Sunday, January 24, 2016

Working with the earth element; or, getting my hands dirty

Plants have always eluded me when it comes to having a relationship with them. Admittedly, I have not had many plants in the past with which to work on that relationship and to learn their ways and needs. I once had a cactus plant that I bought from a grocery store as a teenager and, several weeks later, was alerted to it when I heard a crinkly sound coming from the plant. I immediately took it outside in time to see thousands of tiny little spiders emerge from it. Considering my fear of spiders (another thing I have been trying to work on), my experience was soured toward plants for a while.

This has changed in the past few years. I have been strongly drawn to the element of earth and her flora realm. The hitch is that I am severely allergic to grass pollen which aggravates my asthma, too. A push and a pull from the earth. Touch me if you dare. Entheogens have become particularly fascinating to me and have lured me back towards greening my thumb on Earth's flora. Bees were another source of connection I seek. Last February, I took a basic beekeeping course from my local county beekeeper society. It was absolutely fantastic and highly informative! I have fallen in love with bees and my path towards eventually having a hive (or two) of my own to build practical, working knowledge and further understanding is something I am continually striving towards.

I recognize that I am still a newbie when it comes to Mother Nature's abundant mantle and the Green Man's lush beard, and that before I started in with plants I knew to be dangerous and harmful to me and my loved ones, I wanted to build up my abilities with less deadly plants (though, ones I am still drawn towards).

I started out with lavender. A wonderful bee-friendly flowering plant. Partial to the flowers and scent, too, I thought that would be a lively plant to grow and have the opportunity to harvest later on. It thrived wonderfully for a while. I would keep the plant indoors, but set it outside during the day most of the week when the weather was nice. It filled the pot in no time and then things took a turn. It began to get very brown and die. When it stopped growing new sprouts and looked very much dead, it was consigned to the wastes.

My next plant was cat mint from seeds that were lingering away in my to-plant container, but never made it into soil. There was a chance that they would not sprout, but at the time, I was only interested in seeing if they would take. The plant did very well indoors and grew wonderfully. However, when I began taking it outside, it acquired powder mold and, after trying numerous remedies, had to be dumped and burned to prevent the mold from spreading to other plants and the pot thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. A second attempt became home to the eggs of an insect and it, too, had to be consigned to the wastes.

Almost simultaneously, I was trying my hand at aloe. Another important plant to have in one's arsenal. Again, my plant thrived at first. From the little 5-inch sprite to the massive, mother dragon who has bore many daughters that I have now. Alas, she, too, looks much more droopy and browning. But I have been fighting fiercely to make her healthy again.

All of these failures are felt. I deeply lament the lack of understanding I have and constantly seek to remedy and improve my knowledge. I seek a deep conversation with the silent living. I seek to learn them better. To care for them better. To serve them better.

And I think I am starting to really listen, look, and learn with my hands. I can feel the unspoken conversation building up to form an understanding.

A few days after buying a healthy looking mint plant this summer, she suddenly began to express brownish-grey spots on her leaves. Scouring the internet, I found nothing that seemed, to my still untrained eye, to exactly identify it. Her new sprouts would develop fine, but then began showing signs of the blight shortly after. Pruning the affected leaves did not help. Pruning stems did not either. My last ditch effort was to prune the stems breaking the surface to nubs about a half-inch tall. To my ecstatic amazement, not only did the plant bounce back, all of the leaves and stems were free of the blight that had haunted it.

I am still learning from my mint mistress. I believe she has accepted me and is willing to work with my unskilled hand to train me. And she is, to which I am very grateful. I am more vigilant to watering schedules. The importance of soil composition and nutrients. She received her first heavy pruning today--something she expects much more often. And when the ground thaws, she will be divided and allowed to conquer a small portion of our acreage. I'm sure she has larger, grander plans than that, though.

I am still a novice, but the bounty of mint that has been yielded to me is incredibly rewarding and encouraging.

Plants need more than just water and sunlight--and even these vary from plant to plant. They are living beings that have nutritional needs, personalities, and requirements. Some desire constant attention, pruning, watering, splitting, or feeding. Others prefer less contact and handling. I am starting to pay more attention to these requirements and needs. I mourn the ones that have died in my poor care, but I am trying, more and more, to learn the language and world of our plant spirits. While getting my hands dirty outside comes with a severe physical reactions, I am learning to listen and, hopefully, forge connections with the land around me and the plants I am seeking relationships with.

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