Eye Spy: A Book for the Budding Naturalist

Eye Spy: A Book for the Budding Naturalist

William Hamilton Gibson was an American illustrator, author and naturalist (1850-1896), well-known for his work in Harper’s Monthly. He also wrote several books including Pastoral Days: Or, Memories of New England and Highways and Byways. Eye Spy, — Afield with Nature Among Flowers and Animate Things, first published in 1897, is delightful a compilation of illustrations, short stories, and essays, providing an astounding exploration of the natural world for children and us all! The age of this publication only increases its usefulness. Its topics include:

  • A Naturalist’s Boyhood (which, unusually for the time, addresses itself to both boys and girls!)
  • The Story of the Floundering Beetle
  • Fox Fire
  • A Homely Weed with Interesting Flowers
  • The Fairy Sponges
  • Green Pansies
  • Mr. and Mrs. Tumble-Bug
  • the Horse-hair Snakes
  • Professor Wiggler
  • Cow-spit, Snake-spit and Frog-spit
  • The Paper Wasp and His Doings
  • The Spider’s Span
  • Ballooning Spiders
  • The Lacewing Fly
  • The Perfumed Beetles
  • Mushroom Spore-prints
  • Some Curious Cocoons
  • Nettle-Leaf Tent-Builders
  • The Evening Primrose
  • The Dandelion Burglar
  • The Troubles of the Housefly
  • Tendrils
  • A Strange Story of a Grasshopper
  • Riddles in Flowers
  • Luck in Clovers
  • Barberry Manners
  • A Woolly Flock
  • “What Ails Him?”
  • The Cicada’s Last Song

With its numerous detailed and evocative drawings and photos and a graceful and inviting writing style, Eye Spy is a fun and enjoyable book for the children (or young-at-heart naturalists) in your life to enjoy as a thoughtful window into the mysteries and beauty of the observed natural world.

Eye Spy by William Hamilton Gibson - Book CoverYou may be able to find the original in print format through the Interlibrary Loan Service at your local library. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform recently made a new, affordable print version available by scanning the original, noting “We believe this work is culturally important, and … have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.”

You can also find the original in electronic format for free online at https://archive.org/details/eyespyafieldwith00gibs.

Enjoy!

Foraged Flavor: Finding Our Culinary Roots in Wild Food

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that everything we buy or grow to eat now was once a wild species. Our ancestors have done the bulk of the work identifying and domesticating the foods we now take for granted in our gardens and stores. But the world still holds a vast abundance of wild foods that you can enjoy if you know how to find them. Whether your backyard is a small plot of grass and weeds, or Winnie-the-Pooh’s 100-Acre Wood, foraging for flavorful, nutritious and delicious wild foods is a delightful way to reconnect with and experience the bounty of our beautiful planet in the same way our ancestors did.

Of course, you don’t want to just pick any old plant up off the ground and take a bite! When foraging, it’s important to follow some common-sense precautions to make sure what your eating is safe, and that you’re not harming the ecosystem as you harvest. Wild Edible blog provides an excellent list of basic guidelines for foragers, including finding a mentor, learning about habitat, being familiar with poisonous species, identifying companion plants, recognizing seasonal changes in plants, learning what parts are edible, keeping a foraging journal, harvesting safely and sustainably, avoiding toxic areas, leaving rare plants alone, and cultivating wild edibles in your garden. Of course, one of the main pieces of advice is: GET A GOOD BOOK!

Foraged flavor cover. Image: https://www.amazon.com/Foraged-Flavor-Fabulous-Ingredients-Backyard/dp/030795661X

With this in mind, I recommend one of the most exciting books on foraging and cooking in my experience; Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market by Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux.  I’d describe it for you, but the back cover says it best.

Forage for wild food and discover delicious edible plants growing everywhere—including your backyard—and how best to prepare them to highlight their unique flavors, with this seasonally organized field guide and cookbook.

