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Eldest son and I went over the mountains to Whitman College in Walla Walla the other day. Long drive through the Cascades to the rain shadow, rolling hills of wheat stubble, passing trucks carrying massive loads of baled hay. Wildflowers and gravelly rivers, irrigated pastures and vineyards, low profile towns with grain storage tanks rising up near the highway. Into the wine country, region of sweet onions and dry land farming. Away from the sea under sparsely clouded skies, wide skies.

We park on a side street, get first impressions as we head to the library for check in. Interesting range of emotions for me–this is an expensive private college, with beautiful grounds and facilities, what I can only assume are intelligent and gifted young people strolling around, and I’m feeling a little insecure, on behalf of my son or myself I don’t quite know. Then the embarrassment of finding out he forgot his sleeping gear for the overnight with a student host, my awkwardness at wanting to be involved without being overly involved, hear and see everything with him, ask great questions for his sake, maybe even clarify things he might not express as clearly as I would like. Sure it’s his experience, his time, his chance to learn whether this school would be a good fit and whether he should apply. But parents are mentors, as well as financial supporters, and college decisions have a family impact in more than one way. So I’m disappointed that in my parent packet is only general information about the college, a map and tips on accommodation, dining , and entertainment. I leave him to wait for his host, send off my best silent hopes that he’ll have a good time, learn lots of useful insights, get a sense of the nature of this place and its community in his conversations between now and the tour on the morrow. From the hotel I text him that I found a sleep sack in the car trunk and can borrow a pillow and towel from the aptly named Comfort Inn. He texts back, No worries, he’s worked it out with the host. So I settle in for some 3Rs–relaxation, reading, and writing. But my quiet hotel room doesn’t feel like a mini-vacation as I thought it would, just quiet and lonely, as I begin this process of releasing my firstborn and think about my other three coming to the same stage soon.

The next morning, on the advice of the desk staff, I drive over for a run around the reservoir. Sun is hanging large and red low in the east over low hills, the air is clear and cool. I find the driveway, a parking lot, lock the car and head up onto a sort of dike trail where I can get high enough to look around. The reservoir, the small lake on my left, surrounded by poplars and willows, summer dry but full of life–rustling in the bushes, soft flutterings, birdsong. At the highest point of the trail I’m facing a softly rounded hill, over the top of which rises the tips of small farm buildings, and the sound of a radio.

I run across the ridge, working out the stiffness in my hip, then follow another walker, man in his sixties or so in a brimmed hat, down into the path around the lake. So as not to be in continual pursuit, I speed up and he turns as I draw near. I apologize for following, explain that I don’t know the paths. He smiles and says, “You have a good attitude.” Was he alarmed? Does that instinctive fear of danger, as I had lying at the base of my uncertainty about this unknown trail in an unknown town, come into play for him when he hears quick steps behind? Even here? Once on the radio show about design solutions, the speaker described going places where, as a woman, she could experience risk, was full of solutions design. Choosing the route, the time, the safety techniques, speed, aura of strength and confidence to project when going out into the world. Whether to go alone, in a group, or with a dog. I am not naive (though I’ve been accused of such because of my actions at times), and being alone out here, my mind isn’t free of the thought of possible danger. This time I decide to lay them all aside and count on the positive odds today.

And so they come into play. I explore trails of sand and fine gravel, some of which end in fishing spots, some at benches, others in rabbit trails. Around several bends in the trail I spy single rabbit sentries. Each must have heard my approach, yet each lingers to catch a glimpse, get a better scent, interpret my movements, hear my soft greeting, then bounce off, white tail flashing. As I come up to one of the rabbit entrances, I see under the sparsely leafed trees a network of small paths, beaten by many feet and roofed by branches. It reminds me of a dry version of Yoda’s swamp. In a few months winter snow will define tunnels, archways and floors even more.

Along a path a few yards in from the lake stand smooth-limbed skeletons of a plant gone to seed–looks exactly like dill, except it is the color of ripe wheat. I remember carrot seed heads are the same, so this must be cow parsnip. A forest of it lines the path. Further along the dry gulch at the end of the reservoir, the trees thin and the path climbs the bank. The sand of the path here is imprinted with overlaid evidence of other travelers–human shoe soles, dog prints, small spayed hand-like paws, and the distinct long and short footfalls of rabbits.

