Saturday, April 28, 2018

Gloria Ushigua, President of the Sápara Women's Association of Ecuador

My brave friend Gloria. She has fought for decades for the rights of her people and their piece of Amazonian jungle. They are only a few now... I think she said there are only a dozen of the pure tribe left.

Gloria has been jailed, torn from her bed in the middle of the night by masked men, beaten, tied up and thrown in the trunk of a car and left to die by the side of the road. 

But she is not alone. The women of various tribes like the Shuar, the Huaorani, the Ashuar, the Quichua and others are putting differences aside  and banding together now.
So why should we care about some women half a world away?

Even if you don't care about the human rights of Amazon Tribes,
Even if you don't care about ONE THIRD of the species of birds in the world,
Even if you don't care about the remarkable animals and birds, like the jaguar and the hyacinth macaw, that exist no where else on earth,

Then maybe care about this:

Without the Amazon the lungs of the world are gone.
Without the Amazon untold medicinal plants that could save your lives will be lost.

Her exhaustion, her ravaged face tells the story of what she has been through yet still she stands and fights for what she believes.

I wish I had a tenth of her guts.

Leonardo de Caprio and other famous people have taken up the fight for this cause and that of others Amazon nations.

I wish I believed it will make a difference.

Gloria Ushigua, President of the Sápara Women's Association of Ecuador

Gloria Ushigua harrassed for her legitimate and peaceful protests

Monday, September 5, 2016

It's alive!

It has been two years since I have posted anything. You wouldn't be blamed if you thought this old tree hugger had passed on. But I'm alive and hugging with a new project on the go.

Thanks to a friend in Ecuador I was recently electronically introduced to author Scarlett Braden.  She was collecting anecdotes from Ex Pats to produce a little book that could be sold to gather funds for the earthquake victims in Ecuador.  By the time word got around the book and submissions poured in the book grew into 5 books and a whole anthology was born.

I knew that somewhere in the myriad files on my computer I had many stories from ten years spent in that wonderful country.  

So I sussed them out, dusted them off and purtied them up. Of the six I submitted I was pleased to see four of them accepted.

The book, entitled Friends in Foreign Places, is due to launch on September 25th. There are some great stories from about 35 writers. Some of them are published authors and others who, like me maybe, are wannabes.

I am hoping some friends, friends of friends and maybe even some who think I stink might buy a copy.  All proceeds will go to victims of the earthquake and to another charity, Hearts of Gold Foundation.

We contributing writers don't benefit monetarily.  But if the rest of the gang feels like I do, it is a super feeling to be able to help people in need by doing what we love best - writing.

There has been a very personal gain for me in rekindling my writing fire which had just been smouldering quietly for a few years.

I learned a tiny piece of the publishing business and hope to share more stories from my life and times in the future.

I'll remind you of the launch date, how you can purchase this book, and how you can put a smile on an earthquake victim's face.

It's good to be back hugging trees again.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Twenty First Anniversary of the Josefina landslide near Cuenca Ecuador

It is hard to believe that 21 years have passed.  I remember it well as I was living just off the Pan American Highway on the road to the village of  Llacao, a few minutes drive from the affected area. We were fortunate but many of the people I knew were not so lucky.

When I came home a few years later  I wrote this piece entitled Los Damnificados...The Cursed Ones..which is what victims of the ensuing flood called themselves in those days.

I apologize in advance for any errors you may find in this post.


Los Damnificados

“If something isn’t done it could reach Cuenca,” said Ashiko.
Ashiko was our hired man and he was speaking about the inundacion or flood that was creeping backwards inch by watery inch from the junction where the Hadan and Cuenca rivers poured into the River Paute.

We had a property just past the bridge at El Descanso de Sucre in the tiny settlement called La Victoria del Portete.

We went to take a look, along with hundreds of other cars on a Sunday outing, to see the latest disaster to befall Ecuador

Although the Cuenca-Canar section of the Pan Americano was impassable on the first Sunday we could reach our property by going the long way around through some pretty country towns.

