In Defense of the Renaissance Being

Recently I watched a TED talk by a brilliant thinking woman named Emilie Wapnick. (see link to TED Talk below) In this talk she spoke of why some of us don’t have one true calling (the name of her talk by the way). It really got me thinking because so much of what she said rang true to me.

She named what had been in my mind a lifelong protest of having to find what I would be when I grew up. Limited to one thing. Luckily I have been interested in myriad things in my life and finally many of them came together in the design science of environment called Permaculture. But not limited to that because I continue to expand, learn, research and try new things. The latest is mycology (study of fungi and mushrooms) among others.

But it has been a life long struggle to come up with what I wanted to “do” with my life, more than what I wanted to “be”. I couldn’t imagine being stuck doing one thing an entire lifetime. I felt this since I was a little kid. It left me feeling in mystery about what that thing should be and I never really found ‘it’ because the real answer was ‘all of the above’. ‘One thing’ was the big lie. For me it didn’t exist, so the question was the wrong one – “What do I want to be when I grow up?”. The question should have been ‘What are all the things you would like to do and be as you grow up’. It isn’t a list with one answer, it’s a journey.

At heart we are all one thing and one thing only – ourselves! No two of us are so alike we could live in each other’s skins and have no dissention. That is the glory of being alive and living with others – our un-alikeness, our uniqueness. There is magnificence in the differences, talents, abilities, skills, outlooks and viewpoints, intentions and agendas we have within ourselves.

I keep hearing people say about themselves and others that they are ADHD or some other psych influenced word to describe that they are particular, that they pay attention to detail, that they are driven to do certain things and do them well. Included in this are every normal trait of a Renaissance person. And I object!

Let’s not allow those who wish to make victims of us all or to sell us drugs or control our thinking to define our breadth and depth of life experience or our purposes or what drives us. It isn’t a disease, it’s the human condition. And we are lucky to be so versatile, so nimble, so creative that we can move around in our creations and interests, be exacting of ourselves, set high standards, and to find genius in our lives.

Miss Emilie calls us “Multi Potentialites” who are not cogs in some wheel invented during the Industrial Revolution to turn all of us into pieces of equipment for those who would profit from machines and people made into machines. Emilie talks about the question we all get when we are children “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.

If we grow up and haven’t found the ‘one thing’, somehow society looks at people as if they are lost or something is wrong with them. And then we start to think of ourselves that way, and invalidate who we really are. That gives about half the population a good feeling and the other half or so the feeling that somehow we have missed the boat or are built wrong spiritually or mentally. This is a big lie and we can drop that one right now.

It begs the question, how did we let this kind of limiting mind set into our lives. Why haven’t we been questioning this mindset before? Thank you Emilie! We have gotten led to it by the paycheck, by the carrot of the easy life, the middle class “go to work, do the one thing, go home to the dream of ideal family life, get that vacation once a year, send the kids to college” that seems to be acceptable and respectable. We haven’t wanted to buck the system which appears to give us the good life. It works for some. It never worked for me. That doesn’t mean we can’t have all the good things by being nimble, it just means we don’t get there by the same road.

She expresses the idea that some people are driven to be one thing, or are so focused on that one thing that they can spend an entire lifetime doing that. We need people that are ‘wired’ like that. They give stability and a host of other beneficial attributes to society. But she gets bored once she accomplishes a sufficient competence and moves on. That gives her multiple disciplines to draw from in her next interest and journey to competence in that. It’s a growing lexicon of knowledges and skills from such a life. I enjoy that and most of my friends are of like mind in that we are rich with imagination, curiosity, and the ability to absorb and apply information at a high rate, not scared of starting fresh in a new subject or pursuit.

Another friend pointed out that specialization came in with the Industrial Revolution and I started to realize how much of a paradigm that has instilled into our current civilization. If someone wanted to benefit from your energies to accomplish their agenda, keeping you focused on something they could benefit from would be of prime concern.

The control factor to keep you thus focused would be necessary to keep a work force thus occupied. Standing at a work station in a factory punching out a part or assembling some contraption may bring in a pay check every week or two, but it is mind numbing. For the renaissance mind, having some cubicle in a corporate office, or being stuck doing the same thing an entire lifetime is likewise numbing and stultifying.

If from the first day at school we are herded into finding our ‘level’ for this kind of slavery, which actually is the basis for “Outcome” education, people don’t think that they have a choice to explore their potential. The world is a lesser place for this kind of thinking. Where would the inventors, the innovators, the ‘think outside the box’ people be if they are shoved into that box and the key thrown away mentally by the education they get from an early age.

