As I begin to write this post, I take a deep inhale and sigh out my exhale. The new land my family and I moved to back in March this year has already taught me so much. These lessons are not like any type of traditional schooling. They are filled with the experiences of trial and error, keen observing of our surroundings, and deep listening for what the land is truly in need of.
Throughout the last few years, I have been taking in so much information from books, blogs, posts, articles, websites, podcasts, and documentaries about organic gardening, regenerative farming, and biodynamic agriculture methods. I find it so fascinating and could probably talk to you about soil quality, plants, herbs, and flowers for hours (I'm super fun at parties!) However, before moving up to the Tehachapi Mountains where our backyard has about a half acre of open land, I never really had the space to start a descent sized garden from scratch. Of course I would make do with our smaller city yards and plant in little beds and pots, but now we just took a huge step in lot size. Naturally I wanted to turn the whole space below our backyard deck into a gigantic garden. My husband suggested I reel in my vision slightly so there's still room to run around and play. It made sense...he's pretty good at bringing my head into reality at times. Alas the plan for a Medicine Wheel garden was born. I cannot take credit for this idea though...it was the book "The Medicine Wheel Garden" by E. Barrie Kavasch that filled me with inspiration, along with the age old Wheel of the Year ideology embraced by so many Earth worshiping cultures that I was introduced to during my apprenticeship at The Gaia School of Healing.
As fate would have it, our new home is surrounded by a family of several Oak Trees. In fact, our house is built around a glorious, wise old Oak...it feels as if her roots are supporting our home's foundation. Her branches and leaves provide so much shade throughout these warm summer days too; she is so very generous. In the backyard her sister Oak stands tall on a small hill giving the land just beside her cool shade in the late afternoons. When we walked the perimeter of the land together just before moving in, this tree called to me in the quiet, gentle way tree's often catch our attention. Her message was for me to work beneath her. I listened and this is where we chose to build the wheel. This gorgeous Oak wanted to be the guardian of our garden.
And so, the first lesson of the land revealed itself...
Befriend, respect, listen, and learn from the ancient life that has survived, thrived, and witnessed so much growth and change upon first arrival to a new environment.
(Imagine if our colonial ancestors heard this message upon arriving to the Americas way back when; what an extremely different society we would be living in today.)
Once the location of our garden was chosen, we began to collect rocks from around our property to construct the great wheel. I pin pointed the center, or heart of the space and used my own foot steps to measure out a 30 foot by 30 foot circle. Digging up rocks became a family pastime for a couple weeks, along with collecting rocks from different areas around Tehachapi where they laid plentiful. After some serious physical labor of lifting, carrying, and rolling rocks down the hill, the wheel was marked. The physical act of moving stones made me feel connected to the previous Indigenous inhabitants of this valley, the Kawaiisu tribe, and I wondered if they once built Medicine Wheels here too?
By the time the wheel was laid down, we were in full Spring as the month of April came so swiftly. Phoenix and I were mixing up big buckets full of "poop tea" (a few scoops of chicken manure in lots of water) and pouring it around the entire wheel with our watering cans twice a week in hopes of giving the land necessary nutrients for it's health so we wouldn't have to till up and disturb so much of the Earth on planting day. I did this for about a month until my planned planting day of May 22nd...the New Moon and a for sure time where over night frosts wouldn't happen in our mountainous climate.
As May's New Moon approached us, I decided to install some gopher protection because one of those cute little guys poked his head up at us while we were watering the wheel one day. It reminded me of the kids game at Chuck E. Cheese where you bop the gophers over and over with a foam mallet. There was no bopping happening in our wheel though. We had to get on his animalistic level and speak his territorial language, so I told Phoenix to pee in his hole! (Side note, Phoenix has been peeing mostly outside since potty training...it's the wild in him). After cutting up about 100 feet of gopher wire, we dug up the rows planned for planting and laid down the wire underneath. This was intense work. And I only cut myself like eight times.
As I covered up all the wire with a mixture of the existing soil and Amend soil, a sigh of relief came over me. I was SO glad that hard labor was done. My body was sore for the next couple of days, but it was definitely a good kind of hurt. The New Moon arrived and we planted all of the seedlings and seeds in each row, along with some starter veggie plants in the arrow head beds my stepdad made for us as a welcome gift.
In the couple of weeks after planting, the next lesson appeared...
A vast ecosystem of mammals, insects, birds, plants, and fungi feed off of and rely upon our Mother Gaia for life and existence.
And soon after this lesson presented itself, the next lesson came barreling in...
Boy oh boy, I'm still processing this one each day that I walk down to water the wheel. One by one, all of the seedling sprouts began to disappear. Goodbye mugwort babies, lavender babies, tulsi babies, lemon balm babies, bell pepper plants (the sweetest bell pepper bandit ever is in the picture above). Steve put up a wire fence to keep the deer and bunnies out of the wheel, which worked for a little while until the tremendous amounts of insects came to feast on tiny leaves. Goodbye comfrey babies, goodbye burdock babies, goodbye silky butterfly weed babies, goodbye white sage babies, goodbye pumpkin babies. We figured out the ravens and quails amongst some other birds were big wheel fans too, so I bought a faux hawk and tied shiny red foil ribbons on the wire fence to help keep them away.
We had plenty more pumpkin seeds, so we re-planted those and they sprouted up really quickly and are still going strong today. Thank goodness because this is Phoenix's pumpkin patch and we really want him to appreciate growing our own veggies, herbs, and fruits. We read the book "From Seed to Pumpkin" which motivated us to bring this pumpkin patch into reality.
The bell pepper plants that the deer chomped the tops off of are slowly growing back too. And the soy beans, green beans, and cherry tomatoes in the beds are all still alive and growing. I'm praying to the gopher Gods that they let us keep some. Unfortunately I did not cover the bottoms of our arrow head beds with gopher wire...we hadn't learned that lesson quite yet when we laid them down in the North portal of the wheel and filled them up with soil.
And the final lesson from the land as of today...
We need to spend more time listening, observing, and getting to know this land we live and rest upon in order to develop a reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving with her.
I was over zealous to think we could move to a brand new environment, only spend one month courting the land, and expect to impregnate her with so many new seeds. She has been sitting unnoticed and under nourished for quite some time before our arrival. She has been doing the best she can to feed the animals who live off of her, but she needs so much more care to become wholly healthy, vibrant, and fertile again. I am not giving up on her. I'm beginning to plan which cover crops I can plant in her this late summer to revive her soil flesh and her spirit once again. Perhaps after a season of red clover resting beneath the snows of winter, she will feel that I love her and am in this relationship for the long haul. <3