On a parallel, unseen path above mine comes a whistler, singing a trilling, exuberant bird-like tune which is yet unmistakably human. My senses, both physical and cultural, tell me it is a man between the ages of  fifty and seventy years, intelligent, fit , cheerful, and from the area. Surprised by my confidence sight unseen, I consider what detail the birds can pick up about each other by ear.

On the way out the road to the car the quick movements of a quail, body gliding along above fast moving feet, head with black feather flag bobbing. It stops to hide behind a boulder at the edge of the road, and when I make the circuit, scurries into the shrubbery.

After breakfast, which, because I wasn’t watching the time,  I would have missed were it not for a kind attendant who found me some eggs and sausage after most had been put away, I head over to the campus for the tour. I’m too late, having misremembered the time and not having been given a schedule in my packet. Probably just as well–my son is being given a one-on-one tour. I wander around on my own through the academic buildings, the art gallery, across the grassy quad, to the student center, examine bulletin boards, gardens. Then back to admissions to see what I can learn. I ask the student at the desk about her story–a junior from a private school, the only one of her class that did not hire a private SAT tutor, believing that was not the point. She shares with me about internships and other opportunities, what she knows about student aid, a sense of the community at Whitman. Tells me the former head of admissions has gone to be a farmer.

In the info session with an admissions officer we hear about the values of Whitman–academic rigor, diversity of thought and experience, rich community, equipping students to make a contribution and move into a great career. Having chosen Pomona for reasons of accessibility, the officer came to work at Whitman because it had been his first choice college, studied anthropology. Tells us about the first year Encounters class, in which students read a set list of books and are led in discussion and writing by professors from various disciplines, classes kept to about fifteen students each. Good information, with only a touch of gushing (the perfect balance of academics and community, “cross-fit for the mind”). The new assistant of admissions, a young black North Carolinian, observes the session, introduces himself to my son.

Then it’s time to go, long drive back over the mountains, but we decide to try our luck finding the swim and dive coach. She’s just getting out of a meeting and takes us to her office for a chat, invites in her interim assistant, a former student who recently won the national 100 butterfly title. He reminds me of my son–medium build, light hair, glasses, calm, intelligent demeanor. Coach Jennifer Blomme  asks my son about grades, previous training, best times, goals. She is a good listener,  and my son has a sense he’d enjoy training with her. She says my son could come in at the level of a scoring member of the team, suggests he apply for early acceptance for the best shot, takes our contact info. Whitman is NCAA Division III, both men and women train together, and there is an off season, which my son thinks would be a good fit and allow him to pursue other interests–something that his previous club coach seemingly could not abide.

On the way home I hear, in precis form, about my son’s time with students and on the tour. He was able to attend an Encounters class, in which he was disappointed at how the professor handled another student’s observations on interpreting the book of Genesis. The student had observed that if one had the view that Genesis was not divinely inspired, one could posit that it was written by man to give man authority over the Earth. Instead of taking that lead to discuss cultural norms handed down by the priesthood, she said, “But that would be blasphemous, so we don’t take that view.” Which surprised me, as i have come to expect the opposite bias in post modern academia. We talked about how rich a discussion it could have been, how we would hope the professor went home and realized she had not handled that very well and come back next day to refresh the discussion. I suggested Isaiah write about that interchange in his entrance essay, which he though was a good idea.

And so the visit was successful in that Whitman is on my son’t short list. However, it’s a hard sell unless they would provide a substantial aid package. Also it looks like my son will be a hard sell for such a college, grades at this point being good but not great, second SAT and first ACT still to be tackled. Still, there may be hope that, since the college asserts that their goal is to build a diverse student body that will excel at Whitman, maybe some of my son’s unique qualities and experiences will offset his less than stellar numbers and white maleness. It will be a reach. My son’s assignment, write notes on his visit and look up the application essay requirements, start making notes.

 

First College Visit

Took a tour of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC with my son last week and we were pretty impressed. Lots of program options, three campuses within public transport distance, mountaintop location, renowned work coop program, encouragement to explore and cross disciplines. The only NCAA Division II college in Canada, with a swim team my son could make (according to current team records). And as a dual citizen there’s that only $5800.oo per year tuition price tag that seems to be a shockingly good bargain. But it’s a big school, and my instinct is that’s not a good thing for this particular young man. Undergrad classes of hundreds of students, impossibility of real connection with professors, just like I experienced in my undergrad years at Dalhousie U. The big campus favors the extrovert, the Type A, the confident, go-getting, early-blooming risk-taker, and of course we need those, and power to them for distinguishing themselves in this big world. But some people need a more nurturing environment, a community where you have a good chance of running into the same people now and then, becoming known, making connections in a natural way and in the course of special events for that purpose. Introverts have the right to have their needs met, too, to have help discovering their strengths and gaining new ones, to be mentored and encouraged. All those stresses of suddenly being away from family, friends, work colleagues, familiar places, plus new academic challenges and the leap into greater independence. Lots to digest, and you gotta have friends and wise people around to help, even to break in at times to the spiral of the introvert’s tendency to over think and turn inward further. Yeah, they’re deep, but they can sometimes get too far under.

