Alpine Lady

Honoring the natural world through prose, poetry, music, sounds, photographs and musings.


In Celebration of the Dandelion Seed

We’re all familiar with the dandelion, Taraxacium officinale, a member of the Asteraceae family with tiny flowers or florets collected together into its composite, bright yellow flower head. Dandelion roars to life come springtime to aid us in flushing out a rich accumulation of debris from the indulgence of richer wintertime fare, helping us to rebuild and support our health. Then in late summer, it blossoms again as a reminder that it’s there to help us ease into the winter rhythms after the sweet excesses and energetics of summer and autumn.

The center florets surrounded by the ray flowers arranged in a Fibonacci spiral.

The center florets surrounded by ray flowers and all arranged in a Fibonacci spiral.

Named for the French “Dent de lion”, meaning lion’s tooth from the appearance of its tooth-edged leaves, the whole plant has a rich tradition as a food and beverage source plus it is used in folk and modern herbal medicine. Actually its best known medicinal attribute as a diuretic is in it’s French name “Pissenlit” meaning piss-a-bed.

One hundred to three hundred florets making up the blossom and may be pollinated by insects, by the wind or according to a website “Buzz About Bees”, they have even evolved a unique method to pollinate themselves: “The stigma grow through the middle of the anthers. As this happens, pollen is automatically transferred onto the style. If no insect aids the pollination process, the stigma curls back on itself, picking up the pollen that caught onto the style below”. Thus even when it’s shut tight and unable to open because the weather is gray and there’s a lack of sunlight, it can pollinate itself by a process called apomixis which develops seeds identical in genetics to the parent. Sunny days and insect pollination, on the other hand, lead to a healthier diversity of plant seed. For a really good photographic showing of the apomixis process:

The flowers open and close for three or four days and then stay closed for good, forming seeds inside. When ready, the stem grows high to catch the breezes, and on a dry day the seed head turns inside out forming the familiar “blow-about top” to be dispersed where they may. Cut open a seed-forming elder and examine the cycle for yourself.

Here is a photo journal in celebration of the dandelion seed head’s cycle. I hope you enjoy this aspect of the plant that many of us take for granted or bemoan that more seeds mean more weeds.

A springtime gathering of dandelions, probably all from one root.

A springtime gathering of dandelions providing an abundant source of nectar and pollen for hungry insects.

Come, rest a moment,
join me in community,
see me as bud, blossom and elder
waiting for the rhythms of the year
to open me to the heavens,
that I might pollinate and propagate.

And stand please
in wonderment,
rejoice when I pose
on tippy-toes and twirl
with the wind o’er the meadow
on a journey of a lifetime.

Dusted with dewdrops, the seed head awaits drying before it can begin its journey.

Dusted with dewdrops, the seed head awaits drying before it can begin its journey . . .

Mesmerizing moment . . .

A mesmerizing moment . . .

Once pollinated, up to 300 seeds position themselves where the breeze can catch the parachutes . . .

Once pollinated, up to 300 parachuted-seeds position themselves high above the main plant . . .

 And standing on tippie-toes , catch the breeze and twirl across the meadow . . .

and standing on tippie-toes, catch the breezes and twirl across the lawns and meadows . . .

Eventualy to fall to the g rond and with its unique seed head, auger in to begin afresh . . .

providing bird food for American  Goldfinches, Savannah and White-Crowned sparrows . . .

Imagine the potential bird food for goldfinches and sparrows.

eventually to fall the ground and with its unique seed head, auger in to begin afresh . . .

and with the balancing of community, space, and time . . .

with the balancing of community, space, and time . . .

 with the rhythm of the morning's full moon reflecting the dawning sun.

within the rhythms of the seasons as viewed by this morning’s full moon reflecting the dawning sun.


Until our next journey together, may your travels be safe and peaceful. ~ P




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The Augustness of August

August bares a poignant truth
that summer’s on the wane;
thunder storms announce the news
and hail stones chill the rain.
Summer apples, soft and sweet,
jar loose and plummet to the ground;
bald-faced hornets hone in and eat voraciously
the rotted morsels that can be found.
Cornucopia gardens fill to overflowing,
best intention’s weeding falls behind;
harvesting takes a bow at center stage
with preservation methods clearly now in mind.
Yellowed grass stalks hang richly-seeded
upon which herds of cattle graze;
seeds that fall upon the ground
may sprout come warm spring days.
Fields lie strewn with tightly-bound bales
for hay cutting and curing have been good;
the bucking crews quickly shift them to the barn,
stacking cut-ends-up under weathered wood.
Countless bird nests lie hidden and empty
from whence noisy fledglings took to wing;
mornings and evenings are filled with songs
their species instinctively yearns to sing.
Passerines and waterfowl practice flying in formation
for the flight young ones cannot comprehend;
it seems everywhere the natural world prepares
to feast and fatten before the season’s end.
And so the yearly spiral spins
moving forward in time;
another summer progresses
into autumn’s cooler paradigm.
What better plant to exemplify August than the prolific zuchinni squash?