While others have identified in the past which wild plants are edible, Tama Matsuoka Wong, the forager for Daniel, the flagship restaurant of renowned chef Daniel Boulud, and Eddy Leroux, its chef de cuisine, go two steps further, setting the bar much higher. First, they have carefully selected only the wild plants that are worth seeking out for their fabulous flavors. Second, after much taste-testing, they have figured out the best way to prepare each ingredient—a key in getting to know these exciting new foods. In Foraged Flavor, they reveal their seventy-one favorite plants, which are easy to identify and can be harvested sustainably across the country (including at farmers’ markets for those without access to nearby fields and forests). Tama helps readers uncover bright lemony oxalis growing in patches of their lawn or creeping jenny, with its unmistakable leaves and delicate green-pea flavor. Eddy then gives simple recipes to showcase the foraged finds, including Cardamine Cress with Fennel and Orange Vinaigrette; Braised Beef, Dandelion Leaves, and Clear Noodles; and Purslane Eggplant Caponata.

With twenty-five botanical illustrations, fifty color photographs of the plants, and tons of field- and kitchen-tested know-how, Foraged Flavor will be an indispensable guide for cooking enthusiasts.

The text is a delight to read, the identifying details beyond comparison—all being ordered by the time of the year! Descriptions on how to forage sustainably, how to harvest the plant optimally, and how to develop a Wild Kitchen Garden are unexpected and very desirable inclusions.

A very few of the succulent, mouth-watering detailed recipes include:

  • Scrambled Eggs with Wild Garlic Greens
  • Wild Garlic Green and Potato Pancakes
  • Pickled Wild Garlic Bulbs
  • Sautéed Henbit with Fava Beans and Cipollini Onions
  • Galium (Fragrant Bedstraw) Potato chips,
  • Chickweed Crostini
  • Anise Hyssop Gazpacho,
  • Wild Herb Ravioli,

and many, many more.

You can begin to understand why Tama was given the Steward of the Year Award in 2007 by the New Jersey Forest Service!

Read this book and give foraging a try. Bon Appetit!

The Book of Barley

In 1981, while Ecology Action was preparing to relocate its GROW BIOINTENSIVE farming program to from Palo Alto to Willits, CA in 1982, I received a letter from Lorenz Schaller, an amazing grainsman, noting that the Kusa Seed Society—”a voice for the precious edible seeds of the earth”—was seeking a location where they could grow out their grain seed. If we had been staying in Palo Alto, it would have been wonderful to collaborate, but since we were moving, our paths diverged. Instead, Lorenz (or “Lenz” as I came to know him) began a periodic correspondence when Ecology Action needed information about a specific variety of grain. Lenz would respond, typically in four single-spaced pages, apologizing for the brevity of his answer. You can see by his Book of Barley (http://barleybook.com/)—many years in the making, in three volumes totaling 1,613 pages—that he was accurate about the wide scope and comprehensive nature of his knowledge of grains. What is astounding is the fact that he is almost entirely self-taught!

Over the last almost four decades, Lenz and I have become good friends, and I can say without reservation that his knowledge and skill have increased proportionally with his age. His interests extend beyond grains, as well: of particular interest to me is his macrobiotic diet, which is based on 60/30/10 proportions, similar to the 60/30/10 GROW BIOINTENSIVE crop ratios which ensure the sustainable production of complete balanced diets, sufficient compost materials from these carefully-chosen diet crops, plus vegetables, soft fruits and seeds for to balance out vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and income – food for one’s wallet. (Incidentally, while traveling in Austria several years ago, I was told by a fellow traveler of a nearby valley on the way to Italy. It seems that this valley, which had been developed by the Romans many years previously, grew wheat, potatoes and vegetables using similar 60/30/10 proportions. Interesting!)

Anyway, back to Lenz’ new book!

BarleyBook-covers-3

Volumes 1 and 2, Tibetan Barley Tsampa—The Story of An Ancient Food are described as follows: “Here in this book, sparking and scintillating, the buried treasures of a precious human ‘lost art’ are unearthed and brought to light… Assembled and displayed in one place for the first time ever, here in The Book of Barley … is the remarkable story of this ‘founder crop’ of agriculture, one of the world “pillars of civilization’. From its early beginnings as a sacred grain on the first mini-farms at the dawn of agriculture to its deserved place on the supper table of the health-conscious modern home, the world history of this important foodgrain is herein explored from East to West…

Saints and mystics have used this cereal for a staple, surviving on it and little else, sinners too. The crop’s boundaries are few, as world advances many. Despite the very positive modern nutritional value and culinary utility of foodgrain barley, its remarkable life story has never been gathered together, assembled and told in one place—until now.