Upon arrival we harvested our first planting of hominy corn and retrieved some items from the property.  The two houses, made of concrete block, were still dry and one was higher up the slope so might be safe.  It could never cover our houses like it had some of the ones located on the banks, could it?

On Tuesday we tried to return but this time there was no pass.  The swollen brown river licked the belly of the old stone and cement bridge where the road forked off to Gualaceo at El Descanso. There was fear that the river would take the bridge as well.

Telephone poles near the river bank came up, gasped and sank beneath the waves. The beautiful hacienda right on the riverbank that I had so admired, was entirely submerged and lost from view. Bloated corpses of sheep, goats, cows, dogs, cats and, yes, humans bobbed on the gently rippled surface.

Thievery was rife. The intrepid held their breath and dove down to pull out soaked treasures. Some limited themselves to stealing clay tiles from a few still exposed roofs. Mud huts dissolved slowly back to their original form.

Our neighbour, a lawyer from Cuenca who had an extensive flower export business lost most of his crops and buildings.

As the government dickered and scratched its head the water moved inexorably on.  “Why don’t they just dynamite it?” said my practical, action-oriented husband Julio.

Ever erring on the side of caution, I was horrified. “But that could cause more of the mountain to cave in couldn’t it?” 

We should wait to see what the experts , called over from Switzerland, say, I thought. Julio, never impressed by experts insisted he was right. 
Over eons the Rio Paute had carved a deep canyon through the mountain as it made its way to the Amazon Basin. The road through the canyon passed by Gualaceo and Paute and other small settlements.  These faced an uncertain future should the now dammed up water release too suddenly from the algae covered lake they had formed.

Gualaceo was proud of being “La Puerta del Oriente” literally  the door to the east but in Ecuador the Oriente signified deep Amazonian jungle.  The local landmark...the golden chicken (an image that appeared on the canyon wall) would be drowned and gone forever now.

Years of poor mining practices, allowed to continue by the fat graft paid to government officials, had finally weakened the mountains resolve to stand tall.  

One fateful morning it just gave up. It slumped its mighty shoulders all the way down to the river, covering huts perched on its side, animals, businesses, bromeliads and humans before it reached the road and a large section of river Paute.  The rivers that poured into the Paute had nowhere to go after they formed the large lake,  but backwards and upwards.  And up they ran, over houses and fields.

One victim, who took refuge with us, told us his family was sleeping when they heard a tremendous rushing sound.  They looked outside to see an ocean of mud, rocks and water licking the bottom floor of their house.  

There was a tree outside the window. Thinking quickly he helped his wife out and handed the three children out to her. Before he could reach the tree his wife and young son were swept away.  He spent a horrifying night clinging to his other two children in the crotch of the tree before being rescued.  Homeless and heartsick he was a haunted man, wandering with blank eyes seeking shelter from one relative and another but finding no solace anywhere.

The damnificados , victims of the flood, were housed along with their heavy burden of anguish first in tent cities and later in convents and schools. 

Collections were taken from the already impoverished to cover their food and for a rebuilding fund. Sickeningly there was much scandal surrounding what happened to a large part of these collected funds and several esteemed members of the Catholic Church were rumored to be involved. Tongues were clucked, shoulders were shrugged but no one was taken to account as far as I know.

And the river rose. And rose.  Thirty three long days went by as the army chipped away at the lip of the earth with shovels. Their plan was to make a small breach through which the river would slowly trickle downward to Gualaceo and Paute.  The residents of these towns had been evacuated and lived in a tent city for a time.  

And it turned out I had been wrong about the property in La Victoria. Some said the water had risen to a depth of 75 feet. The lower two story house was completely submerged while the upper house had water up to the window sills...approximately 3 feet off the ground.

Meanwhile the creek behind our house near Llacao became a stream and then a river, makeshift bridges were swept away.  

We were thankful that we had built on the second level of our new property.  It sloped steeply in three tables from the gravel road winding between the Pan Americano and the mountain village of Llacao.    

But some of the damnificados came out ahead of the game. Our housekeeper, her husband and four small children had lived in a house under construction as "guardians". 