That’s one of the things I am so happy about in our current society – home schooling, and other non-traditional educational modes. It gives the multi-potentialite an out.

In an era and in a culture where people need to survive, as things go through drastic changes, which describes things as they are now, one must be versatile, nimble, smart and able to turn on a dime without the world coming down around their ears.

People who are one trick ponies get lost in the dust. Look what happened to the middle level execs in Detroit when the auto industry crumbled, just to name one example. People limited to the ‘one thing’ get lost in the shuffle when technology shifts or when their skills become obsolete.

So, a certain amount of suppression can occur of the nimble, the thinkers outside the box, occurs because the “one thing” society can feel threatened. It’s a clash of temperaments and a paradigm which has been successful for about a hundred years coming to terms with a changing world. It can come from above where those who have held control by keeping things orderly in this way are faced with changing conditions they can’t control.

But that is an unnecessary worry. The focused and the nimble have always found each other helpful. Working together as a team provides necessary components to success. We have resources and those resources in terms of motivation are both precious and when explored so much more can be accomplished.

In terms of emerging non-traditional societies such is found in Permaculture villages, and new ways of organizing peoples, having multiple skills and abilities is a huge bonus. When someone can blacksmith a tool, play a musical instrument, make a medicinal herbal concoction, program a computer, and write a technical manual, that person is an asset not only to himself for varied interests, but to the harmony and overall survival of the company he keeps.

It isn’t mental illness to whole heartedly jump into a new pursuit, learning at a high rate, produce all kinds of new things, get to a point where it’s ‘old stuff’, and start looking around for the next great passion. It makes for a very happy life.

If we looked at this from another perspective, one of environmental components, we could say that instead of being multi-potential, we could say ‘bio diverse’. In an environment that is changing, having bio-diversity is a key component because it means that when one solution no longer works, there’s another one waiting in the wings – a plant that handles colder or hotter weather, more moisture or less, the trampling of animals or the lack of bees. With people, we need bio-diverse kinds of people. In agriculture the lack of bio-diversity is called ‘mono-cropping’ meaning thousands of acres of one crop only. If we have a planet with only the focused, only the conformers, only the followers, that is a kind of mono-cropping and in the long term it is disastrous.

And if people who do make progress leave a trail of written knowledge which someone else coming down that path can benefit from, then we grow as a culture.

Maybe we Multi-potentialites are hard to control, don’t fit into other people’s boxes, and maybe pose a threat for our innovations and new thinking, but that is what human kind has been doing for a long time. We all have benefited from the renaissance people throughout history. We wouldn’t have good plumbing, refrigeration, the internet, swift transportation, fast communication across the globe, full stomachs, or abundance without them.

Looking back a couple of hundred years, being a 1700’s re-enactor and history buff, life was much more precarious. To thrive in that world a single person survived to the degree that every need could be met by his/her own skills and understandings.

We had to be able to make shelters, find and transport water, grow or find food and cook it, have fire and a source of light and energy, arrange transportation, create shoes and clothing, and the fabric or the material to make them, be able to recognize threats in the environment and protect ourselves against them, heal ourselves of wounds and injuries, illnesses and disease, care for children and the older among us, bear those children and provide for them, be in control of our food supply not only in cultivating the soil but preserving it and having seeds for the next season or hunting.

We had to be able to handle weapons, protect ourselves from dangerous animals and humans, defend our holdings, and compose towns and the societies around us. No ‘one trick pony’ type of person survived well in the wilderness. Perhaps they did well in the cities where people specialized more, but not as pioneers.

The accumulation of the products and knowledge from the innovators have brought us up from that precarious state. It has taken the combined strengths of both the focused and the multi-potentialites.

We make a mistake if we think that there is no more to right, that there will never be another precarious condition because we are at a cross roads right now with food safety and security, water scarcity, Fukushima born radiation, population concerns, and a cascade of other planetary problems which loom on the horizon or already impact us daily. So, even more, we need the problem solvers, the new thinkers, the ones who can step back out of the ordinary viewpoints and come up with a better way.

We are always blazing new trails in this world, cities and the modern technological society we live in notwithstanding. First our society lives in how we think about proceeding. It starts out as concepts. If we control our own concepts of things and are free to build upon those which benefit the greatest number and for the greatest good, we can have a future worth building.

