Practicing my stargazing.

The crescent moon, a Cheshire-cat smile, low on the western horizon.

Orion’s belt drifting in the southeast, and more easterly, a giant elongated isosceles triangle, point toward Orion. Orion appears on its side.


This is roughly how it appeared in the sky.

Going clockwise, starting with the red-hued star, we have Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel, and Saiph. The stars of the belt, starting with the top, are called Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak.

All of these names are Arabic in origin. The name of Orion, the hunter, is Greek. As the lore goes, Orion proclaimed that he would kill all of Earth’s animals. Gaia saw it fit to have Scorpio kill Orion as a preventive measure.

Reputedly, the Egyptians saw this constellation as the dwelling-place of Osiris, after he was slain by his brother Set and was resurrected. The Navajo referred to this group of stars as “First Slim One,” keeper of the months.

I think there is value to gardening by the moon and the stars, but I do not know what is the basis of this system, with its own internal logic, which may or may not mesh with the rational, empirical ways of navigating reality. I do not know the extent of the influence that the celestial bodies exert on us and our lives, and on the plants. But I do know that, before our distant ancestors harnessed fire and electricity, these were the main source of light at night. And my own sense of logic tells me that, just as the moon influences the rise and fall of the ocean’s tides, just as the light from the sun makes all life possible on Earth, certainly all of the heavenly bodies have their own influence on terrestrial phenomena, however infinitesimal they may be.

I’ll leave you with lines from a poem by Longfellow:

Begirt with many a blazing star,
Stood the great giant Algebar,

Orion, hunter of the beast!
His sword hung gleaming by his side,
And on his arm, the lion’s hide
Scattered across the midnight air
The golden radiance of its hair.


del Chamberlain, Von. Orion: your personal guide to the stars. From Project Astro Utah, the Clarke Foundation. Accessed: 1/19/18.  via (site no longer accessible)

Longfellow, H.W. “The Occultation of Orion.”

Magruder, Kerry. “Orion.” Basic celestial phenomena. Accessed: 1/19/18. via (site no longer accessible).

Nemiroff, R. & Bonnell, J. (2010) “Astronomy picture of the day: Orion: head to toe.” NASA.



Community of learners

As a farmer who is just beginning the practice (in my third year), I know that it can be helpful to follow trends in the weather. I am a skeptical consumer of news, but, at the end of the day, I feel that we are a global community of learners, and that, in dividing intellectual labor among ourselves, we inherently trust each other to report on things in good faith.

I recently came across a convincing article dealing with the concepts of El Niño and La Niña. The way I understand these phenomena to work is that with El Niño, the trade winds weaken and do not carry warmer water from the South American coast to parts west (Asia and Australia). This creates a net warming effect because this gathered heat warms the atmosphere instead of the global ocean. With La Niña, the opposite happens. The trade winds, traveling east to west, become stronger than usual, causing cooler ocean temperatures, and therefore a cooler atmosphere.

A graph was included.

weather data

There has been concern that there would be budget cuts to projects carried out by NASA and NOAA to continue monitoring factors that influence these broad weather trends. Those fears have only been partially allayed. Much of the NOAA’s budget remains intact, but an important effort by NASA to keep track of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide has been de-funded. In the absence of this CO2 data, we are not exactly going blind, but it does pull the carpet out from under us a bit.

So what do I do? I plan. I plan for cool years and warm years, for cold winters and hot summers. Because my true passion is a perennial agriculture, I put in plants and varieties that can tolerate at least a zone warmer as well as a zone cooler. We’re zone 7b. I continue to develop landraces and greges that do well in our particular pocket of weather. I buy locally produced seed as much as possible, for that same reason.

Above all, I plan to fail. This is not the pessimist in me speaking, but actually the hard-won practicality of making it a lifelong habit of “learning the hard way.” Significant research has shown that when one makes a mistake, new synaptic connections in the brain are formed. This is where I am now, not aiming to fail or trying to fail (I always work towards harvesting a net yield), but understanding that every day, every season, is a brave new world, and in every loss, there is a gain. Isn’t that the root of science – trying something, observing it thoughtfully, and making note of the results?

What do you think about all this? What have you noticed about weather trends where you are? Do you save seed each year? If you think I’ve made a mistake in what I’ve said, let me know — we are a community of learners (plus, I moderate judiciously).

Trekking for tracks

Day two of our second snowfall this winter. An eyeball estimate of 8″. This early afternoon was an ideal time to take the morning walk, keeping an eye out for bird and other animal tracks.

The whole family joined.

20180118 snow dogs
Boogie was made for this weather.
20180118 snow dogs 2
The resident whipper-snapper, Sweet Pea, had to work hard to keep up.