The life of a guardian is a nomadic one.  Moving from unfinished home to unfinished home, guarding piles of materials from thieves.  It is a hard one with no running water or toilet facilities, no heat ...cold winds rushed through the incomplete walls and rain poured in unfinished rooftops. Andean nights can get as cold as the high 40s or low 50s.

When the house they were guarding was washed away my housekeeper and her family lived for a time at one of the tent cities and then were moved to a convent in Cuenca.  

Eventually they came to live on our property in a snug and charming old adobe house with patio, and outdoor plumbing. In exchange for the house the wife, M, tended the animals, a few cows, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and cuyes (or guinea pigs which are a sought after delicacy in Cuenca). Her husband worked in construction. 

Eventually they were given their own cement block home in El Cisnea small settlement built for the Damnificados. 

Like its namesake the swan, it floated safely, not on water but in the beautiful eucalyptus dotted hills high above the disaster zone. It is highly likely that they never would have been able to afford a home like this in their lifetimes.

After they moved M continued to work for us for a weekly salary. She developed strong muscular legs from climbing to her own house and plunging rapidly downwards to ours every day.

Melida and I developed a friendship over the years and she kept in touch with me after I left Ecuador.

 When the water was eventually released and things started to dry out we went to see our properties.  The straw roofed adobe homes of our former neighbours had returned to the earth.  Our houses, built from cinder block had survived, muddy but intact.  This was thanks in no small part to my husband's tendency to overbuild! He had recently reinforced the corners of the lower house so that he could build a parking area over the roof!

I remarked to him at the time, "You know this could be a good selling feature in the future." 

And sure enough one day a gentleman approached us wanting to buy the property. He had noticed that it was among the very few that had buildings still standing and solid after the flood. We were all happy about our transaction. 

 In 2003 I stumbled upon this write up on line

Ten years ago a landslide in the mountains of Ecuador killed over 100 people. It also blocked a mountain river, creating a temporary flood reservoir that, a month later, burst through the debris and caused extensive flood damage downstream. The geomorphology of the whole valley was substantially altered and it become unstable, not helped by continued local aggregate mining. This paper reports on the delicate, long-term operation to monitor and stabilise the Paute river valley, including shaving two million m3 off a mountain and installing a novel system of drop structures on the river bed.
Author(s): B. Abril1 | D. Knight2
1993     Mar. 29 - "La Josefina" Disaster: Over 30 million cubic meters of the hill Tamuga slide and block the flow of the Cuenca and Jadán rivers (at the border of Cañar and Azuay); the largest producer of electricity, the Paute hydroelectric plant, and surrounding towns are at imminent risk of destruction. Apr. 30 - Soldiers breach the obstruction at "La Josefina" with anti-tank rockets; the rushing waters partially destroy the towns of Paute, Méndez, and other small towns.

 Confirmed "instability" in La Josefina, Zone 1
May 15, 2011Environment Minister, Marcela Aguiñaga, yesterday toured the La Josefina, located approximately 15 kilometers from Cuenca beside the road El Descanso-Paute, in this place was the Tamuga hill slippage in March 1993.Alexandra Quinn, an official of the Ministry of Environment in Cuenca, recalled that the disaster of La Josefina flooded large areas, crops, roads and more, plus the lives that were lost.The holder of this ministry in Cuenca, Gustavo Morejon, following the route taken with the technicians, said "the geological situation of the area is quite unstable, it is clear that there are areas that are slowly sliding running and causing increasing vulnerability in the area, this has led to the Declaration of State of Emergency ... the state of vulnerability of populations upstream and downstream is high. "In Zone 1, the Minister Aguiñaga after the walk together with technicians, said that currently there is no aggregate mining, recalled that the decree is in force, warning that this area is free of any quarrying stone material. The restriction is for security reasons.He also explained about the process, which already started, the expropriation of land under the Public Utility declaration with respect to Zone 1. There are approximately 3,000 hectares of which 500 will be affected.Families will have to leave their properties.This process is leading the ministry is quite complicated because expropriation in an area where they have lost the property lines, as happened in 1993, which makes everything more complex, he said.He stressed that it is not that families accept or not the amount the government will give for their land "is a condemnation proceeding, not a negotiation mechanism." (ACR)$ 300 000Secretary of State declared that the expropriation process will take a long time, but that families "are assured that the ministry will pay the fair market value for land that is determined by valuations and land registers."Are allocated more than $ 300 000 in court for those people who have been notified come to accept the legal process and that they charge their values.Not yet started the expropriation of any land, Aguiñaga said, because they do not match the cadastre or the boundaries that existed at the time that people took to the real situation. Therefore, they are required first to perform planimetric survey studies and other processes.To date 275 have cadastral parcels.“inestabilidad”-en-la-josefina-zona-1.html

