26 November, 2007

Drip Irrigation Lecture Notes for 26 November, 2007


Drip irrigation was brainchild of farmers in the 1960’s – primarily Israeli farmers – needing to water their crops sufficiently and yet conserve water. Drip made it’s way into landscaping in the 1980’s and has continued to improve.

Drip irrigation saves water (and therefore money) in several different ways. The cost of a drip system is so much lower than conventional irrigation that one can install several successive bad drip systems and start over for less money than one bad in ground system.

Drip puts water close to the base of the plant and away from undesirable plants.

Traditional watering methods deliver water faster than most soils can absorb.

Anther advantage of drip is that you can deliver precisely predetermined amounts of water to plants over a wide area.


Minimizes water lost to evaporation before getting to plant Plastic parts wear out or come apart
Minimizes water lost to wind Doesn’t wash out salt build up
Water is directed towards desirable plants and away from undesirable plants Bad for golf courses
Excellent for pots! Many noodgey little parts that get damaged or lost
Easy to install and adapt Not efficient for established trees
No trenching! Tubing is exposed!
Can be easily used with other systems Rodent/human damage
First evidence of a system problems is usually a dead or dying plant

Another advantage of using a low flow drip system is that you do not need high pressure to supply the drippers and micro-sprinklers. Most drip systems run about 15 to 30 PSI (pounds per square inch). For comparison most houses have water pressure of anywhere from 40 PSI to 60 PSI. The benefit is that you do not have to worry about large pressure drops in your household water flow just because the irrigation system has turned on; for example you will not notice if the system goes on when you are in the shower!
Starting To Drip

How you will connect to your water source depends on several factors:
1. How large of a system will be needed?
2. Your expertise and desires
3. Water quality and pressure
4. Site requirements

Types of connections:
1. Simply screwed onto the end of a hose bib (use a Y connector)
2. Tee’d off the water supply

Valve type:
1. By hand
2. Inline controller, usually battery powered
3. Multi-station controller wired to valves

Pipe wrenches
Hack saw
Emitter punch
Electric drill
Masonry bits
Screw drivers
Several pliers

Emitters (aka drippers)
Poly tubing – ½” and ¼”
Anti-siphon device
Pressure regulator
A million adapters & noodgey parts
WD 40
Plumbers tape

Designing Your System

Rule 1: You cannot exceed your water supply!
If you only have 100 gallons per hour (GPH) of water supply (example only) then you cannot make one system/watering zone that uses 200 gallons per hour (GPH). Just common sense! What we can do in this case is to make more than one watering zone from the same water source – divide and water.
Rule 2: You must have some water pressure, but not too much!
Most homes have between 40 to 60 PSI (Pounds per Square Inch). This is just fine for a drip system, in fact it is more than you want but this is good! On a drip system we always want to have the pressure between 20 to 30 PSI. For this we have preset pressure regulators.

Rule 3: Only a certain amount of water can flow through a given size pipe at a set pressure!
This one sounds serious but it is simple and one of the numbers/rules to memorize. As an example, our .700 size polytube at 25 PSI can have only 220 gallons per hour (GPH) flow through it. So even if your water source can supply more the polytube cannot support it. This means that if you have a preset pressure regulator (which is 25 PSI) you can only have a maximum flow rate of 220 GPH from each polytube. This is important because all the water outlets (drippers & microsprinklers) cannot exceed this maximum flow of 220 GPH. All of our products have flow rates listed so it is easy to add up the total water usage from each emitter and microsprinkler.

Rule 4: You cannot go an unlimited distance on a single polytube!
Even if you have a single dripper at the end of a line you cannot run any distance you want. This is where the laws of physics get in the way again! For every "X" amount of feet you run the polytube (or any pipe) you will loose a certain amount of pressure due to "Friction Loss" (don't ask about friction loss only engineers need to know this stuff!). So anyway you have to obey the maximum line lengths allowed, these are listed for almost all the drippers and microsprinklers we sell.

To plan your system correctly you will need to find out your available water supply (how many gallons per hour your system produces).
To do this, follow these steps.
Turn on the water supply all the way
Place a 5 gallon bucket in the water flow for set amount of time. We will use 30 seconds as an example.
At the end of 30 seconds take the bucket out of the water flow.
Turn off the water supply. (we know, but..........we gotta say this!)
Check the bucket and estimate the amount of water in it. Or measure it with a gallon milk jug.
We will use an example: Let's say 1/2 of the bucket is full, remembering that our bucket holds 5 gallons......1/2 full must be close to 2.5 gallons. Take the amount of water in the bucket and multiply it out so you will know how much it would have been if you left the bucket under the water flow for a full minute. In our example we have 2.5 gallons in 30 seconds, or half a minute. Because we want the number of gallons per minute we use the calculation 2.5x2 = 5 gallons. If we had gotten 2.5 gallons of water in 15 seconds then we would have done 2.5 gallons x 4, because 15 seconds is ¼ of a minute.

Take your answer from step 6 (above) and multiply it by 60. Our example would be 5 x 60 = 300. The 60 is for 60 minutes because we want to find the Gallons per Hour (GPH) total water available. In our example we have 300 gallons per hour (GPH) available for our system.

Take an overall look at the area to be watered. If the area slopes, one must consider how steeply it slopes and in which direction. Elevation change is another factor that leads to pressure variations. If the tubing runs downhill, pressure increases by .433 psi per vertical foot. An equal amount of pressure is lost when the system runs uphill. If the difference between high and low points of the system is no more than 25 vertical feet and pressure-compensating emitters are used, then the pressure variation is acceptable. On a hilly site with greater elevation changes, the main problem is that the pressure starts to strain the tubing and fittings. Our solution is to start with a 20 psi pressure regulator at the top of the slope, and install an extra 20 psi pressure regulator every 25 feet down. Decide whether each area is best watered with drippers or microsprays.

