Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

I had this outside in a medium pot this summer. It was one of my favorite herbs in Texas. It gets 3-4 feet tall and has stunning watermelon red blooms. It’s pineapple flavor is delicious in hot or cold drinks and the blooms are beautiful in a green salad. I like them in fruit salad too. Sadly, it will not winter over past zone 7.

I miss it as part of my herb garden and generally I tuck one in my herb garden and several in the flower beds.  It is a phenomenal hummingbird attractor and I love hummingbirds just because.  Tuck Pineapple Sage close to roses since the hummingbirds eat their weight in insects every day and aphids are a favorite of theirs.  Keeping hummingbirds in your garden for insect control is important for a circular economy they keep down insects without poison.  Hummingbirds are very susceptible to poisons so don’t use them.

Bees visit Pineapple Sage.  I have gardened around them for 50 years and have never suffered a bee sting.  I don’t move very fast and don’t seem to make them threatened.  This is not advice about bees!  I always have so many bee favorites that maybe they are just too fat happy and drunk on nectar to get aggressive with me.

Pineapple Sage is an evergreen in warmer climates and can bloom throughout the winter for our southern neighbors.   So… I brought it inside to see if it will winter over in my house.  Would be lovely if it also provides me with winter greens for tea. I could get ecstatic if it chooses to bloom in my house.

Okay okay okay… this isn’t a greenhouse. I will be content if it gets through the winter and contributes a bit of fresh greens to my supper.

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Alien Invaders

I admit that I am ambivalent about alien invaders.

Many folks are very passionate about the alien invaders and we have some pretty aggressive ones like kudzu. Too bad Americans seldom eat it because 320 million people noshing on kudzu would definitely keep it in check.  Fire ants are not a favorite on my list of invaders, but they are here and moving north.  YouTube has a video of a guy pouring molten aluminum down fire ant mounds to create amazing sculptures.  Interesting but not effective.

The problem is that without alien invaders our ability to adapt and survive is compromised.  Gaia is a prolific old gal and spawns babies of all kinds in every direction.  All her babies are invaders, humans most of all.

Archaea were here first but they are anaerobic.   When plants showed up,  they produced so much poison that nearly all Archaea went extinct.  The poison was oxygen and the Archaea that survived live inside us and deep in the ground.  They were once the only life on this planet.

Imagine how Archaea have survived five planet wide extinctions and hopefully survive this sixth extinction.  On this, their own home, where the atmosphere has become so toxic to them that it means instant death.  Not long drawn out cancer death, but right now death.  I’m thinking Archaea would really like to see those green plants go extinct so they can have their planet back.  Alien invaders at their worst!

Endless waves of alien invaders have increased the number of species that live on our planet.  The species that are most at risk of extinction are those who occupy a very small niche and are too specialized to adapt to other circumstances.  Breaking the circular economies causes extinction of even more widely adapted species.  Alien invaders are pretty good survivors during massive change but they also fall to extinction because all of Gaia’s children need functions supplied by other members of their circle.

Humans are generalists and will eat anything, it is why we can live in such diverse places… never mind planetwide shipping for a moment because shipping is not a stable way to source food.

Diversity of species makes our circular economy stronger.  Each of us fills a niche and each of us responds to others in our circle.  Most functions are filled by more than one species because they are critical.  If any function is lost, the circle has mass die off because we are complex and locked together.

Mass die off called the Sixth Extinction is happening right now.  A planetwide extinction means that so many circular economies are weak that most of them fall at the same time.

What are the functions in a circular economy?  Water, healthy soil, diverse plant life, and diverse animal population are some of the factors we see.  The microbial level that supports it all fascinated me in school and I researched the plant-soil interface.  Feeding the soil microbes is the fastest way to healthy plants and pesticides and fertilizers both damage the soil biota.  Think compost.

So when I recognize that a function is poorly supported in my circular economy, I try to add support in that area.  If I can find the original players I will bring them back in.  If not I look for a close neighbor and hope they will naturalize and fulfill that function for my circle.

Humans do not know enough to manage our life support systems.  Luckily we are not in charge of these systems, they are complex beyond our comprehension.

