hearing loss could happen, given the loving God I believed in.    How do I deal with the possibility of renewed attacks that could take the rest of my hearing?  Did God bring the illness and hearing loss to me because that was the only way I could learn something about myself or about God?  Was God “chastening” or disciplining me?  I was angry with God for bringing or allowing my hearing loss and not allowing me to see how things would work out.  Not only was this a disaster.  Not being able to understand why this was happening or how it would work out seemed more than I could bear.

I was also angry about the loss of my peppermint patch and ready to take my complaints about the destruction to my employers.  All winter the ugly scar reminded me of the disaster.  The next summer a brought a different view.  I thought the backhoe had destroyed my mint bed.  But actually, it had scattered mint roots the all along the trench-line next to the garden.  By the second summer after the “disaster”, the mint’s rapid spread required pulling out the excess.  The first winter’s perspective showed disaster; the following summer presented different picture.

My new work assignment included periodicals and special collections, which included the videotape and computer software collections.  The latter proved the most important part of the “special collections;” and it grew rapidly.  Especially challenging was the development of a networked Macintosh computer lab in the library.  The Macintosh personal computer had just been introduced and I enjoyed the challenge of working in a frontier area.  Providing instruction in the use of word processing and other software, gave me an opportunity to return to the work of helping people again.  I had an opportunity to develop skills in organization, in supervision of student workers, and in software use.  With better hearing aids and improved speech reading (lip-reading) skills, I could understand normal conversation at least with limited background noise.

During the first stages of my hearing loss, I wondered where was the God who promised that “in all things he works for the good.”  (Mt 6:33) Nearly ten years after my initial hearing loss, I accepted a job at another institution that I had wanted for some time.  The computer proficiencies and other skills I had developed in doing the unwanted job helped me get the new job.  I began to see that I made my complaints about my hearing loss during the first winter of God’s time.  Still in difficult times I am inclined to see the first winter’s bare, brown scar.  The Spirit nudges me to see the ribbon of lush, green, mint spreading the length of the garden.

Rev.  November 15, 1998

 

Postscript October 2017:  It is now nearly thirty-five years since the “disaster”. Thinking about the “good side/bad side” of the “disaster”, I remember that there were weeds to be pulled out of the mint scattered along the utility ditch scar.  It was a problem to mow around/along the mint strip. I was continued to experiencing hearing loss until I was deaf. I received a cochlear implant in 2008.   But, I had developed new computer skills, periodicals management skills, and gained confidence in my ability to adjust to new situations.  The computer skills are finding new uses.  See the earlier blog “Saving books”.  God has provided in many ways.

 

 

Loaves & fishes in the garden, part 2

Shiso, forget-me-nots and purple sweet potatoes

Annual forget-me-nots ( Myosotis) annual forget-me-notare a bit like rhubarb. They stand out as the first of their kind, overshadowed by later beauties or in the case of rhubarb,  delicacies. Although sporting bright little blue flowers, they were weeds in my hoop house (greenhouse). Then a chance conversation I overheard alerted me to some people’s love for the little blue flower. So, rather than toss the weeds on the compost pile, I potted them. Since weeds come up early in the hoop house so my “flowers” were available before they started blooming elsewhere. We sold 4” to 8” pots filled with annual forget-me-nots for $0.75 to $2. at the local gift & thrift store. ( Gift & Thrift )

Perennial forget-me-nots (Brunnera) have several leaf types and much more vivid flowers than the annual. About 10 years ago I saw a 3-gallon pot at a garden store at a price I thought would shock my gardening partner. Soon after Julia was touring neighborhood yard sales with my sister, Lois. One of the yard sellers had Brunnera and Julia commented on them. The neighbor said “Help yourself, they are spreading too far”. We dug out several and planted them. Since then our original site has increased from probably 3 plants to plants scattered over 2’x8’. But from that area we have transferred some to another spot where there now plants spread across a 12′ area. In addition for the last 5 or 6 years to have given away or contributed to fund raisers up to a dozen potted plants a year. That neighborly gift was multiplied greatly.

shiso with beets

Purple weeds stand out. Bringing other people’s leaves, grass and other yard wastes for my composting passion brought in weeds. A thorny version of pigweed/amaranth is one example from the last five years. One visitor that proved positive was shiso. At first we thought it was a coleus. But this plant (before “sun-loving” coleus) loved the sun. Eventually we identified the plant as the red version of shiso or Perilla. A bit of research revealed that it was a culinary herb. None of my gardening acquaintances had heard of shiso. My gardening partner insisted it was a weed. But each year a dozen or more shiso plants offered for sale at Gift & Thrift have sold quickly.