Factors to Consider Between Drippers and Micro-sprays
Can be completely hidden by mulch, protected from sun and human damage Cannot be completely hidden, vulnerable to disturbance by children, pets and other critters
Need a larger number to water annual beds or ground covers Can be placed 5 to 8’ apart ameliorating tubing use; easier to cultivate around
Precise placement of water Not as precise, poor choice for decks; wider wet area increases weed growth
Minimum water loss by evaporation 20-30% water loss due to evaporation
In a typical landscape, the water use by plants in a drip system improves as the plants mature. Roots growing deeper increase the depth at which water may be utilized by plants Coverage from spays deteriorates as plants grow and block spray pattern
Maintenance of a drip system requires careful attention and inspection Misters obviously are working or they are not

If you are contemplating watering your whole landscape, or collections of plants with wildly varying needs, with drip – and it’s an extensive project – you will need to divide your project into different zones, each one controlled by its own valve. This still doesn’t elevate installing a drip system to rocket science mode.
Design Considerations

Water moves downwards in soil due to gravity and from particle to particle in all directions due to capillary action. In coarse sandy soil, gravity affects water movement more than capillary action. In finer soils such as clay, capillary action is much stronger, so water will tend to spread before penetrating very deep. An emitter in sandy soil may suffice for an area 16" in diameter, while the same emitter in clay soil may wet an area 24" or more in diameter. A field test is useful: slowly drip water from a garden hose on the soil to be irrigated; after half an hour, check to see how deep and wide the water has spread. Be sure to dig down into the soil away from the obvious wet area on the surface to see the extent of coverage.

Drip emitters are typically available in flow rates of 1/2, 1, or 2 gallons per hour. Factors that influence the choice of flow rate include:
(1) different rates are used to give different amounts of water to plants on the same system;
(2) sandy soil takes a fast drip rate, while a 2 gph dripper in clay soil produces a puddle of water and may result in dirty water getting back into the drip tubing;
(3) choosing slower drippers allows you to use more in a single zone, and allows longer runs of tubing.


As lines are laid out, the tubing may have to be secured until it takes shape. This can be done with stakes designed for this purpose. Leaving a little slack in the lines will allow for expansion and contraction from temperature changes, and will help prevent emitters from moving out of position.

Emitters- Once the lines are in place and flushed, the emitters can be installed. Simply make a hole in the tubing with a hole punch, then pop the barbed end of the emitter into the hole. If you punch a hole in the wrong place, it can be fixed with a goof plug.

There are four ways to install emitters. The most common method is to place the emitter directly on the line. This way you only have to punch the hole and pop in the emitter. Another way is to install a connector into the line, run 1/4" tubing to the place where the water is desired, and push the emitter into the end of the tubing. A third way is to place the emitter on the tubing and use 1/8" or 1/4" tubing to transport the water to the base of each plant. Finally, you can cut 1/4" tubing and insert an in-line emitter that drips and also allows water to pass through to the next emitter.

To install a spray, first punch a hole in the main line and insert a 1/4" connector. A short length of 1/4" tubing then leads from the connector to a stake. The spray screws directly into the stake and can be raised with an extender if it is blocked by plants. Some misters are supplied already attached to a spike which pushes into the soil, and a barb to which you attach 1/4" tubing to supply water. Others are designed to be attached directly to tubing above the plants—in a greenhouse or above a hanging basket, for example.
Drip in Containers

All but the smallest containers need several emitters placed in them because soil is so much more loose than garden soil that water from each emitter moves downward without enough sideways spread. The irrigation strategy is to place drip emitters 6" apart, or to attach small adjustable bubblers to spread the water. Useful products include mini-inline emitters, 1/4" emitter lines, shrubblers, and vortex sprays.
If a new installation, tubing can be run up through the drain hole (and out of sight).

Adjusting the number and size of emitters in a container drip system takes some experimenting, especially if the containers are of different sizes. Run the system and see which containers the water runs out of first. You either have to decrease the flow in these or increase the flow rate to the other containers on the system. This process will also help you set the run time for the system.

Dripping Vegetables

While veggies want baseline of moisture in their root zone, frequent overhead watering encourages rust, mildew, blossom damage in more than a few species and these weaken plants leading to the possibility of disease.

Depending on your personal needs and likes, vegetables can be watered using in-line drippers – either in ¼” or ½” poly tubing – or by using soaker hose. If plants are more widely spaced and deeply rooted (for example, tomatoes and squash), plain poly tubing can be utilized with a single emitter placed at the base of each plant. Root crops such as carrots, onions, and radishes can be planted two deep on each side of a single emitter line. With plants such as corn, strawberries, and peppers, one row on each side is preferable.

You want a simple system that is flexible and can be easily moved for cultivation and replanting.

Ornamental Beds

Drip can really shine in the ornamental border. Established shrubs can have their own more or less permanent drip line and emitters, while smaller plants, or areas given over completely to annuals can be watered using small sprays or emitters on a ¼” line that is rerouted as needs change.

Times and intervals for watering different plants are greatly affected by the factors of soil type, root depth, air temperature and humidity, wind and the plant’s maturity. The deeper the roots and the finer the soil, the longer the watering time must be, but you can reduce the frequency of watering because clay will hold the water tenaciously. Shallow root zones and sandy soil types will require frequent waterings of a shorter duration.
The object of each watering is to bring the moisture in the root zone up to a satisfactory level. Once the desired moisture content is reached, no more water should be applied. Too much water cuts off necessary oxygen and washes nutrients out of the reach of the roots. Before the soil has dried out too much the system should be run again. In this way the plants can be maintained in near optimal conditions.