Area Tamuga and Zhizhi permanence is not recorded daily of inhabitants. The landowners live outside the townJosefina grounds of the delay compensation without registrationMay 13, 2011An area of ​​Josephine in surveillance, but the progress of stabilization depends on the compensation of the properties.The stage of expropriation and compensation for the land surrounding hills Tamuga and Zhizhi has remained static since most land ownership has not been legalized.According to Gustavo Morejon, regional director of the Ministry of Environment. The grounds are an inheritance from grandparents and parents who have never been legally registered. Besides this drawback, coupled with the absence of boundaries that makes the calculation of compensation for the fair value of each item.To do this, carry out cadastral surveys to define the area of ​​land and property owners in the area there. The purpose of this is to cancel Prosesa real prices and keep families feel cheated by selling their properties. Morejon said they will open a technical office in the canton Paute to have greater accessibility to the site and expedite the process.Stabilization PlanCarlos Fernandez de Cordova, manager of the Management Board of Water Basin Paute CGPaute said that to start the Master Plan Stabilization of Tamuga hill, need authorization  authorities intervened to protect the area one of the Josefina.Such authorization must wait until the Regional Directorate of the Ministry of Environment completed the expropriation and compensation of land, said Cordova.The stabilization work is due to the continuing risk of another landslide in the area, especially if it allows the exploitation of mines still in place. In recent years, investment was more than four million dollars, he said CGPaute manager.María Dolores, a former resident of Hacienda Tomebamba sector, said that in the disaster and lost her husband sold their land, so far from where he now lives, but has relatives in remote areas of the hills. However, requests that if they were to expropriate the property of the few people who live within the risk area, they cancel the corresponding value for them to move to another space. (OEM)

Now it is 2014, Twenty one years later and I am reading all about it again in Gringo Tree a publication written for and by Gringos - expats who now live in Cuenca Ecuador.

Here is a clickable link to that article
Twenty-first Anniversary of the Josefina disaster

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Way We Were? Saved by a Worm.

First an apology.  Somehow a draft I was working on got published before its time.  This is what I was working towards and if you have time to read it great. I hope you will find it interesting.

Now the blog post
Giving back to the land, going back to the land...all things that fascinate me. 

A friend sent me a couple of articles today about the use of Red Wiggler Worms in Central America.

It got me thinking about just how we got to the place where third world countries  whose fields had been naturally productive and health giving for centuries had to now be taught about the use of worms for compost.

Once my former neighbours, born and raised in the countryside in Ecuador,  were helping us weed the alfalfa crop.  The wife came across a gigantic, glistening worm.  Had to be about a foot long . She pulled it out of the ground and casually tossed it onto the chain link fence where it wriggled helplessly, drying and dying in the Ecuatorial sun.

"And all they eat is earth,"  she said by way of instructing me.

I immediately went over, gently disentangled it from the hot metal fence,  laid it tenderly into some soft cool earth out of harm's way. 

She stared blankly as I said, "They eat dead leaves and other vegetable matter that has dropped to the ground. They turn that into a rich earth that helps you grow your crops. They are your best friends in the fields."

She and her husband stared at the crazy gringa,  in total disbelief.  I am sure it gave them lots to talk and laugh about with their ten children when they got home; stories to tell in town as they bought chemicals to put on their corn field.