Rod called about 15 years ago and said he had a clump of ornamental grass he wanted to reduce in size. I had wanted a tall ornamental grass, so I went to help. I identified this grass as miscanthus—probably the most common type of miscanthus. Digging out the grass was a challenge. Cutting the clump of grass required jumping on the spade. First, I planted two dinner plate sized clumps in my yard.  Then I used a hacksaw to cut up the rest of the clump into small enough pieces to put into pots. The potted clumps grew nicely. Several months later the church youth fundraiser quickly sold 11 pots of the grass. Five or so years later Wayne told me he had a clump of grass he had dug out—did I want it? The clump was large enough that he had used his tractor scoop to dig it. He dumped it on my pickup. The source of his grass? The youth fund-raiser! It took an ax and the hacksaw again to reduce the clump to pot size.

img_2703.jpgThe bright yellow of daffodils have been a favorite part of my favorite season, spring.  Friends asked if we would like to renovate their daffodil bed for a share of the bulbs.  Some of the bulbs would be for us, some to be put back into the bed and some to be given to Gift and Thrift for sale.  We agreed to the project.  In doing so, we made 2 initial mistakes.  We didn’t ask how long the daffodil bed was (70 feet).  And, second, we waited until October to start digging the bulbs.  Unfortunately the bulbs had started to grow and they were not saleable.  We spent a day and a half digging and replanting bulbs.  When we were finished, the bed was twice the width it had been before.  Then!! we had eight — five gallon buckets full of bulbs left over!  More than enough to spread around our yard and we gave many away.  Some covered a bank (above), more were planted in our back yard.

Sweet potatoes, estimated by some to be among the tops in nutrition per square feet among garden fruits and vegetables, are not among my favorite vegetables.  But I persuaded  myself to start growing them when we were offered some starts by Esther Shank (compiler of Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Country Secrets) who worked with Julia at Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg.  Esther had enough starts from the “mother” sweet potato, so was giving “her” to me rather than “terminating her”.  (See my earlier blog on “Terminating mother”.)  This sweet potato was a split-leaf type (not heart-leaf) with pink skin and pinkish/orange flesh, not real big with moderate long vines.  Maturity was medium length, probably around 95-105 days.  Esther did not know the heirlooms origin, simply that she had gotten it from an Old Order Mennonite some years earlier (1950-1970).

Being inquisitive, I wanted to know the name of the variety.  I found that Mahon was a well-known split-leaf variety in this area.  Then I learned of Sand Hill Preservation Center.  They list many split or cut leaf varieties.  Those with similar vining, skin, flesh and maturity date characteristics numbered around 6.  So, I am still not sure what variety I have.

I gave the mother the first year I had starts to Brian across the street.  He started keeping a root for a starter.  One year my starter/mother didn’t produce good shoots and I was without sweet potato slips.  But, Brian to

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The gardener with purple and Shank sweet potatoes

the rescue.  He had plenty to share with me.  Later I had plenty of slips and Brian ask me if I had to share.  He told me that the garden at Eastern Mennonite University wanted sweet potato starts.   I passed on the “mother” and some starts I had potted.  Esther Shank’s heirloom had blessed another generation.

Four years ago Roger handed me two purple sweet potatoes.  Eat one, he said, and then if you like it, start some next spring with the other one.  He had purchased the sweet potatoes while on a trip to  South Carolina.  The purple sweet (I wasn’t given a name) had dry flesh, but the bright purple made it desirable on the table.  But it came with a surprise.  When Julia made muffins with it the first time, they came out a pleasant lavender color.  But she tried another recipe and the muffins turned GREEN.  As treats at Gift & Thrift they were less appealing, especially when one of the workers said “They look moldy”.  A chemist friend explained that baking soda in the second recipe resulted in the green muffins.  (Google “using baking soda to keep vegetables green’.)  As you see in the picture above, the purple sweet gets large.  The vines are very vigorous and overrun the other sweets.  So, the purple is a mixed blessing.  But Julia’s purple sweet potato pie was a delicious and colorful surprise!