So much good information available to inform oneself about U.S. universities–from lots of different angles–from stats to reviews to scores to alternative and unusual viewpoints. Not so much available on Canadian universities–at least I haven’t been able to track much down. Just MacLean’s Magazine rankings, and that system has its flaws. I’m looking at small colleges (there are some excellent big ones–U of Toronto, McGill, but see above). Two that come up often are Acadia U, where I did my teaching degree, and Mount Allison U.,  where two of my siblings studied. Pretty far away, but close to my parents and two siblings, which could be nice for all. It would be good to find out what those two and other similar small Canadian colleges are doing these days.

Meanwhile, we’ve also booked a tour at Whitman College in Walla Walla, the renowned private school that continually appears in our fantastic colleges books–Cool Colleges, Colleges That Change Lives, 140 Best Colleges, and lots more. But tuition is almost ten times that at SFU, and over seven times that of our local state university. The argument being that that’s what a really excellent education costs, and that a good liberal art education gives a person what they really need to think well, communicate well, have depth and breadth of understanding that equips them for whatever next steps they choose. And grad schools and the best HR folks know that and snap up those grads. Also, that if you’re the kind of student Whitman wants, they’ll pitch in big bucks in the way of scholarships and aid, so the average indebtedness might not be much over what a public college grad might incur. Anyway, it’s in our state, and should give us an idea of what these types of places are like. So we’re trying to be open minded.

One thing that struck me about our student tour guide was that she was very somber. Not just serious and grounded, which I appreciate when trying to gather accurate information, but almost sad. Not something about which I could ask, but I wondered if she was lonely at her big school.

Take a walk with me

Northwest Washington is known for its mild, wet weather, with rains that reliably fill up water tables, rivers, lakes and aquifers from fall through spring. But this time of year it is gloriously golden light. In the garden, the heat of August has ripened the tomatoes, sent all the lettuce to seed, and almost ripened the peppers, but September mornings and evenings are cool and sometimes misty. Cool enough for a run, into the rising sun, which flashes between trees and blinds you. You can see little, and so you listen. A flock of starlings gabble and chirp in multilinguistic eagerness, chickadees and towhees report their early morning whereabouts to one another, a crow sends warning about a roving cat. In the shelter of the trail you stop at the stream, lean over the rail of the little bridge, watch until two fish dart upstream.

Back in the garden a few slugs ooze into their secret crevices as the dew dries. Pumpkin and squash leaves along sprawling vines hold themselves aloft, drawing in the oblique light as their fruits swell a final few sizes beneath their concealing canopy. A certain slant of light lends a richness to everything orange and red, vividly contrasting with blues and greens, defining shadows. Dragonflies dive back and forth across the yard after prey, honey bees caress pollen and sip nectar out of the purple borage flowers, and orb weaving spiders, some of them almost an inch long in body, hang silently at the center of perfect webs. You draw near one to admire the patterned body, and she suddenly tenses her front legs.

With the deep rain of earlier in the week, the aroma of soil and fermenting plant trimmings has returned. You pull fireweed that has already gone to seed, hawkweed and plantain, ease webs of roving buttercup from their grip along the surfaces of the garden paths, toss all in a pile. The soil is brown and loose. The raspberry canes are tired, leaves browning, but each one has a succession of ripening berries to gather for the week’s daily breakfast granola. You gingerly tie the arched blackberry canes to their wires; a stray end rasps the skin of your ankle.

Shadows have already begun to overcome the yard, leaving a few hours for a walk and visit to the bookstore cafe. You tie a jacket around your hips as the skylight fades behind the cottonwoods and Douglass firs. The sun no longer warms your skin, but you make warmth walking, and downtown the sidewalks and buildings release their collected heat. Tiny strings of lights adorn shop windows; a man is holding a box of donuts and eating ice cream with his companions on the corner. You enter the bookshop and go upstairs, spotting the volume you want before you reach the top step. Staff Pick, and you have a birthday discount. The clerk has read the author, and voices her approval. Walking home as the full moon rises, you feel it through your backpack, reflecting heat.