What better plant to exemplify August than the prolific zuchinni squash?

Until we next journey together, may your travels be peaceful. ~ P

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Tickling Blueberries

My fingers stroke the heavily-weighted clusters of Bluecrop blueberries,
tickling them off the branches and into the bright blue bucket
while sensual, poetic images flit through my mind,
tickling my imagination.

A sea of blue netting above the picking field,
played by the northwestern wind’s soughing gusts,
mimics softly-played violin strings rising to crescendo
before plunging into an untuned cello’s raspy thrum.

Heavily clusters of blue crop blueberries just ripe for tickling into bucket.

Heavy clusters of blue crop blueberries just ripe for tickling into the picking bucket.

The wind catches its breath and I hear close by,
a white-crowned sparrow urging me onward
with its cheery, repetitive song:
“See me, pretty, pretty me! See me, pretty, pretty me!”

In the distance, young ravens
indulge in a raucous choir practice
led by adults chanting lyrics
atop tall cottonwoods alongside the river.

Sitting below the blue netting at Dungeness Meadow Farm listening to the pickers and ravens along with the soughing of the melodious winds.

Sitting below the blue netting at Dungeness Meadow Farm listening to the pickers and ravens along with the soughing of the melodious winds.

The sounds of the surrounding pickers’ chatter,
neighborhood lawn and field mowing,
and the hammering of carpenters fill in the gap
until the wind rises again and tunes the net.

My bucket overflows soon with the delicious blue orbs,
a few crab spiders, a splash of leaves turning autumn colors,
and the memories of the season’s pick to feed my poetic nature
come winter’s smoothies, scones and pies.

Until we journey together again, may your days be blessed with peace and beauty. ~ P

There's a sign at the sales stand that reads: "Snacking is permitted, grazing is not!"

There’s a sign at the sales stand that reads: “Snacking is permitted, grazing is not!” The owners, however, are liberal at permitting snacks. Not grazing is hard to do when confronted with such ripe bounty unless you eat, brush your teeth right before picking and plan to pucker up for the first few handfuls.



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Growing Peas: Voices of a Quiet Revolution

We’ve owned copies of  “The Magic of Findhorn,” a paperback by Paul Hawken, and “The Findhorn Garden,” a paperback by the Findhorn Community since soon after they were  first published in 1975.  They’ve been inspiring springtime reads for many years providing me with enthusiasm for observing and co-creating with nature’s spirits each growing season. This year is no different even though our gardening now on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington is in containers plus a row of roses to admire and prune.

I was particularly delighted in the current spring reread when coming upon a post in “The Findhorn Garden” regarding the Tibetan Blue Poppy because glancing through a windbreak a couple of  years back, I discovered these lovely poppies growing at a former plant nursery in our neighborhood. My initial contact with Meconopsis betonicifoila had been at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, where the blue poppy is a signature plant. Unfortunately I was there at a time when the lovely flower was not in blossom but there were reminders of its allure on posters, postcards, paintings and other memorabilia for sale throughout the gift shops.

Tibetan Blue Poppy

Tibetan Blue Poppy

The message the Deva of the Tibetan blue poppy conveyed to Dorothy Maclean who worked with the Deva consciousness of Findhorn: “We carry the aura of our native places, a feeling for the environment most natural to us…it is necessary to keep our links with the places that bred us, otherwise we would not be what we are. You take those links and classify them a ‘shade loving,’ ‘acid soil,’ etc., but those are results. It is the soul, the overall feel of a place that influences the direction of growth.”

Bringing the Devic messages to our own gardens throughout the years, Michael and I have gestalted personal experience with that of other readings and messages from a greater mystery to grow healthy medicinals, flowers and food.

Growing  Garden Peas in North Idaho’s Clay Soils

Many times as I watched our own green garden pea plants stretch and grow tall, sometimes reaching heights of eleven feet, I have thought of Gregory Mendel, an early plant geneticist who determined the linkage of genes that is the basis for genetics today. He spent countless hours observing the differing growth aspects of this popular legume. Although Michael and I certainly didn’t have the time and tolerance to do the precision investigation that Mendel did, we delighted in observing the tiny shoots as they emerged from the soil, as their tendrils twisted upward searching for support. There’s almost a childish awe in witnessing the first bud form and blossom, and first embryonic pea pod emerging as the flower petals shrivel and drop.