A number of years ago a friend said he had some grass he wanted to reduce in size.  I had wanted a tall ornamental grass, so I went to help.  I identified this grass as miscanthus—probably the most common type of miscanthus.  Digging out the grass was a challenge. We jumped on the spade to cut a section of grass for me.  How do you cut miscanthus planted two dinner plate sized clumps which required a hacksaw to cut up the rest of the gift clump to pot.  The potted clumps started growing.  Several months later the church youth had a fundraiser to which I contributed 11 pots which sold quickly.  Five or so years later someone told me he had a clump of grass he had dug out—did I want it?  The clump was large enough that he had used his tractor scoop to dig it.  He dumped it on my pickup.  The source of his grass?  The youth fund raiser!  It took an ax and the hacksaw again to reduce the clump to pot size.

miscanthus '17 at fence

Forsythia, nandina, Oregon grape holly, kerria japonica, Lenten rose, and lilac are other plants that have multiplied for sharing with others.

“Bread of Life?” Too many carbs!

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How do carb hating Americans begin to understand Jesus’ words on “bread of life”? My mother baked bread. She encouraged Julia to bake bread and Julia has baked bread at nearly every other week for the nearly 50 years of our marriage. I really enjoy her bread. During tomato season a BLT, usually without the B, is a frequent feature of my lunch. Colder weather brings out my carefully seasoned cast-iron skillet for grilled cheese with the addition of mustard, then meatloaf or sprouts or Lebanon bologna or whatever compliment is available.

Until my Meniere’s was brought under control bread toasted was a first food welcomed after a bout of nausea. (That and Cheerios which I still associate the Biblical character Legion. After recovery from nausea, getting dressed and eating food again—Cheerios usually—I felt I, like Legion, was “clothed and in my right mind.”)

But bread “of life”? For the first century citizen, according to a bit of research I did, bread made up a third to a half of the diet by volume. On this year’s Thanksgiving Feast table, I am not sure I saw any bread—there was some in the stuffing/filling/dressing. Probably the five loaves and two fishes the boy carried in his bag would give us a volume of ten to one or so. He probably ate the dates his mother packed.

In an era when Wonder Bread was first introduced, Consumer Reports experiments determined that rats could not be kept alive with the bread. How can we gain any sense of Jesus’ “bread of life” saying? Even with the vitaminized version of bread today “in a healthy diet” as the bread loaf label says, do Jesus’ words have any clarity? Has this rumination brought me any closer to a first hearer’s understanding of Jesus’ words? Can the tools of historians and cultural anthropologists cut through the veil of 21 centuries to open up the truth of what Jesus was teaching? Will eating a Biblical diet bring me closer to Jesus?

 

 

Grace for the journey

Do “Marvelous grace” or “Wonderful grace of Jesus” aid us in living as Christians?

Much-loved songs like the ones mentioned above celebrate one kind of grace. Being ‘saved by grace’ is often thought of as referring to a past, usually datable event (at least in my upbringing). “Marvelous grace of Jesus” jumps from the initial experience of grace to the final grace of God’s presence. As joyful as it is to sing, “Wonderful grace of Jesus” wouldn’t it be good if it had a verse celebrating grace for dealing with the issues of life? Due to the familiarity of Eph. 2:8 “By grace are you saved through faith…” grace is most associated with the initial saving event in our lives. Perhaps the importance of grace to that event cannot be overemphasized. But does grace stop there? In the songs referred to above there is a jump from that initial event to heaven. This is the common pattern in many songs and hymns. * A notable exception is the verse from “Amazing Grace” that concludes “’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” “Open the wells of grace and salvation” comes close. Without mentioning grace other gospel songs reflect the spiritual pilgrimage. But what pattern do we find in the use of grace in the Bible?

Definitions

The word ‘grace’ (NIV) occurs 116 times. Some of them refer in general terms to the goodness of God or signs of the goodness of God, such as in Luke’s account of Jesus: (“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”; or the description of Stephen in Acts 6:8.) “Grace” and “saved” or “salvation” occur together frequently and are synonymous at places. Salvation, too, has a continuing aspect. While we were saved (past), we are being saved (present), and we will be saved (future). The middle tense of saved is ‘grace connection’ for this essay.

Grace for weakness

Paul in a very familiar passage connects this aspect of God’s goodness to a weakness in his life when he reports that God has told him:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Would it be appropriate to conclude that whenever we become aware of a weakness in our lives, God’s grace is already available to deal with that weakness?

Grace for growing

Beyond using our gifts, especially in giving, God’s grace is available to us for growing as Jesus’ disciples:

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

An important part of that growth is seeing the pattern of attitude and behavior of those around us who are not followers of Jesus and determining to live as God created us to live.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (Titus 2:11, 12)

Avoiding error by learning more about Jesus will keep us growing.

Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18)

Grace and generosity

Paul seems to see a special kind of grace that leads to generosity with gifts of money.