Left up to those only in the boxes or those who control the boxes, keeping things under control and not allowing the little guy with the big idea to proceed, we all loose. The balance between the focused and the broader thinking people is what needs to be achieved for then the power of both kinds of people go towards that greater good.

It isn’t a battle between the multi-potentialite and the focused. It’s a meshing of the resources and skills, powers and knowledges, and their free expression as well as the right to move from one skill to the next and use them as we see fit, that brings about the balance. Cooperation and harmony as well as the right to go off on one’s own and pursue one’s passions without needing the approval of anyone has to be part of this process.

Never in the history of mankind has this cooperation and harmony been more needed. If we continue with the path we are on, we will see famine, radiation problems, civil unrest, suffering and unimaginable chaos. But if we get busy and start using the new ideas, apply new wisdom such as Permaculture (which is based on nature, not really new, just new application), the internet for research, and our good thinkers, we can bring order before we see those negative outcomes. We need our multi-potentialites to just bring outselves to a new plateau of civilization and freedom.

That means no more labeling of the renaissance being as an aberration or unwanted state. No more corralling the kids into that kind of thinking, drugging them if they are restless and don’t do well in government educational institutions, or labeling them. Just give them the basis of education so they can follow their own ‘wiring’ whether they fit into government schools, need home schooling, or charter schools, etc. and let them grow into competent adults who can contribute to life as they see it. Then we all win.

It’s a matter of potential. How are we going to use this potential – the free thinker, the researcher, the innovator, the entrepreneur, the inventor, the artists of societies and environments, the writers and other multi-potentialites? If you are one of us, then you have the right to pursue your passions as long as those passions lead to positive things. We can do without the bomb makers and the chaos merchants.

Ethics always has to be part of this process. Permaculture Design says “Care for the Earth, Care for People, Equitable and fair distribution of the abundance thus caused”. Without ethics we have seen the ravaging of the earth, the despoiling of pristine places for profit, the killing of millions of people in the name of political or religious ends, the wasting of the resources of this little planet for the power of a few and the aggressions towards the earth and its people which hasten the end of our earth as a home.

Renaissance people, the Multi-potentialite, the multi-talented person has to be recognized and supported within our culture. Be proud if you are one. Support any around you whether you are one yourself, or you are a proud focused individual.Work together in harmony. We can make a better world together.

Thank you Emilie Wapnick for your brilliant TED Talk.

Diann Dirks Oct 13, 2015

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Tomato Worms, Assassin Bugs, and getting ready for fall planting.

I went out into my garden today and saw my poor tomato plants looked like skeletons. I searched and found at least 10 tomato horn worms, 3 of which were huge. I had a very good time popping them with my foot, the bastiges. But my poor tomato plants. :< Then there was this huge writing spider on top of the plant and she wasn’t doing a darned thing about it. Gee, you give a gal a good home and she lets you down! Hopefully that spider is getting other things while she’s up there. At least her web was beautiful. I also found about 4 or 5 black with speckles 1 1/4 inch long fat worms also eating my plants. They got an early retirement as well. But now all I have are a bunch of holed green tomatoes. They came on so fast, in one day! You having that happen too?

So, I got busy and cut away all the dead stems so I could see better. And today I added some fermented organic matter around the base of the plants so they could continue growing. But I also got a bunch of assassin bugs which I’m about to handle. I think they are assassin bugs – they are like squash beetles only they fly. I have a butterfly net which I am going to use to try to catch them. They fly away so fast it’s hard to get them by hand. I’ll see how that works and if it’s a success, I’ll share it with you. I also picked off several very fat tomato worms as well.

It finally cooled off a bit here. We had many days of thunder storms and rain, and it got so much nicer. We’re down into the mid 80’s today instead of that horrible 90 degree heat and high humidity.

I use Farmer’s Almanac moon phase planting site to determine if I can plant well on a certain day. So, last week during a good period I planted loads of greens, cabbage family seeds. Today they are poking up out of the soil. Not all, some are longer germination, but here’s the site to check moon phase:  Farmers Almanac planting by moon dates calendar. Start now to get your cool weather seeds started.

I also went to our local Grower’s Outlet in Loganville, Ga., and picked out 4 perennial herbs to plant. Start getting ready to put in your perennials and fruit trees which are best planted in the fall. Many of the nurseries online have sales this time of year.