As soon as you can you direct your steps away from the lighted streets, into the embrace of the dark. You walk through zones of scent–wild blackberries, gas barbecue, dog urine, fresh evergreen cuttings, cement wet from a sprinkler, the sea.

 

I made my two youngest children…do you know, I hate labeling children by their school level? As in “middle schoolers”? As if that tells anything meaningful about them–I do it sometimes, but I’ve become sensitive to the practice…made them chicken sandwiches and pretzel packets for lunch and off they went, my daughter having agreed to include her brother in her walking group this time, until he could form his own. And I went off to help at the high school book room with the other volunteers. It was pretty quiet, only a few teachers being eager to get those texts into their students’ hands on the very first day, so the three of us chatted between times. I brought up the topic of self-censorship by textbook companies, just as something I’d recently read about that was interesting, then thought, I could do with some self-censorship of my own; we shared second had our children’s experiences in school, current activities and aspirations, our hopes. One woman had one child, the other (a friend from up the road and fellow swim team mom) two, and I, way over the average except in homeschool circles. We shared our disappointment that the math program was less than adequate at the school, that some English teachers didn’t teach writing or require much reading (three books a year in some cases) or stray from their personal favorite genres (dark, with lots of violence), and that there were such strict prohibitions against teacher choice, so what could we do? Then, we served a large lineup of bright-faced students that appeared at the counter, checking out three different texts. I went for more texts and tripped on a chair in the cramped space, bringing my forehead down on the top of a cart with a whack. A new volunteer was just arriving, and asked if I needed ice, and my co-volunteer (a nurse) insisted I sit down. It was embarrassing, and I kept thinking how non-risky a book room ought to be, and how could I have managed to have an accident. No fainting this time, though, and, since the cart had had a lot of give, being on wheels, with a bit of ice I was fine. Pretty much flustered the woman who brought the ice, though–along with the size of the group that were lined up, and one of the computers shutting down. I wanted to say something to soothe her nerves, but just thanked her for the ice and went on my way at the end of my shift.

Been thinking about my spouse, bone weary of traveling to the big city, staying there several nights, missing the family. I’m ttrying to be less reactive to his appeals to relieve him be going back to work. Which, I continually assure him, I am attempting to do. One can’t substitute teach at the very beginning of the year, after all, and there were orientations to attend and paperwork they had to receive still. Then I could make as much in a day as he could make in one hour. But of course, it would open up the field for further opportunities, and after twenty years I could probably get to one third his salary plus benefits. That’s how much folks are willing to pay for fast-fluxing, always changing, always at the competitive edge cell phone service (he works for one of the large providers) as compared to teachers for their community’s children. Ironic, no? If only they could make schooling more efficient and put all those kids on computers that could quickly train them to work at those cell phone companies, video game creation shops, app development firms, and the ones with a hankering for social service, cyber-intelligence and security. Then the teachers could go find careers in real estate or selling futons.

The other day I’d asked my spouse to remember  that I was committed to pitching in, I was not dragging my feet, finally felt I could balance it with family responsibilities (if he found local work), but that I needed to feel he was on my side, at my back, rooting for me, rather than a feeling of being pushed out into that mean ‘ole world and suck it up. His mom had cried at going back to work, and I did feel it would be a big adjustment for me to “go back,” but that I was going in with my eyes open and willingly. (I admit to you that this is a statement of faith, with a bit of “fake it ’till you make it” to it–resolve rather than conviction, you know.)

I picked up my two kids at the park on their way home between rain showers, the first in over a month, heard them debrief, caught tones of general contentment with their teachers and classmates in general, optimism about the year ahead, except my daughter felt that her L.A. teacher was not so good. My first thought was–no way; she has to have a good L.A. teacher, or she might lose her love for writing. And, maybe I should homeschool her just in that. As in, no choice about it, really. As the sky darkened, she lamented how much time of her day was now being used up, with so little left to make her own choices. A waste of time, she said, and I dutifully answered, It depends what you do with it. Just like time off, in that sense, or full time job. Also like prison time. Depends what you do with it.

Later I made a point of calling my husband, which I don’t do often enough, sharing the day, and he so appreciated it.