No knowledge is required to destroy our life support systems that are comprised of endless circular economies and that interlock with their neighbors.  Intuitively we know destruction and we don’t need endless scientific studies on the effects of xyz.  The effects are blatant in most cases. Most studies are requested (and voluntarily paid for) by those who are destroying something!  It is a common delay tactic designed to allow the maximizing of profit before moving on.  You cannot stop me until there is a study proving I am destroying this!  Deceptive but effective.

I love scientific study.  Study is just so interesting and  it appeals to that little girl in me that loves observing the natural world.  It can be misused.

I give an assist where I can without causing harm.  We can strengthen the systems around us without total knowledge.  If we make a few mistakes, kudzu happens.  Since we don’t know what we are doing, sticking with local plants or close neighbors is likely to have the best outcome for the stability of our own circle.

I support working with native plants because success is easier for beginners like us.  Native plants are already built into your own [unbroken] circular economy and they already fulfill a function whether you see it or not.  Adding a native where missing helps close the circle.

Alien Invaders?  They may be the very thing that saves us… or replaces us in our circle.

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Silver Buffalo-berry

Today I planted about 30 Silver Buffalo-berry (Shepherdia argentea) seeds.  They are not native to my county but are native to the far northwest corner of New Mexico.

The native range includes part of Canada, North and South Dakota, plus pockets all over the western mountain states.  Perhaps it once had a solid range and is retreating; or perhaps it has been spread by birds into favorable niches.

Silver Buffalo-berry’s cousin the Russet Buffalo-berry ( Shepherdia canadensis) is native to Santa Fe County, but I have not seen it.

If the seeds are viable and sprout, I will add them to my food forest and hope they naturalize.  I will also keep an eye open for the Russet Buffalo-berry.

Several things recommend them as a “try.”  The drupes are rich in antioxidants and they get sweeter after frost so they are a winter fruit when little else is available.  Mule deer browse their twigs.  Improving winter forage for mule deer, small mammals, and birds strengthens my circular economy.  It is an attractor for grouse if any are close enough to notice. Wakeful bears could eat the berries.

Silver Buffalo-berry fixes nitrogen in the soil for its own use and for other plants, addressing a serious hole in my circular economy.

I need to create a windbreak across the western windy side of my property to soften some of the weather extremes for my home, garden, and food forest.  Silver Buffalo-berry is commonly used as a windbreak in its natural range.

Spines make it a protected nesting site for songbirds and small mammals.

In all I am thrilled to have the seeds and hope for baby trees soon.

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Why Encourage a Natural Circular Economy?


I grew up eating in the woods of Oregon and Alaska. Here is how it looked: at age six I could wander the woods around our house all day long and eat as I went along. I would eat greens, nuts, berries, and so on. I ate raw foods.  When I was most impressionable the forest told me that food is free.

Most of my time was spent watching plants grow. I watched birds and squirrels and lizards and snakes. Sometimes I saw deer and bear.  I never get tired of being outdoors. Another aspect is that by being outdoors and watching the same area, I got well acquainted with individual plants. When they come out of the soil, early leaves, budding, fruit and seeds, then leaf loss and die back. The first time I saw time-lapse photography I was mesmerized by the speed because I watched the slow version first. I prefer the slow version.  Plants coming out of the ground at warp speed reminds me of the old movie Day of the Triffids.

Growing up in an unbroken circular economy spoiled me.  I don’t resent birds or think they are stealing from me because I know they planted most of the plants that feed me too.  If anything, I am the thief.

If deer nibble the oak trees and keep a lot of them short, then even a 6 year old can gather acorns and I don’t resent their dinner.  If there are plenty of deer my mom might shoot one and I will eat venison all winter long.  I love my freezer.

I watched insects go about their business and noticed that they endlessly take care of aerating soil which allows rain to enter and not run off.  They also pick up litter and haul it into their homes or eat on site.  A large oak tree hosts endless tiny creatures for millions of lifetimes. It also drops countless acorns eaten by most mammals, including us.  Oak trees are a major food source.  White oak acorns have less tannin and are easier to eat.  Plant one and let it be spread by wildlife.  If you want to sit on a garden bench and watch wildlife, oak is for you.

Birds don’t take down venison for the freezer, but they eat a lot of insects.   So can we, but who knows which ones?  I don’t plan to eat insects at this time.

The thing I could see but did not pay much attention to until later was that there were no plagues.  Everyone was present, but no one was out of hand.  Plagues are uncommon in a healthy circular economy.  Plague in itself is a good sign that the system is out of balance.

