Category Archives: Living on Turtle Island Farm & Gardens

Compost happens

Composting Shaker-style

Composting Shaker-style

“We think of creation in terms of growth, but the intelligence of decay is just as astonishingly coherent and sophisticated. Rotting is creation, too, in all its glory.” (Innes, 2003)

There are a number of things we can always count on in this world. Seasons change, grass grows, the sun rises (though that is only true from our very limited viewpoint, of course). And, yes, we can be sure that compost happens.

It boggles the mind to imagine the myriad organisms and processes that naturally and automatically create living compost from organic matter, whether it be under your feet in the woods or in a pile in the garden.

As I wrote in an Earth Day post three years ago, “did you know that healthy soil should have 600 million bacteria in a teaspoon? There should also be tens of thousands of protozoa and miles of fungal hyphae. If all these little friends were in our soil, the plants which feed us wouldn’t need fungicides or bactericides.

It is because of this that I’m a compost fanatic. We compost all the vegetable trimmings from the kitchen, all the weeds and spent plants from the garden, and most everything else that will decompose, in a huge compost pile. The compost process requires and encourages the very life needed for healthy soil. The finished compost added back on your vegetable and fruit beds is like a shot in the arm for your garden.”

You’ve probably heard the Shaker song that tells us, “’tis a gift to be simple”. We have adopted a version the very simple Shaker-style of composting. We start a new pile each spring, which as you can see in the photo, gets very large. We simply let it compost through the summer, fall and winter, and by spring it has become rich, black soil, teeming with life. It is ready to be distributed throughout the garden, with reverence and gratitude.

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Earth Day

Kokopeli in the garden on Earth Day

Kokopeli in our medicine wheel garden on Earth Day

“Today, look at the blue sky, hear the grass growing beneath your feet, inhale the scent of spring, let the fruits of the earth linger on your tongue, reach out and embrace those you love. Ask Spirit to awaken your awareness to the sacredness of your sensory perceptions.” (Ban Breathnach, 1995)

I was surprised to learn that this is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. (Check out the link at the end of this post if you are interested in the history of this celebration.)

On this Earth Day, I am honored to be a guest blogger for my fellow artist, gardener and friend, Kathleen O’Brien ( In the post, titled Finding Purpose, I pointed out that “it seems like honoring the source of everything we eat, breath, drink, and well…everything, should get more than a day, don’t you think?” I hope you’ll jump over to Kathleen’s blog and read the whole post, learn about an upcoming talk I will be giving at an event she will be hosting on May 5th, and see a couple more photos of our garden.

I hope you have a wonderful Earth Day.

Oh, and here is the link for the history of Earth Day:

Beginnings and endings

A Table Rug given to Jim and Carla

Inspired by the chakras, this Table Rug was a gift for Carla and Jim. Carla was always a cheerleader for my weaving for which I am so grateful.

Life on this planet is such a mystery; at the beginning, at the end and all throughout. Though this story weighs too heavily on the predestination end of the continuum for my tastes, I enjoyed the old Jewish myth where a soul is given a choice to come into the physical universe after being “granted complete foreknowledge of the life it is about to enter, [seeing] everything displayed before it, as if on a movie screen, but collapsed into a timeless less-than-a-moment…And in order to make things more interesting, a split second before the sperm pierces egg…it forgets everything.” (Mitchell, 1991)

The veil of forgetting that the story describes certainly seems real. According to Emmanuel, “When you enter into the womb you begin to acclimate to a limited reality…Somewhere you hear a baby crying and you know that’s you…Identification with that ‘you-ness’ takes many months, indeed years, to accomplish.” (Rodegast, 1985)

It has been fun (and sometimes trying) to watch the development of necessary, healthy egos, first in our children and more recently with our grandchildren. This “sense of a personal self, separate from the rest of existence” (Innes, 2003), is actually just our perception of ourselves. I can’t help but smile when the youngest in our clan, who at two is in the throes of this ego emergence, announces on a regular basis, “I name Sam!” The “I” we perceive is constantly changing, though; “too young and then suddenly too old” (ibid.). (Going out on a limb, here, we eventually get glimpses of how we are not a separate “I” at all but “one partial expression of the divine whole” (Mitchell, 1991), but that is another story to tell.)

At my age it is expected that one will begin to experience more of life’s endings. Death lost a great deal of its fearful grip on me when I read in Emmanuel’s Book many years ago, “Death is like taking off a tight shoe.” (Rodegast, 1985) I immediately thought of this quote a few days ago when I lost a dear friend, Carla L. Rueckert.