Talk about taking something for granted.  Worms are something to be casually cut with your shovel, crushed under your shoe, or if they are lucky, just ignored.  They have no value unless it might be for fishing bait, right?  Wrong.  I have written about this before under my post entitled Better Worms and Gardens - Part I - Vermicomposting -  published in October 2009.

I got to thinking about how we had come to this, to a point where we had so terribly depleted the life giving earth. Where we had so little understanding of our part in the cycle of life.  What had gone wrong?

Today I saw it all so clearly. Until recent history,  fields  everywhere were tilled by hand or assisted by oxen, after harvest crops were ploughed under, chickens and other animals roamed freely and acted as a natural insecticide as they picked off bugs to supplement their diet, people used the fields as a bathroom, kitchen waste was thrown on the fields as well.

When Progress and her Sister Hygiene arrived things changed dramatically. In stead of oxen, tractors tilled the fields, producing pollution instead of rich poop.   People made their daily deposits to an outhouse instead of a field. Chickens and other domesticated animals were confined instead of roaming freely and their waste was collected into putrefying piles buried far from where it would do any good.

In the past,  when small quantities of human and animal waste were deposited randomly over the fields it was not a problem as it was quickly taken care of by.... bugs and bacteria and most of all worms.  

The household waste that was thrown on the fields was no longer totally biodegradable spoiled vegetables, fruits and grains.  People had progressed, become sophisticated. They were using non biodegradable disposable diapers, processed foods in plastic and cans.  But they still threw them on the fields.

The land, starved for food now, could no longer produce bountiful, vitamin rich crops. The yield was smaller, and weaker, susceptible to diseases and pests. Something had to be done.

Enter the chemical companies with their products that were going to increase the yields with one simple fix.  And they had just the thing to kill those pesky bugs as well.

Poor people scraped up enough to buy chemical fertilizers and insecticides  and were rewarded with bumper crops.  It was a miracle!  This continued for a few years until the land became exhausted and used up. 

he chemicals did not FEED the land, only made it easier for the plants to take up more minerals, depleting it even further. More and more chemicals were needed to try to replicate the results obtained initially.

Now at last there is a movement back to, not the way we were, but to something that combines the modern way of living with a cheap and effective solution; one that will clean up land fills and put vitality back into the land.

That lowly, unloved creature, the earthworm!  She is finally getting the respect she deserves.  And Pachamama is so proud of her child.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A comment I made on the Frugally Sustainable Blog August 2013

Even though I check before I post there are always errors. Bugs me. So I am reposting this on my own blog and correcting the errors.  Hopefully I get them all this time.
The article on Homesteading I was responding to can be found here:
This is my slightly revised comment 
I am a long time follower of your Facebook page and use many of the recipes from your blog.
I seldom make comments but my hat is off to you for your honesty. Homesteading is hard. Being different is hard. I suppose that is why most people refuse to understand how vitally important it is to protect Mother earth.
In 1990 I was transported from big city life in Canada to a small farm in Ecuador. For ten years I knew great bliss in communing with neighbouring farmers, learning their methods of planting (for example the Three Sister method of planting corn, squash and beans), shearing sheep and castrating animals that were all done in accordance with the moon cycles. Most ploughing was done with a team of oxen although tractors were appearing now and then.
For ten years I derived a lot of pleasure learning about medicinal herbs from a relative (by marriage) who is a curandera, providing our own fresh milk and cream, fresh vegetables and herbs for the table. For protein we raised beef, goat, sheep, chickens and guinea pig (a delicacy in Ecuador).
Now I am home again with a small property in a village setting where I strive to grow a lot of my own food, edible and medicinal herbs and am exploring the possibility of solar power. Fortunately I live in a rural community where I can fill in the gaps by buying at the farm gate from people I know.
There are some who think I am nuts when I extol the virtues of red wiggler worms for composting my kitchen waste, make my own peanut and almond butters, laundry soap, shampoo, lotions and balms, cleaners and simple remedies.
I wish I could explain to them the a pleasure and satisfaction you get from understanding the web of life and knowing that every insect, bird, snake and weed in your garden has a purpose and should not be killed.  That varying your planting methods will encourage beneficial insects who will take care of the ones you may not favour as much.
I wish they could know the satisfaction of scratching a hole in a hill of potatoes and finding those tiny new potatoes, or the feel of when a tomato is ripe enough to drop into your hand with a gentle nudge.
You rock. I know you will reach your goals…and look like a million dollars with all the healthy fresh air and exercise.
And I hope you are reaching people who would not otherwise think about these things. I share a lot of your posts with friends in that hope.
   Andrea replied
What an amazing story Jane! You are an inspiration and I couldn’t agree with you more. All of what you mentioned represents to me the human desire of interconnectedness that is growing as our culture begins to relearn and accept ancient ways of growing, cooking, and healing. I am encouraged by the slight shift away from consumption and control as we move closer toward a relationship of coexistence with the Earth and animals of all kinds!
It is my hope as well that people like us continue to encourage one another on our journey toward sustainability — all the while leading by example!
The key to fuelling the fire of this trend…our continued willingness to see nature as nature is.
Thank you again Jane and blessings on you.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I can only weep

