Garlic Festival (Oct – Dec 2014 & Jan 2015)

The cover photo features the 20th annual Garlic Festival held in New Denver every September. If you noticed the Johnson’s Landing Retreat Center banner over one of the booths, it was because we were there selling garlic. We are certified Kootenay Mountain Grown, having joined a group of farmers who use organic farming methods.

We are now preparing for winter, so I am layering the garden with cardboard and straw to suppress the weeds and provide food for my earthworms. I have to smile at myself and my angels at the amount of time it takes to do this. Working in the garden sure has increased my appreciation for the culture and ecology of our soil and the creatures that make life possible for us humans.

When I lived in Penticton, I composted all the carrot pulp from The Juicy Carrot restaurant as I have always recycled. A lady friend who was more into gardening than me at the time brought over a bucket full of earthworms to quicken the process. When I moved to Johnson’s Landing, the first thing Richard did was transport a trailer full of this carrot pulp loaded with earthworms that we put in the upper garden. A year later, I got to see first-hand the good work they did aerating the gravel-like soil.

Then the World of Worm Castings in Kelowna decided to advertise in Issues. The owner taught me the basics that she had given in many school-aged children’s tours. Then, five years ago, a man came to the Retreat Center and offered me some of his worms, about the same time we had a volunteer already practicing vermi-composting, so I decided to ‘give it a try.’ He got the bin ready so that when I returned home from distribution with a bucketful of red wrigglers, my worms had a place to live. I had found a book at the second-hand store called Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, a soil scientist from Kalamazoo, MI. Even Pete Seeger had something to say about the benefits of worms on the back cover of Mary’s book. Well … one thing does lead to another, and today I have worm bins on display and love talking to anyone who is interested. In October, I will move them into the basement for the winter.

Black Press, the company that prints Issues, gives me as much shredded paper as I can take home. The ends are cut off when Issues is stapled and make a good bed for the worms that they will eat if there are not enough food scraps. The tricky part is figuring out how much water is needed to wet the paper. Did you know that worms breathe through their skin, which is why after a rain they crawl out of the ground and on to the roads and sidewalks? If they didn’t, they would drown. I guess a lot of kids already know this.

Back to the bigger picture and the time it takes to pick up cardboard in Kaslo: I do this because I empty my worm bins in the garden twice a year and red wrigglers are not as adaptable as real earthworms, who burrow deeper to find food and stay warm. Once the cardboard turns to mush, it will make excellent baby food for worms. Did you know that after they mate, the light-colored part of the skin rolls off the short end of each worm and forms an egg that hatches in about three weeks? Inside this jelly-like egg are 3-4 tiny worms that will chew their way out.

Worms make the soil nutrient-dense. The sticky residue they leave in the soil provides the perfect catalyst so minerals can be absorbed by the plants. Growing food organically includes providing lots of raw material as food for the worms to make compost on location. They easily multiply given the right conditions.

Food scientists are now proving that ‘normal’ veggies have less mineral content than 40 years ago. Chemical fertilizers and modern agricultural methods do not nourish the soil as much, such that the larger veggies they produce are often empty of the minerals and vitamins needed for our bodies to be healthy. Earthworms improve the soil for years to come, producing higher crop yields at less cost.

I am also learning about bees, which adds yet another dimension to my understanding of the web of life. I am sure you all know that bees collect nectar and pollen to make baby bees, but they also need a certain temperature in the hive to thrive. Each bee instinctively knows how to fan the hive so the temperature remains constant. To me, the bees are like the canaries in the coal mine. I feel good that the public is keeping a careful watch on bee populations. I like it that many schools have nature days, educating kids about bees and worms.

It is important that we not spend money supporting chemical companies. I also suggest you tell your politician that you want the Canadian government to join the European Union in banning the use of neonicotinoids in pesticides and fungicides. There are just so many issues on the table that are important for life as we know it.

This summer, I took ten days off from farming and drove to Terrace for a family get-together and wedding. It was great to visit my brother’s family, and my four grand-children got to see where their parents were born. I like road trips for I get time to listen to audio tapes. This time, I choose The Enneagram, an ancient teaching tool used by the Catholic clergy. Author Helen Palmer names the nine tendencies of human beings and the preferences whereby each type prefers to live life, including how they react under stress or calm conditions. First, she describes our basic proposition in life and then she describes ‘what we tell ourselves as truth,’ suggesting a practice so we can mature into our personality type. She says life is a journey to know one’s self and observe how we make decisions. Helen has renamed the types so that we can relate more easily. They are the Perfectionist, the Giver, the Performer, the Tragic Romantic, the Observer, the Loyal Skeptic, the Epicure, the Protector and the Mediator.

I discovered I am a seven, or Epicure, which is defined as someone who loves life and its many adventures. Sevens often choose multiple occupations and our lesson is to limit the number of commitments we take on so we don’t wear ourselves out. A mature seven completes the projects they start. Helen’s website has a short video of each type, which is interesting to watch.

I do enjoy way too many things and often find myself distracted or over-extended. These days, I want to do less and still have the Retreat Center function. I also like putting Issues together and hope the Naramata Centre settles their labour dispute so that I can plan for the 2015 Spring Festival of Awareness.

Once Richard knew the Wise Women’s Festival was cancelled in Naramata this fall, he suggested we host a smaller Women’s Festival at Johnson’s Landing rather than cancel it totally. There was a long to-do list that could not be completed on time so we didn’t follow through, but it gave us ideas for next year. This winter, we will plan a few festivals for next summer. Details in the next Issues. Richard and I continue to search for the right people who have the skills and desire to take over the Retreat Center, so please spread the word.