Majestic views.

20180118 leaning pine
We’ve been waiting for this dead pine to fall for ages. It seems to be firmly lodge against the neighboring hardwood.

20180118 winter wonderland

Raising awareness with aplomb

Last night, I was invited to speak about our farm at one of the local Garden Clubs. In the South, a Garden Club is a proper noun. And, while they engage in service and support various causes, it is infrequent that they actually get their hands dirty in the art and science of gardening.

So, it was a breath of fresh air to have an audience that was so receptive to what I had to show and say.

While they took care of club business and socialized, they shared with me a piece of vanilla raspberry cake with a thick fondant and a cup of coffee, on matching china with a mauve border. I was afraid I would drop the coffee cup and it would shatter into a thousand pieces.

Then I presented.

After an update on the garden, I launched into my own PSA (public service announcement).

Perhaps you’ve heard of what the New York Times describes as an “insect armageddon.” This may seem like sensationalism, but hear me out. An entomological society in Germany has found that local populations of flying insects have declined by some 75% in the past three decades. Given that North America is more similar than not to German in terms of industrialization and resource use, it would seem that we have probably experienced similar declines. This can be anecdotally corroborated by observations that we make after hours of driving on the highways – these days, it seems there are hardly any bugs plastered on the windshields anymore. And I do seem to remember, as a kid in the backseat of the station wagon, seeing numerous bugs splattering wherever we went, as well as an insect-ridden front grill.

I wanted to come prepared when talking to this group of ladies, so I did a little more digging in the cyber ether, and found that, a couple of years ago, Yale University supported a study showing similar worldwide declines in the Lepidoptera order (butterflies and moths), and even sharper losses in other invertebrates. Crucially, the author makes a link between this somewhat abstract interpretation, and some concrete warnings that we’ve been hearing about for at least a decade or more – the falling populations of honeybees and monarch butterflies.

Fellow blogger, the entomologist Simon Leather, wrote an excellent post about all this when it was breaking news.

Back to the Garden Club – I let them know, in no uncertain terms, that I was not there to say “shame on us all,” just simply to bring this compelling trend to their attention, and to describe what I was doing to mitigate it. I concluded by showing them my work with native legumes (if you’ve gotten this far in this post, you are probably aware of my ongoing fascination with native legumes), and how these legumes support native insects and other fauna.

The meeting ended well. They were grateful, I was grateful, the meeting was adjourned, and we all departed, going our separate ways to our homes and families.

What is to become of the insects?


This is a lovely word and concept. It came into my consciousness after reading a post by author Connie J. Jasperson. A drabble is not a gardening implement. It is not a type of insect. It is a very short (100 words) story. It has a setting, a couple of characters, a conflict, and a resolution. Please visit her blog to find out more.

I’m going to get a little meta here – that is, a drabble about drabbling. I apologize. It won’t happen often. Here goes:

In front of his computer, not a laptop, but an ancient desktop, Walter sat in solitude. His dog slumbered at the foot of the bed, waiting for remonstrances from her human companion.

Walter didn’t know what to write about, and in 100 words no less! Beguiled by the enormity of the universe in which we live, and the limits too, which shape and guide us, Walter sought illumination in the stars above. They provided a compass. To write about writing is not the answer for Walter, but it is the first step of many thousands which he will be taking.   

The truth is, this took less than an hour. I’ll need to sleep on it. If people would like to comment, please feel free to.


On a side note, this is my first post of 2018. I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday. Of course the Lunar New Year is not until February 15, so there is still celebrating ahead!

I’ll be ordering seeds for the garden towards the end of January. I’ll start sowing the seeds that need moist-cold stratification (Thermopsis villosa, Astragalus canadensis, among others) in a week or so.



A man and his plow

Today my father plowed the third section of the home garden. In my own garden, I’m working on developing a no-till, perennial agriculture, but, to help feed the family and sell at the market, we rely on a tractor powered by fossil fuels.

12242017 plow
His orange Kubota tractor seen from three hundred feet. The loader is raised.
12242017 plow 2
The dog investigates on the left while my father finishes up a row.
12242017 plow 3
Backing up to plow a new row.
12242017 plow 5
This implement is known as a single-bottom plow. When viewed from behind, it is asymmetrical in form, as is hinted by the side view.


The color seems a bit off in this photo, but it is a good illustration of the depth of the plow (on open ground with no significant roots), and how the upturned soil appears. The clods of “red dirt-clay” will freeze, thaw, get soaked by rain, freeze again, and thaw again, all to create a mostly-fertile bed for spring and summer crops.
12242017 plow 6
The middle plot. This is Carolina red clay at its finest.