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Posts Tagged ‘garden’

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Earthy gems – dried peas to plant next year. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

I was working in the garden this afternoon. Specifically, I was pulling out the dried pea plants and shelling the pods to save seeds. No matter how frequently we pick and eat fresh snap peas through June and July, the plants are usually tired and brown a few weeks following Lughnasadh. The final harvest is a meditative experience filled with intermittent chanting and prayerful gratitude.

I randomly remembered a comment on my blog years and years ago. I’d posted something about my then container garden. One reply basically asked when my blog switched over to gardening instead of Druidry. It left me confounded.

Years later, my relationship with my garden has deepened. It’s a major part of my Druidry, and I can’t imagine it any other way. I enjoy speaking about mythology and liturgy as much as the next Druid, but I’ve noticed myself blogging more about how I live my Druidry everyday. Druidry isn’t simply philosophy divorced from life – it’s an experience intertwined with everything. Not all magic occurs in a fire-lit circle. This time of year, for me, it revolves around the garden.

Mornings and evenings have felt particularly autumnal these last few days. Some leaves are changing, and apples blush on the branches. The cider mill is open. My garden is moving into a new phase. The late summer crops ripen, and the fall plants embrace the cool air and rise to prominence. The final pea harvest always marks a turning point for me.

If you’re still reading my blog, I hope you enjoy seeing my garden. I hope it inspires you to get your hands dirty and join me in the ritual of life and renewal.

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A few pea pods aren’t dry enough to shell, so they’re hanging on my fence. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

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I killed a bird today.

I never meant to, but it happened. Earlier this summer, I bought some netting in an attempt to protect some berry bushes, and I also put it over my squash after a chipmunk got the only fruit on the vine. I was discouraged and just wanted to protect my harvest. With all the awful news about climate change, I often worry I’m not growing enough food for my family just in case…

So I put the netting up. I was ambivalent about it from the start. It was plastic, and I’ve been trying to avoid that when possible. Yet I hoped I could use it each year. I envisioned it as a shield.

Instead, it has more in common with fly tape. Shortly after putting it up, I had to free a tangled chipmunk. The little guy was fine, but it left me shaken. I started checking every day until it seemed that all was well.

Until today. I found the sparrow while watering the garden. The poor bird struggled to escape. Using garden gloves and scissors, I carefully snipped the net and spoke calmly. I hoped that would be all, just like the chipmunk. Then I noticed its bloodied wing. She couldn’t fly and struggled to stand. Fighting against the sinking feeling, I called the local wildlife rehab and prepared to transport the sparrow. I opened the box I put her in just before we left and found her stiff, lifeless body.

I felt awful. I still feel awful. I cried and my husband hugged me.

The thing is, I kept pulling regular omens relating to warnings from the land spirits. I couldn’t figure out what it was. The consistency was alarming, and I started to wonder if it could be a larger warming due to everything else going on in the world. Today, when I held that tiny lifeless bird, it all solidified.

They’d been telling me, begging me, to take it down. I should have done it after the chipmunk. I should have known…

When I called the rehab to let her know what happened, she comforted me and shared a similar story. Only she listened to the first one. She said the bird bit her, telling her to take it down.

The netting is gone. We buried the bird beneath the birch sapling, a symbol of new beginnings. I promised to get rid of it, and I did. I ripped it all off and put it away. I have to figure out what to do with it. Perhaps I can re purpose it elsewhere in the home to keep it out of the landfills. The thought of other creatures, especially ocean animals, getting tangled in it, horrifies me. I felt so guilty while I untangled the bird. It wasn’t fair. She wasn’t even going after my squash – she was eating the bugs! Thinking of the many, many animals tangled up in garden and fishing netting … it breaks my heart. And I just contributed to that atrocity.

It’s not worth it. I need to find a way to share. I think of the vineyard where I went blueberry picking. Nothing is covered in netting, but there’s enough to go around. I just need to add more blueberries, plant more squash, and plan to share with my wild cousins.

There has to be a better way. We all have to find a better way.

