A Witch knows that when considering our health, we cannot separate it from our environment. The Earth's health influences and reflects our own. As Pagans, we are particularly responsible for caring for our environment because we understand this interconnectedness.
The garden is an excellent place to begin a ripple effect of healing by tending it in a sustainable manner. Responsible gardening will help lead to healing of the environment, and of ourselves. This healing can be seen by the increase of vitamins in the foods we've grown organically. Subtle healing effects will gradually become evident as gaps in life cycles are filled. All forms of wildlife and insects will return to the garden and renew the essential balance, eliminating the need for pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.
The garden will also renew your balance and life force. Tending the garden will tone your body, clarify your mind, and energize you Spirit. Other side effects of your healthy garden will become apparent in all aspects of your life. Healing formulas, spell components, and any other creations that incorporate plants grown in this magical manner will all have enormously magnified energy.
To understand this method, go to an undisturbed area like a woodland plot, secluded area of a park, or under a large, healthy shrub. Notice that when you're under a canopy of foliage the atmosphere is different. It smells fresh, moist, and soothing. Touch the soil. Generally, it will be soft and spongy, with layers of newly accumulated debris, and below that, humus rich soil in many stages of decomposition. The soil here contains microorganisms whose sacred names include fungi, protozoa, yeast, worms, and insects. These life forms are known collectively as edaphon. Life flows through everything here and you may begin to feel more balanced. This feeling is the essence of a Witch's method of gardening. (there's more to this than the standard gardening techniques, read on)
Good soil ('scientifically') consists of 93% mineral and 7% bio-organic substances. The bio-organic parts include: 85% humus, 10% roots, and 5%edaphon. The edaphon consists of : 40% fungi/algae, 40% bacteria/actinomycete, 12% earthworms, 5% macro fauna, and 3% micro/mesofauna. (1)
After a year of organic treatment, earthworms, or "tiny tillers", should flourish. Chemical fertilizers kill earthworms and other soil life that release carbonic acid (plant roots do too). This acid converts minerals in the soil to a form that plants can assimilate.
Soil nutrients are to plants what proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are to people. Air, (all gasses, including carbon dioxide or CO2) Water, Earth and Fire (sun) are essential to the plant world. Synthetic forms of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P, and K respectively) in chemical fertilizers are stated on packages like 15-30-15 or 10-5-5. These salt based fertilizers will readily wash out of the soil and into our water systems. Undines look out!
We must regularly replace non-organic forms of these nutrients because of this constant leeching. Salts accumulate in the upper soil surfaces and "burn" tender roots and soil life. Potted plants will show evidence of this build up with powdery white deposits on the soil surface or a ring on the pot. Most plants cannot tolerate this much salt in any form. This is a good reason to try not to use salt in outdoor rituals for circle casting or purification. Instead, use a truly sacred replacement such as compost or soil for the Earth element. (I've used soil from my birthplace, as well as soil from fellow Witch's gardens to help link with them when being together in person isn't possible)
Synthetic fertilizers cause plant cells to grow too quickly, developing thin cell walls. The spaces between each cell are larger too, causing the entire plant to be more suseptable to insects and disease. These plant predators hunt for the easiest path to lunch, and the thin cell walls and gaps between them are an open invitation. By invading your crops, these pesky predators are fulfilling an essential duty, that of restoring balance and eliminating problems.
A reader recently responded to the N, P, K theories. She stated it so concisely that her letter is reprinted here. The theories are flawed, yes, but they are a good starting point to understanding plants. It is because the theories are flawed that I emphasise the use of compost and an integrated system of energy exchange. Compost can (if made properly) contain everything plants need to be happy. Here, in the reader's words, are the primary reasons the NPK theories are to be kept in perspective:
I am also uncertain of the N,P,and K theory of of fertilization put forth by the oil and chemical industries, (as recently as the ninteenforties.) It was a byproduct of the war industries to promote their potassium nitrate production and apply it to crops. (My father was a farmer at that time, and described the sheds full of the white powder, so unstable that slapping a glove to dust it off could cause a lethal explosion.) Amending this chemical with phosphoric acid was supposed to provide plants with all that was needed. Well, to really make it work it was also necessary to come up with strains of plants that could better tolerate this "nutrition". Now we are trying to slowly build up the seed banks of open-pollinated, hardier species that don't have that chemical monkey on their backs. Know who owns the patents on the chemically dependant species? The oil companies.