My helper and I cleared away a huge bunch of seed starting seeds yesterday as well, pulled up bags of mulch which got distributed in beds, put everything in order, hosed off the deck, and in general made some very orderly space. While we were there, we found two long flat head worms. They got their early retirement too, but I hate when I find them because it means there are probably more of them. Flat head worms are a recent invasion. They are parasitic and kill off our good worms. If you find one, it’s not round like a garden worm. They are long (maybe as long as 6″), very flat all along their bodies, and their heads have a little arrowhead shape. Don’t throw them out. Grind them into slime or they reconstitute. Just sayin.

A nice lady from our Homestead Gathering was giving away a bunch of screens as her husband does home renovation. She offered them to our group, so I went Sunday and picked up a bunch of them. They are useful for so many things. You can prop them up on cinder blocks or bricks in the shade where there’s a little air circulation and dehydrate herbs and flowers. I think I will teepee them over newly planted seedlings to keep the deer off – using cable ties to hold them together. The deer have been very happy eating my seedlings this summer, so I have a new solution I’m trying. Also, some of the screens were double threaded and actually have some shade cloth ability so they are going to go over plants in extreme heat next summer or to keep winter crops going longer as the heat increases in late spring. Can you think of something else we could do with them? I’d love to hear your creative ideas.

Hope you are getting your fall garden ready.

Enjoying the cooler weather,

Best, Diann Dirks, The Garden Lady of Ga.

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Setting Up For Your Fall Garden

Now is the time to gather your cool weather fall/winter seeds and start planning your cool weather garden. Mid August is the time to start them in seed cells or little newspaper pots you make by rolling newspaper around the bottom of a wine or beer bottle, pinching the bottom together, and fill with seed starting soil (1/3 perlite or vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost).

Put them in a sunny window or in a cool porch area and keep them damp. By the time they are big enough to put in the ground, it will be time to set them in your beds. Cool weather plants include the (brassicus) cabbage family, spinach, lettuces, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, pansies, etc.

Grow year round. Winter, I grow under plastic. Home Depot sells rolls of white 3.5 mil plastic which can be cut to size. I lay my tomato cages on their sides alternating direction on the bed, and lay the plastic over that to keep it from squishing the plants.

Then I weigh the edge of the plastic sheets with cinder blocks or big rocks. It also helps in windy areas to have something to lay over the top of the plastic to keep it from being a sail. Whatever you have on hand.

Also, now start your perennials which you want to plant in the fall, or look in catalogs for the trees, bushes, and perennial herbs and things you want to plant in then. Fall is one of the best times (along with spring) to plant your orchards or just a tree in the yard.

As your annual food plants die off in the heat or as the season progresses, make sure to add layers of mulch to your beds if you are no-till like we are here. I like to gather organic matter and layer it 3 layers deep (of different things like grass clippings, crushed granite for minerals, alfalfa pellets for nitrogen, used coffee grounds for the worms, or the last of the chipped autumn leaves from last year) for a good 4 inches in existing beds each season. It will decompose and feed the worms, as well as insulate the garden over the winter.

As we start getting leaves falling, gather them, run them through a chipper if you have them to make them lighter and finer texture, or run your mower over them and catch it in a mower bag. Or put the leaves in a garbage can and stick your weed eater string trimmer down in there to break up the leaves. Use these leaves to layer mulch your beds, or store them in large contractor bags (not light garbage bags which break up) which can be reused 10 to 20 times. These are available in boxes at Home Depot.

In bags, leaves are great insulators for delicate perennials, laying them around the plant. I use mine to surround my un-planted nursery of trees and bushes, then cover it all with plastic to weather the winter. In the spring I use the crushed leaves to mulch newly planted spring plants, or to build new soil for new beds using ‘sheet mulching’ techniques (aka lasagna gardening).

Choose plant varieties that do well in your growing zone. If you don’t know what that is go to see the map at: The hardiness zones for each seed packet can be found on the back of the packet. It also helps to find out from neighbors or the local Extension Office which varieties do best in your area. I plant only heirloom, heritage or open pollinated varieties, skipping anything that is ‘hybrid’ because they don’t breed true and the seeds are useless to save. But I experiment with varieties people give me or from seed swaps so I am always expanding the bio-diversity in my garden, and increase my seed varieties.

I want sustainability in the kinds of things I use in my precious garden space. They need to go into the future. We are loosing our bio-diversity of foods just because they are being neglected by big farming operations or dropped by the seed companies as not profitable.

