Connection | The Holisticates

 

connectionIt can be said that most, if not all, of our experience, begins from our perception and the consistent thoughts that we think. These consistent thoughts, for better or for worse, affect all areas of our lives. Most of us can remember a time when we were feeling calm and at peace and something triggered a thought (whether we realized it or not) that immediately changed our mood. Before we knew what hit us, we felt sad, low, and hopeless. Often our environment has not changed, nothing dramatic or traumatic has happened, yet something has shifted and we no longer feel balanced and whole. It began with a thought. We identified with that thought and then became emotionally connected to that thought.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

It has taken me over a decade of personal and spiritual development to realize that the phrase “change your thinking, change your life” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be fully in control of your mind. Most of us aren’t able to monitor or control every thought in our heads and if you’ve ever tried, you know it’s quite exhausting of a task. So, I say, cut your brain some slack, it’s just doing its job.

Brains think and, at least in my experience, no matter how much meditation you do, it will still be doing its’ job and pretty darn well. Thoughts will always come and go, but the important piece to remember is you don’t have to believe everything you think. This may seem shocking to some and quite elementary to others, but when I realized this it made a huge difference in how I view my inner landscape. Once I realized that there are many factors that contribute to my thoughts and they are not necessarily what I believe, feel or want to take action on, I felt truly liberated. So I shifted my personal growth work to focus on allowing my thoughts to be just what they are – thoughts. Soon my work became questioning my thoughts and discontinuing to identify or believe in everything I think.

Remember the Mind-Body Connection

There are a few things we can do when we are stuck in a mental rut. Most of us realize that our thoughts affect our actions, but did you know that our actions affect our thoughts? It is important to remember this mind-body connection, especially when it seems difficult to change our thought patterns. For example, it is less likely to think negative thoughts while you are using your body in a positive way: Try dancing around to some uplifting music and smiling in front of the mirror. Put yourself in an uplifting environment such as taking a walk in a park, practicing yoga, or working in your garden. Often you will find your thinking will shift with your body.

Be Your Own Best Friend

Challenging our thoughts and shifting our mindset is a warrior’s journey, yet not everyone is up for the task. For my fellow warrior’s out there, you will need to learn to be your own best friend. During times of change and growth, you may feel alone and changing our thoughts may seem impossible. Ask yourself “what do I need right now to feel better?” When negative thoughts arise, talk to yourself as your best friend would talk to you. Often we talk to ourselves in ways that do not promote positivity and thus, inhibit growth. For example, if you have the thought “I will never get well,” you could think of what your best friend would say to you instead and respond by saying, “You are doing the best you can right now, each day you are making better choices for your life and your body. In time, you will see a difference.” There is no sense in lying to ourselves, so be honest, but be kind – just like a best friend would.

Practice Mindfulness

It is important to practice mindfulness and bring more awareness to what we are thinking on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you have to track every thought but become aware of your most consistent or recurring thought patterns. Our subconscious minds will act on any thought as a command, whether the message is positive or negative. A practice I like to use to generate mindfulness is to sit in silent meditation for at least 5 minutes per day and imagine I am sitting by a small stream of water. There is a tree nearby that has leaves falling into the stream. Each thought I have is a leaf floating on the water. I notice the thought or leaf and I let it pass me by.

Find & Replace

Another practice I have used over the years is to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go for a week and write down every thought that I have. This may seem daunting, but it is well worth the effort. It will be impossible to write down all of your thoughts, but write down as many as you can. As you write them down, question them: Do I truly believe this statement? Is it true? Only choose to own the statements that are absolutely true for you.

As you look at your list, cross out any negative or hurtful thoughts and replace them with a positive version of that thought. For example a fearful thought about your work or job, such as “I don’t know what I’m doing, everyone is going to laugh at me,” could be replaced with something like “Each day I am learning and growing and improving. It is natural to feel uncertain at times, but I am doing my best.” Consistently replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts and affirmations will eventually become second nature and have an enormous effect on our whole being – mentally, spiritually, and physically.