Green Garden Pea ~ Sugar Snap

Green Garden Pea ~ Sugar Snap

In the Findhorn garden, the green pea was Dorothy Maclean’s favorite vegetable and no wonder she chose its Deva as the first to make spiritual contact with. Among other information, the Pea Deva observed, “My work is clear before me, to bring the force fields into manifestation regardless of obstacles, and there are many in this man-infested world. While the vegetable kingdom holds no grudge against those it feeds, man takes what he can as a matter of course, giving no thanks. This makes us strangely hostile…Humans generally seem to know not where they are going or why. If they did, what a powerhouse they would be. If they were on the straight course of what is to be done, we could cooperate with them…”

Until becoming acquainted with the Pea Deva, little did we realize that particular message imbued the food we ate called the green garden pea. They just tasted good fresh, as a veggie or in soups which empowered us as a medicinal food. But there was so much more to learn!

This is a mid-summer side garden and the pea harvest is winding down.

This is a mid-summer side garden and the pea harvest is winding down.

Working It Out Together

In early spring, just as the cool, spring clay soils of north Idaho thawed enough and ready to be forked, it was enriched with compost and smoothed over for a few days or longer to rest. Usually by the first week of April, Michael presoaked the pea seeds in just a small amount of moisture and added a dusting of inoculate before planting. Sprouting pea seeds are able to tolerate a few light frosts without affecting their germination or growth potential. Our favorite pea variety to grow was the easy to eat, right off the vine edible-podded snap pea although we tried others over the years including the more fibrous English pods.

The actual growing of the pea plant itself was a labor of love for Michael. From the soaking stage, to witnessing the first shoots, to fine-tuning the watering systems throughout their growth cycle, stringing a trellis for them to climb on, protecting them from strong winds and hail, admiring an afternoon rainbow or eating the first peas while watching the ospreys circle overhead, all were part of the successful growing process.

Erecting Trellis for Peas.

Erecting Trellis for Peas. Garlic coming up strong in the first bed, greens planted in the hoop house.

Observing what worked well for us and our gardening needs through time, we planned the last of the sugar snap peas offering its free veggie grazing to be picked from the towering vines in July amid the stifling summer heat. The once bountiful harvest of thick, sweet edible pods had dwindled down by then to a few and although small, pale flower clusters formed, it was time to pull up the vines, enrich and turn the area into a late greens or broccoli bed to take advantage of the cooler weather.  Later in the fall, after that crop was harvested, we spaded in rich organic matter and birch leaves, covering everything over with straw and pine needles. If winter temperatures didn’t force the frost deep into the beds, the earthworms and other organisms helped to transform the leaves and amendments including vermiculture compost into a healthy soil ready for the next spring’s planting.

In late winter, the beauty and freshness of the green sugar snap’s flower became a lingering memory brought alive by eating a liberal sprinkling of just-barely thawed peas in pasta dishes or hot salads. Surrounded by our own fragrant homemade pesto with home-grown basil and garlic, the green garden peas popped with savory freshness reminding us that another gardening season was just a few calendar days away from planning and visioning.

Voices of a Quiet Revolution

I try to imagine if more of us would allow ourselves the room and time to get our act together and approach the natural world in a co-creative manner, how we could collectively change many negative aspects confronting our world today. As one of the Findhorn gardeners related: “Knowing that the gardener’s attitudes, thoughts and feelings can have a profound effect on the plants, it had a great effect on all of us, since we had to learn to be careful about how we felt, how we spoke and what we did around the garden.” If this good advice for working in a garden, perhaps it’s good advice for our own interactions with fellow beings? Let’s make it so!

Our sweet cottage on St. Claire Ave, Sandpoint, ID.

Our sweet cottage on St. Claire Ave, Sandpoint, ID.

Until we meet on our next journey, may we all  be blessed with abundant peace.