Foodgrain barley is at the heart of the blending together of the East and the West—a marriage across time of the mystery cult of Eleusis in ancient Greece, the later cult of the goddess Ceres of Roman Italy, through to today’s XVI Dalai Lama, the 3  scion of barley mini-farmers who lived in a remote high-altitude valley in The Land of Snows.

A nutrition-substance landmark, this comprehensive and monumental work is the result of the author’s 50 years of modern-era research, study, experimentation and direct experience, involving this ancient human foodgrain.”

Chapters include:

  • What is a Tsampa
  • Porridge
  • Malting Barley
  • More Ancient than History
  • Egypt—“I am Barley”
  • The Origins of Tibetans and Their Barley
  • Ancient Barley Cultures in Turkey
  • Ancient Barley Cultures in Ireland
  • Food Barley and Ancient Greece
  • Barley’s Nutrition
  • The Green Juice of Barley Leaves
  • Barley— A Rich Source of Natural Antioxidants
  • Barley’s Medicinal Properties
  • Barley Bread
  • Seeds – Marvels of Microprocessing Genius

Volume 3, The Book of Barley—Foodgrain Barley: Small-Scale Production is “…a comprehensive technical manual for growing food-barley, a nutritious human foodgrain. Beginning with a detailed botanic and agronomic portrait of the food-barley crop plant, the book proceeds with detailed presentations of ‘how to” techniques for successfully growing and harvesting food grain barley in grain-gardens and on mini-farms.

Written in understandable language for laypeople, this book is a “grower’s handbook” for successfully producing this nutritious cereal crop using organic ecological methods – completely avoiding the use of any synthetic, toxic, agricultural chemical fertilizers, seed treatments, or biocides.

Valuable tips and details covering techniques and tools for planting, weeding, irrigating, harvesting, and producing the crop for home food utilization are provided. This book emphasizes small-scale, “hands-on” appropriate technology throughout. Information in this book is based on practical methods researched and tested during the author’s more than thirty-five years of experience in small-scale field production of the crop for home food use.”

Topics include:

  • Feed vs Food
  • Food Barley as a Spiritual Teacher
  • Food Barley — The World’s Missing Grain
  • Growth Stages of Barley
  • Basic Barley Agronomy
  • Threats Specific to Winter Growth-Habit Barley
  • Protecting Stored Barley Grain
  • Quick and Easy Guide to Growing Food-Barley
  • Advanced Barley Growing
  • Raising Excellent Seedlings for Transplant

Happily, a fourth volume is planned as a culinary and recipe guide.

For anyone interested in nutrition, farming, soil, and the history of one of the most important grain crops known to humans, I highly recommend checking out Lenz Schaller’s tour-de-force exploration of barley. Don’t wait! Begin this exciting ages-old and new as today nutrition-and soil-growing adventure, now!

To order, see Amazon.

For the Kusa Seed Catalog, see https://ancientcerealgrains.org/seedandliteraturecatalog1.html

“What I Stand On”: Sustainable Inspiration from Wendell Berry

According to Wikipedia, Wendell Erdman Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

What I Stand On by Wendell Berry - image of the box set.What I find more profound than all these accomplishments is the breadth and scope of Berry’s understanding of people, society, and farming, and how they can work together to form the ground and foundation upon which our civilization literally and figuratively stands. In his deeply moving collection of essays What I Stand On (The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry in Two Volumes, 1969-2017; Jack Shoemaker, Editor, published by the Library of America, 2019) Berry takes what he has lived and observed, and uses it to give sense to the heart of what we need to internalize and act upon, as we confront a world in which climate change and agricultural challenges are growing at an ever-increasing rate.