That means it’s up to us to keep those landrace varieties going. A landrace is a domesticated, regional ecotype;[1][2] a locally adapted,[3] traditional variety[4] of a domesticated species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species.[3] Landraces are generally distinguished from cultivars, and from breeds in the standardized sense, although the term landrace breed is sometimes used synonymously instead, as distinguished from the term standardized breed[5] in contexts in which the word breed is used expansively.[5] The -race in this word refers to the taxonomic definition of race in biology, not the ethnographic sense of the word. Wikipedia

Look out into your garden. Make detailed journal notes for yourselves to record what you grew in which bed this summer so you can keep track of the soil needs and rotation of your crops. Then decide how much of this growing area you want to plant in fall and/or winter crops, and what you want to lay fallow (unused), or cover with a cover crop like rye or clover (which gets turned over in the spring, adding organic matter to the soil), so you know how much space you have for your next season. That way you know how many of which kinds of seeds to start now.

If you have trouble deciding how much space you need for each thing, get a copy of the book “Square Foot Gardening” which has lovely tables of plants and how much space they need.

I usually inter-plant many varieties of plants in the same space rather than do clumps of one kind of thing. I use the idea of ‘companion plants’ (google it, it’s a fascinating subject) so that the plants help each other growing next to each other. In Permaculture Design this is called a “Guild” because the plants form a kind of family that works together.

I intensively plant and make sure the soil is rich, so I get the most yield out of a given space. I don’t leave spots or areas un-planted for long. If I pull something out, I fill that space asap. This is called succession planting. I add in a handful of nutritious amends like coffee grounds and alfalfa pellets mixed into the soil, then plunk in the new plant or seed.

I am available for consultation either by phone or email no matter where in the country you live. Contact me by email if you want my help at I am familiar with many areas of the country for growing one’s own food. And I’m a Certified Permaculture Designer who loves to help people get started, increase their yield in existing spaces, or help with projects big or small.

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Bees in the Garden

For the past several years the honey bee visitation in our garden here in Auburn has been very sad. Only saw a few now and then, seeing a cross section of the wild bee population coming to visit.

But this year, I’m very hopeful because I’m seeing loads of honey bees, and little and big bumble bees, an assortment of sizes of wild bees and in good numbers.

We’ve had a lot of rain this spring and early summer so the flowers in the garden have been abundant. And I’ve let all my herbs to go to flower so we’ve had catnip, thyme, peppermint, lavender, yarrow, bee balm, echinacea, butterfly bush, kale, and others in great bloom – which have fed the flying beauties very well.

We also had a lot of early blossoms on the fruit trees which gave the newly emerging baby bees something to eat right away. My peach tree was abuzz with bees as soon as it warmed up enough for them to fly. I am tempted sometimes to take branches of flowering fruit trees inside for bouquets on the trees that don’t really produce much fruit but this year I didn’t do this because of the bees, letting them eat. I drew joy from just standing under the trees and listening to their happy humming.

Just as a reminder, for the sake of our dwindling bee population, grow some flowers or herbs which are known to flower, and don’t mow them or cut them all. I leave half of the flowers on these plants above instead of harvesting everything. Then I leave the harvested branches out on my front porch out of the sun and let the bees continue to eat.

I had a great bin of flowering catnip on the porch which had been harvested, but the blooms still fresh for 4 days. They were visited constantly by bees. Once the herbs dried out enough, that the bees weren’t interested anymore, then could I set them out on screen panels to dry.

As a note about bees, a lot of my friends have back yard or farm bee hives which they care for and provide the right bee haven for. In these hives there have been almost no deaths of hives. Where we are seeing the destruction of hives is with the big commercial bee keepers who drive big semis around to the orchards and farms which need commercial sized bee populations to pollinate them. Into this population of bees there have been great influxes of various contaminants such as pesticide, herbicide and a whole host of other ‘icides which all kill something and as it turns out, bees.

Small bee keeping hives almost never are hit with the hive death. All the more reason to consider bee keeping yourself. I would love to do this but I don’t have a good place for the hives. It’s so steep here on Hillside Gardens, I’d have to put them in a place I couldn’t actually get to, and they do need care. But someone in the area is keeping European Honey Bees because they find my garden.

Bees fly up to 5 miles to collect from flowers. They will go to a specific area as a group when their scouts find hopeful areas of flowers and they just harvest that spot that day. So, I try to keep my flowering plants of a specific kind in a relatively small area so they will come and pollinate all of the squash or beans or herbs or whatever and make it worth their while. If you move the flowers between when the scout goes and the rest of them show up, it confuses them – like if you pick something and keep it out for them but move it several feet away. They will find it, but their tracking and information of where food is is so accurate that they hone in exactly on where the scout tells them the goodies are.