Pleurotus djamor, the Love Mushroom

This summer’s warm and gusty breezes shook loose the detritus languishing in the rose bushes, bordering fields, and hedgerow trees. It lifted the fluffy seeds of oyster plants, Canadian thistles and dandelions, strewing them along with red rose petals, tan-colored twigs, and bits of dried fern fronds onto the dry, brittle grasses of my pathway. The grasses were now worn short by daily foot traffic to and from the ramshackle enclosure currently housing the vermiculture compost, lettuce pots and mushroom bin where I had come to do early afternoon chores. After depositing the kitchen compostables into the worm bin, I turned the mixture of rotting debris and slithering red wiggler worms with the spading fork, being careful to avoid jarring the little Pacific chorus treefrog that lived in one corner of the bin. Then I watered the lettuce pots. The lettuce growing in these pots had been resurrected from summer’s heat by planting in pure worm compost and became sweet and tasty with no hint of bitterness. I picked the largest leaves for a dinner salad before turning my attention to the mushrooms.

The enclosure where the mushrooms, lettuce ad worms live. Also known as my potting are.

The enclosure where the mushrooms, lettuce ad worms live. Also known as my potting area.

This was my second visit of the day to the enclosure. Already I had opened the mushroom bin a crack to allow some fresh air to flow over the spawn-strewn sacks that were beginning to set a second flush of pink oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus djamor. By now the spray bottle of water I’d positioned in the sun had warmed sufficiently to mist the emerging clusters or primordia which were maturing into the fruiting body of the love mushroom. The passionately pink mushrooms grow quickly at this stage and I’ve found paying fairly close attention to their needs as they emerge will mean greater survival rates.

Pleurotus djamor primordia beginning to emerge.

Pleurotus djamor primordia beginning to emerge.

Growing the salmon-colored oyster mushrooms was a new experience for us. We’ve grown the blue and white cap oyster mushrooms before which are classed as chriophilic, preferring cooler growing conditions. Michael and I attended classes in early spring a few years ago with Lowell Dietz, a local grower. He showed us how to seed the spawn, sterilize the straw, and strew the spawn throughout the straw before packing it into large, clear plastic bags and poking holes through the plastic with a sterilized screwdriver. It was through these small holes that the mushrooms would emerge.

Packing blue cap oysters (Pleurotus columbinus) spawn-strewn straw into clear plastic bags.

Packing blue cap oysters (Pleurotus columbinus) spawn-strewn straw into clear plastic bags.

The excitement of daily watching the fine white lines of the blue and white cap hyphae emerging from the mycelium spread out and grow through the golden straw, before finally begin exiting one of the holes and form into an edible-sized fruiting body, was quite the journey of wonder and discovery for us.

Blue cap oysters grown in the spring season.

Blue cap oysters grown in the spring season.

Although meatier and tougher in texture than most mushroom varieties, chriophilic oysters have a pleasant flavor which we enjoyed. Sauteed with garlic and onions in either butter or olive oil to which a dollop of pesto has been added, they gave texture and richness to our morning omelets. They are also awesomely tasty on pizzas. I like to cook them with onions and garlic slices before adding them to the pizza topping.

Gills of blue cap are decurrent. They descend down the stem

Gills of blue cap are decurrent. They descend down the stem

The oysters, diced and tossed into soups and stews, impart their inherent protein, vitamins, fiber, and minerals. One of the substances found in them is germanium which helps enhance the oxygen efficiency of the body. Oyster mushrooms, including the pinks, can aid in the removal of artery plaque, activate the immune system, produce enzymes, can assist in the treatment of cancer, and are considered anti-bacterial. They help combat anemia, high blood pressure, and aid in relieving constipation among other medicinal capabilities.

Blue cap oysters saute in coconut oil.

Blue cap oysters saute in coconut oil and butter.

The stunning pink coloration on the pink oyster mushrooms has captivated mushroom lovers for centuries. Native to the tropics, they are considered thermo-tolerant preferring a warmer climate, and aggressively thrive with minimal care at higher humidities as would be found around the equator. They are a mushroom known for having multiple uses. Besides producing nutrition-packed edible fruiting bodies, and because they are a rapid grower, they have caught the attention of those doing environmental bioremediation work with toxic spills since they contain enzymes that break down hydrocarbons. The expired substrate, in our case the straw, also makes good cattle feed.

Sexy pink oyster mushrooms growing in straw-packed bags.

Immature pink oyster mushrooms growing in straw-packed bags.

It was by happenstance that Michael and I got into growing the pink oysters. After the Sequim Lavender Festival in mid-July, Lowell Dietz had extra spawn-strewn sacks available on special so Michael and I decided to try our hand at growing two sacks of pink oysters. All we had to do was place them in a warm, stable environment, and make sure they didn’t get too hot or dry out.

Lowell Dietz with customer amid the pink oysters in his mushroom-growing room.

Lowell Dietz with customer amid the pink oysters in his mushroom-growing room.