We all need to be better listeners…

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I wanted to use my patio table as a temporary altar to do some work under the full moon. I had forgotten the potatoes I harvested and left there (oops). Then I realized this was perfect! My magic could tap into that fertile potato crop energy. With a clear sky, a bright moon, and a chorus of crickets, I set to work with the help of the potatoes that I lovingly tended for several months. I still have some dirt under my fingernails to prove it! My time outside with the moon and my spirit allies was fantastic. One of the best solo rites I’ve performed in awhile. I felt so connected and in the moment. It’s exactly what I needed.

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Full Moon Rite with Potatoes – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

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My old herbal stash. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

In what seems like a never-ending quest to better organize our small home, I decided an herbal cleanse was in order. I mean that very literally in that it was time go through my old trunk of herbs and sundry. I’ve learned over the years that there is an optimal way to store dried plants. They also lose potency, especially if you intend to use them as food, drink, or medicine.

As a younger Druid-in-training, I had so much to learn. I frequently bought interesting baggies of herbs at metaphysical shops. I had a favorite stall at the Sterling Renaissance festival, and I tried to buy one or two samples every year. I clung to these purchases like talismans of witch cred. Simply having them made me feel more magical, at least for a moment. I seldom did anything with the herbs. I occasionally made an herbal sachet or dream pillow, but most accumulated in the trunk. Even as I grew, however humbly, in my Druidry, folk magic, and herbal know-how, the trunk has followed me around. An item of nostalgia.

Until a few days ago.

I went through it, examining each specimen, remembering where I obtained it. Some were from witchcraft shops no longer in existence. Some came from my very first herb garden. There were rose petals from a young man I kissed one summer long ago. Oak leaves picked up and crushed… because I never had any of those trees where I grew up, so I collected whenever I could.

I put many of the ancient herbs in my compost pile. It seemed appropriate to return these dead plants to the Earth. They can help me grow new herbs in the future. As I worked, I developed a composting prayer:

 

Stem to soil
Bark to brown
Wilt to worms
Break it down! 

 

(I did put a few herbs in the fire pit which was probably not the best idea as they made a lot of smoke at first!)

I did keep a few things: plants that, now that we’re reacquainted, truly are appropriate for talismans rather than consuming. I have some mistletoe, which is steeped in lore, and is not something I’ve encountered in my own surroundings before. I also have a dried fly agaric which I’m very fond of. I rediscovered some chunks of dragons blood purchased at a shop in Salem, MA, and I even have a baggie of shed Arctic fox fur (an animal sanctuary sold little samples of it as a way to raise funds). I mean… you never know when you’ll need these things, right?!

As someone who converted to a polytheistic path over several years, it can be fascinating, humbling, and hilarious to look back at my journey. I prefer keeping my herbs in glass jars now, though I do need to improve my usage and not horde them so much. I also strive to grow or forage for most of what I utilize, but I’m not above buying a hard-to-find specimen from a trusted source who ethically harvests plants.

Do any of you have old herbs stashed away in baggies, forgotten or horded for some unknown purpose? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how you work with herbs and do your own herbal cleanse!

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Newly cut roses for Airmed. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Summer is here, and that means I’m in and out of my garden multiple times a day. Gardens take work, but it’s a relaxing, uplifting labor or love. I often find myself lost in contemplation. I thought about how it’s a perfect metaphor for my religion, but then I realized that it is my religion. Although my Druidry is culturally focused on Irish traditions, it always comes back to the land I live on.

In Druidry, we honor the Ancestors. Most of my ancestors lived in Europe, with a great many coming from the northern parts – Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, and Norway. I think of how they interacted with the land (without romanticizing it). I study the plants they worked with, their land-based symbolism, their agricultural cycles, and how they interacted with land spirits. Some of my ancestors moved to the United States to seek new opportunities. I know that some came here to farm, to brew, and cook. I delight in learning how they did things and adapted to North America. I look to the ancestors of this land I now live on. I try to learn about and respect how the indigenous cultures live and work with the land. I try to learn about the spirits in their traditions so I don’t insult them. I strive to honor them in my own way with acknowledgement and my efforts to restore native species of plants to my yard. I try to keep abreast of issues that are important to the tribes who live in Upstate NY. It’s a never-ending effort of respect for the land and the people who lived here first.