But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us —see that you also excel in this grace of giving. (2 Cor. 8:7)

Grace gifts

Another part of ‘grace for living’ is “grace gifts”. (The word in Greek for grace is charis, and charismata for grace gifts.) Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:1-14 give us lists of ‘grace gifts’ that all Jesus’ followers have.

In Hebrews also we are encouraged to use these gifts of grace.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (Heb. 13:10

How is God’s grace working for growth in your life? What songs and hymns have been of help to you?

 

*I would be glad if anyone would bring to my attention songs that include something about ‘grace for living’.

Saving more books

New treasures at Booksavers of Virginia

“It was a dark and stormy night . . . “ lines often parodied which began Edward Bulwer-Lytton (English novelist) 1830 novel Paul Clifford.

Last week I researched a book with these lines:

“Who could think of love within the haunt of the temple of  ‘That Nympholepsy of some fond despair’ and not feel that love enhanced, deepened, modulated into at once a deepened desire.” (Godolphin, p. 183, 1833 published by Carey)

These stirring lines were from the first edition of the novel. This edition was published just after the English Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. This bill reduced the power of the noblility by extending the voting franchise. Lytton’s satire was highly critical of the actions and views of bill’s opponents. He later revised the novel (1840) to soften the portrayal of the nobility. It took me some searching to determine that the Carey edition was different than the later ones for which there are many publishers. No other vendors offered a copy for sale. I had to guess on a price for the quarter leather bound volume with marbled covers and darkened pages. Value? Somewhere between $50 and $300. (I put a conservative $69.)

A. J. Trask   Music [Selections of piano sheet music from 1840-1860]

When I saw the large, worn leather bound volume, I knew it would be a problem. The title, stamped on the front, was a name: A. J. Trask. This was a collection of piano music. Several pages were sticking out beyond the others and page edge trimming was irregular. On opening the volume, I found no contents page. Paging through the book, I found many tears from probably resulting from the quick turning of pages as the pianist played—they were about 1/3rd of the way up the page.

But then I recognized some of the titles, especially those by Stephen Foster. The volume contains around 40 pieces of sheet music including:  “Song of the robin” and “Romance”, George William Warren;  “The last rose of summer : with an intro./ brilliant variations for the piano forte”, Firth, 1856?;  “The last waltz of a lunatic”,  Beyer, Ferdinand,  New York : Firth, 1850s; “The rainbow schottisch”, H Kleber;  “George W Quidor”, Firth 1854; “Gentle Annie  ballad”, Stephen Collins Foster, 1856 [1st ed.]; also, “Camptown Races”; “Ethiopian Melody. As Sung by Christy Minstrels”, “Nelly was a lady”.  Firth, 1849(?); “He doeth all things well, or, My sister : a ballad”, I B Woodbury.

I had trouble putting a price on this. I knew it could be worth more than the $25 I put on it.

—I posted it to Amazon and found out that it sold the next day. Did I put too low a price on it?

 

 

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The Methodist Episcopal Hymnal (1852) has solid leather covers with some wear and cracks at hinges.  Gilt lettering and design on spine is easily readable.  On front are the words  “Cool Spring M. E. Church FROM Mamie Dashiell”.

On the fly in pencil (faintly):  “This book belongs to Thomas R. Gentry  I bought it of a lady at Lincoln Station and give $5.00 dollars in Confedret (sic) money” [according too?] Phebe A Gentry This book was bought November 28, 1862.  Thomas Gentry died in 1881 at age of 43 according to a slip of paper inserted in the hymnal.

(Methodist Episcopal Hymnals for this period are not expensive ($15-$25). How much does the note on the fly add to the value?  I was unable to locate a “Cool Spring M. E. Church” with a limited search.)

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Adam’s tiller vs the microherd Or building soil God’s way

 

Soil building activists tend to be divided into two camps: some want to move stuff down and others want to build it up, although I suppose some of us have a dirty shoe in both garden beds. Here is how I explain to myself, and anyone who will listen, my approach.

Penn State helps promote an “Ag Progress Days” near Tyrone, Pa each August. One of the times (more than thirty years ago) I attended with Julia’s farmer father I went to a session on something new: no-till planting into a green manure crop. (Not sure what they called it.) The expert there stressed the importance of chemicalizing the green manure crop that was in place before proceeding with the planting. This was important to avoid depriving the new plants of nitrogen (and other nutrients) while the green manure crop was decaying/decomposing.