Click to go to the 10 minute movie about my beautiful rain forest and its peoples in Ecuador's Amazon.

I am sick at heart at the thought of this great loss that I. merely by driving a car and heating a home am a part of.

And it cannot be stopped.

I can only weep at my inability to make a difference.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Healing in the garden

I wrote this article when I thought I could make some money writing articles for Helium. It did get rated 6 out  of 66  articles on the same subject but it was just too darned difficult to make any money on that site so I have decided to use my articles myself. There will be no money in that either but at least they are in my own collection. 

Memoirs: Healing in the garden, how my garden helped me

POSTED June 03, 2008   Last Updated: June 09, 2008

When I was younger I didn't pay much attention to the "weeds" around me. I had been taught that they were just annoying entities that interfered with more valuable things like flowers and vegetables. They had to be dealt with severely.
Scenes of me helping my dad(both of us without masks)mix up the noxious chemicals that were required to keep his lawn and garden insect and weed-free, are like trailers from a horror movie.
My dad was a renowned gardener almost till the day he died. But I wonder how he would be perceived now. Would he refuse to recognize the dangers and far-reaching negative effects of the chemicals he used to control his unwelcome garden visitors? Or would he embrace the new/old knowledge of letting nature help him.
After leaving home and broadening my horizons it was with a sense of delight and wonder I became gradually aware that there were other ways to deal with so-called pests and weeds. Even more amazing was the fact that many of them might be embraced; like doctors for their healing powers or friends for their helpful ways.
I read voraciously and extolled the beauty and virtue of lady bugs, earthworms, dandelions, chick weed and companion planting. Still, friends and family looked on me as a love-able but benighted eccentric who was to be tolerated but never taken seriously.
When I became more militant about avoiding pesticides and cultivating helpful insects and birds by making the habitat welcoming, people changed the subject. They desperately hoped to steer me away from yet another diatribe on the decline of songbirds and native plants.
Anyone who would listen got my speech on grackles and starlings. They may not be the prettiest or most melodious bird on the planet, but they make up for it by eating their weight in bugs and caterpillars every day. I explained that they were far better garden allies than the beloved robin redbreast who busied himself with eradicating the life-giving, soil-enhancing earthworms from their garden patch.
Several years ago I moved to Ecuador where I spent many happy hours conversing with the farm ladies who still knew the ways of herbs and natural healing. It is common to see the ladies of the house returning from open air markets with their baskets filled to the brim with fresh local produce. Tucked into a corner is always a colorful bunch of "montes". This is a selection of "weeds" known for their curative and health-giving powers. Families would use one or more of these fresh herbs for whatever ailed them or simply make a refreshing tea out of a few of them. With sugar and lemon added it was a drink that excelled any store bought cola in flavor and certainly in healthful properties.
As I learned more about these beautiful and useful plants I started my own herb garden so I would always have them at hand. Now I am back in North America I still can grow many of the common ones prized by the ladies of Ecuador. Most, like Borage, Lemon balm, Valerian and Chamomile are perennials in my zone 5 garden, while beautiful deep purple Prince's Feather can be grown from seed each year. Lemon grass and Lemon Verbena are an experiment this year and will have to come into my warm dry living room for the winter.
While we have many varieties of Mallow like Hollyhock and Hibiscus I have not seen the tree sized one that saved me from blood poisoning in Ecuador.
After a minor surgery to have a toenail removed I came down with a virulent infection. As the infection spread so did my panic and I forgot helpful plants all around me in my haste to get to a pharmacy.