My problem with the N, P, and K theory is that it reminds me of the drug industries' extraction of certain active elements of herbs, patenting them and then marketing them- or rejecting them if they cannot. Or riding the wave of a certain craze in herbal remedies (Ephedra and St. John's Wort come to mind), marketing misused and mispresented tabletized versions of living plants with no regard for the source or qualities of the actual plant. What I am trying to conjure is the sense of extraction from living systems in both cases. What they both need- the soil amendments and medicinal application of herbs- is an integrative approach rather than a simple theory. That's my objection. I suppose there is little harm in talking about a triaxial balance between N, P and K, but different plants need a different balance- unless these are provided by compost, which for some reason seems to always work with nearly every plant. Sometimes burying a fish with the maize seeds is enough, and no theory of N, P and K can quite provide such an elegant practice.
Hæzl of "Brigit's Garden" a Volute's Site to See Award winner.
In this article, I've tried to propose an integrated approach to gardening that combines the intuition and knowledge of the Witch, with the knowledge that science has to give. All theories are just that, theories, but we can learn from each other. Unfortunately, some of the members of our society have selfish agendas so we must question their ideas and place them under the glass of scrutiny.
It is true, many hybrids are chemically dependant, but most will thrive under organic conditions and can be a Goddess-send for gardens with disease problems. Disease resistant cultivars can help you to avoid many of the problems that occur when you are switching from standard gardening practices to organic gardening Witchy style. Once your garden has been organic a few years, it is recommended that you seek out heirloom varieties that are often more nutritious, hardier, and contain a sacred gene pool that may soon be essential in saving agricultural crops. The enormous number of hybrids on the market have contributed to two major problems that can be avoided by growing open-pollinated heirloom varieties.
The first problem with hybrid growing is that it has narrowed the gene pool. If a disease attacks a crop of hybrid corn, all the plants are identical. If one of the plants has no resistance, none of them do. Essentially, these clones present a serious famine danger and force farmers (and gardeners) to resort to chemical 'antidotes' that only accelerate our environmental problems. With open pollinated varieties, each plant is just a little different. Much of a diseased crop may die, but the ones that survive are naturally resistant (and are often used to create resistant hybrids) This brings us to the second problem with hybrids.
The second problem with hybrid growing is that is takes power away from farmers and gardeners. Most hybrids you see (they might say F1 or F2 etc. on the label) are sterile mutants. This means that you as a home gardener cannot save seeds from your favorite plants, from the ones that survive diseases, or drought, or insect attacks, or the ones that are the biggest, the juiciest, the sweetest, the most magickally potent or whatever, and expect to have a similar crop from your saved seeds. The seeds you save from a hybrid will be mutants when they 'revert'.
You can clearly see from this, a kind of paranoid conspiracy theory happening. You cannot develop hardy strains in your back yard if they are hybrids, and you cannot develop hybrids without funding from major industries. The primary industries interested in funding this type of work, are the ones that create garden chemicals. Ok, so it is paranoid, but by seeking out the old varieties, you help yourself and the planet, and may some day prevent a major catastrophy by donating YOUR seeds to a weakened gene pool. What if you select the best of your corn over decades, then one year, 90% of the world's corn harvest is destroyed by a disease. Now, what if your corn survived?! You would be the super-corn-hero of the world by allowing your corn to be studied, and integrated into other corn varieties.
Sound far fetched? See the chicken articles here on PaganPath.com. It has happened before, and may happen again!
So, you ask, how can I nourish my garden, self and planet? The following represents a basic outline of techniques to get you started:
Composting will unlock the nutrients from the components you put in the compost pile. Begin by making a four foot diameter place in your garden in part sun. Next, layer 4-6 inches of carbon materials, "browns," with 1-2 inches of nitrogen material, "greens." Mystical formulas of carbon to nitrogen ratios can be found in many superb garden grimmoires. Like all of Nature's magic, however, you will find that intuition, observation, and experimentation provide the best results. The following describes the basic compost cauldron components and guidelines for their use:
DO USE: "Greens" are sources of nitrogen, a plant nutrient that helps heat up a compost pile by activating the micro life in it. Sources include: fresh green weeds, kitchen scraps, manures, cottonseed meal, and blood meal. "Browns" are carbon materials like straw, hay, last year's garden debris, crop residue, chopped leaves, and sticks under a half inch in diameter.