The Domino Effect

When we make the effort to replace our negative thoughts often we begin experiencing positive emotions and have a brighter outlook for our lives. Positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to thoughts of a positive future.  These thoughts affect not only your mind but increase your body’s ability to heal itself because it no longer has to fight the effects of stress from negative thinking. Positive thoughts become the domino effect of health and are often the beginning of our journey for a holistic, healthy life.

Earthing 101

“Earthing,” also called “grounding,” is the concept that our bodies are meant to come into contact with the Earth (a “grounding” force) on a regular basis.

At no point in our history have we been as disconnected or insulated from the Earth as we are today.

We wear insulated rubber-soled shoes that do not conduct electricity but insulate or prevent the Earths’ conduction or transmission. We drive insulated cars with rubber tires and live in insulated homes. Positive electrons in the form of free radicals can build up in our bodies, but direct contact with the grounding force of the Earth balances them out. With the high prevalence of electromagnetic waves, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone waves, many of us have a high amount of positive electrons built up in our bodies. When in direct contact with the Earth, your body becomes suffused with negative charged free electrons which balance the positive electrons.

Grounded Studies 

Studies have found that grounding provides health benefits, such as better sleep, less pain, reduced stress and tension, and better immune function compared to study participants who were seldom grounded.

According to an article from the Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health (link below), “Omnipresent throughout the environment is a surprisingly beneficial, yet overlooked global resource for health maintenance, disease prevention, and clinical therapy: the surface of the Earth itself.”

The article goes on to say “The surface of the planet is electrically conductive (except in limited ultra-dry areas such as deserts), and its negative potential is maintained (i.e., its electron supply replenished) by the global atmospheric electrical circuit.  Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bio-electrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems. Moreover, oscillations of the intensity of the Earth’s potential may be important for setting the biological clocks regulating diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion.”

In addition, it states the following: “Emerging scientific research supports the concept that the Earth’s electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reduced pain, better sleep, a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and a blood-thinning effect.”

Earthing: How To

We practice earthing by connecting our body with the earth by touching any bare skin to a conductive material such as grass (preferably wet), wet sand, a river, lake, or sea. Grounding to the Earth changes your physiology immediately. The more you ground, the more you can benefit because you are at your most natural electrical state when connected to the Earth. Your body is immediately electrically balanced and flooded with free electrons.

If you live in a city where the actual earth is hard to find, concrete is also a conductive substance made of water and minerals. It sits on the Earth and retains moisture. So free electrons will pass through just as they will if you are sitting or standing on grass or open ground. Asphalt, on the other hand, is made from petrochemicals and is not conductive.

Take your socks off. Get your bare feet in grass, sand, or mud as often as possible. 

During the winter months, some people benefit from an earthing mat under their desk or they sleep on an earthing sheet. Both of these are connected to a grounded outlet in your home. Please note that these are good options when necessary, but nothing comes close to your bare feet or other parts of your body in the grass as often as possible.

Benefits of Earthing

Grounding benefits are particular to the individual, that is, the amount of time it takes to experience relief of anxiety or inflammation-related pain symptoms differs from person to person. Some people report feeling better after just 20 minutes of grounding and research has shown physiological changes and significant improvements in the body’s electrical activity after 30 to 40 minutes.

For people with chronic conditions, it may take longer to experience any relief of symptoms such as arthritic inflammatory pain; relief may be significant, overnight, gradual, total, or partial. Generally speaking, benefits of grounding are dose-related – that is, the more time spent regularly grounding, the better one’s chances of symptom relief.  Isn’t it worth a try?

Resources:

Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/

We are our bodies and our bodies are continually communicating to us. For women, and the communities we are a part of, menstruation is, or can be, a source of power and deep wisdom. The challenge, if we choose to accept it, in our process of creating holistic health and balance in our lives, is to take time out to listen during this time each month. Priceless pieces of information about our physiological and emotional well being are shared with us if we tune in and become aware.

My Journey

My own journey toward holistic balance has involved a process of owning my femininity and healing a deep wound about what it means to be female. I was a late bloomer and did not begin menstruating until I was 17. I was deeply ashamed of this as it seemed that all the girls had already “become a woman” and I felt left out. I have memories of “pretending” I was having my period so as to be accepted by my peers.