 

I’m walking around doing my household chores wondering if anything is about to hit the fan. See, I’ve been following a family tradition. The way mom mom put it, speaking of trying to be helpful after a death in a neighbor’s family, was, “She went around talking low and saying all the right things. I went around talking loud and saying all the wrong things.” Which is, I feel an important role. Gives others the chance to say, not just, “yes, that’s so,” and “True,” but to get a more meaningful discussion going, see what we all really think and feel about things. Still, the instigator is rarely thanked.

Though I’m a bit anxious about the comment I posted on the neighborhood website, still, I’m smiling. As much as I love true neighborliness, the give and take and share and looking out for one another of it all, now possible through the web as it used to be through physical interactions and gossip, sometimes I feel that there’s a little too much insincere niceness, and/or silence where a straighforward comment or word of critique might be apt. Not to criticize persons, not to put anyone down, but wrongheaded ideas, organizations, social trends, errors in judgment, oversight or presumption. But in doing so, even this little bit, I feel I’m sticking my neck out. Nothing on the scale of repent or perish–the issue here is of little importance. But can I learn something? I just hope that when folks disagree with what I’ve said, they let me know in a way that invites dialogue, avoids personal condemnation. But if it does, can I stay above my hurt ego, let go of my desire to appear wise and good, not to say ladylike? Can I be content with disagreement? There’s that insecurity again the desire for approval, along with the occasional foolish courage. For an opinionated person, I don’t have a very thick skin.

I don’t want to be one of those people who only makes disparaging comments, and merely nods appreciatively and says “wow” to myself when someone does or says something really great. But I admit I have a hard time putting together affirming, encouraging words of the kudos sort. I question my turns of phrase more there, agonize over the possibility that something might sound insincere or like a mere “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” in response to another’s encouragement to me. So I listen to those gifted encouragers and try to learn a thing or two. If I put my energy, creativity, some sweat and blood, into that endeavor, I won’t have much time to criticize, and I’ll do a heck of a lot more good.

I want something

June was cheerful and busy the last time I saw her, excited about her new volunteer work and welding class. This time as I walked past her window to the front door, I saw her standing, arms crossed, brow furrowed, staring out the window.

She caught my movement and came to the door, welcomed me in, started fixing us some of her excellent coffee. Her mostly eaten breakfast was on the counter–crispy sausages and hash browns, poached eggs, steamed spinach and cheese. Had I eaten? “I’m having all these animal parts–an egg, which is mean to bring new life, ground up pig muscle, and I was even going to add some cottage cheese, for the extra protein. As if I can’t settle for meat, have to have the reproductive cells and the secretions too. Seems parasitic. The spinach is okay, though it came from Costco, so must have come from a megafarm.”

“I’ll eat this, if you don’t want the rest,” I smiled. She smiled sheepishly, and sighed. “This is how I wrecked a romantic meal once, you know–too much analysis. It was so beautiful and delicious, but I started to feel it was a self-indulgent waste of cash that could have gone to better uses. Or was it? I don’t know. But I still feel that there something immoral about eating food I had nothing direct to do in obtaining, and didn’t really need.”

I picked up a damp dish cloth and wiped some spilled coffee grounds into my hand, tipped them into her compost pail, collected some stray pencils and poked them back into their mug. The kitchen window was open, and I heard the tiny whir of hummingbird wings, metallic chirping. She heard it too, and we moved silently closer to see and stood still, necks craned, to watch the visitation.

Best to let her talk it out. I knew it was the best way to help her come around, or back up to the surface again, where she could live and breathe. Best not to say much, either. She wasn’t a very good listener, in a way. Not that I resented it–it was just that unless I was speaking from my heart–and who can do that all the time?–she didn’t really absorb the details. Though she would sometimes realize it and apologize later. She had no patience for small talk, even from a friend. Talk about scheduling, play dates, other events, errands, those she had to write down or they’d slip away. But she has always been there for me when I’ve been bursting with real feeling, whether delight or sorrow. She would completely enter in then, putting her own things entirely aside to ask questions, empathize, help me pour out my soul. If neither of us had much to say, it was out to the garden to weed or look for something ripe, or time to make something–a meal, a drawing, a plan.

“I really wanted this breakfast, was so longing for it. And then I realized it was a poor substitute. I want something. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I feel it’s something I have no business wanting. Sometimes it feels like pain.” She put the last few dishes in the dishwasher and clicked it on. “(I love that sound–something humming while it works for me.) No, not a pain, an ache, like the soreness when you massage a sore muscle. A good pain. So, I actually want to want, don’t know what I’d do without desire, longing. Well, yes I do–I’d get depressed.”

