What I Shed Today

lightening up a little at a time

– seedy sheet of paper

I hate to throw a seed away without giving it a chance.

I once received a sheet of paper made with flower seeds pressed into it as part of a stewardship education resource. The instructions suggested that children could tear the paper into bits, press them into soil, water generously, and care for the flowers as they grew.

I thought, “Come spring, my inner child and I will plant those.” But come spring, it was buried in a pile, and later landed in a file, where it spent about a decade. I totally forgot about it till one of our occasional spasms of file sorting and shedding brought it forth.

“Those seeds won’t be viable,” I told myself. “That should go straight into the recycling bin.” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to commit valuable garden space to it either, so it’s been cluttering our home office.

Nimue’s mother wisely says that when you give yourself only two choices, you don’t have a choice; you’re stuck. So I decided to re-frame how I thought of that sheet of paper. Instead of (probably) non-viable seeds or something recyclable, I called it compost. I tore the paper into bits, pressed them into soil, trusted them to the generous rain, and will accept whatever comes of it as good.

seedy paper with arugula

seedy paper with arugula

shedding style: compost
destination: front-yard garden

Comments welcome … have you got anything that could use a new name to free it (and you) up?


– shredded paper

Because heaven forfend our identities be stolen (and heaven helps those who help themselves), we shred papers that bear, in one of those phrases that define our times, “personally identifiable information.” Our city-county, however, doesn’t want shredded paper in the recycling collection because it’s too fine for the monster-machines that pick through the single-stream to sort it out. So I’ve been saving our shreds for garden mulch. A friend offered hers as well. Thus, over the winter, a baby mountain of bags grew on our front porch, and what had seemed like a good idea became clutter.

But this afternoon the paper became the foundation of paths between our front-yard garden beds:

a strange snow on a warm, wet spring day

a strange snow on a warm, wet spring day

I’ll cover it with a layer of leaves, and then it may toil with the soil to grow some goodness.

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candy bar solution

I skipped lunch today … and wrastled a brush mower in the community garden … not a synergistic combination. (Definitions: “wrastled”: what we say in the American southeast when we wish to metaphorically evoke the ancient art of wrestling without taking it too seriously; “brush mower”: the monstrous child that resulted when a lawnmower and a bush hog got friendly-frisky together while a voyeuristic engineer watched.)

By late afternoon, as I stopped by our local Trader Joe’s, I could feel low-blood-sugar tremblies approaching. I assumed I’d stave them off with one of those pricey candy bars that pretends either to be good for you, or make you Olympian, or both. But then I saw bananas, and right there in the produce section experienced an epiphany. Only nineteen cents for 100 calories of readily-available carbs! I shed the plan to buy a stick of highly processed-and-packaged sucrose and had a banana instead.

It wouldn’t have served every day. Sometimes I really want chocolate, which doesn’t taste anything like banana. But today the fruit satisfied. And I can compost the wrapper!


shedding style: compost
destination: compost pile

Comments welcome … have you ever thought it well and good to go bananas?

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remainders of spring seed starting

My seed-starting efforts of late winter and spring either succeeded wildly (I mid-wived dozens of tomato and kale seedlings) or struggled toward failure (peppers and eggplants = 0). There wasn’t much in between. Then some of my better results were discovered and snacked upon by whitetail deer. The naked stems of the heirloom okra were a particularly sad sight. But in the end, the target of “enough” was reached, with plenty of abundance as well. (If our skin appears to have a slightly green tint, it’s because we’ve been eating so much kale.)

When hot weather arrived in May, the green fuses were lit and everything, especially the non-food-plant competition, rocketed up toward the sun. I forgot about any more seed-starting, except for some late experiments with eggplants and peppers in cardboard egg cartons. (A friend had enthused about how well it worked for her to line each cell with half a broken egg shell. I tried it, but either couldn’t keep the seedlings from drying out or killed them with damping off—I couldn’t find the safe middle ground.)