DON'T USE: Oil, wax, meat (small, clean bones are OK), colored newspaper, weeds that have set seed, diseased or pest infested plants, and pet wastes or litters. (which can carry diseases, among other problems)
Invoke the powers of the microbial soil life with a half inch layer of garden soil sprinkled over each "green" layer. When the pile reaches about four feet high, water it well to the consistency of a wrung out sponge, and let it rot! It will slowly turn into fertilizer that feeds your plants and your soil without interrupting the symbiotic relationship between the two. When it is done, it will be brown and crumbly. This process can take from two weeks to six months. If you're in a hurry, you can speed things up by turnig it every week. To turn a pile, remove the top and outside layers and put them on the ground beside the pile. Then continue with the next layers until you've tuned it upside down while fluffing it to let it breathe. If the pile smells bad, or if flies are taking an interest in it, then turn the pile, incorporate more "browns," make sure it's not soggy (cover it in the rain), and cover the top of the heap with an inch of soil or hay to eliminate the problem and disapproving looks from neighbors. Finished compost is used as a fertilizer and mulch around and under plants.
Diseased plants and weeds with seeds require hot compost, one that reaches 140-165 degrees. This technique is best left for more experienced practitioners who are more adept at its mysteries. Use these plant materials as erosion control far from the garden, burn them, or if necessary, dispose of them in the regular garbage. Meanwhile, train yourself in hot compost magic through the recommended reading (2), intuition, and experience.
Nearly all organic forms of nitrogen, like those used in making compost, contain varying amounts of phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals. Composting ingredients that contain high percentages of these nutrients will improve your end fertilizer. Trace minerals can be derived from plants with literally rock breaking, carrot-like tap roots that explore 25 feet or more down into the Earth. These plants include dandelions, alfalfa, comfrey, and plantain. Harvest their leaves as a "green" and let the roots put forth new leaves for the next compost pile. The older the plant, the better the fertilizer, as the roots have probed even deeper into the Earth.
Phosphorus and potassium are present in most crop residues and manures, but you may need to supplement your soil or compost with additional sources. Your local extension service can provide information on soil tests that help determine what amendments will improve your soil's nutrient levels. These tests can be costly, but if problems arise they will guide you in restoring soil balance. Greensand, rock phosphate (not superphosphate that damages earthworms and other soil life), crushed granite and glacier rock are all good sources. You can apply them directly to the garden bed according to package directions, or to the compost pile with a handful between each layer. The amendments come in various packages and if you can't find them locally, sources are listed at the end of the article. (3)
Compost has nitrogen in it, but additional sources may also be desired. the same manures used in compost can be applied directly to the soil. Do this several weeks before planting to give the manure time to mellow. Cover crops are grown exclusively to feed the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients. When mature, they are tilled under, and the soil life transforms them into fertilizer. Life is provided for by death. Every cover crop has different amounts and types of nutrients. Wheat, oats, calendula, buckwheat, and legumes are all common cover crops. Legumes are most often used because they are a group of plants such as clover, beans, and peas that "fix" nitrogen. They have a symbiotic relationship with a type of soil life known as nematodes. These beneficial nematodes take nitrogen from the air and "fix" it to the legume's roots. They look like tiny white potatoes clinging to the root system. They release nitrogen to the plant, helping it thrive. When the crop of legumes is tilled into the soil, it becomes a time release fertilizer as plants and nematodes break down again.
The following tips will also help to create your bewitching garden. These methods can be used in any garden, in sun or shade, and can be started any time of the year with Spring and Summer being ideal.
Raised beds save water, compost and amendments that are only used where the plants grow and not in paths. Crops can be grown closer together which saves space. You do not need to use the "space between rows" recommendation from seed packets, since rows are not used. Only the "space between plants" recomendation is needed. (4) This provides a canopy of foliage that traps CO2 and soil moisture like a suspended mulch. The leaves shade the soil to further reduce weeding and watering chores. Make beds wide enough to reach across comfortably (4 ft. is standard) in order to save work from bending and straining. Raised beds drain well to allow plants to develop healthy root systems, and they solve rot problems in packed clay soil. They also warm faster in the spring for earlier planting and remain unpacked from foot traffic that would otherwise choke oxygen from roots and spread disease. If you use concrete blocks or railroad ties, your bed supports can provide a convenient resting spot. Concrete blocks may leach into the soil making it more alkaline and most railroad ties are treated with creosote or other preservatives that are toxic. There are saw mills (in our area anyway) that will supply you with untreated lumber. A better choice is to try a stone wall if possible. Make paths wide enough so that you can walk side by side with your friend or partner without breaking off plants.