Many dollars, ointments and antibiotics later the infection was spreading up my toe and into my foot. The swelling and pain were excruciating and frightening. Then a neighbor pointed at a large tree growing by the side of my patio and said, "What about this mallow here? Have you tried it?"
I had known that mallow was good for coughs and bronchitis but she explained that it also had antibacterial properties. We brewed up a few flowers in a cup of water and used it as a wash for my long-suffering toe. Next morning, like magic there was no more swelling, no more redness and no more pain!
During my stay in Ecuador I had the privilege of living for a week with the Huaorani Indians on the River Shiripuno. My thirst for knowledge of healing plants was only whetted by trips through the teeming jungle while my friend pointed out one or another tree, bush or vine that his tribe used in all walks of their lives. I learned of the incredible properties of the Sangre de Drago (Dragon's Blood) tree. This tree, when nicked with a machete, bleeds a red sap that looks like blood. The sap can be used internally and externally and is one of the major health aids available to the Amazon tribes. The sap can be rubbed in the hand or fingers to produce a whitish paste that is then applied to wounds and bites or skin infections.
A garden is not just full of healing and healthful plants. It IS a healer in and of itself; a balm for the wounded soul. Here, with your hands deep in the earth you can forget your troubles for awhile. And as you smell the fragrance of the flowers and watch the fruits of your labor burst forth there is a great sense of satisfaction and peace.
Sadly as our modern life encroaches on the farm and the jungle and asphalt encroaches on our very garden spaces, the lore and the plants themselves are being lost. What a cornucopia of cures we have right at our feet if we only know how to use these wonderful healing plants. It is a credit to the plants themselves that in spite of generations of us trying to eradicate them they still persist. Perhaps they will endure even this assault.
So please, before you pull that "weed" or squash that insect, grab a book and see if you are about to kill a doctor or a friend.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peacefully, at their home in Ontario.

It is with some sadness that I write today to tell you of the demise of my friends, the red wiggler worms.

In previous posts I have extolled their virtues, their fecundity, their extensive knowledge gleaned through reading discarded newspapers, their graduation to University, their managing of my financial affairs as they slurped up my bills and obliterated sensitive information before it could fall into the wrong hands. All that AND provided me with a never ending supply of rich organic, non burning fertilizer.  Well, never ending till now.

For awhile I was overwhelmed with worms.  I held worm seminars in the hope of passing on knowledge and surplus worms.This was not successful.  I sold thousands, I traded more thousands for useful items like rain barrels.

Still I could not stem the red tide of worms. I was growing more unhappy with the job of lifting the bins to feed and clean them.

It could have been my negative vibes that killed them but more likely it was because I did not clean them as often or put clean bedding in each time I fed them.  This probably set up the unpleasant living conditions that led to their demise?

Some months ago I noticed their numbers dwindling and eventually I eliminated two of the three bins that once were overflowing with pink wriggling life.  At first I admit I was relieved not to have to lift that heavy third bin that perched on top of two others.

I did not give up hope for another few months. I figured there were eggs that would hatch. There were tiny young worms that would grow to adult hood and the colony would thrive once again as it had for about 5 years.

So I kept up feeding and the waste disappeared but still no worms were evident.  How could this be?

Then I remembered reading that  worms do not actually "eat" the garbage. They do not have teeth and cannot scrape or gnaw their way through it.