For pity sake, don’t use Sevin or other insecticides on any flowering plants – PLEASE! The bees don’t know they are taking back poison to their hives and this is one way to kill an entire hive. Better yet, don’t use any insecticides at ALL – hand pick your bugs. Squash bugs are particularly prevalent this year – so look for the little bronze eggs in rows on your plant leaves – on top or underneath – and pick them off before they get big enough to eat your plants. Look for the little white babies too, and squish them before they ruin your plants. That way you can save the bees from the chemicals.

For every 5 bites of food you eat, 3 of them were pollinated and provided by bees. It isn’t just a pretty idea, it can mean life or death if we loose our bees. As it is, Japan has lost most of their bee population. As a result they have to hand pollinate all their fruit in entire orchards then cover the buds up with little bags to protect them. So fruit in Japan is hugely expensive! We need to protect our little flying ladies for everyone.

Good Gardening.

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Using the weeds around us – food and medicine.

For about 5 years I have been studying and researching almost every plant that grows wild in my area. It all started when I attended an herb walk with Patricia Kyrsti Howell, a very well known local herbalist in the SE, up in the Appalachian mountains in NE Georgia. I have a large garden in the foot hills of the Blue Ridge so I wondered what grew further into the mountains. She took about 25 of us around the wooded area of a friend who invited us all to learn.

I was shocked because she was pointing out the plants that were medicinal and all the things that can be done with them, in just a small area. There were over 40 of them. But the real shocker was how many of them I had been pulling up in my gardening thinking they were WEEDS! Astounded me completely! I bought her book “Medicinal Herbs of the Appalachian Mountains” and have that as the anchor in a library I’ve been building on this theme.

It turns out that the Cherokee People had a pharmacopia (list of medicinal plants) listing over 1500 plants of the Appalachian Mountains and foothills. Which means that of all the plants in our area, very few don’t have medicinal value of some kind. A larger list (many the same plants) are edible for wild crafting, and in fact the wild crafted foods have a higher nutritional value than the crops I had been planting in my garden. The difference being that coming from the European heritage of my family, they were unfamiliar to me and are not as abundant as say a row in a garden. And they don’t have the familiar tastes. So, to use them it’s a whole cooking and food preparation skill which needs to be learned. But they can be incorporated in with the familiar foods quite nicely. You have to look around and find the wild plants, and be responsible in not over-harvesting.

So, I thought I’d share a link someone sent me for native medicinal herbs which are quite common from Canada down into the South of the U.S. which can be found almost anywhere. This link has good pictures and a gallery of the flowers, stems, leaves and other characteristics so they can be identified. Of course not all of these will be found anywhere, and if you live in the city, probably few of them. But if you venture out into the less populated areas, say in a fallow farm field, or along a roadside, you can find them.

What I have done with this study is not just pull up every thing that is unfamiliar (as in thinking they are weeds) in my garden and let it go to flower (easier to identify), keeping maybe one or two of something volunteering. I have had lots of great surprises. Some have been invasive and I’ve learned from that. But many were good finds. Also, as I have learned what to look for from study, I have found various plants along the road sides which I then bring back and purposefully plant in my garden, and give it a season before harvesting. I tend not to want to use a plant that could be contaminated from being too close to a road, but after a season, any toxins would have gone and I can then use them.

Some of my happy finds have been wild strawberries, which thrive in the partially shaded section of my food forest, plantain – narrow and broad leaf, lamb’s quarters, and broad leaf and yellow dock, to name a few.

Many of the older herbal books from libraries of friends and herb wild-crafters going way back in this area contain references to herbs with loads of different names depending on the area and peoples using them. So, I have learned to look for the Latin botanical names when researching them. But once I know exactly what I’m looking at, I can use them with confidence. Now I purposefully look for the odd ones which tend to be rarer and trade with friends or get seeds in seed swaps.

The bottom line on this is that if we ever are caught in the situation where normal channels of providence for food and medicine are cut off or fail, I know that at least I won’t starve and myself and my husband will survive it. I know I will be able to handle most health issues and be able to help others. I have tested this already and unless it’s a major issue like a broken bone, or the plague (even that can be handled but the herbs would have to be on-hand and already processed for quick action), at least there is some hope of being able to come out of an illness or injury. I think I could set a bone on someone else, but forget doing it on yourself! Recent experience has taught me that one. We will need to rely on a community of others if we would wish to flourish in the face of hard times.