Once I did begin to menstruate, I spent much time and effort trying to hide my menstruation out of shame that I would not be accepted or would be viewed as weak or “high maintenance” by friends, lovers, or my coworkers at my corporate job. As I write this I find it ironic that when I was not bleeding I tried to pretend I was and when I was bleeding I tried to pretend I was not.  We just can win with ourselves sometimes!

A New Way To Be

Now I am on a new path, and with the help of reading books like Her Blood Is Gold, by Lara Owen, I’m teaching myself a new way to be. I no longer pretend that I am “just one of the guys” or try to hide my menstruation. I have realized that I need space and quiet time during my moon time, as I refer to it. I do not apologize for my need for space during this time and I have made intentional, and some times uncomfortable, choices that have led to my being surrounded by friends, family, and a lifestyle that supports this. My moon time has become a sacred time for me to reflect on the previous month and prepare for the upcoming month. I take time to rest and nurture myself during this time, even as painful as it often is, and I use this monthly wisdom and learning to nurture my life and the lives of those around me.

One of my favorite meditations to do during the most painful times, is to visualize that I am connected (be that physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally) to all of the women who have bled before me, all the women who are bleeding with me now, and all the women who will bleed in the future. This is a powerful thought and visualization that gives me strength and empowers me to use the gift of menstruation to go deep within myself and connect with the wisdom of others.

You see, the thing is, if we really believe that we must look at our lives from a holistic perspective in order to foster health and wholeness, which I do, then we have to look at all parts of our experience as a feeling, sensing beings. As women, when our bodies ache before or during menstruation, it may be trying to tell us that it is tired of being told to go away. It’s tired of being put last, it’s ready to have a bigger voice in our life. There may be a message there if we slow down and listen. In my experience, the more I try to pretend I am “just one of the guys” or hide that I need to nurture myself during my moon time, the more it requires my undivided attention.

Symptoms Wake Us Up

As Lara Owen states in her book, “Symptoms wake us up…They are messages from the body. If you have a healthy lifestyle, a good diet, and enough sleep and you still have menstrual symptoms, you have to go deeper and ask yourself what your body is trying to tell you.” I invite you to listen and use what you learn to nourish your body and your spirit. I am on the journey with you.

If you own a pet you are probably very familiar with the way they make you feel after a long day. Our bodies and minds relax and unwind when playing with, petting or cuddling with our furry friends. A key component to overall health and wellness is experiencing love and joy daily and as often as possible. Our pets can help us with this and, over time, generate positive emotions and feelings in our bodies which will contribute to holistic health.

The Love of Otis

I was a late bloomer when it came to owning a pet.  Although I grew up on a farm with many dogs, cats, and other animals, none of them were ever “mine.” They were family pets who loved us all but preferred no one. So when my 13-year-old son decided he wanted a dog, then purchased it himself and lost interest in two weeks, I became a doggy mom. It was one of the highlights of my life. Otis was a black cocker spaniel who knew my every mood and seemed to know every thought.  A divorcee at the time, I considered him my soul mate.  I believe God brought him into my life because he knew how much I was going to need him and Otis got me through some very tough times.  Having recently lost him, I am acutely aware of how much he did for me.  He was there when I was depressed or fearful, pressing himself against my side and making me put my attention on him instead of my worries.  He was there when I was happy-bouncing, smiling, and sharing my joy.  He was there anytime I needed him for whatever reason.  I miss him so much. I wish all of us could have such a friend and confidante full of deep, unconditional love, especially in difficult times.

Pets Can Improve Your Health

Because of Otis, I believe in the numerous studies that have demonstrated that the average companion animal can deliver extraordinary physical and mental health results. They have shown that in some cases, having a pet can improve your health more than medication alone – or at all. It’s no wonder then that more than half of households overall have a pet in the family.

WebMD.com lists the following ways pets help our health:

  • Uncomplicated love: Are your relationships with family and loved ones complicated and frayed? A pet can be a great antidote. “With a pet, you can just feel,” says Teri Wright, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Santa Ana, Calif. “You don’t have to worry about hurting your pet’s feelings or getting the advice you don’t want.”
  • Responsibility: You might not think you can take care of a pet right now. Taking care of yourself may seem hard enough, but experts say that adding a little responsibility can help. It adds a new and positive focus to your life. “Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance,” Cook says. It will remind you that you are capable — that you can do more than you might think.”
  • Activity: Are you barely getting off the couch these days? You need to get more physical activity. Pets can help. “If you have a dog, that dog needs to be walked,” Cook says, “A little extra physical activity is good for your physical and mental health.”
  • Routine: Having a daily schedule helps people with depression. An animal’s natural routine — waking you in the morning, demanding food or walks — can help you stay on track.
  • Companionship: Depression can isolate you. It can make you pull back from your friends and loved ones. If you have a pet, you’re never alone. That can really make a difference.
  • Social interaction: Having a pet can gently push you to get more social contact. You might chat with others while walking your dog at the park or waiting at the vet. Pets are natural icebreakers and other pet owners love to talk about their animals.
  • Touch: Studies show that people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Pets offer something similar. There’s something naturally soothing about petting a cat on your lap. Studies have shown that petting a dog can lower your heart rate, too.
  • Better health: Research has found that owning a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain. One study of Chinese women found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, reported better fitness levels and fewer sick days, and saw their doctors less often than people without dogs.

Caring For Another Gives Us Purpose

Pets love us unconditionally, although my cat, Phil, doesn’t show it like a dog, he interacts with me consistently, brightening my day with his unconscious arrogance and deciding that he (not me) needs a snuggle.  Caring for another brings us out of ourselves and gives us purpose, whether we wish it or not. When we have a loving relationship with a pet, we are less lonely, less stressed, less depressed, more joyful, better able to relate to others, and have a greater sense of well being. Your pet can be a best friend or even like a child. You can share secrets with them and they will not judge you. They can help bring you lots of laughter and joy. They like to be touched just like you do and they need you. We all love to feel needed. Pet personalities are as varied as they are for people. Some are stubborn, timid, mild-mannered, mean, grumpy, shy, happy, sad, or any number of other things. But one thing is common among them all… they love you!  We all need to feel loved and to give love. Our companion animals and furry friends can open our hearts if we will only allow them to.

Get Grounded: The Health Benefits of Earthing

Earthing

Earthing 101

“Earthing,” also called “grounding,” is the concept that our bodies are meant to come into contact with the Earth (a “grounding” force) on a regular basis.

At no point in our history have we been as disconnected or insulated from the Earth as we are today.

We wear insulated rubber-soled shoes that do not conduct electricity but insulate or prevent the Earths’ conduction or transmission. We drive insulated cars with rubber tires and live in insulated homes. Positive electrons in the form of free radicals can build up in our bodies, but direct contact with the grounding force of the Earth balances them out. With the high prevalence of electromagnetic waves, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone waves, many of us have a high amount of positive electrons built up in our bodies. When in direct contact with the Earth, your body becomes suffused with negative charged free electrons which balance the positive electrons.

Grounded Studies 

Studies have found that grounding provides health benefits, such as better sleep, less pain, reduced stress and tension, and better immune function compared to study participants who were seldom grounded.

According to an article from the Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health (link below), “Omnipresent throughout the environment is a surprisingly beneficial, yet overlooked global resource for health maintenance, disease prevention, and clinical therapy: the surface of the Earth itself.”

The article goes on to say “The surface of the planet is electrically conductive (except in limited ultra-dry areas such as deserts), and its negative potential is maintained (i.e., its electron supply replenished) by the global atmospheric electrical circuit.  Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bio-electrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems. Moreover, oscillations of the intensity of the Earth’s potential may be important for setting the biological clocks regulating diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion.”

In addition, it states the following: “Emerging scientific research supports the concept that the Earth’s electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reduced pain, better sleep, a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and a blood-thinning effect.”

Earthing: How To

We practice earthing by connecting our body with the earth by touching any bare skin to a conductive material such as grass (preferably wet), wet sand, a river, lake or sea. Grounding to the Earth changes your physiology immediately. The more you ground, the more you can benefit because you are at your most natural electrical state when connected to the Earth. Your body is immediately electrically balanced and flooded with free electrons.

If you live in a city where the actual earth is hard to find, concrete is also a conductive substance made of water and minerals. It sits on the Earth and retains moisture. So free electrons will pass through just as they will if you are sitting or standing on grass or open ground. Asphalt, on the other hand, is made from petrochemicals and is not conductive.