The back cover of Volume 1 summarizes this feeling: “Wendell Berry is our essential voice on the cultural and ecological crisis brought on by industrialization, technology, and the market economy, urging us to live differently, better, more sustainably. This Library of America volume…presents the complete text of his landmark 1970 book, The Unsettling of America—a far-ranging meditation on the intrinsic connections between culture and agriculture—along with thirty-two essays from eight other books published from 1960 to 1990. It reveals the younger Berry as an already masterful stylist, whether challenging corporate greed and innovation for its own sake or treating topics as varied as family, farming, the dignity of hard work, and racism. Anticipating such contemporary concerns as organic farming, buying local, renewable energy, even the do-it-yourself and slow food movements, Berry’s incomparable essays peak with gathering urgency today.”

The back cover of Volume 2 notes, “Iconoclastic, inspiring, powerfully moral, democratic in tone and attuned to the rhythms of nature, Wendell Berry’s essays are quintessentially American. … [This volume] finds him turning to issues of political and social debate—big government, science and religion, technology, and the meaning of citizenship following the tragedy of 9/11—and burnishing his reputation as one of the master prose stylists of the last century. Here is the complete text of his 2000 book Life is a Miracle in which E.O. Wilson becomes an unlikely adversary—and forty-two essays and speeches from nine other books published from 1993 to 2017, among them his 2012 Jefferson Lecture to the National Endowment for the Humanities, It All Turns on Affection, an eloquent plea for practiced love of the land.”

I have worked for almost 50 years developing GROW BIOINTENSIVE, seeking to heal the depletion of agriculture, and to help farmers live and work in harmony with the everyday miracle of the seasonal and biological cycles that nourish and sustain our civilization. I am drawn to Berry’s writing because he expresses so well the thoughts and emotions that keep me inspired to continue this work. Two other individuals come to mind, whose writings have given us (me) such a rich sense of humanity and inspiration for the difference we can make in the world as individuals, particularly in the area of farming and tending the Earth.

Gandhi said, “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”

Lincoln said, “Ere long the most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community where every member possesses the art can ever be the victim of oppression in any of its forms.”

And Berry says “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

There has never been a better time to read and draw inspiration from Berry’s writing than right now, as we work to save a world where mechanized, chemical, herbicidal farming is wreaking havoc on our ecosystems, and as little as 21 years of farmable soil remains to feed future generations.

(Did you know that nitrate fertilizer used to grow crops exist as a result of surplus TNT explosives left over from World War II? It’s true. Also true is the fact that nitrate fertilizer use depletes soil organic matter and the ability of soil to hold on to organic nitrogen, in a vicious cycle: the more nitrate fertilizer a farmer uses, the faster the soil loses its organic matter (and its ability to produce food). In one loosely figurative sense, when we use synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, we are dynamiting our soils in order to grow food as we focus on products rather than dynamic, living biological processes! Without a good, closed system, fully sustainable farming paradigm, we are “at war” with nature, and it is not possible for individuals, families, communities, ecosystems and the world to live well, or live at all. In contrast, it can be seen though the data in a University of California-Berkeley Masters Thesis, that living closed-loop sustainable food- and soil-growing biologically intensive practices, have the potential of building up to 20 pounds of fertile, carbon-rich, biological nitrogen-friendly, farmable soil per pound of food eaten.)

As I noted in The Soul of Soil, a heaping tablespoon of fertile living soil can contain approximately the same number of life forms as there are people on the Earth. May this living force be with us! It certainly is with Wendell Berry, a Master of Soul and Soil; we can all learn from his writings how to better live in and proactively transform our living, thriving mini ecosystems as we create a wonderfully livable Earth no longer besieged by climate change.

As you stand in your part of the Earth, your garden, and as you work in the living soil to grow a better and more sustainable and just tomorrow, read and be nourished by the wonderful opportunities Wendell Berry’s words speak to the deepest good in each of us. It is the cultivation of healthy souls, the conscious and unconscious parts of our inside selves that determines what we create.

In fact, the way we cultivate the soil is how we cultivate our souls.

Back to Our Roots: How Learning from Prehistoric Agriculture Can Help Grow the Future

A healthy, productive agriculture relies on LIVING SOIL – truly the most important resource in the world. We live in a time of when healthy, living, farmable soil—as well as farming nutrients in organic and synthetic fertilizer form, fresh water, and energy—are all diminishing in quality and quantity.

