Photos by Elaine
The extreme heat (above 35 degrees celsius) and the rains of this past summer has both helped our plants to grow and mature. Some plants like the Coriander have dried out, which I had expected as they are very fast-growing, short-living beings that need to be plucked regularly for their leaves to continue growth. They are beginning to grow their seed, which we will harvest for next year's growth. We have also discovered a stowaway Tomato plant, growing in our pot of Lupins. It grew late in the season so we will see if it will have enough time to fruit. The Garden Project adventure has gotten many of our team members on the balcony, watering and sharing in its growth. Looking up from Falknerstrasse to see living beings on our balcony is very satisfying. Not just that they are beautiful, green and blossoming, but also to know that life can thrive in the harshest of environments by adapting.
Photos by Elaine
The Summer Solstice came on the 21st of June and passed. The heat of summer has been sweltering. Our plants are thriving, blossoming, but some suffering from the extreme heat. We have been busy watering and nurturing them as much as we can. Our Sage was scorched early on in June, turning yellow and was looking like it wouldn't make it. I changed its position, slightly away from the direct sunlight and onto another balcony with some other plants. Since a few weeks, it is looking better, like it will make it though the summer. Amazing how so little can make a difference. Our team at ICM has had the benefit of fresh herbs, like Basil and Coriander, with their lunch. We have tried out fresh Mint tea and will soon share our harvest with our clients and visitors to ICM. So come by and share a cup of home-grown Mint tea to cool you down in the hot summer days.
Photos by Elaine
All our plants are in their pots and growing. Since the cooling down rains and then the heating up these last few days, our plants are bursting into growth. We have Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Calendula, Coriander, Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Oregano, Majoram, Hyssop, Perilla, Tarragon, Goji, Lupines, Lovage and Swiss Chard. Most are thriving, except for a Rosemary plant. Not sure why. Once a gardener told me that plants are like humans, if they don't like the environment they are moved into, they don't thrive. I thanked him for his words of wisdom and remember that plants are living beings like us humans.
Photos by Elaine
What has often fascinated me are stories of transformation. Even as a young child, I loved reading fairy tales like The Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid or The Ugly Duckling. It’s only since I began my studies in Chinese Medicine that I realized why. As with the seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter), all living beings on earth are guided by the cycles of birth, growth, transformation, death and possibly rebirth. Composting is that “real” tale for me. I gather my kitchen waste, put it in a compost pile in the garden, the transformation from dead food scraps to fertile earth, which allows me to grow plants that will become food again. The cycle of life, death and rebirth happening in my garden, without me doing much except to occasionally turn the pile. This is the ultimate story of transformation happening right in my own backyard.
My family and I have had a compost bin ever since we have had a garden. Our current compost bin is 6 years old. We all know that traditional composting is based on the decomposing process, an aerobic process which takes time. My kids know, as we do, that we can’t put meat, dairy or cooked grains in compost, as these will attract vermin, or citrus, due to it not decomposing well and worms don’t like them. One of my boys had the chore of taking out the kitchen scraps, at least once a week or in summer up to 3 times, and putting it in the big bin in the garden. There, he would be assaulted by flying insects, slimy slugs and the putrid scent of decomposition, which he totally detested. Now, that has all changed.
We began a Bokashi compost this past February. I had seen it many years ago in a catalog for natural products but didn’t look further into it. Some vegan friends of ours mentioned that they were using it and then last year a good friend of mine from Malaysia mentioned that she had one. When I told her of our compost not having meat, grains or citrus, we began to discuss the benefits of Bokashi and how one can basically put every organic matter in it to ferment, creating super healthy compost without the vermin.