In Druidry, we honor the Deities. I honor the Tuath Dé Danann, with emphasis on Brigid, but also a lot of work with Airmed, An Cailleach, An Dagda, Angus, Lugh, An Morrígan,  and Manannán mac Lir. They are mostly deities of cultural elements, but they also have strong land associations. Many have lore-based connections to plants or animals. Their sacred spaces are based in the land, sea, and sky of Ireland and surrounding countries. How can I connect with them in Upstate NY? The Celts migrated in the past, so I believe I can connect to the deities just as they did*. One way is by respectfully creating shrines on the land where I live. One of my favorite, most meaningful offerings are the plants I grow.

That brings me to the third arm of Druidry – honoring the land spirits. I’m mostly focused on the actual spirits of this place – seen and unseen. When it comes to the unseen, I’m specifically referring to the spirit of the soil, the trees, the overall forest here, etc. Not really the Good Folk, but that is a big gray area (see link below)**. When I interact with the tools and ingredients my ancestors knew and loved, I also interact with the land. I must consider what is and isn’t invasive and damaging to this land. When I visit cemeteries to honor the dead, I also honor the land they are becoming. As I grow food for my family, I know that I will go into the soil and contribute to the cycle one day. When I erect shrines for the deities, I work with the land. When I create spiritual tools, I strive to respectfully wildcraft what I can, and then use materials ethically obtained. I avoid working with certain objects due to mining, over harvesting, etc. When I lead rituals with my grove, we are interacting with an older cultural tradition, but also integrating it with the rhythms of this land.

It all comes back to the land. Gardening, and the many other ways I work to live in better harmony with the earth, is me living my Druidry. As we move into more challenging, uncertain times, I pray that my relationship improves and helps me and my family adapt.

 

*The topic of immigrants interacting with deities from another land is a huge topic best for another post.

** Are land spirits and fairies the same thing? Here’s a great discussion on that huge topic.

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Happy green moss growing between the cement slabs. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

One of the reasons we bought our home is because we loved the back patio and garden area. However, we are not keen on how the stones were placed. There are large slabs of cement with wide gaps in between. Previous owners put gravel in the spaces, but it doesn’t stay, especially during winter. I am constantly toiling to keep the plants that grow between the stones at a manageable height. It makes me feel bad, but I do pull plants that get too high. Last year, around early autumn, I transplanted my hanging strawberry plants and their babies into the ground to start a strawberry bed. As I dug, I felt guilty for displacing some moss. I moved it into the patio area between the cracks. I was inspired by one section that had some moss in it. I thought it looked nice and wanted to experiment. Months later, you can see how well the moss took to its new environment above. It’s spreading its fuzzy green wings.

Newly transplanted moss. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Some neglected pots of soil developed their own layer of moss. I decided to move them to the patio cracks. Grow into a happy patch, little moss! Of course, I  seek their permission first, then sing to them as I give them an offering of water to help them settle into their new home.

A naturally occurring cushion moss in a patio crack. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Some mosses have happily developed here on their own. They like the sandy, acidic soil and partial shade. Check out this gorgeous, verdant cushion moss! Many of these specimens, undisturbed from my refusal to use weed killers, are cheerfully releasing little spores to spread some fuzzy love.

Nettle (center), moss, and wood sorrel. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

As with any garden work, I  learn more about the land and the other plants that are growing here as I work and explore. The more I learn about Japanese gardens, the more I’m intrigued with the idea of transforming the land but working to do so in a way that maintains harmony. When you slow down instead of hack and slash everything without observing, you may miss blessings from spirits all too willing to work with you.

I recently saw a witch post on social media about how plants and fungi she wanted to cultivate are suddenly growing in her yard! I feel as if I’m experiencing a similar blessing. I’ve longed to find nettle for years. I sought it in the hedges near my old apartment, where I was lucky to discover numerous other plant allies. Last year, I thought I found it, but was not convinced.Over the winter, I considered buying some seeds. As you may know from my Instagram, I recently found it growing along my fence! Yesterday, as I transplanted moss from a pot, I felt a sting. At first I worried I’d disturbed a bee, but nope! I quickly realized I brushed against a tiny nettle who had taken up residence in the pot along with the moss. Well hello there, wee one! Don’t worry. I’m not moving you anywhere. In fact, you can have that whole pot. Welcome!