The only way to come up with appropriate times for your garden is through observing plant and soil moisture conditions, asking local experts (agricultural extension agents, nursery personnel), and continuous twiddling with your watering times and intervals to maximize growth and minimize water use.

Some Suggested Watering Times to Start With:
Type of Plant Time (in hours) Intervals (in days)
Low Shrubs (2-3’) 2 3
Shrubs and trees (3-5’) 3 4
Shrubs and trees (5-10’) 4 5
Trees (20’ and over) 5 6
Flower beds 1 2
Ground covers 1 2
Vegetables – close spacing .5-1 2
Vegetables – wide spacing 1.5 2
Potted plants 1-10 mins 1

Selection, Number and Spacing of Emitters
Flow Rate (GPH) Number of Emitters Placement of Emitters
Low shrubs (2-3’) 1.0 1-2 At plant
Shrubs and trees (3-5’) 1.0 2 1-12” either side
Shrubs and trees (5-10’) 2.0 2-3 2’ from trunk
Shrubs and trees (10-20’) 2.0 3-4 3’ apart
Trees (over 20’) 2.0 6 or more 4’ apart
Flower beds 1.0 1 At plant
Groundcover 1.0 1 At plant
Vegetables, closely spaced 0.5-1.0 1 Every 12”
Vegetables, widely spaced 1.0-2.0 One per plant At plant


Occasional maintenance should be carried out on all drip irrigation systems. Inspect the flow from each emitter, flush lines by unscrewing the end caps and turning the water on, and clean the filter. The development of drip irrigation products now in their third decade has led to successful and trouble-free systems for both the farmer and the homeowner. The design of a system using filtration and quality emitters will make maintenance a simple quarterly task. Visual inspection of the system is the best way to observe performance, and can be done in minutes while gardening.

Plan a complete inspection of your system at the beginning of each season. This may be all that you need to do unless there is much foot traffic or animal damage. The other time to check your system carefully is after any new planting or garden maintenance that may have damaged the tubing. If you are having trouble with your system, conduct the standard maintenance procedures first. If the problem is a single emitter, replace it. If it is more widespread, look for a break in the lines. If the problem cannot be determined by observation, it may be a result of inadequate water supply or faulty system design.

Goof plugs can be used to plug holes from which emitters have been removed. They are very simple to use, and are indispensable when doing repair work or changing your pattern of plantings. Likewise, couplings come in very handy when any repair needs to be done on a damaged section of line. Simply cut out the damaged section and install a new piece using the couplings to connect the two pieces together. Goof plugs and couplings should be ordered with all systems. If they are not needed in the initial installation, they will form the backbone of your repair kit.

(Note: the actual handouts that follow should have illustrations and figures in them, but I can't figure how to get them out of Word into the blog. If you feel you need them, email me and I'll shoot you originals. david)

A Non-Exhaustive Drip Irrigation Glossary

Anti-siphon A device, required by most municipal codes, that must be located at the beginning of any irrigation run. There are several technologies, but regardless of how they work, they all are designed to prevent a sudden drop of water pressure (i.e. from a major pipe break) from allowing water that is in irrigation lines from being sucked back (“siphoned”) back into the potable water supply.
Aquapore Brand name of a soaker hose
Barbed fitting or barbed emitter A fitting or emitter designed to be placed into tubing and held in place by barbs.
Compression fitting Fittings to couple tubing (usually ½”) together – placed on the OD of the tubing
Coupler A fitting designed to bring two items of like size (such as ½” or ¼” tubing) together; coupling unlike items is called “adapting”
Downstream Further from the water source
Drip irrigation 1. The slow application of water directly to the plant's root zone. Because the water is protected from wind and sun until it is deposited at ground level, more water is brought to the plant without waste, usually resulting in a 50% savings on a given water bill. Drip irrigation water usage is measured in gallons per hour (GPH) vs. other irrigation practices that are measured in gallons per minute (GPM).
Drip irrigation 2. A modern methodology for reducing even above average intelligent human beings into extended states of blithering idiotry with very low cost and effort. In this sense, often referred to as “drip irritation.”
Dripper Technically called an “emitter,” a plastic device that is engineered to allow a set amount of water pass through it – often actually in visible drips, giving it its rather unfortunate name.
F Female, used with thread designation
Goof plugs Your new best friend. Any hole made in the wrong place can be plugged with one of these – and they are cheap!
GPH Gallons (of water) per HOUR
GPM Gallons (of water) per MINUTE
HT Hose thread
ID Internal diameter
Injectors Devices to put (inject) fertilizer (as well as pesticides if so desired) into the water of a system.
In-line drippers Tubing with the drippers (emitters) built into the tubing at set spacings.
In-line valve Valve placed into the system to allow one part of the system to be turned off. Valuable for flexibility.
M Male, used with thread designation
OD Outer diameter
Poly tubing Plastic (polyethylene) tubing that comes in a variety of sizes – usually measured by the ID, i.e. ½” or ¼” or even 1” – it can be painted to obfuscate its presence!
Pressure compensation (Usually applied to drippers.) Engineered to deliver a uniform flow rate even if the incoming pressure varies.
Pressure regulator Lowers water pressure to a pre-set level that is appropriate for a drip system. Must be physically higher than any emitter placed downstream.
PSI Pounds per square inch; the measure of pressure in a water line
PT Pipe thread
Soaker hose Tubing that ‘sweats’ or ‘weeps’ along its entire length that provides a convenient low pressure manner of watering row crops, perennial borders and raised beds. Easily configured and even more easily reconfigured.
Threaded barbs A fitting that can be used as a barbed fitting but has the advantage of having threads as well that can hold threaded attachments making it more universally useful – and more expensive.
T-tape Low cost tubing often used in agricultural applications.
Upstream Closer to the water source
Vacuum breaker An anti-siphon device
Valve On and off point; can be as simple as a hose bib or as complex as one valve among many wired to a controller with variously scheduled on and off times