Bokashi is a Japanese word meaning “alteration” or “fading away.” The Bokashi composting method, developed by Dr. Teruo Higa, is a fermentation process not a decomposition. It works with bacteria like Lactobacilli, yeast and purple non-sulfur bacteria, which come in the form of Bokashi bran. This bran is added to the kitchen waste every time you put it in the airtight Bokashi bin. It’s an anaerobic process, which ferments and doesn’t decompose the organic matter. Hence, it doesn’t smell like decay but more like a pickling (slightly vinegar/acid) odor, which vermin do not like. We purchased our kit which comes with 2 airtight buckets and a whole bag of Bokashi bran. My internet research has shown me that you can make it all yourself, if you want to. Once the bucket is full, you set it aside for 2 weeks and then bury the organic matter in the earth for another 2 weeks before you plant on top of the enriched soil. I put mine in my compost bucket. After 2 weeks, there’s almost no more matter that resembles food, just sweet-smelling compost full of worms. What’s also great is that there is a Bokashi tea, which needs to be emptied every 2-3 days and this can be used to help fertilize plants (diluted down with water) or poured down the drain to help clean your pipes. Now how brilliant is that? Food waste transformed into earth and the liquid used to clean and fertilize, all happening in my kitchen and backyard. That’s what I call transformation!
*Note: Author has not received any financial renummeration for recommendations
Photo (Metamorphosis) by Pixabay user Annca
Photos Bokashi & Compost by Elaine
I woke up this morning to the unexpected flakes of snow falling as I opened the window. It's April, early spring. Snow in April is not surprising, unexpected due to the last month of sunshine but not surprising. Humans have known that snow is possible even in spring. Our classical Chinese Medical text, Yellow Emperor Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), written 3000 years ago, speaks of it. Spring is a time of changes, of warmth and cold, of winds. Hence, we must be careful not to open too soon. Not t-shirt weather just yet, keep the jacket on.
Paying heed to this. Our garden project has already begun since the middle of last month. We have out vessels for planting ready on the balcony, earth awaits to be filled into these vessels. Seeds have been planted but inside, in a little "greenhouse," to keep the warmth and moisture ever present. The seedlings are thriving. We have basil, hyssop, coriander, gou qi zi, echinacea, to name a few. We wait till the middle of April to set the seedlings into their vessels outside, observing the weather to ensure that they have the best temperature and environment for growth. A garden, as we humans, needs to be nurtured. Sometimes, that means waiting for the right moment to move forward.
Photos by Elaine
As I sit basking in the sunlight of the arriving spring, I can feel the inspiration to do and to create. Things bubble in my being, just as the shoots of the plants start to tickle the earth with its impatient need to find the warm sunshine. The red shoots in the picture are of Peony, which is a Chinese medicinal plant. Spring is a time of ideas, sometimes they rush at us at crazy speeds but some may take time to manifest, sometimes years.
Sometime last spring, I walked down the street to ICM, along Falknerstrasse. It's where the tram passes through. I realized how un-green it was. I looked up to our practice on the 4th floor and realized that we have 2 beautiful little balconies, that we almost never come out on. I watched all year through how the sunlight from the eastern sky shines onto them and how the angle of light changes through the year. It inspired me to begin something new already then. This Spring, we will initiate our ICM Garden Project. It will be the "greening of Falknerstrasse" starting from the top, hopefully downward.
What has happened since this seed was planted last year in my mind/being, is a sort of quiet observation process. Every time I came to ICM in the morning as I prepared the treatment space, I was observing the sunlight and the sensing the Qi of the space. I've also been researching what containers and seeds to sow, as well as when. This process has begun to change my view of things on so many levels. It's crazy, exciting, depressing sometimes yet wonderful! How something so small can have an impact on my life and change how I live life.
It's like this. First, I really wanted to recycle as well as I could, to stop or at least limit consuming/buying. So I tried to find out more about plastic containers, such as PET bottles and other plastics containers, to be used as planting containers. Here I opened a "can of worms" that I cannot turn away from. What I found out made me realise that we take too many things for granted and that we need to be more vigilant. So I've decided to get good old terracotta pots for our garden project, which we will use for a long time instead of recycling any unsafe plastic. We, at ICM, my family and myself are limiting our use of plastics as much as we can, especially those dealing with food and drink, as well as planting food in. I don't want to get too deeply into this topic here, so I will reference a blog I have been reading about plastics, www.myplasticfreelife.com.