Weeding and water requirements are kept to a minimum by mulching. Use compost, straw, hay, woodchips, color-free newspaper, or special mulch papers. All of these sources will slowly decompose, conditioning the soil and slowly feeding plants. Mulch will also save your plants when you are low on compost.
The garden is a sacred space and rain is its consecrated cleansing. It should have solitude during this purifying time. Mud on shoes or wet skin and tools, can spread diseases normally not as easily transported without moisture. If you wish to accompany the garden in this cleansing, do so quietly and meditatively. If you have urgent work to do, limit your areas of activity and avoid touching plants. Many of us enjoy spending time in the garden while it is recharging in the rain. This does not mean that you shouldn't connect with your garden friend at this time, only to do so in a respectful way. Being aware of the possibilities of disease transmission will help you to prevent it from happening when you join the rain festivities.
Your garden's first year of withdraw from chemical dependency may be severe, because the soil life is insufficient to transform its components into nutrients. However, after the first year, it will flourish and the trouble is worth it. While at first resisting the temptation to reach for a quick fix fertilizer is difficult, be persistent while the balance is being restored. Talk to and love your friends through it, touching them, especially the ones in the tobacco family. Members of this family have fuzzy feelers on their stems and leaves and touching them causes thickened cell structure and sturdier, disease resistant plants. Avoid this practice if you smoke tobacco. It is often poorly grown and may contain the tobacco mosaic virus that can spread to other family members including tomatoes, potatoes, flowering tobacco-nicotiana, and datura.
Plants grown with these methods will glow with a mystical aura and they will release their intoxicting fragrances to greet you on your daily visits. The garden will soothe and quiet people, perhaps because of an elusive awareness that something powerful and sacred is happening or because of its visual beauty.
Planting by the phases of the Moon, by Sabbat, or under specific planetary influences will also amplify the garden's energy. This kind of information can be found in most almanacs and I've recommended some at the end of this article (5). Planting in special patterns of Celtic knots, circles, pentacles, or any imaginative and magic(k)al design that you've created will also enhance and focus energy..
Are you still skeptical of the damaging effects of chemical fertilizers? Organic Gardening Magazine had a blurb in the January 1996 issue about Miracle Grow ® . Apparently, it corroded a one inch hole through someone's aluminum shelf! (6) Now that CAN'T be right?!
Good luck and happy growing! If you have any questions about gardening or if you just want to talk plants, feel free to write to me. I can also offer some advice (but mostly resources) about growing plants indoors organically.
This article was written by Friday, the owner of PaganPath.com, and first published (and has here been expanded) in the Summer 1996 "Healing and Wellness" issue of Circle Network News (now renamed Circle Magazine). For more information on this excellent quarterly journal, see the great people who publish it at: Circle Sanctuary
1) Petrik, Vactav Sr. Excerpts from his work Understanding the soil.
2) Fern Marshall Bradley and Barbara W. Ellis (Eds.) (1992) Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Rodale Press
3) New Earth Indoor/Outdoor Garden Center, 3623 East Highway 44, Shepherdsville, KY 40165; 1-800-462-5953 or 1-502-543-5933. Worm's Way Garden Supply, 3151 S. Highway 446. Bloomington IN 47401; 1-800-274-9676 or FAX 1-812-331-0854.
4) Jeavons, John (1991) How to Grow More Vegetable (than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine) A Primer on the Life-Giving Biointensive Method of Organic Horticulture. Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula. Published by: Ten Speed Press, P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707.
5) Pepper, Elizabeth and Wilcock, John. The Witches' Almanac, P.O. Box 4067, Middletown, Rhode Island 02842. The Old Farmer's Almanac and The Farmer's Almanac are available at newsstands. Llewellyn's Magical Almanac, Moon Sign Book, and Organic Gardener's Almanac can be obtained by calling 1-800-THE-MOON or by checking at bookstores.
6) Organic Gardening Magazine, January 1996 issue, page 19. Rodale Press