Do your own research and open your eyes to what is around you. I think you will find how amazing nature is in your area, no matter where you live. In the tradition of the Wise Women (natural healers who are a growing group of very knowledgeable people in our area of the SE), for any health condition we find ourselves in, most likely within a very short distance from where we live we will find the herbal solution to it. But that requires being knowledgeable. If you have an interest in that area of exploration, the internet is rich with people who connect up on a regular basis, or classes, or wonderful knowledge sites.

Please forgive the lack of pictures in my last few posts. My camera gave out and I have had so little time to choose a replacement, I’m hoping you can appreciate the information and get pictures if you need them as in the above article, from other sources on the internet. Visit me on facebook – Georgia Gardenlady.

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June in the garden.

Here it is almost the end of June and I’m not even thinking it’s summer with summer solstice yesterday slipping by like a whisper. But the days are so long I should have known.

We have 6 interns now and they are a joy to have here, learning, working, laughing. The internship program I set up many years ago has turned out to be a huge success. So far 5 of my interns have farms now, and they have gone on to other accomplishments, which I consider part of mine as well hopefully having brought on some inspiration.

We have expanded the food forest this spring with two added beds, 10 new trees, and the rest of the east side of the hill all card-boarded and covered with wood chips. This makes my husband happy because he hates to mow the lawn on our steep hill. I have been teaching my interns how to sheet mulch to make soil, and working on awareness because a great deal of gardening is awareness. Looking for the health or problems with plants, checking for bugs and disease, remembering to keep the soil covered with mulch or plants, watering and knowing when to, looking to harvest or wait, and just picking up on the feeling of the space. I can walk by a plant and know it’s distressed or humming with health. That comes with experience.

The pear tree is loaded with fruit this year again for the second year. Before that we only had a few coming in. But last year it was a bonanza. The apple tree has a growing number of fruit but the peach tree has zero fruit having lost its baby fruit in the unexpected freeze we had this spring. However the blueberries are going great guns and we’ve been taking a quart or two every other day or so. Blackberries are likewise producing but not as strongly (they’re wild and I don’t regularly water them or pay them much attention.)

We have had a few tomatoes but we got the plants in late this spring so it takes them awhile. But we have lots of green ones waiting in the wings. The herbs are doing very well and I have had to resort to using the front porch to dry them when my dehydrator runs out of space. I have panels of metal edged, metal fabric screens which make nice drying spaces. Once the major part of the moisture leaves, they are diminished in size and I can fit the remainder into the dehydrator. I had so many ground ivy I had to fill 3 of these large panels. And the big plants of catnip had to be put into a large tree type planter until I have drying space. However, they were all flowering so I had bees coming into harvest the nectar for 3 days after picking which is why they were on the porch and not in the garage. I try to help my bees.

We have been getting zucchini, yellow squash, a few cucumbers but more are on the way, lots of various medicinal flowers which we harvest and dehydrate, but not too many at a time so the bees continue to have their food. I’ve been making tinctures and saving up various herbs to make salves and ointments later when I have time.

The seeds from the winter greens such as kale, Swiss chard, spinach etc are now getting to the right stage to gather and label and process them for seed saving. When I have too many seeds for planting, for these crops, I save them for sprouting in the winter for fresh salad making. We need our Vitamin K1 for health and in the winter, what comes in the grocery store has been sitting in storage for too long for my sense of well being. So, fresh sprouts are a wonder and delicious.

There is a rhythm to a garden which one works with. Right now it’s a matter of keeping the beds watered and weeded (but I mulch heavily so we have few weeds), watching for bugs and picking out of the leaves the little bronze squash beetle eggs or catching and hand squishing the adults (I am no longer squeemish about this, the little bastiges who eat my plants). I look for mature squash and other vegetables, and pull the carrots and beets as they get big enough from fall planting. I also have to make sure I don’t waste open space as garden bed space is precious. I practice sequential planting of new stuff.

The back kitchen deck is my propagation center and there I have lots of babies waiting in the wings to put out when a space opens. I wish I had enough flat space of easy access to put in a green house, but alas, we are Hillside Gardens, emphasis on HILLside. Not flat, not even close.

My corn is getting about knee high now planted among the pumpkins, squash and gourds for a 3 sister guild (guild is a companion grouping of plants that aid each other), and it’s about time to plant the pole beans among the corn for it to supply a support. The 4th sister which people rarely know about is the sunflower which should be grown around the edge of a 3 sister bed, and mine are growing nicely.