Within a matter of days, we watched the pink primordia form and bulge out the plastic. Pink mushroom ears poked their way out through the holes punched into the bags and within a short time we harvested the first flush. A few days later, they had stopped producing and we set the bags aside to rest. Rather than having them remain indoors taking up space in our workshop, we placed them inside a large gray plastic storage bin in the outside enclosure housing my worms and pots of lettuce. Here they would be safe from marauding raccoons.

Mature pink oyster mushrooms ready to be plucked off the bag.

Mature pink oyster mushrooms ready to be plucked off the bag.

The pinks rested for about a month in the bin and I was careful to give light spritzes of water every few days judging by the water droplets inside the bag if they were too dry or too moist. One morning, I got the distinct impression they didn’t like the cool water I had been using and to let the water warm up first. After all, they were tropical in origin. Another impression I got was that they liked growing in the filtered light and fresh air I was giving them as would be found in the tropics. They didn’t like it too hot nor too bright. This I easily accomplished by adjusting the lid of the bin so there was no direct sunlight or wind affecting their growth.

Within days  after the warm spritzes began, primordia appeared  I adjusted the positions of the bags and bin lid so the primordia got exposed to some fresh air and shade each day.The lid was never closed tightly but kept slightly ajar even at night. They rapidly grew and it wasn’t long before I was picking off light pink to flamingo pink mushroom clusters.

Large storage bin in which the pink oysters were grown in late summer's heat.

Large storage bin in which the pink oysters were grown in the heat of late summer.

I’ve developed a rapport with the vermiculture compost, sensing when to turn the compost to adjust the temperature and to make sure the worms get evenly distributed and exposed to new feeds. I have grown accustomed to adjusting their diet of fats when the weather started to cool or become particularly wet, at times adding sweet foods in the form of fruit skins just before they started into their active reproductive stage, adding extra soil or coconut coir to soak up excess moisture, and shredding greenery, etc. when it seemed appropriate. I’ve been doing this for many years and sometimes, it make rational sense and other times I just go ahead with my  gut instinct. One of the reasons I’m careful, is that if the conditions are not prime, the earthworms will migrate out of the bin especially if the weather is wet and they feel they can slither to richer hunting grounds. You truly want to encourage optimum growing conditions within your container. The pay off has been a rich, composted soil and prolific, well-fed worms, and this summer a happy-to-hang-around Pacific treefrog mascot. Of course, sometimes I misjudge and realize that I have more to learn.

I’m sensing I could develop a similar rapport with my mushroom growing adventure but I’m not sure I want to grow them again in this manner. We have talked, though, about strewing spawn in sawdust and seeing how that venture works.

Gills on the underside of pink oyster mushrooms. Their spore print is a lovely, creamy peach.

Gills on the underside of pink oyster mushrooms. Their spore print is a lovely, creamy peach.

Watching all the mushrooms grow has made me stop and ponder about how regular earthworms tunnel, enhancing the oxygen capacity and aeration of the soils, leaving behind, literally, highly nutritious soil amendments throughout the garden which they’ve extracted from the particles they’ve ingested. Mushroom mycelia and hyphae perform a similar task of ferrying nutrients and water throughout the substrate they live within and besides ferrying the worms’ soil enhancements, some actually utilize the tunneling system established by the earthworms. I find this all fascinating and am eagerly researching any similarity between the moon’s affect on both worm and mushroom activity.

What I find difficult about the Pleurotus djamor is defining its aromatics and flavor. Sometimes the sexy pink mushroom smells like the aroma you’d experience stepping into a seafood market making me wonder if  Pleurotus puta would have been a better nomenclature. At other times, the mushroom smells smoky with hints of bacon. Its flavor is similar, sometimes fishy and other times smoky. Even though it has thin flesh, it is meatier and tougher than you’d expect so cooking time must be allotted to allow for it becoming tender.

Pink oyster with caps rolled out and almost straightened upward, ready to harvest.

Pink oyster with caps rolled out and almost straightened upward, ready to harvest.

In addition to enjoying them with eggs, I also like to make a smoked salmon chowder, capitalizing on the the mushroom’s inherent smoky aroma and seafood flavor. First off, to diced celery, carrots, onions, and yellow summer squash, I add fresh basil, tarragon and thyme, parsley, a couple of freshly expressed garlic cloves, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. This mixture is sauteed briefly in coconut oil in a large iron dutch oven before I use a scissors to finely cut thin slices of mushroom, adding them to absorb the flavorful mixture of veggies and herbs. You might want to cut out the meaty mushroom stipe or attachment bulge first as it is often very tough and chewy.  Add some tomato sauce or salsa, shredded smoked salmon and enough water to cover. Cook until veggies and mushrooms are the consistency you prefer, adding more water or rice milk to your liking. Adjust the seasonings and serve over freshly-steamed rice to which garlic, parsley and butter have been added.