General Drip Irrigation Guidelines (AKA Starting Points)

Some Suggested Watering Times to Start With:
Type of Plant Time (in hours) Intervals (in days)
Low Shrubs (2-3’)...........2...............3
Shrubs and trees (3-5’).....3...............4
Shrubs and trees (5-10’)....4...............5
Trees (20’ and over)........5...............6
Flower beds.................1...............2
Ground covers...............1...............2
Vegetables – close spacing .5-1.............2
(That's point 5, or 1/2 to 1 hour.)
Vegetables – wide spacing 1.5..............2
Potted plants..............1-10 mins........1

Selection, Number and Spacing of Emitters
Flow Rate (GPH) Number of Emitters Placement of Emitters
Low shrubs (2-3’)-------1.0-----------------1-2----------------------At plant
Shrubs and trees (3-5’) 1.0------------------2-------------------1-12” either side
Shrubs and trees (5-10’)2.0------------------2-3-------------------2’ from trunk
Shrubs and trees (10-20’)2.0-----------------3-4-------------------3’ apart
Trees (over 20’)---------2.0-----------------6 or more-------------4’ apart
Flower beds -------------1.0-----------------1--------------------At plant
Groundcovers ------------1.0-----------------1--------------------At plant
Vegetables, closely spaced 0.5-1.0-----------1--------------------Every 12”
Vegetables, widely spaced 1.0-2.0-----------One per plant---------At plant

Remember, actual amounts of water will depend on soil type, composition, air and soil temperatures and presence or lack of humidity and wind. NOTHING takes the place of thoughtful, informed decisions made by you on the scene.

To plan your system correctly you will need to find out your available water supply (how many gallons per hour your system produces).
To do this, follow these steps.

1. Turn on the water supply all the way
2. Place a 5 gallon bucket in the water flow for set amount of time. Let’s use 30 seconds as an example.
3. At the end of 30 seconds take the bucket out of the water flow.
4. Turn off the water supply!
5. Check the bucket and estimate the amount of water in it.

Or, somewhat more precisely, measure it with a gallon milk jug. Let's say 1/2 of the 5 gallon bucket is full. Which means it’s half full and that would figure to be close to 2.5 gallons. Take the amount of water in the bucket (~2.5 gallons) and multiply it out for a full minute. In this example, there is 2.5 gallons of water in 30 seconds, or half a minute. Because we need the number of gallons per minute, use the calculation 2.5 x 2 = 5 gallons. (If 2.5 gallons of water in 15 seconds then we would have done 2.5 gallons x 4, because 15 seconds is ¼ of a minute.)

Take your answer and multiply it by 60. Our example would be 5 x 60 = 300. The 60 is for 60 minutes because we need the Gallons per Hour (GPH) of total water available. In our example we have 300 gallons per hour (GPH) available for our system. At no point, can you exceed that limit of 300 gallons per hour and still have an efficient system. That would be the equivalent of 300 one GPH emitters on one valve at one time.

It is impossible to state an approximate of GPH available at any given tap in LA – some areas have tremendous water pressure, but you can be in such an area with old pipes and a poorly designed system that reduces that wonderful water pressure down to a drizzle. The only way to know is turn the water on and see what you have there.

If water pressure is a problem, which would be rare in a city setting, simply use more valves with fewer drippers.

23 November, 2007

Extension Recipe #3: French Lentil & Sorrel Soup

Adapted from Bittman's Best Recipes in the World - I tripled the amounts and I used my little stick mixer right in the pan for the puree.

· ¾ cup French green lentils Substituting one can cannelini beans
· 4 cups vegetable broth, essentially one 32 ounce box.
· 1 cup water
· 2 tablespoons olive oil
· 1 small bunch sorrel leaves, chopped (about 4 ounces)
· 1 teaspoon sugar

Simmer the lentils in the broth and water for 20 minutes. In a pan, sauté the sorrel leaves in oil on medium heat for about 2-3 minutes until the leaves wilt. Add the sorrel to the lentils along with the teaspoon of sugar and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Puree the soup and adjust for salt.

It needed pepper. And it's so quick!



This is the best way to have chard! We've had so much chard that I've gotten rather sick of it. Folks have scolded me on letting chard plants go to seed, but I tell them, if they insist we eat ALL the chard, they better get a truck and I'll fill it up for them. Sooner or later, everyone has too much chard. This was a good, hearty soup and we all loved it. Again, let the following be your guide and expect that I changed it as I went about making it.

This dish might seem to have daunting ingredient list. But don’t be put off; enough of the ingredients will already be lurking in your kitchen. And, if you leave out any one of the spices, it will probably still turn out well. This dish can be made from start to finish on a weeknight. And the flavor is a lovely mélange of spices, slight sweetness from the raisins, and savory flavors from the chickpeas. Serve with rice or quinoa for hearty vegetarian dinner.

• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• ½ sweet onion, minced
• 1 teaspoon paprika (sweet or smoked according to preference)
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• ½ teaspoon turmeric
• ¼ teaspoon thyme
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ cup golden raisins
• 1 tablespoon organic tomato paste
• 1 bunch chard (about 8 ounces) washed, center ribs removed, and chopped
• 1 cup cooked chickpeas plus 1 ¼ cups of their cooking liquid, or 1 can organic chickpeas with liquid plus ½ cup water
• 1 teaspoon hot sauce or ¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Add the olive oil, onion, and garlic to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or 3-4 quart pot, and turn the heat to medium. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes, then add the paprika, cumin, turmeric, thyme, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together and cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Be sure to stir every 3-5 minutes to ensure that the bottom does not burn and that your ingredients are evenly combined. You can add a tablespoon of rice flour if you like your stew thicker. Remove from the heat after 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Extension Recipe #1: Dolmas

(As I sat down to do this, I realized that it might be damn near impossible to get the REAL recipe to you! I KNOW for a fact, to start off, that I don't use a quarter teaspoon of any spice, so PLEASE, realize folks, these instructions that follow only represent a starting place.)

Stuffed Grape Leaves

1 cup long grain rice
¼ t ground cinnamon
¼ t cardamom
1 ½ T olive oil
1 medium onion
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup golden raisins (go to a Mediterranean market for these - they have these huge delicious raisins - I had soaked mine in water for about half an hour before using them to plump them up a tad)
2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped
½ t salt
fresh ground pepper
juice of lemon
@ 7 dozen fresh grape leaves – choose large young leaves – older leaves will be too chewy – you can also buy a jar of leaves from a Mediterranean market

Blanch your leaves until they change color. Just a moment. Drain and cool.
Cook rice however you like to cook rice - use salt, olive oil, whatever makes you happy.
In another pan, sauté onions in olive oil. After they are translucent, add pine nuts and toast them a bit, then add raisins and spices and herbs. Sauté till it smells good, remove from heat.
Combine with the rice to make the filling.

Place a layer of smaller leaves in the bottom of a large heavy bottomed kettle or sauce pot, with a cover.
Lay each large grape leaf on a flat surface, vein side up. Trim away stem. [v cut into bottom of leaf}
Put about a tablespoon of rice mixture into grapeleaf, sprinkle on parsley. Roll the leaf into a cylindrical shape apx, 1/2 x 2 or three inches. Depends upon grape leaf.

Fold up the bottom, [stem side] up. Fold in both side. Roll top over for tight fit.

Place in pot. Place tightly next to each other so they won't unwrap. Place plate over layers. Add enough water just to cover the bottom and add lemon juice. Steam dolmas until heated through. Serve with yogurt and/or lemon juice.



21 November, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

Thanksgiving was first declared a national holiday in 1863 by President Lincoln in the November following the three day battle of Gettysburg, which had been fought the previous July. Lincoln thought to create a holiday for a nation predominated by farmers and farming society. It made sense at that time, to celebrate the conclusion of a successful harvest season.

As we take time out from our rush around work a day life, pause for a moment to recall our own personal “harvests” of 2007 with gratitude for our progress, however small. In my world, it is always 'progress not perfection' that is evidence of a life well-lived.

Tomorrow will be the fourth year the Learning Garden has hosted the Program for Torture Victims for Thanksgiving. Whether you can join us from 11 to 2 or not, please enjoy your holiday. Though this holiday is very much American in its flavors, we will have food from all over the world, and people from faraway places will join us. Come join us if you can (dress warmly, we won't be much warmer than 60F even for lunch!)

May the spirit of Thanksgiving truly be with you through out the coming year.


14 November, 2007

Theodore Payne Foundation Field Trip This Saturday

Culver City Adult School Class:

Our field trip to Theodore Payne Foundation is this Saturday, November 17th. Below are the directions to the Foundation Nursery – we will meet there at 9:00. There is no good food near the Foundation – certainly carrying your own snack (and WATER!!) is advised.

Tuxford Street does the same kind of meandering there as National Boulevard does here so please do follow their instructions to the letter. If you stay on the 405 and drive across the valley, exit at Roscoe Blvd and head east. It becomes Tuxford somewhere near I-5. My cell phone is 310.722.3656 and it will be on that morning.

Telephone: (818) 768-1802

10459 Tuxford Street, Sun Valley, CA 91352-2116

Directions to the Theodore Payne Foundation:

From the 5 Northbound
Exit Sunland Blvd. (in Sun Valley)
Go right (North) on Sunland Blvd.
Go right at La Tuna Canyon, one block
Go left on Wheatland, one block
Go right on Tuxford, @ 200 yards
Go left at the TPF sign and up the dirt road

From the 210 Eastbound
Exit Sunland Blvd. (in Sunland), turning right on Sunland Blvd.
Continue down Sunland Boulevard several miles.
Go left at La Tuna Canyon, one block
Turn left on Wheatland, one block
Go right on Tuxford, @ 200 yards
Go left at the TPF sign and up the dirt road

If you come from the north or the east on this day, go to their website (www.theodorepayne.org/) for more directions. Clicking on the map above links to a larger image.


09 November, 2007

Spirituality and Plants

Every blade of grass has its Angel
that bends over it and whispers:
“Grow, grow.”
The Talmud

What we do in botany is fact-find, analyze and classify. A botanist, a paid botanist, that is, finds facts, analyzes and classifies; or the botanist writes about such fact finding, analyzing and classifying. We have seen it weekly, as we named and classified the gymnosperms and angiosperms, dicots and monocots. Reflecting on all this botanizing, I am drawn to Thomas Moore’s thought: “As we approach nature as fact finders, analysts, and classifiers, we tend to lose sight of the story we are living, the myth that gives shape to our very investigations.”

