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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

One of the things about living in the south (Zone 9) is that things that normally happen in late spring happen a whole lot earlier on the calendar here. Traditionally, Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday in April (April 26 in 2013). In most of Texas though, and especially down here in the swamp, if you plant a tree that late, it will fry in the summer sun.

So around here we had Arbor Day instead of Groundhog Day. The city’s tree care organization came to our neighborhood last Saturday, and for February 2nd, I went and helped a group of volunteers plant about 100 trees. It felt like the perfect celebration of Imbolc, in a way, since the “first stirrings of spring” here mean the first inklings of how warm it’s going to get!

Planting the trees now ensures that they’ll have plenty of time to get over transplant shock before it gets hot, and the community association will still need to water them periodically over the summer to help them withstand the heat. These are native trees though, so once they get established they will live a long time. The ones we were planting were mostly to replace trees that had been lost in the severe droughts the last few summers.

A pagan friend and I went as a tree-planting-team, and we had a lot of fun. It was 75 degrees and brightly sunny, and really a perfect way for me to celebrate the coming of spring. I said a little blessing for each tree as we planted it, and I’ve also said a general blessing for all of the trees. Together, she and I put six new trees in the ground – a live oak and five pines. They were large and healthy (all taller than I am), and should be off to a good start. I hope that they will thrive in their new homes, and continue to bring shade and beauty to the community spaces in my neighborhood, as well as provide homes for all of the birds that live in the green areas (and the myriad squirrels).

I love that acorns and pine cones are so frequently thought of as symbols of trees, and that there are varieties of oak and pine trees that live in all kinds of diverse places, so I can enjoy these symbols as both part of ADF’s shared mythos and part of my own, local, personal Druidry.

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We’re having our first actual bout of Winter here in the swamp this week. The front came through late Sunday night/early Monday morning, and it got down close to or just below freezing last night. I’m expecting a freeze warning tonight again. Actual frosts are very rare here, and snow is even more rare, so even the native plants can take damage from a particularly long cold snap.

The sun is bright today, which is part of why it’s cold. The air is drier than usual, so there’s not a cloud cover to keep the warmth up next to the Earth. Later this week, when the usual coastal moisture comes back, it’s going to warm back up.

Dealing with frost down here in Zone 9a is a tricky thing. We have drop cloths and old sheets in a bin in the garage that get dragged out and spread over all the delicate things that live here. I keep a small citrus tree in my yard that’s particularly susceptible to frost, and things like a dieffenbachia (dumbcane), a pencil cactus, and a plumeria have to get moved into the sun porch and sheltered well against cold. This can be challenging, especially because the plumeria is nearly as big as I am.

I also have a large hibiscus – by large I mean it’s taller than the garage doors – that I don’t think I’ll be able to really cover well this year. It didn’t die back last year, so it’s gotten enormous. I really hope it doesn’t end up frostbitten!

We have lots of areas in the yard for small critters to shelter, like our woodpile and in the shrubs next to the house, but I always worry a little about the toads and lizards. We frequently find them trying to stowaway into the house, which is a dangerous place, as I have cats!  This is a good place to live, if you’re a cold blooded animal, but these periodic cold nights have to be tough.

People who live here tend to get grief about not knowing what to do when it’s cold, and to some extent that’s true. Not even the native things that live here are really designed to deal with the cold. I grew up in a northeastern state, where the squirrels are fat and furry and have enormous tails. Squirrels around here are skinny, with skinny tails that you can almost see through. They’re not accustomed to the cold because they really don’t need to be.

Which is why I’m wearing my warm things without shame.

It’s chilly, but it won’t last long.

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ADF follows the standard Neo-Pagan wheel of the year – 8 festivals tied to the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days that are seen throughout most of the Neo-Pagan religious groups. These are ostensibly based on the agricultural cycle and are a combination of (mostly) Celtic and Norse traditional celebrations.

I love the wheel of the year. It flows, and it’s a holiday every 6 weeks (more or less), and there’s a lot of beauty in it.

Unfortunately I’m also a gardener in southeast Texas.

The agricultural cycle here is not even remotely like that of the Norse and Celts who (presumably) originated these festivals, or even much like those of the Brits and Northern Americans who first celebrated their Neo-Pagan counterparts.

I grow things pretty much year round here, with a few exceptions. In general, the months of June, July, and August are a time of “wait and see”. Which is to say “Wait and see what’s going to shrivel up and die from the sheer heat and lack of rain.” Okra does pretty well if it’s well established (but it too will shrivel up and die if you plant it too late), and hot peppers do pretty well too, but again with the “well established” clause. Tomatoes quit producing fruit by June because it’s just so damn hot – our lows are usually around 80-84 degrees by then – and the plants just throw in the towel by the beginning of July unless you can get them some shade.

Then in late August and September, you plant the garden again (usually with things that fruit relatively quickly) and whabam, you’re harvesting cucumbers, corn, and tomatoes in November.

After Samhain.

When the wheel turns to the “dark” half of the year and everything is dead, awaiting the rebirth of the sun.

In October, you plant broccoli and cauliflower and onions and leeks and root veggies, and those are harvested mostly through the winter until you plant your spring garden the first weekend in March. Then come the first of May, you’re getting your first taste of vine ripened tomatoes… just as we’re celebrating the festival of “thank the Gods it’s not cold anymore, let’s have sex.”

In short? It just doesn’t line up. I’m harvesting for the fertility festivals and planting for the harvest festivals and… it’s just a mess!

This makes for some interesting mental gymnastics, and puts the impetus of the wheel on things OTHER than the actual cycle of agriculture in my backyard. I can certainly celebrate the fertility of mind and creativity and ideas, but it’s hard to distance that from what I know is really going on in this little piece of swamp I live on.

I don’t have an answer for fixing it though. I love turning the wheel. And I’m generally drawn to the Celtic hearth culture, way more than I am the Greeks or Romans. Maybe I ought to look into the Vedic cultures, if I want my celebrations to line up with my garden outside.

Either that, or I just have a party more often than every 6 weeks.

The Feast of the First Tomato Salad is worth celebrating, even if it’s not an official holiday.

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