Our favorite way to enjoy the oyster and shiitake mushrooms, finding it particularly tasty with the pink oysters, is to braise them with a pig’s heart in coconut oil. I have a special one quart cast iron pot that is the perfect size for braising small organ meats such as chicken hearts and livers as well as pig hearts. After sauteing together garlic, onions and thinly sliced oyster mushrooms, I remove the veggies and brown the heart.

Garlic, onions, herbs, and finely sliced pink oysters ready to be sauteed in coconut oil.

Garlic, onions, herbs, and finely sliced pink oysters ready to be sauteed in coconut oil.

When it is sufficiently browned on all sides, I return the veggie mixture, add salt and pepper, dried basil, a twig of fresh thyme, tarragon and rosemary. Then I cover and braise until tender. Rarely do I remove it from the braising pan but we enjoy cutting off bits, dipping them into the surrounding warm and thick aujus, and snacking until it’s all eaten. Finger lickin’ good is a description that comes to mind.

Like I’ve already mentioned, whether we’d grow pinks or any mushrooms again is a matter of conjecture. It was by fluke we got into the adventure with the pinks, and truly, we enjoy scouting out wild mushrooms more than growing them. Traipsing along in the outdoors, following feelings of instinctual discovery is more appealing to the both of us. However, I’d certainly recommend for a beginning grower to try your hand at growing the love mushroom and see how your relationship develops with this hot pink beauty.

My offering to the fae for the opportunity to grow Pleurotus djamor.

My offering to the fae for the opportunity to grow Pleurotus djamor.

Until next time and our next journey, take care and safe travels. ~P


Addendum to The Alchemical Magic of Vermiculture

Our herbal medicine wheel in Sandpoint, ID, liberally  side dressed with worm compost.

Our herbal medicine wheel in Sandpoint, ID, liberally side dressed through the seasons with worm compost.

The season of melons is upon us and for me the perfect time of year to begin reviving the vermiculture or worm bin. I’ve removed the last batch of breeding worms for a friend and want to take out the rich compost made since the last refurbishment which was a year ago.

I’ve left enough worms to re-establish a breeding community and will have lots of vegetable matter this summer for them to feed on. Depending how active they digest the materials I toss them, I may do this again come late summer but I’m reluctant to do it late in the fall season since this is an outdoor bin. I want a healthy population to hunker together if the winter turns cold . If it were not plastic and a ground bin instead, I could probably do it one more time and insulate the bin well. One plastic bin could not utilize all the vegetable scraps we make in our household, so I find other people to utilize it in their composts but the bin does provide me with enough compost to enrich our container gardens.

To capture the most worms to set aside, I layer in juicy materials and let it rest for a few days. This draws the worms to the fresh matter which I then take out and set aside. The next step is to thoroughly mix the remaining composted soil and if possible, sift it in to another container through a mesh screen. For small amounts a small French fry shaker basket is ideal. (Oh, how I wish I still had mine!) For a larger amount, a screen made of hardware cloth over a wheelbarrow works great. The courser material left after the screening will get tossed back into the compost to go through the digestion process again.

This is not a vermiculture bin as it was in Alaska, but shows  how the hardware cloth was used to sift the raw compost.

This is not a vermiculture bin as it was in Alaska, but shows how the hardware cloth was used to sift the raw compost.

This year it looks like they gave me seven gallons of unsifted compost, certainly enough to do the container gardens of herbs and lettuce greens I have growing.

This is about seven gallons of unsifted worm compost. A good harvest from a bin.

This is about seven gallons of unsifted worm compost. A good harvest from a bin. This is a year’s worth but bear in mind, I have also harvested about six batches of worms mixed in with additional compost so all together, well over ten gallons.

The plastic bin rests on two overturned flower pots which suspends it below the bottom bin that traps any moisture flowing through. Some call is compost tea but I just consider it nutrient-filled water and use it on my plants as well, diluting it half and half with water first.

Nutrient-filled worm water.

Nutrient-filled worm water.