The purpose behind a botany class, especially in the context of this institution, needs to remain in the forefront of our work especially as we progress toward the end of the term when you take your tests and move on to consider plants, specifically parts of plants, as the healing agents in your practice. You will be challenged, with every bit as much pressure as a modern day molecular cell biologist, to remember there is a whole plant behind what you are using – you have the same trap of compartmentalization to avoid in your day-to-day activities. You may call it healing, but you may find yourself considering it “work” as well. You may call a prescription “herbal” and know that it is not concocted in a chemist’s lab and does not line the pockets of a plurality of pharmaceutical industrialists. But will you maintain your connection to the plant itself?

In the culture of my family, farmers all to this very generation, botany was the premier science for several centuries – my Grandfather, though only a share-cropping farmer, knew the Latin names of the plants on his farm – not only his crops, but the weeds as well. And he knew those plants in ways that confound many of us today.

What Is Lacking Conventionally?

Still, knowledge of botany was not enough. For all his knowledge, common sense and willingness to learn new things, he still was a participant in the destruction of the mid-western plains in the first third of the 20th century. Even in their genesis, industrial farming practices created the dust-bowls of the nineteen-thirties through the wholesale destruction of the ecosystems of the Great Plains of America. This occurred on much the same scale we see the rampant destruction of the tropical rain forests today. The destruction in both ecosystems came from people unable or unwilling to see the long term effects of their behavior and was simply a search for a way to make some money. I don’t know the whole story behind the destruction of the rain forest, but in the case of the Mid-western Plains it was simply small farmers trying to make more money from their own land holdings egged on by a government and the enthralled institutions and universities paid from that government who were the complete and total idiotic embodiment of arrogant disregard for the future – it was stupidity, not conspiracy. Certainly not at the level of the common farmer. One cannot be angry with a mother and father wishing to feed their family; not that I condone the economics and politics that created – and creates still – the dependencies that nurture this tragedy.

So we won’t go there. Among dissected plant parts and notes stained with plant juices, I don’t want to lose site of Thomas Moore’s dynamic conclusion, in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: “One of the great challenges we face as we develop technology and expand scientific knowledge is to preserve nature as a source of spirituality.”

Honestly, it comes back to the old saying, “When you are up to your hips in alligators, it’s hard to remember your purpose was to drain the swamp.”

Healing Plants

Not only are plants the major source of more than one pharmacopoeia, of food and clothing, something more is there in how we relate to plants. Only in recent years have researchers made discoveries that demonstrate somewhat the extent plants play in our lives, beyond mere fodder for industry or food for ourselves and the economy.

At long last, in this “modern” time, the healing dimensions of people-plant relationships are being explored across many disciplines in the science world of our culture. At the People-Plant Council at Virginia Tech, Dr. Diane Relf co-ordinates between researchers at many different institutions approaching plants and the impact they have on our lives over a wide range of disciplines, socially, psychologically, and economically as related to our physical and emotional well-being. The overall context of this research only hints at our spiritual connection to the plants in the world around us, especially in terms of a soul-involved ecology. University of Michigan psychologist Stephen Kaplan asserts that his studies prove that, “Nature is not just ‘nice’… it is a vital ingredient in healthy human functioning.” Wait! Read that again!

The impact of plants on our lives in a purely economic context has been extensively covered – in terms of clothing, food and economic raw material. Botany has been defined as: “a. the study of plant life b. the study of the properties and life phenomena exhibited by a plant, plant type, or plant group and c. plant life.” Flowers have been torn apart in order to count stamens and pistils, families of flowers, genus and species have all been identified, classified and labeled. But in all of this, the underlying point hinted at by research from Texas A & M that shows simply looking at a plant can reduce stress, fear and anger – lowering blood pressure and muscle tension, isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

In another study, prison inmates in cells with windows overlooking greenery needed less medical care and reported fewer symptoms of stress, such as headaches. Hence, lack of consideration to the plants that grace the walkway to our homes or our offices, the plants we all will meet day after day, especially in all the circumstances and challenges faced by all of us through the woof and warp of our human existence, is entirely unacceptable. How can you, healers in this world fail to focus on our place within the context of this world? If not here, where?

It is proven and accepted fact in the real estate market, that communities with greenbelts and homes with attractive landscaping demand a higher market value than communities and homes absent these features. Research now shows that plants and green spaces have the following distinct roles in community development:

- providing a more livable environment by controlling physical factors such as noise, temperature and pollution
- create a community image – perceived as positive by outsiders and residents alike, for example, evidence exists that areas redolent with greenery are less likely to have graffiti marking
- create opportunities for the community to work together

These factors translate directly into tangible economic and social benefits including reduced crime, the aforementioned higher property values and increased business and social interaction in greened communities and neighborhoods. Psychological studies have shown that “the most important factors in neighborhood satisfaction were the availability of nearby trees, well-landscaped grounds, places for taking walks…” these factors “…were significantly related to the sense of community”.

We need to leap beyond the simple consideration of nature as only an example of the material world and bridge the concept that nature can be the fundamental opening to a spiritual world . Noting that mountains, rivers and ecological systems, and, indeed, many plants, have lifetimes that well exceed even the longest living human being, we can acknowledge the brevity of our own lives. Upon this basis we can glimpse our own mortality and observe the immense proportions life encompasses. This, then, can be a basis for building a spiritual life.

A Spiritual Life?

For all the asphalt and concrete of our civilization, we are beings from gardens, from nature. All the evidence above points to an underlying connection with plants and greenery that our society’s predisposition for building skyscrapers and asphalt parking lots attempts to belie. Research is underway to help us better understand this connection as a cellular memory captured in our evolution as an upright walking hominid. But that this connection exists can no longer be the subject of speculation. It is “real” as declared by modern Western science and it is measurable. We are on the threshold of a new era in Western thought; although it would be best not to hold your breath in anticipation of universal acceptance of these postulates – you wouldn’t look good in that shade of blue. There is a long road ahead. While some of us can see that any answer that does not include a spiritual element is no answer at all, remember that Galileo first postulated the round earth back a few years ago and I’ve met people in my lifetime that were willing to prove to me that the world HAD to be flat. No, I’m not THAT old.