Historically, farmers have had to adapt to the conditions that prevailed where and when they lived – they learned to farm in ways that fit their terrain, soil, and climate. In the face of the growing agricultural crisis (no pun intended, well, maybe just a little bit), as we work to bring our soil and our agriculture back into a harmonious cycle, knowing more about how

agriculture developed and was performed traditionally can provide key insights on how farming can be more effective, sustainable and adaptive in our modern world, on a local-global level.

prehistoricagcover

Prehistoric Agriculture edited by Stuart Struever and published by The Natural History Press in 1971, is a collection of thirty-three articles discussing the worldwide study of agricultural evolution in Europe, the Near East, and North and South America, including pre-irrigation and irrigation forms of farming, covering research done on these subjects from the 1950s-1970.

 

 

Key topics that covered include:

  • The Domestication of Plants and Animals
  • Explanations of the Initial Shift to Agriculture
  • The Beginnings of Agriculture and its Consequences in Various World Areas
  • The Natural Scientist Views the Beginnings of Agriculture
  • The Role of Agriculture in the Development of Civilization

All these lessons – as well as their opposites – can guide us to create thriving, productive, local ecosystems with fertile soils. There is much work to be done to effectively develop the detailed contexts and practices needed to make this possible. This isn’t a “one-stop book” for all the solutions: are some gaps, not unexpectedly –Africa, India, the Far East, and Oceania and such food plants as rice, millet, taro, and soybean are not covered adequately in this book – but these topics are not difficult to find in other books, such as those mentioned in my posts hereherehere, and here. Other publications I’ll be covering in future posts will review how North Africa, Rome’s granary, became a desert and how the Sahara Desert used to be a forest, which I mentioned here.

Other useful books include:

Don’t hesitate to delve into the rich soil that our collective agricultural traditions provide – this is how GROW BIOINTENSIVE originated! The history of the “already beaten paths” can enable us to create a flourishing future!

 

John Jeavons at the 5th Soil Not Oil International Conference

5th Soil Not Oil International Conference
San Francisco, California  

Breakout Presentations
September 9th Morning Sessions

John Jeavons will provide a presentation: Small-Scale Biointensive Farming and Carbon Sequestration: Growing Food and Soil for the Future, NOW
at the Masonic Hall 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM .

Click here for information and registration

Gardening Without Poisons: A Constructive Answer to the Pesticide Problem

According to Wikipedia, human agriculture arose independently in at least eleven regions of the old and new world dating back to at least 20,000 BCE. Use of irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilizers began in the Neolithic age, but were greatly refined and expanded over the last 200 years. The last 60 years is witness to the hugely accelerated mechanization of human agriculture, and the use of fossil-fuel derived synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, as well as selective breeding, and genetic engineering across species.

Our gardens and our planet are coping with the hangover from chemicals used so liberally during the fevered enthusiasm of the Green Revolution – and in ever-increasing amounts today: the soil microbiome is depleted, waterways are polluted by runoff, beneficial insects and animals are struggling to survive the onslaught of toxins covering millions of acres of farmland, predators and weeds are developing resistance to the poisons, and humans are coping with a food-chain laden with endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Clearly, we need a better way to grow food and keep our crops safe from predation and disease, while balancing the needs of the ecosystems our farms and gardens coexist with. But is that even possible? How can we garden without poisons?

homepage_gard_without_poisonBeatrice Trum Hunter, in response to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, wrote “Gardening without Poisons” in 1964 to answer exactly that question:  “An aroused nation [after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring] is looking for new ways to protect plants from pests and diseases — methods based on an understanding of the forces of life at work in field and Garden. In this book, Beatrice Trum Hunter describes their methods, which you can apply in your garden today, and reveals the new knowledge which can lead to Gardening without Poisons.” – from the back cover of the book.

You might think that it would be outdated by now, but trust me, this classic is amazing in its breadth, depth and scope, and the techniques are exactly as useful now as they were 50 years ago! An enjoyable read as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great-granddaughter Edith W. Gregg said: “A most interesting book, timely and valuable, I hope all garden clubs will order their members to read it.”