Then we switched to talk about our kids, fussed about busy schedules, helped each other resolve to be brave and cheerful, and said farewell until next time.

As described in my gardening blog, this spring my husband and I built some nice, tidy raised beds and put up a greenhouse (see post here). I supplemented the clay with sandy soil for better drainage and amended with partially composted horse manure/sawdust from the local riding arena, and figured that with the addition of the right compost and some rotation, the beds would be good for the duration. The garden grew great into the summer, then my dad gave me a copy of Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts (2006). I learned that I had set up an unnecessarily water-hungry system that would give me more individual vegetables but of less health and quality for the same biomass than if I had everything more spaced out, and that I needed way more land since seasons of fallow were essential for soil regeneration. I also got advice on growing better seedlings, creating high quality compost (doesn’t just happen) without adding excess CO2 to the air, mixing a complete fertilizer, “fertigating” with fish emulsion, and opening up the clay soil with gypsum. So there was hope for the next five years or so, when our neighbor’s cedar trees (planted while we were overseas, without consulting with us about impacts) would shade our garden so much that vegetables would be out for us anyway. More reason to move out into the county.

Back at home I ran into JW, co-owner of our local urban farm/nursery/local produce market and former next door neighbor. Told him what I was reading. Of course JW knew Solomon’s work, being an eager, lifelong student of farming knowledge, but he asked if I’d read his latest, The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food (2013). Said the author had learned a whole lot more and had discounted some of his earlier teachings. He grabbed a copy  off a display and put it in my hands–“Here, read this one.” Wanted me to take it free. I protested, said I’d buy one when I was finished the other, but he insisted and so I thanked him, let him get back to the field, and paid for my fruit and potting mix. Not the first time JW has refused to accept payment over the years of our friendship.

Solomon wrote about what he’d learned about the way soil mineral content affects health, based on old studies of dental health and old military draft medical records  (when people still ate from their regionally grown foods). He linked this with the way minerals become available to plants and are depleted over time, affecting produce quality. Areas where rainfall (or irrigation) is highest experience the most leaching of minerals, and land continuously farmed further loses minerals, noticeably affecting plant health (and dependence on agriproducts). Farmland constantly sends plant and animal products and the waste materials (humanure and urine) of those that consume them off the land, never to return, and nothing, not even all the composted materials left over, can replenish the minerals in them–even the compost is depleted, because it’s grown on the same land. So farming and gardening is not a closed system. Today I read the proud statement of a local organic CSA that their farm was nourished completely by on-farm materials, and I have a mind to warn them of the error of their ways so they won’t run into trouble in the long term (how long depends on the mineral reserves of that particular land).

The historic response to this mineral depletion was to move west and start again in newly cleared land. The modern response is to go for overall productivity in terms of sellable biomass by using fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and industrial scale machinery, and add whatever minerals keep the land producing. Food grows, but with ever decreasing resistence to disease and pests, ever decreasing nutrient values, and sometimes, in the case of organic farming, harmful buildup of certain elements in the manure and compost added. It’s not about organic versus non-organic products, Solomon explains, because many organic farms and gardens fail to remineralize their soil too, and so consumers get low nutrient food. As in high carb combined with, low protein, vitamins and minerals.

Hence the need to bring in minerals from sources downstream in the form of sea products, seaweed, and slow release mineral deposits that include trace minerals only lately recognized as essential to plant and human health. And hence the hope that humans can come to their senses about composting their own manure, urine and bodies instead of wasting all those accumulated minerals.

On the home gardening scale, this means mixing up a custom fertilizer with all essential plant nutrients, including trace minerals and enough nitrate nitrogen (originally derived from atmospheric nitrogen gas) to drive rapid plant growth. Compost is also important for opening up the soil, feeding plant flora and fauna that create good soil tilth, and moisture retention in sandy soils. But it’s not the be-all and end-all that gardeners have been led to believe. There’s even such a thing in some regions as too much compost, as I found out by ignoring Steve Solomon’s warnings that it could harbor seedling-eating pests.

I just mixed up Solomon’s latest version of Cascadian Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF), and yesterday I fed my broccoli seedlings with a dose of fish emulsion. They grew over a half inch overnight–that’s about 20%, at their size! I expect that once the COF is taken up by my other crops, I’ll see improvements in flavor, disease resistance, and nutritional value. I told my dentist today that this checkup would be the baseline and that he should see improvement. Hard to believe, but a person can grow leaf lettuce that’s 20% protein!

 

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