And this is merely the beginning of it. This hints only at a spirituality connected with plants. What do we think about a spirituality IN the plant? Do we think of a plant having an innate spirituality that is its very own?

In his book, “The Healing Energies of Trees”, Patrice Bouchardon, notes “All of the indigenous peoples of the world have built up cultures and social structures framed around their concepts of nature, concepts woven from their direct experience of the natural world. They draw from the world about them those things they need to sustain life, to feed and to heal the body and to build the beliefs that nourish the soul. From this inexhaustible resource come their concepts of life and inspiration for healing and religious practices.” Even the Chinese tradition originated through a shamanistic association with trees and other plants, though as an actual, separate healing methodology it is no longer included in your Traditional Chinese Medicine studies. It is now a separate body of knowledge that needs exploration.

Our Uncharted Journey

The problem faced in presenting this information and asking you to make this leap is that one cannot chart a journey for you. Our society abounds with restrictions and chains to ensure the conformity of us all – often, it is only at the expense of struggle a with the risk of ridicule that we venture into a world where spirituality – and plants – can be regarded as more than a fringe element with only a fringe value. But as written in Man and Superman, by George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” To enter through this door, we need to drop our “reasonableness” and rely on some other knowledge – a knowledge I believe is inner and ever present no matter where you were born or in what year. I think it is a deep cellular knowledge that persists underneath our culturing and posturing for mass-consumption.

In Plant Spirit Medicine, Eliot Cowan writes, “Modern life opens a path not to the soul but to the shopping mall and the force of growth has been diverted onto this path. The result is economic growth – the rapid conversion of Nature into toxic junk. This is what we call the ‘gross national product’ and unless it gets grosser every year, our ‘economy’ founders. There is a word for out-of-control growth: cancer. Cancer continues to spread in our bodies and on the earth because, like trees, we must have growth. The only way out is to rediscover that material growth is a youthful phase that prepares the way for real growth into elderhood.”

Examine how our lives and the plants of our lives are intertwined. Grasp for a moment that many of us know the price of a gallon of gasoline – or know the cost of a favorite sandwich from the corner deli, yet cannot put a price on a rose that smells divine, or a night scented jasmine conjuring dreams with us in our sleep, or the price we would pay for more oxygen if our city had no plants. What would life be completely devoid of plants? Not worth living – certainly not for very long.

An Indian Myth Pre-visions Modern Paleobotany

The Snohomish Indians, living in what we call the state of Washington, had a myth they passed from generation to generation dating back deeply into their past. The myth told of the animals getting together and saying among themselves that they felt the time had come for all the animals to join together in a pact to destroy all of the human race. “They have abused us and used us for their own selfish prosperity without regard to our needs and wants – we should just get rid of them all.” And most animals were pretty eager to get on with the project, but an older, wiser animal spoke up and said, “No wait, we should go the really Old Ones and ask for their opinion on what to do with the humans.” And so all the animals agreed to ask the really Old Ones to decide the course of action; they went to the plants.

The underlying knowledge of the myth that ascribes to plants the sobriquet of the “Old Ones” gives pause for reflection. Even ancient cultures understood that plants came before animals and prepared the way for animals to live on this planet. The really Old Ones told the animals that they must allow the humans to live so that the plants and animals could teach the humans how to live with nature and not to exploit the earth or the other inhabitants. Patient fellows, those Old Ones, patient still. I suppose when you’re really old, it’s just natural to embody that virtue.

By now it is common knowledge, because you’ve heard me say it and you’ve read it throughout our material, that ancient earth’s atmosphere was toxic for mammals. The arrival of green plants created the change that cleared the air for the advent of animals and, at the same time, provided food for the animals to eat and the food chain we recognize today was established. It is so sad to see so much evolution end up in fast food chains proliferating across the world. The Snohomish myth so accurately delineates the time line for life on this planet it is allows for some conjecture.

Your Own Relationship With Plants

At this juncture, students who would progress, must create their own relationship with plants. I believe that simply having a relationship with the Latin binomial names, just having a basic understanding of the cellular membrane and all that is studied as a part of botany is not enough. While it is an introduction to the plants that gives a sense of “knowing” plants, it still leaves us with only a compartmentalized relationship to plants and it does not satisfy our soul or allow us a more sacred union with other forms of life. A licensed acupuncturist who has no relationship to the plants in his garden is arguably no more “natural” than the biogeneticist who supplanted the genes in the engineered corn that turned up in Taco Bell taco shells.

But how can we teach the relationship to these plants I cherish? What mechanism triggers affinity? What actions delineate understanding, because in my world, actions speak louder than words?

So we can start right here. It’s an old saying that “The best fertilizer is the farmer’s shadow,” and we can use that as the basis on which to begin. Go to the plant. Look at it. What does it really look like? Is the stem thick or slender? Could you call the leaves entire or are they serrated? Why would they look like that? How are they arranged? Does that mean something to you? Can you smell the plant? Do you recognize that smell? What is the texture of the leaves? What does that mean to you? Is the stem woody or smooth? Has secondary growth begun or is it all primary growth? Through the physical appearance of the plant, what is indicated to you how this plant might be useful or what kind of action it may have on your body? Do you discern a feeling from the plant? Be with the plant.