Neither do they require lime in the form of eggshells for their craw (???) and to help them with digestion as some sites will tell you. This in fact is only to help de acidify the bin....however even that has been called into question as eggshells dissolve so slowly.

The job of breaking down the vegetable matter is done by beneficial bacteria and microbes that prepare a delicious soup that the worms then slurp up. To my knowledge microbes and bacteria don't possess teeth either.  I do not know the mechanics of what they do but assume it involves some chemical reaction causing putrefaction. I confess I am too lazy to look it up.

So....I think I will continue with this experiment and just keep adding the refuse to the bin and see what happens.  I have become hooked on that wonderful fertilizer. I much prefer just burying kitchen refuse in a handy bin than schlepping out through snowbanks to the compost pile or putting it in a garbage bag that has to be taken to land fill....we have no garbage pick up here.

Have you ever noticed when you are buying a car you are told it maintains its value and that is why the price is so high?  It will have  great resale value. But when you try to sell the same car you are told that that particular car is no longer in demand.

Well the same goes for worms and probably lots of other things.

Worms don't come cheap when you are trying to buy them. They do however go cheap when you are trying to sell them. No one else was as foolish as me to pay $50.00 for a pound of them. I had to let them go as low as $35.00 a pound just to put a dent in their unchecked population explosion.

But my question is ....Have we been scammed by these worm purveyors? Do they know that the worms are just decoration... not a necessary part of the equation?

I know that in the outside world worms do more than assist in breaking down vegetable matte they also aerate the holes as they create their burrows and drag vegetable matter deeper into the soil. Or so we are told.

The longer I live the less I believe any more.

I will let you know in a future post how my wormless composting experiment proceeds.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Favorite Naturalist

I subscribe to a weekly newsletter written by Jim Conrad.  His very interesting bio can be found at

In addition to his in depth information and profiles of birds, insects, animals and plants  I look forward to Jim's often searingly poignant personal essays.

This week's piece touched me on several levels, the sensual beauty in simple things, the process of aging and the sense of loss that we have all experienced.  Hoping you can relate to and enjoy it too I quote it here:

One daily job I look forward to is that of supplying a 
big bouquet of freshly picked leaf lettuce for the 
kitchen, such as that seen at

Picking the lettuce is a sensuous experience. Chilly, 
early-morning dew on the leaves wets my hands. A 
lettucy fragrance blossoms around me as I break off 
the leaves, feeling in my fingertips the faint but 
fatal snaps of petioles yielding to my force. As I 
return to the hut to wash the leaves I can't take my 
eyes off the visually pleasing essay before me, one 
commenting on the theme of simple but crinkly-edged 
glowings of yellow greenness contrasting with interior 
black shadowiness.

Sometimes it's hard to hand over the bouquet to the 
kitchen staff. By the time I get to the kitchen door 
I'm sort of bonded with that bunch of lettuce, even to 
the point of identifying with it.

For, when I'm picking the lettuce I'm doing that slow-
simmering kind of reflecting on life everyone does 
when engaged in non-thinking jobs. And the lettuce's 
radiant yellow-greenness emerging from silky, deep-
rooted blackness, and even its odor of bruised 
herbage, somehow strike me as exactly matching how 
I've been feeling lately -- not to mention how each 
leaf petiole gives that little snap when I pick it, 
like the thousand little losses one feels every day 
while aging, leaving behind hair, hearing, sight, 
strength, memory and more, and sometimes just plain 
giving up on this or that.

Looking at the lettuce in my hands is in many ways 
like taking a good look at my own feelings.

And, the destiny of that lettuce... I'll bet that most 
leaves get thrown away -- a bug-eaten hole on this 
one, that leaf a little too pale, this one with a 
small tear, that one with a brown spot, one after 
another just not good enough for a fancy restaurant. 
Well, if we're developing a metaphor here, at this 
point it would be easy to overdo it.

But, sometimes I do wish I knew what happens to what I 
bring to the kitchen door. I wonder what the use is of 
such fragile, translucing, yellow-green, crushed-
herbage, baroque-fringed gifts... if the one you're 
giving them to mostly just throws them away.


Enjoy your day