Putting a garden to bed after the Bioneers

Shelby at the Art-FarmGood night and good grief. I almost missed the opportunity to put our Community Garden plot to bed. Here it is November 9th ( my friend Bev’s birthday, who helped put in hundreds of flower starts last June—Happy Birthday Bev!)—and I’ve finally coordinated time with our Tiller-man Tom to give the garden a final once over. What a patient and tolerant garden friend he is.

The idea of putting a garden to bed is kind-of sweet and silly. Maybe those words….”putting a garden to bed”….not the actual doing of it. Not sure if other permaculturists would even agree with the idea of it. “Too much work. Let nature do it’s thing.” But, for me, the art-farmer who likes to blend a little ritual and ceremony with my doings–it seems right. It’s the season to say a grateful good-bye and appreciate the magical process of green growing plant life. And, it was a nice day to be outside.

And so, I met with my Community Garden companeros on Tuesday afternoon, a balmy, 50-something degree, grey sky November afternoon. We pulled up all the pathway stakes that had been carefully placed on that sweaty day in early June heat, wrapped up twine, hauled tomato cages and bean poles out, and mulched over the two perennial beds with straw. And, we wished to have our kid gardeners with us—but alas, they were tucked away in their inside school classroom—and so we joked about sending a note to school that said “Hurry, come back outside, now!”

As Lauren and I gathered dried yellow soup bean pods, we talked about recent gathering of the Great Lakes Bioneers conference—our mid-west version of the larger west-coast Bioneers gathering. It was her first Bioneer experience, and she—like me, a few years earlier—fell in love immediately, with the Mushroom Man. Paul Stamets was the first plenary speaker, and he talked fast and intense about the powers of the mighty mushroom and how it could save the world. Mesmorized the masses, as most political leaders never will.

Since my Bioneers meeting with Paul Stamets, I’ve had the great good luck to spend time out west in the middle of our long Michigan winters. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet a few of his students and fellow mycologist that are, likewise, believers that mushrooms are capable of saving the world. Here in Michigan, I’d been under the spell and influence of hunting for the morel mushroom in the woods behind my farmhouse, and it became a fun adventure to relinquish my afternoons to wandering in the woods. My good dog, Marley inspired me to be like a dog and keep my nose to the ground—and, sometimes, for both of our sanity needs, we were gone sniffing for hours.

In California, hiking through the Cazadero Mountains near my friends cabin I believe I acquired and was given a “beyond relinquishment mushroom starlight vision” experience. And it stays with me, here in my Michigan woods. I automatically scan and am satisfyingly thrilled to see a fungus of any sort. This doesn’t mean I’m a great mushroom huntress, or even aspire to be. It means, that I believe, like Paul and these others, minus all their scientific knowledge, that mushrooms have a mighty, mighty power. And they are a beautiful, diverse species.

I’m in awe and reverence of ancientness. And yes, mushrooms have been around a very, very long time. They’ve figured out how to survive without depleting the Earth’s natural resources. They give me hope. I’ve decided to keep learning—in my slow and protracted way—-about these mushrooms and have begun to understand how to “key” them in.

So far, I’ve met a few mushroom friends: the turkeytail, oyster, the bluet and the matsutake—which all grow in our nearby woods. It also helps to have another mushroom, human friend who can help identify and so I’m grateful for our neighbor Curt’s expertise.

After all these thoughts about mushrooms being a savior of the planet, DeDe joined Lauren and I as we finished up collecting seeds in the flower garden. There too, with much appreciation for intelligence of it all, we looked at the design and clever method of the dried up flower heads that beheld hundreds of seeds in their pods. And, I thought of all the money we saved on buying seeds in advance for our next growing season.

At the end of our “putting the garden to bed” work, we scattered wet straw that had fungus/mycellium beginning to grow in it over our perennials, and I wondered about the ability of the symbiotic powers that it might have on these plants root systems. Would the fungus scatter itself or grow down into the soil, and reach the roots before the ground froze?

Finally, in a manner befitting any good permaculturist, the three of us, hooted and hollared as we smashed an ample supply of over-ripe Halloween pumpkins in the unused garden plots nearby.

We expect, even while snow blankets the ground, and our garden sleeps, nature will do her thing.

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