This is the avenue I believe that must be taken in making a connection to what I am calling a “whole plant” – we can talk until we are exhausted from talking, we can think until our brain aches from over-thinking – and we will have still missed the point. The only way I know to make the connection to plants that cements a relationship to plants is to actually do something about the relationship to plants – practice having a relationship with plants. To this end, I have prepared the walking meditation exercise and the adaptation of questions from Plant Spirit Medicine for you.

However, it is not enough to read the material and claim you understand it. Although much of this essay leans toward being overly cerebral, this cannot be a cerebral exercise. Our societal training tends to take us that direction and it is difficult to resist. If you think your way through the exercises, you miss the point – and still, even with that warning, a good many of you will make ill-fated attempts to think the exercise through.

Practice is what is essential. Practice being aware; “being aware” is practice itself. Our society attempts to circumvent this practice. It is no surprise that our popular culture disdains depth and understanding. It is no mistake that this is the same culture that embraces youth and tries to deny aging as if enlightenment itself could be short-cut and bottled and sold – or at least revealed in the deft cuts of a skilled plastic surgeon. It seems as though anything can be sacrificed in order to have an “event” rather than endure a “process”. And yet, that is the whole: the relationship I seek to have and I seek to share with you now, is a process of development that you must have between yourself and plants, if you will have it at all.

Eliot Cowan talks of experience and knowledge of the paths of life. He continues, “The same thing holds true for someone who wants to learn the medicine of plants: there is no substitute for experience. This medicine comes from intimacy with living plants. Just as no one would think of trying to make babies with a character in a novel, no one should think of trying to make medicine with a plant in a book… ”

The Force That Heals

Consider: Is not true that the same force which heals also the same force that goes by the name of “love”? Isn’t it that which impels us to practice medicine is the same force that impels some of us to garden? Isn’t this the force that implores us call home to ask a loved one how their day is going and the same force that impels one to pick the rose to breath the ameliorating and angelic aroma deep into one’s senses?

Could you walk into the garden and lay with the plant that will heal you? Will you permit yourself to sit near the grass that can make your child whole again? Will you allow your senses to delight in the smells of the shrub that can allow your mother some more years as a hale and whole person? Why not? Too busy to be whole? Too frantic to heal? Or more honestly, afraid… ??

Some people believe that gardens are about plants but that’s simply not true. Gardens are all about people. Just as “place” is measurable in space and time, one can measure the ground and the life of plants, but at that stage it is only an ecosystem, and probably not a sustainable one at that. There is no garden without a person. Gardens are all about people. There is something from the heart that must be present.

The force that heals is love. It is present throughout the Universe. How will you touch it or let it touch you? Where does it flow through your life, your days? In music? In meditation? In the garden?

It isn’t just nice, it’s essential for all of us to allow love to touch us. In every way we can.

A Walking Meditation

(Do this prior to our next class. Be prepared to discuss your experience with it. Be prepared to repeat parts of this meditation.)

This exercise will help you observe yourself when you go for a walk in a wooded area (i.e. a street lined with trees or a park – the more trees the better). The state of mind in which you walk will condition the experiences you have. We often walk through nature with the same attitude we use to muscle our way through the supermarket. The mind is going over what we did yesterday or just now and planning what we will do tomorrow. Our present slips by unnoticed.

First come into the present moment. Listen to your own breathing, feel the earth beneath your feet and get the sense of how you are balanced.

Listen to how your mind is organizing your walk: “I won’t go that way, it seems dull and uninteresting… I want to avoid those jocks making so much noise, so I won’t go that way…”

We are always giving ourselves instructions, imposing limits and forbidding things, when the joy of life is to release ourselves from limitations. When you surprise yourself by doing this, don’t judge yourself, just smile. Then carry on; invite yourself again into the present. You might find you must do this frequently for awhile. You might find you don’t have to for awhile, then find you have to again. Don’t judge yourself. Just smile. Feel the earth. Sense your balance.

As you become more comfortable being here, move towards relying less on your seeing and become more aware of sounds, smells, tactile experiences and even tastes. Especially as regards the vegetation around you. Grass underfoot, leaf against cheek, cool/warm breeze through the branches of a nearby tree. Was that bird talking to you? Crunch of twig underfoot. Even if “civilization” imposes upon you, a car’s honking, sirens in the distance, allow it to pass without judgement as well from your thoughts. The present is exactly what it is – “right now.” This is your present, your reality: you must begin where you are because you can begin nowhere else.

At some point then, begin to open your awareness to the presence of energy outside your own. To describe it to you is self-defeating, my experience of energy might not be your experience – if I tell you mine, you might miss yours while you attempt to duplicate mine. So turn all your receptors outward toward the living greenery around you. Consciously allow all your senses – even a sense of which you may not have been aware up to this very second - to “listen.”

This may not be a one “walk” experience, in fact, should not be. You may not sense any awareness of energy in your first attempt – even if you do, repetition will invariably bless you with greater rewards. I would allow that should any kind of expansion of awareness be achieved, that expansion itself tends to draw one back again and again. Anything that feels good bears repeating.

On your first attempt at this, do not attach yourself so much to one plant at the expense of the others. Try to feel the jumbly interconnectedness of the plant world – it is very different from the animal world. Open yourself to the possibility that there might be plant “thoughts,” plant “awareness.”

On subsequent walks, “adopt” a plant that seems to draw you to itself – or to a plant you feel an affinity towards. In class, we will use the several different trees in The Learning Garden. You will be asked to chose one to “meditate” on, or “with.” You will be asked to relate your experience through some written questions. This is not to intimidate, but to inspire and expand you. It is only necessary that you be open to the experience.

Do this, please, more than once before our next meeting.