I am reading more about Permaculture, which is pretty cool and I hope to garden/live more in this manner, as I find many similarities to Chinese medicine. I will write more about it in future posts. At home we have started a bokashi compost, in addition to our garden compost we have had for 5 years. These will be feeding our little project at ICM along with fertile soil for growth, as well as many other ideas and actions.
We will begin this month of March with growing seeds, mostly herbal plants like basil, coriander, calendula and even the ever popular Chinese herb, Gou Qi Zi. Let spring live through you, be the hand that plants the seed, that grows the tree and let the ideas blossom. It is what the world needs right now.
Photo by Elaine
The Chinese New Year begins today. So much of Chinese culture, whether medicine, astrology or cooking, incorporates the philosophy of the five-elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has its characteristics and follows 2 cycles of interaction, the generating (clockwise circle in diagram) as well as the controlling (pentagram in diagram). Even each season is related to an element: spring to wood, summer to fire, late summer to earth, autumn to metal and winter to water. This year is the year of the Earth Pig. The Chinese revere this animal as a symbol of wealth and abundance.
The Chinese follow parallel to the regular (Gregorian) calendar a traditional lunar-solar calendar. The Chinese New Year lands either on the second or third new moon after the winter solstice. Each year is associated with an animal, 12 altogether, and with one of the five element that changes every third year. So the same animal and element comes by again in 60 years. There is are many stories associated with the order of the animals. As a child, I recall seeing a calendar with a picture of the animals in the order of the years arriving to greet Buddha. I have heard of another one with the same animal order coming to greet the Jade Emperor. I imagine this is the Daoist version as opposed to the former, a Buddhist version. The animals obviously possess their strengths and weaknesses, affecting how the year will turn out. Depending on your element and animal, which also has its own related element, these also determine how your year unfolds. Personally, I do see some correlations to the traits of the animals and elements on the year's events, but my belief is that we create our own reality with our actions.
This is the beginning of spring for the Chinese. I remember going to the market with my parents as a child to the get new year decorations and food imported from China, as we do not have four seasons in Malaysia. Cherry tree branches with buds was a standard, symbolizing the start of spring, which I could never really understand in the scorching heat and constant growth of plants in the tropics. I don't think I really understood spring until I moved to the west and experienced it for myself. Right now, looking outside with snow flurries still falling or frost on the grass, the feeling of spring hasn't really set in here, yet if you really look deeper you will notice that some plants have already begun that springy action of breaking through earth to manifest its destiny to blossom, like the daffodils in my garden. They are just waiting for the most perfect moment to blossom their delicate blooms of golden. This happens just when the light and temperature are ideal. Something I learnt from planting and reading about Narcissus is that their leaves need to be left alone till they wilt and become brown, which you can then cut off, as these allows bulbs to store enough energy for the next year. For such a short time in the year, for maybe 2 to 4 weeks, these blossoms are at its fullest and then spend the majority of the year storing under the earth in a kind of hibernation.
So different it is with us humans in our day. We spend little time sleeping or having time to contemplate. We give a lot of energy for action but little for quiet, self-reflection. We wonder then why we are often so tired or rundown. Maybe it's time we learn something from the plants around us and take time for quiet reflection and storing, go to bed a little earlier and spend time during the day doing calming things such as reading or even just breathing. So that when spring officially hits, at the vernal equinox on March 21, with bright sunshine and blossoming plants, we can manifest our life blossoms with a feeling of powerful strength and be able to maintain this all season long.
Photo by user:Bru-nO pixabay
Diagram by Elaine
I am a Chinese Medicine practitioner at ICM, mother of 2 boys, living on my third continent. I love to share my perspectives on healing, TCM, gardening, social change and life.