As I grew older I lived in cities and saw more farmland and town gardens.  I even worked hard to make some picture perfect gardens like every garden book I read told me I should.

It was hard!

By then we were living in a different part of the US that had miles of houses with tiny yards and farmland all around.  Plagues of insects and even birds took my food.  Now I couldn’t just plant something and have it grow, I had to dig and water and tend… for very little reward that I had to fight the insects for.  This could not be right.  I read everything I could get my hands on, I learned about interlibrary loan for unusual books.

I wanted to go home.  Eventually I did but home had a lot more people.  Remote wasn’t so remote.  I dreamed of living really remote.  Husband did not buy in to remote or even acreage.  The inner city it was.  I started gardening organically and adding local species that would feed me.

I realized that if local farmers are raising a large crop of corn then I cannot raise corn without pesticides.  If corn is all there is to eat for miles… then insects that eat corn reproduce to plague proportions.  I raised plums.

I realized that even though corporate farming areas have deep soil and appear to be great places to garden or create a food forest, farms create endless plagues.  Hard to accept because as an organic gardener, I could easily enrich my small plot of former farmland.

Corporate monoculture and the plagues it creates also creates a chemical industry that dumps billions of pounds of poisons on us every year.  Probably trillions now because that was something I learned 30 years ago.  This cannot continue and our 6th Extinction reflects that.

This is the time I live in.

I practiced polyculture which is less prone to plagues, does not have rows, enriched the soil which makes stronger plants, and fed myself and my family as best I could in the city.  Some years I also fed others.

My life changed: my husband is gone, our children grew up and have their own homes, and my parents died in my arms.  I am alone.

Dang, more time but less energy.

So in my small way I now have 5 acres of Not Farmland to create a home to feed me and others.

Even though the neighborhood doesn’t know, my biodiversity improvement can also increase their diversity because… birds.  Plant for your local birds (and you) and they will plant a 100 miles around you.  Plant stuff you eat and like so they multiply the best.  The best for me is also the best for bears, keep it in mind when wandering.

Now here I am on 5 acres in the mountains, with lots of neighbors, trying to encourage my woods to be a circular economy that will be strong enough to include me… a top of the pyramid eater.  I also want it to enrich the surrounding area enough to support the bear that live, in part, on my acres.  Include puma, bobcat, wolves, and coyotes.  The nearby 500 acre wildlife preserve is a boon.

Every chance I get I collect native seed and disperse it here.  Two years of rain is repopulating the understory.  The circle is closing slowly slowly.

A closed circle means I don’t have to garden five acres because I have wildlife to share both work and bounty.  No heavy equipment like my neighbors buy.  No poisons to control plagues created by monoculture. No supplements.  Fewer hospitals, doctors, nurses.

What will we all do for a living if we start closing the circle?  It is well documented that polyculture is vastly more productive than monoculture.  The purported downside is that it is unsuited for corporate or government control.

Oh my…

Lazy thing that I am, a circular economy makes me part of a different type of community.  One that will feed me when the market economy will not.  One that shares the work between me and wildlife.

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A Time to be Content

Stormed much of today and last night. I love the water and watched my potted plants soak it up. My plants thrive on rainwater and decline on tap water. I worry about drinking tap water if it is so poor for plants.

I worked inside today, mostly standard home stuff but I sealed my exhaust fan to keep the warm air inside this winter.

I spent time looking out the windows and up the hill just enjoying having a dry home (however humble) and pleased to remember working on a few projects during the short summer. Looking forward to the winter planning season and to warmer days that I can be outdoors. In spite of snow and ferocious winds, we have some beautiful days as well.

Winter is good for starting trees and shrubs from seed in my south window.  I start a few every year and give many away.  This year I will try tree cholla, wild plums, and Mandarin oranges.

I still have 3 golden rain tree seedlings from last year, pretty little things with edible foliage… it is turning color now and I want to nibble before it’s leaves fall.

My dragon cacti are in the window and growing.

Time to bring the date palms back inside, I will take care of that tomorrow morning.  They are cold hardy to just below freezing but no need to push it.

A relaxing day overall and a time to remember that the circular economy drowses the winter away.  The Roman God Janus looked backward and forward and represented new beginnings and transitions.  I look both directions this day and I am content.