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Like most Americans, I grew up hearing people moan about weeds. My grandmother, an avid gardener, was fussy. She didn’t want anything growing between the cracks of her sidewalk. When she still lived at home, she often poured boiling water over unwanted plants. Old fashioned, effective, relatively eco-friendly in terms of chemical use, but laborious. At the same time, she was the first to teach me about foraging and herbalism. She had a respect for the plant world, but wanted control over what grew where in her yard, as many do.  Myself included to an extent! My mother and father have been more relaxed about it. They prefer hand weeding and mulching, but don’t get hung up on dandelions and other diversity in the yard. My mother was always delighted to get bouquets of dandelions, and she taught us to make wishes when they went to seed. Her tolerance transferred to me, but magnified to a deeper respect for plants like dandelions – plants that not only are beautiful in their own ways, but very nutritious for us and pollinators like bees.

Since my early forays into gardening, I’ve been reading about herbs, and that also lead me to foraging. I’m in no way an expert. I have so much to learn about living in harmony with the natural world while also keeping my “territory” safe for my family and veggie patch. You can imagine my horror as I looked out my window to see my new neighbor spraying chemicals on the dandelions and clovers this spring. I’m, shall we say, friendly with weeds?

I actually dislike the word “weed,” but it’s easier than saying “plants growing where I don’t exactly want them.” I suppose I should just call them “wild plants.” The more I learn, walking through my yard is like browsing a grocery store. It’s not just “grass” or “lawn.” I can name much of the flora. Not all, and don’t ask me for Latin names… like I said. Not an expert. Weeding my veggie patch is an interesting mental process for me. It must be done. Just as I do not want fleas on my cats, I understand that my veggies will be less successful with too much competition. And yet, I have internal conversations like this:

“Oooh, lamb’s quarters! I’ll let you grow for now, but I’m coming back for you later. You’re going in a stir fry…”

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My sandy, yet flourishing, herb spiral.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

I made a deal with the crabgrass today. I know it will die off in the autumn, but for now, its roots are helping to prevent soil erosion in my fledgling herb garden. The soil here is very sandy in places. I have my work ahead of me, but for this year, I’m accepting the crabgrass in the bare spots to keep things together when I water. I told the grass, “I’ll let you grow here for now, as long as you aren’t right next to the herbs. In exchange, you need to accept my haircuts!”  Yeah, I’d rather not have seeds settle in there.  I’ll plan to fill those areas in with something else next year.

I did tear plenty out around the lavender, though.

While my family is cultivating parts of the yard for food, we understand the importance of buffer zones for native species and pollinators. The back of our yard, right up by the stone border separating us from the cemetery, is filled with all manner of plants. I needed to see who was there before making decisions about what I want to do with that area. However, one corner is for the pollinator garden (or the “fairy garden” as my daughter likes to call it). We’ve dedicated it to the local spirits. Unless guided to do so, we are not taking anything from it for ourselves. I’ve since learned there are raspberries growing there. They are for the birds. We’ve planted bee balm, purple and yellow cone flowers, and lavender hyssop. Some other plants are starting to grow there, too. I’m carefully weeding so that the native varieties are able to flourish.

Elsewhere in the yard, we also leave patches of clover alone for the most part. The previous owners had a big dog, and he dug massive holes around the yard.  Before we finalized the purchase, they helpfully filled those in for safety, but we had big sandy patches all over.  We let crabgrass and flowering plants take those areas for now and just let them go nuts.  It’s better looking than sandy spots.  I’ve noticed many happy bees, and they bring their joy to our veggie and herb patches. It’s a win-win!  In the meantime, I continue to study foraging, learning what I can eat, how it impacts everything else in the yard, and am even dipping my toes into permaculture.

That said, if we get something really dangerous, I’ll probably follow my grandmother’s lead and bring out the tea kettle…

 

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