Take your socks off. Get your bare feet in grass, sand, or mud as often as possible. 

During the winter months, some people benefit from an earthing mat under their desk or they sleep on an earthing sheet. Both of these are connected to a grounded outlet in your home. Please note that these are good options when necessary, but nothing comes close to your bare feet or other parts of your body in the grass as often as possible.

Benefits of Earthing

Grounding benefits are particular to the individual, that is, the amount of time it takes to experience relief of anxiety or inflammation-related pain symptoms differs from person to person. Some people report feeling better after just 20 minutes of grounding and research has shown physiological changes and significant improvements in the body’s electrical activity after 30 to 40 minutes.

For people with chronic conditions, it may take longer to experience any relief of symptoms such as arthritic inflammatory pain; relief may be significant, overnight, gradual, total or partial. Generally speaking, benefits of grounding are dose-related – that is, the more time spent regularly grounding, the better one’s chances of symptom relief.  Isn’t it worth a try?

Resources:

Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/

Nature | The Holisticates

nature

At no point in our history have we been as disconnected or insulated from the Earth as we are today.

We wear insulated rubber-soled shoes that do not conduct electricity but insulate or prevent the Earths’ conduction or transmission. We drive insulated cars with rubber tires and live in insulated homes. Positive electrons in the form of free radicals can build up in our bodies, but direct contact with the grounding force of the Earth balances them out. With the high prevalence of electromagnetic waves, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone waves, many of us have a high amount of positive electrons built up in our bodies. When in direct contact with the Earth, your body becomes suffused with negative charged free electrons which balance the positive electrons.

Grounded Studies 

Studies have found that grounding provides health benefits, such as better sleep, less pain, reduced stress and tension and better immune function compared to study participants who were seldom grounded.

According to an article from the Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health (link below), “Omnipresent throughout the environment is a surprisingly beneficial, yet overlooked global resource for health maintenance, disease prevention, and clinical therapy: the surface of the Earth itself.”

The article goes on to say “The surface of the planet is electrically conductive (except in limited ultra-dry areas such as deserts), and its negative potential is maintained (i.e., its electron supply replenished) by the global atmospheric electrical circuit.  Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bio-electrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems. Moreover, oscillations of the intensity of the Earth’s potential may be important for setting the biological clocks regulating diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion.”

In addition it states the following: “Emerging scientific research supports the concept that the Earth’s electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reduced pain, better sleep, a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and a blood-thinning effect.”

Earthing: How To

We practice earthing by connecting our body with the earth by touching any bare skin to a conductive material such as grass (preferably wet), wet sand, a river, lake or sea. Grounding to the Earth changes your physiology immediately. The more you ground, the more you can benefit because you are at your most natural electrical state when connected to the Earth. Your body is immediately electrically balanced and flooded with free electrons.

If you live in a city where the actual earth is hard to find, concrete is also a conductive substance made of water and minerals. It sits on the Earth and retains moisture. So free electrons will pass through just as they will if you are sitting or standing on grass or open ground. Asphalt, on the other hand, is made from petrochemicals, and is not conducive.

Take your socks off. Get your bare feet in grass, sand or mud as often as possible. 

During the winter months, some people benefit from an earthing mat under their desk or they sleep on an earthing sheet. Both of these are connected to a grounded outlet in your home. Please note that these are good options when necessary, but nothing comes close to your bare feet or other parts of your body in the grass as often as possible.

Benefits of Earthing

Grounding benefits are particular to the individual, that is, the amount of time it takes to experience relief of anxiety or inflammation-related pain symptoms differs from person to person. Some people report feeling better after just 20 minutes of grounding and research has shown physiological changes and significant improvements in the body’s electrical activity after 30 to 40 minutes.

For people with chronic conditions, it may take longer to experience any relief of symptoms such as arthritic inflammatory pain; relief may be significant, overnight, gradual, total or partial. Generally speaking, benefits of grounding are dose-related – that is, the more time spent regularly grounding, the better one’s chances of symptom relief.  Isn’t it worth a try?

Resources:

Journal of Environmental and Public Health of the National Institute for Health

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/

As I mentioned in my previous post, my organic garden makes organic vegetables to help me further along my path toward a healthy and holistic life. In order to do so, my garden has to be healthy and full of nutrient-dense soil. A great way to keep your garden healthy is by enriching it with compost. So, grab those leaves now and let’s get started!

Starting a Compost Pile 

Now that the leaves are falling as we head into another season it is the perfect time to start a compost pile.  For those of us who live where there are distinct seasons, Autumn leaves are probably the most valuable single ingredient in creating compost. Either alone as rotted leaf mold or as the main ingredient of the compost pile, the leaves of October and November are the lifeblood of an organic garden.

Compost is a plant and other natural debris that has been converted into the decayed matter by a whole web of organisms that occur naturally in soil and range from sowbugs and earthworms to tiny arthropods to microbes. It is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients.  Compost improves your soil structure and it makes it able to hold more nutrients and moisture. Compost is also rich in beneficial fungi and bacteria that help plants to grow and stay healthy.  A  compost pile may be made of leaves,   weeds,  hay,  manure,  waste vegetable matter,  coffee grounds or pretty much any vegetable matter. Again, don’t add meat, bones, or fat as they will draw rodents.

The recipe

Compost needs four elements to work: carbon, nitrogen, air, and water. Carbon, the “browns”, can be fallen leaves, straw, dried plant waste, and shredded paper. Common sources of nitrogen, the “greens,” are grass clippings, fresh garden waste, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds.  The pile will start decomposing best if you have a mixture of browns and greens and the key is to put in more brown stuff than green stuff.

Step by Step

  • Pile the vegetable matter in layers: First an 8-inch layer of vegetable matter, then a 4-inch layer of manure (if you can get it), then a thin layer of soil (you don’t need a commercial “activator”, if you add the soil.  It has beneficial microbes to start the pile decomposing), then repeat the layers.
  • The pile needs to be quite large and built all at once before it will begin composting; 5 feet in diameter and 3 to 5 feet in height will be very good.  (Smaller piles and piles built bit by bit decompose and produce good compost, but they don’t get hot enough while decomposing to kill pathogens and weed seeds). As you make the layers, water them.  The pile should be kept moist but not wet.
  • Turn the pile with a garden fork tool 10 days after you start it (this adds the air element to the recipe)  and again two or three weeks later.
  • Over the winter the compost will stop decomposition but will restart when temperatures warm up in the Spring. In Southern areas, the compost will be ready much sooner. The compost is finished when it looks dark and decomposed and smells earthy.

Be Patient

Good compost can be made in  6 months, but it may take a year.  I take a year to make mine using the leaves and plant materials from each Fall to start a new pile and adding last year’s pile to the garden after I clean up the garden for Winter. I add a 1 inch (or more) layer of compost to the top 6 inches of my garden soil with a garden fork. Then I have dark healthy garden soil to work with each Spring and my garden is strong, healthy, and productive. Plus I know what those garden vegetables are made of, no chemicals or pesticides or any other toxins that I don’t want to eat.

If you are like me, you realize that the type of food you put into your body is very important for physical, emotional and mental health. Starting your own organic garden is a great way to get nutrient-rich food without the added toxins from weed and bug poisons, which are common in produce purchased at most grocery stores. As an herbalist and avid organic gardener, here are a few recommendations for starting an organic garden from scratch.

What is Organic Gardening?

A basic definition of organic gardening is gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, yet organic gardening is more than replacing man-made chemicals with those from natural sources. It is a way of gardening that supports the health of the whole system.  In an organically managed vegetable garden, the emphasis is on cultivating an ecosystem that sustains and nourishes plants, soil microbes, and beneficial insects rather than simply making plants grow. By giving our garden what it needs to grow and be healthy we are growing vegetables which will nourish ourselves in the same way.