All the trays and flats, starting medium, egg cartons with shells, toilet paper tubes, and paper cups I was using got shoved under Werner von Braun to be dealt with later. I had weeds to pull!

“Later” finally came today. I washed the trays, composted the cartons, and filled two coffee cans with mix so I’d have a home for a begonia and a coleus sprout. It feels good to finish that project … just as I’ve sown a flat with cabbage seeds for the winter garden!

My motley collection of trays and flats pose with butternut squash.

My motley collection of trays and flats pose with butternut squash.

shedding style: compost, re-use
destination: another round on the wheel of rebirth

Comments welcome … do you have anything to wrap up before the next round?


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solitary gate in the woods

For all seven years our woods has been our woods, a gate’s been in it, slowly rotting away. That’s it, just a gate: no gateposts to swing on, no fence needing a gate, though there’s evidence one may have crossed there years ago when the neighborhood was farmland. On my first walk though our half acre after we became its stewards, I found a vast knot of barbed wire heavily involved with a tangle of common greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia). I worked that puzzle and recycled the steel some time ago. But, lacking anything better to do at the moment with the gate, I left it leaning against a tree. There it’s remained for years. Inertia is scary to contemplate sometimes.

But this evening I knocked the gate apart and pried out the nails that had stubbornly held it together. The rotting wood went to the hugelkultur mound. The better pieces I’ve saved for trellising in the garden.

"The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend." (attributed to Cicero)

“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.” (attributed to Cicero)

shedding style: compost, re-use
destination: hugelkultur mound, scrap wood pile

Comments welcome … how do we know when that opening that seems to lead nowhere really leads … nowhere? Or, it may be, somewhere?

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first semi-annual refrigerator purge and clean

A couple years ago we calculated that the energy savings of a new, efficient refrigerator would pay for its acquisition within three years—achieving a lower carbon footprint and economy together! (Which isn’t unusual at all, in our experience.) The local Big Box Home Improvement Warehouse had a basic model we liked on sale. It won’t sing to us as it dispenses mixed drinks from its door, but it keeps food chilled, which is the point.

Aware that we weren’t masters of refrigerator hygiene, we vowed to do better with our clean slate, and entered “purge and clean refrigerator & freezer” as an every-six-months repeating event on our shared Google calender. Well, 18 months have gone by … two weeks ago we began with the freezer, and today completed our first semi-annual cleaning. But it’s success and a good start.

Here’s what we shed: a container, originally yogurt, that some other life form was squatting in; a half-finished sports drink, which I can only bear to drink when I need the salts on a long, hot bicycle ride; the juice from a can of jalapenos escabeche; and half a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, which I poured into the other half-full bottle. Oh, and a little serving of Thousand Island salad dressing.


We’ve done better at keeping up with the contents than I would have guessed. But we note a population explosion of pickles, so we’ll have to become better apex pickle predators.

shedding style: use up, compost (the substance formerly known as yogurt), recycle (containers)
destination: compost bucket, community recycling stream

Comments welcome … any ideas for ways to consume several pints of various pickles?

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sheds on the podium in our freezer olympics

Today we began our semi-annual refrigerator and freezer purge, which we’re finally getting around to observing after putting it on our calendar over a year ago. I came to the appointment a little worn from hours spent remodeling with only setbacks to show, so we chose to clean the freezer tonight and tackle the fridge tomorrow.

Not much emerged that dismayed me. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to use what I could of its contents. I’d boiled most of the veggie broth bags, and we ate the last emergency pizza for lunch. Once Nimue wiped the compartment to a hospital-like gleam, back in went heirloom seeds, a can of frozen grape juice, half of bag of cranberries (soon to appear in muffins? I asked in a hinting tone), somewhat freeze-dried shrimp I’ll try to disguise in an omelet, and frozen peas that will stretch my creativity. (Actually, I believe those must have spontaneously generated in the cold dark. We never buy frozen peas.)