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Why Choose Poor Mountain Soil 3?

Hopefully my trailerstead is temporary. I have designed a small home that uses the rear patio of my trailer as its front entry patio. I also need skirting for my trailerstead to lower my heating bills. Winds are fierce and keep ripping my standard skirting off when it is coldest.

I ordered 4 pallets of concrete block for dry stack temporary skirting. I will be able to reuse them once my house is built. I started on the east side by building a 2 by 2 by 17 raised bed on the back patio and adjacent to the mobile. It is dry stack but I filled the voids with gravel from a large pile thar came with the property. I also inserted 4 by 4 posts along the back for a trellis.

The 2′ high bed acts as skirting with the the added benefit of 2 feet of soil which works like earth berming for additional insulation.  8″ concrete blocks on both sides filled with gravel make it sturdy.

I filled the bed with compost and put my blueberries in.  Concrete blocks are alkaline but it is working.  The blueberry bushes are Top Hat and are only 2 by 2.  They are happy in the bed and make a nice hedge along the walkway to the back door.  They only get late morning sun because the mountain shadows early light and the trailerstead blocks afternoon sun.  They will also be well placed enclosing the front patio of my new house.

Raised beds warm up sooner in spring and help extend the growing season, a big help in my short season mountain garden.  Because it also backs up to the mobile, it will stay warmer in the winter, absorbing some of the lost heat from the home.  I enclosed the entire patio with more dry stack blocks and a higher wind baffle on the north, creating more protection.  My guess is that this bed will have a microclimate of zone 6, increasing the types of plants possible.

Note:  the trailerstead already has an existing concrete footer all the way around.  Dry stacking is very easy.  There is a compound that can be troweled to the outside but I expect to reuse instead.

I continued around the base and am at the northeast corner.  It has gone slower than I like due to time constraints, still, I am pleased with the results.  If I choose to stay in this building, I would make beds all the way around.

Raised beds with improved soil… and I suggest composting in them for fill… are the instant fix for gardening where soil is poor.  In a cold climate, putting the bed against the house creates different microclimates extending the kinds of plants you can grow.  Even one or two zones is a big difference for tender plants.  Even hardy plants grow and fill in faster with a microclimate.

As I get older, raised beds are easier to garden.  Not the same knees as when I was younger!

Raised beds can be expensive to build, and this one’s dual purpose as skirting helps, since it came in under the skirting budget.

I prefer to compost in place for a new bed.  In the fall I cover the area with cardboard, then pile a foot or two of leaves and whatever material I have available to me (chicken manure, worm castings, horse manure, vegetable peelings) on top.  In town, I sprinkle pine bark mulch on top and it keeps the leaves from blowing around and looks neat.  In the country a net will do.  In the spring, I can garden this bed with a hand shovel.  No digging and no chemicals, just plant seeds or small plants.  Worms are incredible, they aerate the soil and do the heavy lifting.  I had enough winter rain to keep it moist but always wet it down with a hose to get started.  To keep the bed rich, I keep it mulched with compost.

Start small.  A 4 by 8 bed will grow a lot of vegetables if it has rich soil.  I admit that I filled my first bed with asparagus! The deer and rabbits don’t like them, but I do.  No asparagus from the market economy equals asparagus straight from the garden.  It also appeals to me since you plant once and harvest for years.  I put wildflowers in front.  Very pretty.

My best first bed in poor soil is filled with perennial herbs, many of which come from Mediterranean soils that are poor.  It gives easy success to a new gardener.  Put it close to the door and even 3 by 8 will produce well.  The heady scents along a sidewalk as you enter is relaxing at the end of the day and you can pick herbs for dinner as you come in.  Many herbs are beautiful bloomers and I add daffodils or tulips for early spring kickoff.  The herbs cover up their fading foliage after blooming.  If the bed is deep enough I put evergreen German irises behind the herbs.  They add structure for the billowy herbs and have beautiful blooms that are also good as cut flowers just like daffodils and tulips.

The composting process is slower in the mountains because it is colder and has a shorter summer.  The ground freezes deep.  Extra nitrogen in the form of chicken or horse manure improves composting here in the mountains although it wasn’t needed in Texas or Seattle.  Manure makes a hot compost pile.  Luckily, manure is available for the shoveling around here.  Manna.

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Why Choose Poor Mountain Soil 2?

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