We have accumulated a lot of tree prunings, and other organic matter which needs to be put thru the chipper and used later as mulch or soil building so that is another chore to get done soon. My husband’s friend and he bought a lovely Troybuilt big chipper together a couple of years ago which is kept here, and we use it often. It makes a lot of piles disappear pretty quickly all nicely munched up.

We’ve had rain and it comes in unexpectedly even when the weatherman says it is supposed to be sunny and clear for which I am grateful. Saves using city water on my beds and the plants like it so much better, especially when it has been thunder storming – which elevates the nitrogen in the rain water leaving green lawns and happy garden plants.

Hope you are gardening and have the bounty of the earth to make you smile.


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Gardening in the heat of summer – tips for avoiding heat prostration or worse.

The weather here is getting hotter.
Some of you may be new to the area and not used to our weather in the South East (I’m in Georgia) so here are some tips for keeping safe and healthy in the heat.

1. When outside in the garden wear a wide brimmed hat – not just a baseball cap but a real all the way around rim hat. This keeps your face in the shade but you still get sunlight for D3 production. It also protects the back of your neck and shoulders. I also sometimes wear a bandana around the forehead and around to the back of the neck to keep perspiration contained and out of my eyes. A cowboy hat doesn’t have a wide enough brim. Look for a real straw garden hat. My favorite one is many years old, with some strategic patching with canvas strips and a chin strap.

2. Keep water nearby and stay hydrated. Do not drink tap water. Make sure it is either well water, spring water or well filtered water. Best if it’s in a metal water bottle as sunlight in plastic water bottles breaks down some of the plastic nasty chemicals and they go into the water. If you need a good water filter, contact me for the best water filter I have found which even removes radiation.

3. Unless you are on heart or blood pressure medication, make sure you are getting enough salt. You sweat, you blow the salt out without even noticing it. I like to suck on Himalayan pink salt little crystals. Also find Potassium Gluconate in the stores (drug, grocery) and take it a few times during a heavy hot day when sweating. Another very excellent electrolyte substance is “Bio-Salt” aka “Cell Salts” which melt under the tongue. I go online and get mine from “Standard Vitamins” ( These are highly absorb-able minerals in a homeopathic matrix which go right in to the body.

4. Wet a small towel and throw it around your neck, re-wetting it when it gets hot or dries out. The back of the neck is the best place to cool off your body (data I got from someone who worked in Saudi Arabia where it really gets hot), much better than the wrists. I make a little cooling neck bandana with water absorbing gel crystals inside the roll of fabric that I soak in water, which releases moisture for a longer time than just a wet towel. Contact me if you would like one. I sell them for $15 +s&h, available in many colors. They last for years. Stipulate color and if you would like a pattern or plain fabric – all 100% cotton.

5. Drink grapefruit juice as the best beverage for avoiding heat exhaustion.

6. If you start to feel faint, dizzy, nauseated even a little, or weak, that’s the start of heat exhaustion and if you let it go too long can lead to heat prostration or even worse, heat stroke. Very bad news. Come in, cool off, put your feet up, drink something and rest without delay! Get electrolytes. As a note, if you really start to feel sick – don’t assume it’s an onset of the flu or something. This is the big red flag of danger for heat stroke. Call 911. You don’t want to be out in the garden, having passed out, with nobody knowing you’re out there. Best to prevent it and heed your body’s warning signals.

7. Rest and cool off when you start feeling too hot. Get in the shade, or come inside. Another neat trick is to have a spray bottle with water and lemon juice or lemon or other cooling essential oils (couple of drops) then spray your face, arms and legs. Or put some vodka in it which cools off even faster. I buy it by the quart for tinctures and get the cheapest they have at the bottle store.

8. Here’s one of my favorite tricks. I wear a longish cotton dress in real heat and just run the hose on me, wetting the entire dress. I keep it wet. It’s like running thru a sprinkler when you’re a kid – keeps you 10 degrees cooler. I find the cotton dresses in a thrift store and throw them out after they start looking really tacky. Just forget the fashion police, this is about comfort! Only use 100% cotton fabric which doesn’t out-gas or hold heat in. (Linen works also, as long as it’s a light grade of fabric.)

9. Make your own bug spray if lots of mosquitoes are out or for tick infested areas. There are many recipes online so do your own research to find one that suits you.  I keep mine in a 3″ long fairly fat spray bottle outside in the shade to re-apply when I’m staying wet.

Stay cool, enjoy the summer, and happy gardening!

Diann Dirks, Auburn, Ga.

Posted in bug repelling in garden', food forest management, Gardening, heat protection, organic gardening, Permaculture, pest management, Self-Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments