April 2011

New plantings (leeks in back) in raised bed garden

The thing about gardening
is that you have to pay attention.
Every year,
the garden is different
because the weather is different.
There are guidelines,
based on what’s gone before,
and then you have to notice
what’s happening
today, this spring.
Experience is a great teacher
and remembering what has gone before
is essential—
and then you have to be aware
of what’s happening now.
Ann, our gardener, has learned to pay attention.
Each year she gains knowledge
and last year she took the Master Gardeners course.
Perhaps her greatest wisdom
is holding that knowledge and hard-earned experience
alongside the awareness that this year,
as every year,
it will be different.

Fred, Carol and Alyssa planting in the north garden

Instead of a steady movement
from cold to warm,
this year the temperature
skyrocketed early-on and then plummeted.
Onions, peas, lettuce, potatoes went in early,
but Ann knew better than to trust
the early warming
and has waited patiently to do the warm-weather planting.
Knowing it can rain too much,
or not at all,
but that usually it does—eventually—
she waited for rain.
Despite predictions and showers all around us
we didn’t get rain until
this week.
The historical last frost date is April 15,
but she watched and waited
and finally this week
the rest of the healthy seedlings
came out of the greenhouse
and were gently planted in the damp soil.
One day—a cooler one, after a shower—
relatives Fred and Carol, visiting from Wisconsin,
helped Ann and Alyssa weed around the potatoes
and put in the tender plants:
tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, winter and summer squash,
watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, cilantro, basil.
The garden gets a little bigger each year
and each year there are new varieties
added to the mix.
You never know
when or if it will rain,
what insects will arrive,
and so, you don’t know what will grow
to its fullest potential
in this year’s conditions.
Planting a variety helps secure a harvest
of some kind.
At this point,
the garden is the biggest and most varied
Ann has planted.
Potato plants and lettuces are lush and beautiful.
The new plantings are adjusting
to windier outdoor conditions.
When the soil is a little warmer,
bean seeds will be planted
and the garden will be “in.”

Potatoes in the foreground, then lettuces
and the tender, new plantings

The first moments of satisfaction,
and hope
came with the first showing of green
in those little pots in the greenhouse.
They are heightened this week in the planting of the gardens
and they will increase at the harvesting of first fruits,
the serving of them at table
or the putting them by for the winter.
Those moments of
eating the fruits of labor and care;
sunshine, rain and soil;
those moments of satisfaction, celebration and hope,
are occasions for gratitude.
Thanks—to Ann,
to all who garden,
and to this good Earth.


Thanks to writers Michael Pollan,
Barbara Kingsolver, Mark Bittman,
we have a better understanding
of how what we eat affects the planet.
One third of greenhouse gases come from food production.
This is a tough fact to face
because it means personal, agricultural, industrial
We’ve been working on some of those changes
here at Turtle Rock Farm
and they’re not easy.
Making these changes is a process.
But they’ve started to become easier
and they are definitely rewarding.
We feel better physically,
and spiritually:
physically, because what’s healthy for Earth
is healthy for us too;
morally, because we’re trying to refrain
from abusing the planet so much;
and spiritually, because we’re helping
take care of God’s beautiful home.

Listening to Isla Earth Radio recently,
we learned of a fancy little tool
that helps raise awareness
and begins to sort through the information
about how to eat a Low Carbon Diet.
It’s an online calculator for determining
the carbon footprint of growing our diet.
It’s a fun way to get an idea of how what we eat
raises the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
We also highly recommend reading Pollan, Bittman and Kingsolver
and watching the films, Food, Inc. and Dirt!.
Too, we offer a day in the kitchen
learning how to cook the way we do
here at Turtle Rock Farm.
Those days are scheduled in July (9th and 30th)
when the garden is producing.

Happier eating!

Rain Puddle!

This spring has not seemed as green
as usual;
greening trees and grass seem
to be missing vibrancy.
Creek beds are cracked and dry.
Some ponds are dry and all ponds
are low.
I comforted myself
that perhaps this anemic spring was my imagination,
or that I had a fractured memory of springs passed—
until friends who came a few days ago
from the eastern part of the state
remarked upon their arrival
how dry it is here.
My spirit flagged just a bit,
as it does when someone verifies,
when someone else can see,
what you hoped wasn’t true.

To the east, there had been deluges
and troublesome floods.
We were always on the edge,
receiving only a few sprinkles.
I know that weather patterns shift
and we would probably get rain
But I am haunted by predictions
that we are trending toward desert conditions.
So it was a great relief
and there was joy-filled gratitude
when, finally, the rain reached us.
This time the roaring thunder
rolled in and began crashing around us
and the storm gently showered the land
with two and a half inches of water.
The weather pattern had shifted:
the next day was misty and drizzly,
and the day after that,
there was another good soaking.

The prediction is that
we will be a desert within a few decades.
It gives pause to she
who was raised with spring storms,
who cherishes rainy days,
and welcomes wet and greening
as a balm for the soul.

William is in the foreground; Firecracker to the right.
Mr. Darcy in center; Alonzo to his left and Biak in the back

For a day,
there were five Alpaca on our farm.
Besides Mr. Darcy and Biak Bay,
who live here,
there were Alonzo, Firecracker and William.
They were visiting us from Heartland Farm,
a Dominican community, near Pawnee Rock, Ks.
Darcy and Biak were raised there
alongside William.
William is now 10 and is coming to live
at Turtle Rock Farm.
Sr. Terry didn’t want William to travel alone,
so she brought Alonzo,
who is Biak’s half-brother,
and Firecracker along with him.
After spending the night here,
they accompanied each other back to their farm.

Biak and Darcy were in a pen in the barn
awaiting shearing
when the three visitors arrived.
They greeted each other,
and then their old friend, Sr. Terry, through the fence.

The five spent the day and evening together
and didn’t exactly warm to each other.
They stayed in two groups—
in the same vicinity,
but separate.
We had an Alpaca rodeo the next morning,
getting Alonzo and Firecracker harnessed
and into their trailer.

William, left behind, cried a bit
when his buddies were driven away,
but seems to have settled in nicely.
Biak is not exactly glad to have him.
He spent much of William’s first day
in the barn by himself (was he protesting? sulking?)
and gets anxious and a bit snarky
when we feed them their pellets.

It takes some of us time
to transition into sudden change.
We fully expect the three of them
to be rollicking together


It couldn’t have been a more perfect day.
Sun, warmth, slight soft breeze.
Old friends and new making music on the front porch of the farm house.
Gentle guests, in rocking chairs
and on straw bales under the Hackberry
soaking up the air, the sweet music, the good company.

We sheared Alpaca—Darcy and Biak—
as visiting Alpaca, already shed of their fleece,
Biak cried softly and pitifully through his shearing —
and spat at Darcy, when he came close.
In the round-top,
guests learned about spinning Alpaca fleece,
how to weave wheat straw
into St. Brigid’s crosses
and make solar ovens.

Solar Oven

The hermitage dedication was beautiful.
Written and led by our friend and mentor,
Elizabeth Box Price,
it included the story of the building of the hermitage
from the wheat straw and mud off the land,
with the help of many hands.
We named it Sallie’s House,
in honor of theologian Sallie McFague,
from whom we’ve learned so much
about the Divine, creation and humanity.
Tom Temple, who designed and shepherded
the construction,
read a Thomas Berry poem.
We dedicated the hermitage…

…for stillness and for solitude;
…for quiet prayer and contemplation of Earth, self and cosmos;
…for time apart with the natural world to grieve the suffering of the planet, the cry of the Earth, the cry of the poor;
…for modeling sustainability and living lightly with the Earth;
…for nourishing what is deep within the self;
…for nourishing what is deep within the Earth;
…for time to recognize oneness with the sacredness of all creation;
…for rediscovery of the beauty of the prairie, the touch of the Earth in the songs and sounds of creatures;
…for communion that revitalizes the spirit;
…for commitment to do the work of change.

We sang and danced
and scattered grass and wildflower seed
in the soil around the hermitage.

We roasted corn and buffalo hot dogs
on the grill and over a fire
and took our time sharing the meal
under the old Cedar trees our grandfather
brought from Kansas when he moved here
over a hundred years ago.
Some walked the labyrinth
and watched Earth roll up and color paint the Western sky.
Then we danced happily
in the round-top barn
to the sweet music of the Mud Dobbers
and the calls of the contra dance.

We are grateful to all
who stacked the bales and mudded the walls last year;
who worked to make our first Earth Day Festival
a meaningful experience—
made the music and wrote the words,
who taught us what they know,
who shared in the celebration
of life on this beautiful planet
because they understand
we must live thoughtfully, caringly.

Hoping the best for Earth
and each other
until April 22, 2012.

Bee Hives at Turtle Rock Farm

We have heard in the last couple of years
about Bee Colony Collapse.
But we hear so many frightening environmental reports
and feel so overwhelmed and paralyzed about how to help;
and there’s another frightening report in the next day’s news,
and we don’t know which problem to work on first
and we can’t seem to work on them all…
Anxious then, we develop amnesia
or paralyzing depression.
What are we to do?
Where do we start?

We have to look at Colony Collapse.
70 percent of our food has to be pollinated.
U.S. beekeepers lost 23 percent of their bees in 2009.
In 2010, they lost 42 percent of their bees.
14 percent loss is considered acceptable.
50 billion bees died in the U.S. in 2009-2010.
Bees, which are profoundly community-oriented,
leave the hive when they are sick,
so they won’t make others sick.
Researchers have discovered many ways
they are getting sick:
virulent fungal pathogens, world-wide;
parasites, viruses, agricultural chemicals.
One study found 121 different pesticides
in 887 samples of bees, pollen, wax and hives.
Especially devastating are “systemic pesticides,”
chemicals designed to spread to all parts of the plant.
Dr. Reese Halter explains:

Essentially, bees are harvesting pollen laced with lethal poison and feeding it to their young. In addition, many of these systemic pesticides are from a family of highly-toxic chemicals called neonictinoids. Bees exposed to these chemicals exhibit symptoms similar to humans afflicted with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.

Another major contributor to Bee Colony Collapse
is decreased food supply.
Our dad used to raise honeybees here on the farm.
In those days, there were fields of alfalfa nearby
and greater plant diversity.
A United Nations report on Colony Collapse
issued last month
estimates that in the next decades
20,000 plant species, upon which pollinators
are dependent, (as are we, for our food)
will be lost.

There are things we can,
we must, do:
Buy organic food as much as possible.
Garden. Organically.
Preserve wild natural areas.
Fight the use of GMO’s, as citizens in Europe have.
(GMO corn pollen is toxic to butterflies and bees.)
Stay informed.
We recommend the weekly enewsletter
published by the Organic Consumers Association.
They also offer many ways to take action.

Yes, we get overwhelmed.
Yes, we get depressed.
But this is the world in which we live.
Let’s feed those
who feed us.

Our next Beekeeping Workshop
is May 14. To sign up,
go to our website.

from Earth Day Network

When we decided to offer the first
Earth Day celebration at Turtle Rock Farm,
we didn’t realize it was also
the Christian celebration of Good Friday.
We tried to change our celebration to Saturday,
but couldn’t reschedule some of the participants,
so we decided to go ahead with our plans.
As it turns out, Good Friday is enriching Earth Day
and Earth Day is expanding Good Friday.
Sneaking up on us
is a sense of surprise dawning;
and that is always,
the result of Grace.
Perhaps it’s an advantageous calendar
this year after all;
for, in addition to the sense of education and festivity of Earth Day,
there is now awe and reverence.
In addition to the solemnity of Good Friday,
there is now, awakening.

The first Earth Day was in 1970.
Having witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill
in Santa Barbara, California, the year before,
and hoping to propel environmental protection to the national agenda,
Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin,
tried to harness the energy of anti-war rallies at that time
to bring the problems of air and water pollution
to the public’s attention.
It was a “national teach-in on the environment.”
20 million people took to U.S. streets that day
to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment.
Out of the energy of that event was borne the Environmental Protection Agency
and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
We have been celebrating Earth Day—
not only in the U.S., but globally—
on April 22, since then.

This year’s celebration of Earth
is especially poignant.
Not only is it Good Friday,
but this country is facing budget cuts
and attitude shifts
that could further endanger
the health of our Earth home.

At our Earth Day Festival tomorrow,
there will be educational moments:
Alpaca shearing,
fleece spinning,
solar oven-cooking (and making.)
We’ll plant grass and wildflowers.
There’s a prairie labyrinth to walk,
animals to observe.
And there will be celebration:
guitar music on the front porch,
and later, fiddle music in the barn for the contra dance.
As always at TRF, there will be sharing of food
(served in reusable or recycled dishes.)

At 5 p.m., we will dedicate
the straw bale and clay hermitage
we and fine friends constructed with our own hands,
in a lovely liturgy that combines
the awareness of God’s amazing, abiding care
for this wondrous blue planet
with the awareness of our responsibility to live here
carefully, thoughtfully, creatively—
in a sustainable, life-giving way.
Good grief,
Jesus of Nazareth would be/is (in another realm),
I think,
horrified at what we’ve done to his former home,
this planet Earth,
(God’s first revelation),
where he walked—mountain, lakeshore, desert, wheat field—every day.
On this Earth Day,
we are going to give thanks for God’s good gift
of good creation,
and apologize for the sickness we wrought.
On this Good Friday,
out of regard for the love shown to this world
in the giving life of the one
who made his talking points with images from nature
(lilies, salt, mustard seed, rain, moth, rust,
birds, fig tree, fruit, snakes, fish, weeds, grass, wheat…),
we are going to commit to do much, much, much better.
Then, like the “Lord of the Dance,”
we’re going to dance too.

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