Understanding Soil and Organic Matter

Almost all soil can support some kind of plant life, but for a good yield of garden vegetables, the soil must provide lots of basic nutrients, plus water, air, and minerals.  Soil fertility means the ability of the soil to provide the nutrients required by plants.  Fertility can be adjusted to the needs of vegetables by adding soil amendments (materials added and worked into the soil to give nutrients, such as manure or composted vegetable matter). Organic soil amendments are some type of non-toxic vegetable matter (such as leaves, wood ash, bone and blood meals or seaweed) and rock powders.  These amendments release nutrients slowly and maintain a high level of nutrients. As organic matter decomposes it improves the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil.  Organic matter should be added to very sandy soils to increase water and nutrient holding capacity and to clay soils to improve drainage and aeration by building structure. Organic matter releases many plant nutrients as it decomposes, so it is essentially a fertilizer. Most of all it has a very important advantage over purchased, synthetic fertilizers: It releases minerals slowly over a long period of time. This reduces leaching and decreases the risk of throwing the soil system out of balance.

Here are some common sources of organic matter:

  • Farm manure is one of the best sources of organic matter and can supply the bulk of the fertilizer elements that vegetable gardens need.  The general rate of application for cattle, hog, or horse manure is 300 to 500 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden.  A simple way to estimate this is to apply a layer 2 to 4 inches thick on top of the soil and work it into a 6-inch depth.  Poultry, sheep, goat, and rabbit manures should be applied at half this rate because of their higher nutrient content.
  • Green Manure maintains or increases the organic matter levels in the soil. Green manure is a crop grown with the intent of turning it under while it is still green. In addition to adding organic matter, green manure also returns nutrients accumulated in the plants to the soil.  Legumes make particularly good green manure because they possess deep roots that draw up minerals from the subsoil. Sow green manure either as a winter cover crop or if your garden is big enough, in a different portion of the garden each season.  Some common green manures are oats (planted in early fall for a winter cover or grown in the summer), buckwheat, or red clover (grown in summer).
  • Compost is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. In its finished form, it contains the major plant nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as all the minor nutrients that plants need. In addition, compost releases these nutrients slowly, thus minimizing runoff and leaching. A compost pile may be made of leaves, weeds, hay, manure, waste vegetable matter, coffee grounds, or pretty much any vegetable matter. Avoid using items that decompose slowly and attract unwanted animals such as meat, bones, and fat.

Choose your garden location wisely

Most vegetables require “full sunlight,” defined as at least 5 or 6 hours of the sun directly on the plants during the middle of the day. Too much shade makes the plants weak, susceptible to disease and they produce little fruit. If you have no sunny sites, do not give up. A few vegetables, although they may grow slowly, will still produce in partial shade. These include beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, and spinach.

If possible, the garden should be close to the kitchen, not only for convenience but because rabbits or other wild animals in your area are a little less likely to come so close to the house. Consider starting small and expanding when you are sure you can maintain a larger garden. A first-year garden often has many weeds from leftover seeds in the soil so start small and expand next year.

It is important when choosing the spot for your garden to consider the soil at that spot. Gardening works well in many types of soil, but common vegetables (the ones we eat the most of) do best, and with the least work by the gardener, on easily crumbled, porous soils. Deep soil with lots of decaying vegetable matter, like leaves and grass, will provide good aeration and allow root growth.  A soil that is too sandy will not hold water well and will allow the nutrients to be carried out of the root zone by water. On the other hand, a soil with too much clay will hold nutrients and water but will have poor aeration (plants need air just like we do). If the roots are waterlogged the plants will drown.

I recommend avoiding areas composed of  “fill dirt.”  Fill hauled into level areas usually consists of bottom soil  (nutrient lacking soil that was beneath the richer topsoil), stones and debris. In addition, you should avoid sites with depressions and low spots that remain wet after brief rains.  Such wet soil has little aeration and the roots of vegetables need oxygen to breathe.

Prepare the Soil and Plant

Here are the first steps :

Step 1: Take a soil test to find out your soils fertilizer requirements. The soil test kit that you can obtain at your local Cooperative Extension Service office has directions for taking a soil test.

Step 2: Turn over sod (the part of your lawn from the top of the grass leaves to the bottom of the grass roots) with a shovel in late summer or fall the year before you intend to plant the garden. Add lime, rock phosphate or manure, if recommended by a soil test, and plant a winter cover crop such as oats. Oats are winter killed (they die completely in winter even the roots), so they are easy to turn under or pull aside when you are ready to plant.