Some frozen-and-forgotten baked beans are now thawing in the refrigerator. There shall be beans on toast for breakfasts if we get some bread baked!

many are culled, few are frozen

many are culled, few are frozen

We awarded shedding to three items. In third place: a cup of leftover lima beans that never made it into a soup, and never will. Silver goes to a tablespoon of corn meal, carefully secured in a bag big enough to hold several pounds. And for the gold: a zip-lock bag full of dehydrated onions, okra, potatoes, peppers, and celery I dried, oh, less than a decade ago, meaning them for a backpacking meal of curry over rice.

Guess what’s for tomorrow’s lunch.

shedding style: compost
destination: compost pile

Comments welcome … what secrets might lurk in your kitchen’s land that time forgot?


veggie broth bag 2

We’re back from co-leading (with our friend Diane) a weekend retreat for young adults on “green spirituality.” Having kept our goals modest, they were exceeded—a tactic I am, at last, accepting as wise when trying anything for a first time.

My hips, thighs, shins, and ankles are telling me to keep that in mind the next time I pit my 1957-model body against that of nineteen-and-twenty-year-olds playing “Capture the Flag.” The legs say, “We’ll propel a bike as far as you want in a day, but quick starts, stops, and sprints over uneven ground are discontinued options.”

It was, on the other hand, hilarious fun.

In consequence, however, I can hardly move at the moment. So tonight I’m recycling a previous shed; I’ve pulled a veggie broth bag from the freezer and emptied it into the slow cooker.



shedding style: use up, compost
destination: soup, the compost pile

Comments welcome … aren’t “take it easy” three of the most beautiful words ever assembled into an imperative?


broken birdhouse 2

Today’s is a sad shed. In one of those uncomfortable coincidences one doesn’t wish to examine too closely, after commenting recently to Minimalist Sometimes that no birds had accepted our offer of a birdhouse in two nesting seasons, I found it on the ground today. I fear I was mistaken about its occupancy status and that it had predatory help leaving its limb.

Except for a small piece, the birdhouse's floor is missing, drug away who knows where.

Except for a small piece, the birdhouse’s floor is missing, drug away who knows where for what fell purposes?

The box and its mate (subject of a previous daily shed) were Christmas gifts from our crafty nieces. During the first spring they were hung, we watched at least three broods of songbirds fledge from them. I’ll miss their cheerful sight from our back windows, but weather and, perhaps, tooth and claw have taken their toll. I don’t have a suitable piece of wood for making a repair, and the sides are splitting anyway. It’s time to return the wood of the birdhouse to the soil.

shedding style: compost
destination: our hugelkultur mound

Comments welcome … do you have any aging avian infrastructure it’s time to shed?


rubber tree r.i.p.

An office reorganization resulted in a “rubber tree” relocating to our house several years ago. (This common houseplant isn’t actually a rubber tree, but Ficus elastica, a species of the banyan figs.) We enjoyed it, and it seemed to tolerate our care, because it grew … and grew … till it hit the ceiling. Well, that wasn’t the end, because it could spend the summer out on the deck, and overwinter in the lofty garage.

The unusually cold winter this year chilled the garage below freezing, however, and we lost most of the tender plants sheltering in it. The rubber tree didn’t wake from dormancy. I tried the radical measure of whacking it off just above the lowest leaf-bud, with can sometimes re-start a failing ficus.

It didn’t work. It’s time to release it to the next stage of its life. To the hugelkultur mound it goes to rot in peace.

I guess it's a little late to give the rubber tree a cute name, but if I were to, I'd call it "Stumpy."

I guess it’s a little late to give the rubber tree a cute name, but if I were to, I’d call it “Stumpy.”

shedding style: compost
destination: compost pile

Comments welcome … do you find a freeing simplicity in embracing the cycles that open to life beyond life?