Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tending Over Owning - Example of Four Gardens

In My Way - Three Stories, and earlier, in Making and Taking, I described in very abstract terms the idea of accounting on the basis of what is tended, versus the standard practice of financial accounting based on what is owned.  It's time to develop some concrete examples.  Each of the four gardens below yields a different aspect of well being.

Why gardens?

Gardens grow spontaneously, consume inputs, and produce yields.  Even without intervention they grow, but given catalysts like attention and effort, they yield more.  If, say, passive income is the pinnacle of owning, then gardens are the pinnacle of tending.  With enough forethought, preparation, and attention, the recurring costs of tending a garden approach zero, because the elements naturally provide for each other.  That's why gardens.  Here are some gardens I'm learning about at Sage Garden Ecovillas.

The Plants Garden

This is the literal garden, with tangible plants in it.  Actually, plants are just a mascot for this garden (but the word starts with a "p," and I'm doing a thing here with alliteration, so bear with me).  We might as well include in this garden animals and all things that live, in the biological sense.  This is the "densest" of the four gardens I'll talk about, if that metaphor makes sense.  I guess what I mean by that is in this garden, the elements, the inputs, and the outputs are all tangible, physical things.

It's worth pointing out that humans, which appear as biological organisms in this garden, are not central in it.  In this garden, we are just another element, and just as reliant on other elements as they are on each other.  Put another way, this garden does not depend on us, but we depend on it.

The People Garden

For this garden, "people" refers not to human bodies (they belong in the "plants" garden), but to entities with a will, a spirit, an ability to observe, desire, believe, choose.  Growth in this garden refers not to physical growth, but to the self-development of things like authenticity, wisdom, personal power, freedom.  What does it mean to tend the garden of people at Sage Garden?  First it means tending to my own growth.  Then it means giving space for others to do the same.  The prevailing norms of the landlord-tenant relationship are shaped by the objective of financial accumulation, and standard agreements focus on restrictions.  In contrast, this-or-better agreements focus on intent and cooperation, and encourage expansion of whats and hows in whatever directions serve the whys.

In contrast to the plants garden above, humans have a pivotal role in the people garden.  In fact, depending on your metaphysical beliefs (which I don't care to change), humans may be the only people who exist in this garden.

The Practices Garden

This is a garden of actions.  Not hypothetical actions (which participate in the next garden below); but actions that are actually performed.  Some practices are a prerequisite to other practices.  Many practices yield knowledge.  The "weeds" in this garden are practices that harm or destroy, or interfere with beneficial practices.  In my opinion, of the four gardens, this one has the greatest room for growth at Sage Garden.

The Philosophies Garden

This is the garden of ideas, including knowledge, experience, ways of understanding, mental tools, methods of doing.  If the plants garden is the densest, this idea garden is the most rarefied.  This makes it no less effective, just less obvious, less strenuous.  One demonstration of the rarefied nature of this garden is an observation by George Bernard Shaw: "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

How the Four Gardens Relate to Each Other

There is a chain of dependency among the four gardens.  The people garden depends on the plants garden.  The practices garden depends on the people garden, and the philosophies garden depends on the practices garden.

Besides those hard dependencies, there are also softer, tending relationships that can either be beneficial or harmful.  People and practices can tend the plants garden.  Practices and philosophies can tend the people garden.  And philosophies can also tend the practices garden.

Which brings us to one last garden I'd better mention.


No-garden is a recognition of the limitation of the garden analogy.  It's a frank admission that although this metaphor may be helpful, we'd be better off scrapping the whole thing than believing it's all there is.  I think this garden unlocks the power of the others.  Without this garden, the others are a pointless mental exercise at best.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

April Flowers Bring May Fruit

Our citronella and white sage are both blooming for the first time.

Elderberry is blooming (with pomegranate and sweet potato in the background), and Barbados cherry is setting fruit.

Volunteer tomatoes are ripening.

The early crop of figs is starting to ripen, and it looks like even the new panache fig wants to join in.

Olives and apples are fruiting.

We may have our first homegrown prickly pear fruit this year, and the wolfberries are ridiculously prolific.

Grapevines on the clothesline and on the moringas are starting to bear fruit.

We're learning how to cook with moringa pods.  You can see why from the picture above.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bugs, Biodiversity, and Bad Guys

We're seeing more insects this year.  Better still, we're seeing a greater variety of insects at Sage Garden than we saw last year.  One of the things I liked about Arizona when I first decided to move here was that there weren't as many insects here as I was used to.  So why would I be happy to see more insects?

In a word, biodiversity.

Biodiversity leads to resilience, and resilience leads to stability and efficiency (more yield for less input).  Every natural "problem" has a natural solution.  Sometimes the problem is its own solution.  Here's an example.  Problem: mockingbirds eat figs from our trees, leaving fewer figs for us to eat.  Solution: for a modest fee of a few figs, these same birds defend our fig trees from beetles and other birds (mockingbirds are territorial).  Every year the trees grow more productive, and now there are so many figs that the mockingbirds only take a tiny fraction of them.  Besides tending our figs, they also sing for us.  Here's a similar example.  Problem: grackles and doves eat tomatoes, leaving fewer for us to eat.  Solution: these same birds drop tomato seeds throughout the yard which grow into more plants, providing more tomatoes for us to eat.  All of the tomato plants growing here were planted by birds.  Thanks, birds.  Have some more tomatoes, please.  Plus they provide fertilizer, and they keep the insects in check.  All this goodness comes free of charge, with zero human effort.