As I wrote elsewhere, she is “a powerful soul with unblinking faith [who] has no doubt burst through to the other side with her voice raised in a song of joy and skipping and dancing on new legs”. Carla was quite a cheerleader for our homesteading adventure, living it vicariously but kept from such a lifestyle herself by her longtime physical restrictions.

Her life epitomized the following Q’uote, which from her own lips was channeled: “Each came into the world to be the light of the world; each has the capacity to be the hands, the arms, the loving hearts, the loving mouths of the Creator that speak, that reach to hug, that curve to smile and stop to recognize and honor the divinity of each other self. This principle that is you is unique, and yet you carry crystal within you through which the light may shine. (L/L Research, 2002) We will miss your light, Carla.

Spring Cleaning, Part Two

If I am content with little, then enough is as good as a feast. ~Dean Swift
Spring garden, taken by our friend, Gary

The spring garden, taken last year by our friend, Gary Bean

In the garden, spring cleaning begins with sorting and culling my seed stash, and figuring what needs ordering. I recently planted a test flat and am happy to report that some of the open-pollinated tomato seeds I had saved from my plants have germinated quite well.  So glad I learned that tomatoes are a little more tricky to save. Suzanne Ashworth, in Seed to Seed, describes how the seeds have a gelatinous sack which inhibits germination and needs to be removed through a fermentation process, which is messy but worth the effort.

Since we mulch heavily out in the garden in the fall, there aren’t too many weeds except in the hoophouses. They have been getting their spring cleaning as the early spring bedding plants are moved to their new homes.

The orchard got a cleaning a this past week with an annual pruning. Thankfully it was less of a job than it had been the past few years when I had to correct mistakes I’d made early on. Several classes on home fruit production through the Extension Service were very helpful and I am still far from an expert but it seems like I’m starting to get the hang of it.

We don’t count on tree fruit because it has not tended to be reliable on our farm. It is a case of “take what you get and say thank you”! Blueberries and strawberries have proven to be our best fruit crops (now that we have protected them from the birds) and we have made plans to net the raspberries this year. Too bad for the mockingbirds who will have to be content with a little less.

Spring Cleaning, Part One

Lighting the wood cook stove in the early morning

Lighting the wood cook stove in the early morning

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. – Kahlil Gibran

I wonder if spring cleaning has any instinctual basis or did we just learn it through our culture, from our parents and grandparents? Did the early humans sweep out their space when the cooking fires were moved outside again?

Spring cleaning in the form of removing dust is required in several areas in our living space. One source is wood heat. I wouldn’t say I have a love/hate relationship with heating with wood. I’m glad we do it, but not sorry when it ends. Supplementing our heating and cooking with wood is a labor intensive and time-consuming activity, but it is very satisfying and feels, for us, like “right and worthy” work. The toasty warmth (not to mention much lower electric bills) offsets the annoyance of ash dust and bits of bark, which, despite our efforts, accumulates over the winter. This chilly morning may be the last time I’ll need to light a stove, but I’ve been pecking away at the dust now that mild weather has arrived.

"Pulling" wool for spring weavings

“Pulling” wool for spring weavings

Another source of dust is fabric in my studio, especially wool. Another spring cleaning project besides dusting, though, began with “pulling” wool in the luscious colors of my friend, Donna’s, paintings, for the spring collection I have begun working on. My bins had begun to be chaotic and disorganized and needed culling and sorting. I have found pieces I had forgotten about, which is always a treat, and a nice pile of great fabrics has begun to form.

With longer and more urgent to-do lists, the whispering of the hours Gibran spoke of has a different volume and beat than when we were snowed in this winter, but the music is good.


Sighs of spring


Frog on my frog

Well-placed peeper

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Two of the most portentous indications of spring at our house made themselves known a few days ago. One was positive and the other less so.

The first was the arrival of ants on the kitchen counter. Ants offer me quite a challenge, not only in their persistence in spite of our determination to keep them outside, but also due to my aversion to ending the life of another unnecessarily. For some reason dispatching damaging insect pests in the garden does not bother me (too much). Though they are just doing their thing, they put our livelihood at risk by jeopardizing our crops, so I say sorry little friends, and to myself chant “I am Shiva the destroyer”, knowing that I am a part of the natural process of creation and destruction on this planet.

It seems, though, that ants doing their thing on my counter shouldn’t be that big a deal. Unfortunately, I know they can overrun the place and when they find their way into the Solarium, they are quite the farmers, raising unwelcome scale and aphids on my plants for their food sources in a way similar to humans who raise cows for milk.

In the end, I sigh and make a solution of borax and sugar and put it in a shallow lid on the counter so, hopefully, the little guys will take some home to wipe out one of the gazillion colonies of ants. I tell them I’m sorry and try not to feel guilty.