Step 3: Turn the cover crop under early in the spring, once the soil is no longer muddy but at least a few weeks before planting the garden.

Step 4: The first year plant vegetables that are fairly competitive with weeds, such as tomatoes, corn, squash, beans or cole crops ( Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips), as many weed seeds will still be there.

Step 5: Keep the area well weeded all summer. The vegetables listed in step 4 above can all be mulched, which will smother out weeds.

Step 6: Cut the grass short around the border of the garden regularly so weed seeds do not end up in the garden.

An organic garden is a little work, but worth it due to the many benefits. Your organic garden will not only provide you with pure and nutritious food, but you will find the time spent outdoors and in nature is beneficial to the mind and body as well. I will write more on that later.  Happy gardening!

More to come on this topic soon!

Herbs have played a major part in medicine for thousands of years. Every culture and every medicinal system, from Ayurveda to Traditional Chinese Medicine, has used herbs for therapeutic purposes. There are thousands of herbs with thousands of different uses. But why in today’s world, with all the myriad modern drugs, would a reasonable person continue to use medicinal herbs?

The Transition from Herbal Remedies to Pharmaceuticals

Although many people may dismiss herbal medicines as quackery, the use of herbal botanicals is well established in medical practice. Ancient doctors methodically collected information about medicinal plants and developed well-defined pharmacopoeias to treat a variety of ailments. Despite this and over time, much of Western culture abandoned this people-plant relationship, and turned its’ faith toward modern pharmaceuticals.

Abandonment of herbs was a gradual transition, during which the medical system experimented with everything from bloodletting, trepanation, administration of mercury, and other “cures.” By the dawn of the modern era, gone were the days of hands-on home visits from physicians who had known us since birth, replaced by the efficient, sterile, and often de-humanizing model we currently have. In this model, doctors spend more time looking at our computer records than at our body, despite their best intentions.

Herbal Remedies vs. Pharmaceuticals

Herbal remedies and pharmaceuticals each have their place and purpose. We should empower ourselves to understand the pros and cons of each and use them appropriately. One old adage states “Herbs treat people; pharmaceuticals treat disease.” A pharmaceutical treatment is often prescribed solely based on lab numbers and this treatment relies on distilled chemicals to suppress only the symptoms of a problem. In contrast, herbal remedies work to restore balance and build strength to the entire body.

Herbs can build your immunities and prevent disease. Pharmaceuticals most often act to mask or relieve just the symptoms and do not address the underlying cause of the disease, which often continues to persist. Many people report negative side effects from the use of pharmaceuticals; however, as herbs are easily absorbed into the body and blood stream, leaving very minimal residual effects or side effects. In addition, our bodies can build up a resistance to antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical science isolates one compound within an herb then chemically reproduces that one compound to sell for disease treatment. Herbs are very complex substances with many varied constituents. It is much easier to develop resistance to one substance than to a complex combination of substances.

Another especially favorable aspect of herbs is their ready availability. Most herbs are readily available to the public and available at a very reasonable price. In fact, many commonly used herbs can be grown in your own backyard, are easily processed for use and are just as effective as those purchased. It is possible to have a readily available source of remedies for your family for free! As opposed to herbs, pharmaceutical medicines are only available by doctor visit, an expensive thing in itself, and by prescription to a pharmacy, usually at a very unreasonable price.

A Shift in Perspective

Despite all of this, pharmaceutical drugs, medical doctors and hospitals do have their place, especially in treating injuries and acute and severe illnesses. Many health care practitioners are starting to incorporate natural healing alternatives and herbal remedies into their practices. These practitioners are viewing their patients from a holistic perspective and prescribing pharmaceuticals only in very severe cases. We can do our part by taking good care of ourselves on a daily basis and educating ourselves on all of the various options to support our healing journey. By taking responsibility of our own health and wellness and deciding to work in partnership with our health care providers, we can use critical thinking and our own inner wisdom to decide what is best for our bodies. Together we can help facilitate a shift in perspective and bring balance to the modern approach to healing.

References:

*http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/11/20/how-pharmaceuticals-came-to-be-the-4th-leading-cause-of-death-in-america

**http://articles.latimes.com/1993-03-30/news/vw-17041_1_herbal-remedies