I wondered how that would work out in my more or less organic garden. I used a weed chopper and mower to cut down the rye I had planted. Then I spaded a shovel wide furrow into which I planted corn. Between the corn rows I dumped enough leaves to suppress any regrowth of the rye. As soon as the corn was six to eight inches, I pushed the leaves closer to the corn to suppress any weeds that might challenge the corn. I didn’t see any sign yellowing of leaves or stunting of stalks or any other signs of nutrient deficiency in the corn. The crop of sweet corn was normal. Didn’t plant a control plot since I was planting like I had in other years.

I had faith in the microherd (although I did learn that term until some years later). With the help of maintenance personnel of the local educational institution, I had been dumping a lot of partially shredded leaves on the garden for several years. I planted the rye because I thought the corn might need extra nitrogen! But with the leaves cover was heavy enough to keep the ground from freezing in the Michigan winters.  A healthy microherd had developed that was able to quickly go to work on the rye without taking nitrogen the corn might need. That’s my assumption. I do not have the biological knowledge to explain what has happened.

Tilling Adam’s way

What does this have to do with Adam’s tiller? My earlier thinking about the command to Adam to “till the soil” led to a vision. Due to my lusting after a mechanical device to ease my garden labors, I imagined a naked Adam violating virgin Eden with a mammoth, red TROYBUILT ROTOTILLER tearing that resistant sod into soft plantable soil. Rereading the Genesis passage reminded me that the couple had already been outside the garden at the time of the “till the soil” command. (Then was Adam’s possession of a tiller due to sin?) But, as explained to me recently, the word “till”, means, “care for”. When God is said to care for humans and this same word is used. (Off stage sounds of big red tiller fading.)

About this time in my life I was learning the Joy of Composting. Shifting compost was great exercise.   Bin composting was satisfying and somewhat useful. (See earlier blogs on “Composting and Grace” and “Three bags of leaves, two of grass”. I began to understand what I labeled “Ultimate Composting” (I was fascinated by all things Frisbee at the time) an imposing term for what others called “permanent mulch” or “lasagna gardening” or other terms. This is how I applied that understanding.

My current garden

Seventeen years ago we moved to a Shenandoah Valley ridge at 1300 feet with a southeastern orientation. Most topsoil had been liberated from the ridge before the slaves had been liberated from the area. The previous owner liked grass. We quickly smothered the grass with wet newspaper, leaves and some of the 15-30 gallons of coffee grounds per week I picked up from local convenience stores and a nearby college. A friend moved to a farm with an old barn with hay more than five years old. He would drive my pickup home and bring back a load of old hay. Julia said at one point that we had lots of hay in the back yard and only needed a cow.

We started spreading out these ingredients and had a good garden the second year. The third I began setting up raised beds with board sides. The steep hillside required some protection for the beds. Even with heavy mulch rain would shift everything down hill. Every year we have dumped leaves, some grass clippings (when we can find un sprayed yards) and coffee grounds on the beds in addition to much of the garden’s plant wastes. I am continually amazed at how much organic matter disappears into the beds. When you build up a microherd population, they work hard. The micro herd feeds the soil which the feeds the plants.

Building soil up

Finally we come to the wild claim that I know the way God does soil building.  This did not come by divine revelation.   I did not discovered on my own.   Many have contributed to what I have learned over the past thirty or more years of “organic” gardening. As a church-goer and follower of Jesus I cringe at all the things for which people claim God’s authority or attribute to God’s preferences. I do work at not demonizing those viewing soil building differently than I do. Double diggers puzzle me.  I remember creating straight lines of lovely black sod bottoms with the moldboard plow as a teenager less fondly now than I did when I mastered the skill.  My anxiety intensifies when I hear the sound of the ferocious mechanical devices churning through the soil cutting up the bodies and homes of the worms and the micro herd.

How has God been making new soil? In the prairies, grasses grow, die, decay and eventually become new soil. In the forest leaves fall, decay and become new soil. Trees die and turn to new soil. (Not sure what the natural rate of temperate zone soil development is.) God builds the soil up. Now, God is a bit slow. But, then, God has a lot more time to work. We don’t. That’s why we do in-the-garden composting, find combinations of ingredients to speed decomposition, do lasagna gardening or permanent mulching. Composting in bins permits faster building of new dirt to be added to a garden. Much of these “new” techniques imitate the “natural” process of soil building. (Machine aeration and mechanical turning of piles may represent a major extension of the natural processes.) Many of us see building the soil up and relying on worms and the microherd as man’s effort to imitate God’s way of building soil.