On the joyous side, I heard the peepers for the first time this year! Typically, they start singing in mid- to late-February, and even occasionally during a warm spell in January,  but in the last few years they have slumbered long and hard with the cold winters and late springs. They always give me a sigh of relief and the knowledge that, yes, I can make it through the rest of the winter. More commonly known as tree frogs, I found one sitting on a cast iron frog in my Solarium a few years ago. I was delighted that it waited for me to return with my camera.

Happy Spring to you all.

The room formerly known as the greenhouse

The room formerly known as the greenhouse

The room formerly known as the greenhouse

We are in the research mode of designing a solar greenhouse to attached to the small barn Steve built last year. There are so many ideas out there about solar greenhouses: cold sinks, ground to air heat transfer systems, which “skin” or glazing is best, what is the best heat sink, whether to incorporate a chicken coop, etc., so there is a sharp learning curve before we begin.

We have a fairly large room on the southwest side of our house with windows on three sides which we have always called “the greenhouse”. Our granddaughter, Ava, when she was little, asked us why it wasn’t painted green, so we did paint the door green for her.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get enough sun to grow greens in the winter without lights. I have lettuce growing out there in pots but it gets a few hours of extra light from an LED grow light. The warm weather bedding plants I grow every year start to get leggy before it gets warm enough to transplant them to the garden.

Since we are now calling the planned solar greenhouse, “the greenhouse”, I impulsively wrote in my garden journal the other day the new name for the room on the house. It is now the Solarium (yes, fancy enough to warrant a capital “S”, don’t you think?).

White Rain


Flowers on a snowy day

I saw a movie a while back in which snow was called white rain. Seemed fitting.

A little over a week ago, here in Kentucky, we had a white rainstorm like we haven’t had in many years. We also had one of the longest cold spells in quite a while. Typically when we get snow, it may, or may not even, cover the ground and will be gone in a day or two. This storm system brought at least a foot, and there is still a blanket of white rain out our window 10 days later.

I am happy to report that we fared quite well through it all, though. With the wood stoves cranked up, the freezers and pantry full and the fact that the electricity didn’t fail us, we have been quite comfortable.

Amaryllis with white rain in the background

Amaryllis with white rain in the background

Picking lettuce was a treat

Picking lettuce was a treat







We have had to keep an infrared stove in the room formerly known as the greenhouse (more on that at another time). It hasn’t gotten below 58 degrees out there despite subzero temperatures. One day last week I picked lettuce out there while admiring the dozens of Amaryllis blooms, the geraniums and Impatiens, and all the greenery set off by the white snow in the background. What a treat, but I am so ready for spring!!


Studio Open House and Garden Sale was lovely

I started this yesterday but didn’t get it posted. My Studio Open House and Garden Sale weekend was lovely. It was great to see so many people and one couldn’t have asked for more beautiful weather. If you weren’t able to come, give me a call. I can open my studio by appointment, and the hoop houses in the garden are doing very well right now so if the weather allows I’d be glad to show them to you. My contact info is on my studio website:

It has been a long time since I last posted because I thought things would settle down after the Open House, but I have continued to be quite busy. Thanks to those of you who have sent me comments. One friend asked that I write more about my spirituality, which I will be doing in my next posting. Another friend sent me a great blog from which to get ideas and suggested I include photos. I hope to try that out soon, too.

I am going to send another e-mail to let you know I’m posting this, but please sign up as a member (it is on the upper right of the blog) so you’ll get a link to any future postings.

Here is what I wrote yesterday, Saturday, December 3rd:

Great day! My dear husband came running in this morning yelling, “Cranes!” That’s always a good way to start the day. We love seeing the Sandhill cranes on their migration south, which passes right over our farm. This is the latest in the season we have seen them, though, according to my records. It was a small flock so hopefully we will see more in the coming days. We have seen hundreds at a time before, sounding their distinctive call. It will give you goose bumps (or should I say “Sandhill crane bumps”?)

The warm, sunny weather gave me a chance to work in the garden. I harvested and weeded and cleaned up plants under the hoop houses. Three big heads of Chinese cabbage, a gallon bag each of broccoli, mixed lettuces and Vitamin Greens (a leafy version of a bok choi green), found their way to the kitchen as well as a small pot of mixed greens from the plants needing pruning. Not bad for December 3rd. I recently added a layer of plastic to the long hoop house right on top of the row cover to give more protection and I can already see the benefits of larger harvests.

Though the biodynamic signs weren’t the best I couldn’t wait any longer to get more garlic in the ground since there is more rain in the forecast. I got 4 short double rows planted and hope to get the rest in before it rains tomorrow.