I’ll empty out the plastic bin, wash it, and poke out any holes that have become clogged. Then it’s a matter of layering in coarse materials in the bottom to provide ventilation above the plastic bottom. If I’ve recently done any weeding of good weeds with dirt still attached to the plant, I like to add that next followed by the coarse materials I’ve sifted, a layer of soil, and the worms that I’ve set aside. On top of them, I’ll place some juicy fresh scraps so they have something to work on right away such as melon rinds, spoiled lettuce, etc., cover all with a layer of dirt, my funky brown paper which is even more deteriorated. I’ll not pile on too much compostables at once until they can work on getting  their population growing. I don’t let the pile get too anaerobic or hot. Feed them just enough so they can eat through the plant matter before adding more.

The worms love watermelon rinds!

The worms love watermelon rinds!

In no time, I’ll have a happy vermi-culture crawling through and digesting my compostables, alchemically turning them into black gold. A win, win situation on all counts!

Sifted worm compost ready to lend its magic to transplanting broccoli plants.

Sifted worm compost ready to lend its magic to transplanting broccoli plants.


Center Stage ~ Papaver, the Poppy

The crowd grows impatient but according to an innate schedule, the stage lights dim, the crowd hushes and the spotlight comes on as the deep maroon-purple velvet curtain pulls back revealing its main performer center stage. So begins the late spring season of “Papaver, the Poppy.”

Center Stage ~ Papaver, the Poppy

Center Stage ~ Papaver, the Poppy

It wasn’t until I moved to the drier climate of Sequim, WA, on the Olympic Peninsula that I began to truly appreciate the Papaver, the poppy. This area’s long, warm, late spring and early summer days encourage a rich bounty of poppy varieties to display their colorful blossoms. The sprightly flowers set atop grey-green lobed or dissected foliage and others with bristly, divided foliage help enhance formal floral settings and enliven many neighborhood flower gardens. Popping up in the most unexpected places, they provide a bright addition to the edges of sidewalks, along river dikes, and even the more impoverished soils along the curbsides sprout miniature versions in white, pink, red, orange, orange-yellows and purple. Some folk give over to not mowing their lawns and just let the poppies take over until they have run their course.

Poppies growing alongside the Old Olympic Hwy.

Poppies growing alongside the Old Olympic Hwy.

Given all the variety of colors, textures, and tones of poppies in our area, I am most captivated by the lavender and the maroon-purple ones. Perhaps it’s because I am going through a purple phase of my life but they bring up mystery, the intrigue of royalty, and the exotic lands far to the east. The darker maroon ones especially remind me of childhood visits to our local Panida Theater in Sandpoint, ID,, with its unique Spanish mission style architecture, subdued wrought-iron lighting fixtures with parchment shades hanging from the tall ceilings, its stuccoed walls with golden highlights; but most of all, the poppies remind me of the the purplish-maroon velvety curtains from behind which the much-anticipated cinemas and performers appeared. I never tired of watching the lights dim and the heavy curtains swoosh open and take a few moments to settle into place and again, to swoosh close at the end, their golden trim sparkling in the houselights.

Unfurling in the warming sun.

Unfurling in the warming sun.

Another one of my childhood memories in the 1950’s involving poppies is of the Veteran’s sale of Remembrance Day poppies in our grade school when patriotic music was played extra loud on the record player and our primary classes would line up at the bottom of our steep staircase, kept immaculately clean and smelling of sawdust and floor wax by our janitor who mysteriously appeared from the boiler room between classes to sweep the playground debris off the treads. We’d ascend the steps and drop our silver dime in the donation box at the top, receive our paper, red Flanders Field Remembrance Day poppy with green floral tape wrapped on its stem from the American Legion volunteer and then descend the opposite side of the staircase and march back to our classrooms.

Remembering the fallen soldiers of WW I

Remembering the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Verdun, WW I

My mother and grandmother had a few  pinkish-lavender pom pon poppies growing in their gardens that self-seeded and which we found ourselves thinning heavily each year. Some of our friends had the bright red or orange Oriental poppies whose bristly stems and leaves seemed unfriendly to me when I bumped up against them while weeding out the grasses that favored growing around their bases. Our clay soils often times coupled with rainy springs seasons just didn’t favor the more exotic and colorful varieties.

According to my research, the wild poppy spread from the Western Mediterranean area, perhaps having been domesticated over 8000 years ago. Its medicinal properties found in the seeds were utilized by early peoples to relieve pain. Mothers added red poppy juice from the petals to babies’ food to put their tikes to sleep or made it into a child’s simple cough syrup.