Wait a minute.  Didn't I start by saying I was happy to see more insects?  Then why would I be happy that the birds are eating them?  Who are the good guys here, and who are the bad guys?  Maybe the good guy is a natural, effortless balance.  And maybe the bad guy is the good/evil dichotomy, which leads to a monoculture approach where we pamper a single protagonist species and eradicate all competition.

I have to admit there are a few species we have eliminated completely from this place.  We chose to uproot all the foxtails, goat heads, and fiddlenecks in order to avoid injuries to people and pets.

Getting back to the insects, some old favorites have returned this year, including honeybees, ants, grasshoppers, and butterflies.  We also have some newcomers.

I didn't know what a hoverfly was before this year, when we noticed two of their hangout spots: one by a mesquite tree, and another by a dill plant (left).  This year we're seeing these predators and pollinators in large numbers.  In retrospect, I'm not surprised.  If I were a hoverfly, this dill plant and its neighborhood look like a place I'd want to be.

In smaller numbers (so far) we're seeing lacewings and damselflies here for the first time.  Despite their delicate appearance, these are both effective predators, keeping other insects in balance.

We installed a bee block for mason bees this spring, and it's getting used.  (When I took the picture below, I didn't see the photobombing bee in the red circle.) And we're seeing many mason bees at work - especially on our basil, wolfberry, sage, and brittlebush.  Maybe the mason bees are newcomers this year, or maybe we're just starting to see them because we're looking for them.  In any case, I'm glad they're here to pollinate our plants.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What? More Flowers?

Yes.  More new flowers continue to bloom.  We're seeing our first pineapple guava flowers since this tree was planted in the fall of 2016.  And judging by the number of buds still waiting to open (see the round, gray-green buds in the picture on the right), we're going to have quite a show this year.  Besides putting on a show, these flowers are edible - as are the fruit that follow - and of course they play their part in extending the foraging season for pollinators.

Speaking of pollinators, we're starting to see more mason bees, especially on the native flowers like the brittlebush and wolfberry above.

Seeing the mason bees made me wonder whether any had found our bee block on the northeast corner of the house.  I checked, and sure enough, one of the holes is occupied with eggs.

The paper sleeves in the bee block are there to protect larvae from splinters and to make the holes easier to clean between seasons.  The purpose of the wire mesh is to keep hungry birds from eating the eggs or larvae.

Below are flowers on the Barbados cherry (left) and Fuji apple (right).

Below are flowers on our newest moringa (left) which we planted this February and some flowers and peppers on the thai pepper plant (center) which we planted ... never.  This pepper is a volunteer that popped up in our labyrinth.

And I've saved the best for last.  The little white flowers on the curry tree on the right may not look like much, but the fragrance is amazing.  When I first sniffed these little flowers, I was expecting something more spicy and aromatic, to match the leaves, but no.  The strong but pleasant sweetness immediately took me back to my great grandma's garden and the lily of the valley that grew there in the black Iowa soil.

If you know someone who's growing curry leaf, go smell their flowers.  Go now.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Still More Spring Flowers

Every passing week brings new flowers to Sage Garden Ecovillas.

The plum tree is blooming.

In the picture below you can see the emerging flowers of the Thai lime (foreground).  In the background is a lavender bush, and on the far left edge of the frame, you might see a few of the baby fruits setting on the Washington navel orange.

Under the peach tree is a desert senna (right) and several self-seeded basil bushes that we have let flower.  The mason bees don't mind that at all.  I'm hoping some of them find our bee block nearby, so we can watch their lifecycle.

This year we sowed lupine (the native species) and vetch in several of our planted areas, and it's starting to flower.  It's a shame to see these go, but it's time to chop them and let their bodies and root nodules do their job and enrich the soil.  The vetch in this picture will feed its neighbor - a Fuji apple.  We'll leave a few flowers to go to seed.
And the olives are putting on more flowers every day.  I'm looking forward to this year's olive harvest.

Next up will be the moringas and the curry leaf (flower buds pictured on the right).

Check out the two preceding posts for more spring flower pics.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

More Spring Flowers

Jasmine is blooming under one of the pomegranates.

We had to move two of the pomegranates last November.  I wasn't sure they would survive the trip, but they are both clearly doing fine.

Globemallow, hibiscus, and hollyhock.

Mulberry and onion.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Spring Flowers

It's the time of year when the trees come out of dormancy, and we start to see a variety of flowers.

Some are accompanied by strong fragrances, like the orange blossoms and the chaparral sage.
Some are barely visible, like the olive and jojoba.  Two of our jojoba bushes turned out to be female.  You can see the unassuming bell-shaped female jojoba flowers in the picture on the right below.

Others are more showy, like the blackberry and banana.

But I think my favorites this year are the avocado flowers.  They're small and somewhat camouflaged, but the fascinating thing about these flowers is the way they ensure cross-pollination.  All of the flowers  are perfect (having both male and female parts), but the anthers and stigmata open at different times over a two-day cycle.  All the flowers on a single tree enter the male phase - when they release pollen - at the same time.
The yellow parts are nectaries, which provide the payoff for pollinators.  I'm guessing that's what the ant is after.

Below is a flower from the same tree, but at a later time.  Now all the flowers are in the female phase, when they are receptive to pollen.
While this cycle might seem to make it more difficult for a single organism to reproduce, it benefits the population by encouraging genetic diversity, which gave the species more resilience in the wild.  This is a fuerte avocado tree.  Nearby is a Hass.  The Hass avocado tree has a complementary two-day cycle, so it will hopefully cross-pollinate well with the fuerte.