The whole plant of the California Poppy Eschscholzia californica has medicinal properties and herbalists either dry the herb for later processing or while fresh, chopping it fine and mixing it in an alcohol menstruum or solvent to extract its healing properties. When I see the California poppies which grow profusely on the Dungeness River dike in the warming days of early summer, I am reminded of our stay in New Mexico during the late 90’s when both Michael and I trained as herbal apprentices. We’d travel to a Mexican border town, cross over to get 95 proof ethanol alcohol and dump it out into a five-gallon water jug clearly disguised as water, securely tape the jug shut and drive back across the border in order to have a medium to tincture our herbs, one them being California poppy which we gathered at the edge of the Apache Reservation. At the time, this seemed right out of a western smuggler’s history. I can also remember the foot hills being covered for miles with bright drifts of their yellow-orange blossoms.

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California Poppy Eschscholzia californica

Poppy seeds harvested mainly from Papaver somniferum remain a favorite culinary ingredient. Who hasn’t enjoyed their unique flavor and crunchiness in cakes and muffins, cookies and bagels, jelly roll fillings, cheeses, noodles, sauces, curries, and breads, etc. Besides enjoying their flavor, the seeds are a strong source of minerals and heart-healthy essential fatty acids. They are an active ingredient in some skin conditioners and scalp treatments, having the reputation for helping to regrow hair.  An extracted oil from the seeds softens the skin by properties which improve hydration and elasticity finding value in hair care products, skin creams, lip balms, and body butters. For the culinary industry, poppy seed oil adds a smooth and subtle-tasting flavor as a salad oil and for dipping crusty breads. The oil is also popular with oil paint enthusiasts because it takes longer to dry and can be blended with other paints for wet-on-wet paintings. Within the medical profession, it is utilized for its carrier capacity to help diagnose and contrast specific procedures.

Papaver somniferum for culinary seeds and seed oils.

Papaver somniferum for culinary seeds and seed oils.

Most papaver are grown for their natural beauty of adding accent to yard and garden. I recently discovered a blue Himalayan poppy growing in a neighborhood plant nursery. I had seen postcards and paintings of them in Victoria, BC, at the Butchart Gardens when a friend and I visited a few summers ago, but by then it was past flowering. Nevertheless, I came back with an urge to have the plant, picking up several postcards adorned with this beautiful blossom at the gift shop to remind me of it until then. The blue poppy Meconopsis grandis is a unique flower in Butchart’s floral history, having been grown there since the 1920’s soon after its discovery by Captain Marshman Baily in the Himalayas. It’s fussy and takes finesse to get it to sprout and grow successfully. So you can imagine how pleased I was when one day two summers ago as I was walking past the bordering shrubs of the nursery to spy it growing in a garden bed. I scampered right in for a closer view and and came back the next day for a camera shot.

Himalayan blue poppy

Himalayan Blue poppy  Meconopsis grandis

Of course, its greatest reputation revolves around it being the source of opium for anaesthesic and ritual purposes dating to ancient sources where it was extracted and utilized by early surgeons to perform prolonged surgical operations. Historically, its more notorious use as the source of addictive smoke and the illicit drug heroin is unfortunate but predictive given human nature.

To the Innocent Gaze

To the Innocent Gaze

“To the Innocent Gaze”
To the innocent gaze,
one might see only beauty
and miss entirely the lovely,
richly-hued maroon petals
resembling exquisite fabrics
surrounding silvery,
pollen-covered chokers
adorning drug-laden seed pods
filled with the allure of
mysterious, darkly-induced
journeys to far off places.

 So many uses for such a tiny seed wrapped up in its own shaker head. Perhaps tonight, I’ll add some seeds to the lavender and mugwort in my dream bundle as Morpheus, the Greek dream messenger of the gods, who is responsible for communicating divine messages to us via dreams, slept in a cave of poppy seeds. Sweet dreams everyone!
Shaker Heads ~ Poppy seed pods soon to dry and little flaps will open around the brim and spill seeds willy nilly.

Shaker Heads ~ Poppy seed pods soon to dry and little flaps will open around the brim and breezes will help spill seeds willy nilly upon the ground.


Papaver with husk still attached

Papaver with kirtle (husk) still attached

“Purple Poppy Haiku”

The purple poppy
shed her kirtle in the breeze
and danced happily.

A chorus line of poppies

A chorus line of poppies

“A Chorus Line of Poppies”

On my morning walk, I am drawn to a chorus line of poppies flowering along the fence, their necks curved like swans which straighten upward holding aloft gray-green buds beneath husks that split apart revealing crinkled petals stretching and smoothing out in the warming sun, attracting my eye to their gloriously rich bosoms and ear to the buzzing of bumblebees. Another day, their distinctive seed pods now devoid of petals, wear flat-topped skimmers.

Blessings on your journeys fellow travelers. Until next time, peace to one and all.