Chapters include:

  • The Realities of Biology
  • The Vital Role of Insects
  • Birds and Other Creatures in the Garden
  • From the Ground Up, including The Importance of Humus
  • Plants Out of Place, including The Importance of Weeds
  • An Ounce of Prevention
  • Emergency Measures: Simple Sprays and Other Materials
  • Emergency Measures: Traps
  • Controlling Unwelcome Birds and Animals
  • Biological Control
  • The Use of Insect Diseases
  • Breeding Plants for Resistance
  • Ingenuity and Imagination, including Population Dynamics and Insect Control

Love your garden, love the Earth, and learn to grow your food without poisoning them! The fun and success begin now!

Diversity is Delicious: Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden

I know that Summer just got here, but part of being a farmer is planning for the seasons ahead…

With the sun at its apex for the year, the apples are hanging thick and green on the boughs and the bees are buzzing among the blackberry blossoms, and I’m thinking a

bout…planting trees!  There’s no better inspiration than sitting, on a hot summer afternoon, in the cool shade of a fruit tree to start planning the bare root fruits you want to plant in your garden as the weather cools, so you can enjoy them in the next season – and for decades to come!

Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden Book Cover

And while we’re dreaming, why not try something out of the ordinary? While the pippin and the plum will always have a place in our hearts, there’s something to be said for exploring the more exotic varieties available to us now. Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden—Expand Your Palette with Pawpaws, Shipovas, Jujubes, Maypops, and More! by Lee Rich  is another excellent book from Timber Press (electronic version available on Amazon) to assist in this exploration! The great content and author’s eloquent style is enhanced by line art and wonderful color photos. This edition emphasizes the practicalities of plant selection with a good source list, plus cultivation, propagation and maintenance instructions.

And you may find that unusual fruits provide more than just a delicious new flavor – they may actually work better in your micro-ecosystem than some of the more “popular” varieties:  “Reich proves that plants slightly off the beaten path are flavorful solutions in tough landscape problems.” – Easy-Care Landscaping.

The crops covered in this book include (with my observations about the ones I’ve enjoyed so far):

Juneberry

Beach Plum

Alpine and Musk Strawberries (Alpine varieties are tiny and very sweet, have an especially intense strawberry flavor that you will want more of.)

Pawpaw: Banana of the North

Raisin Tree: Candied Fruit for the Picking

Logonberry

Actinidia

Mulberry: A Very Tasty Fruit of Many Colors (We really enjoyed eating these in Willits. In addition, friends who sold them at the Farmers Market had people “fight” to get them before others could have an opportunity to purchase them.)

Kaki and American Persimmons

Elaeagnus: Gumi, Autumn Olive, and Russian Olive

Gooseberry

I always look forward to eating these.

Maypop: A Passionflower for the North

Che: Chew Dolops of Maroon Sweetnes

Black Currant (These are good-tasting and have healing properties. I am currently–no pun intended–eating them to reduce the impact of glaucoma in my right eye.)

Nanking Cherry: Cherries on a Bush (These taste treats are easy to harvest!)

Cornelian Cherry: From the Shores of Ancient Greece

Currants, Red and White

Asian Pear (Crunchy and tasty both. Enjoyed best by many when they are cold.)

Jostaberry

Lowbush Blueberry (An easy to harvest taste specialty.)

Jujube: The Chinese Date (I very much enjoyed eating these directly from the tree in a neighbor’s orchard! Nice and chewy.)

Shipova

Medlar: Lost in the Middle Ages

Over the past 50 years or so, humans have come to depend on very few crops and varieties for much of our food supply, with the result that many of the cultivars that historically grew well in different climates or soils or were favored by different cultures have become increasingly rare – with some disappearing altogether. This reduction in variety has resulted in our reliance on an agricultural base with very low genetic diversity, increasingly vulnerable to disease and climate change impacts.

Planting heirloom, open-pollinated, regional, cultural and “unusual” varieties helps keep our agriculture strong, diverse, and resilient. I hope you’ll be inspired to try a delicious “uncommon” fruit or vegetable the next time you plant something in your garden – the Earth and your taste buds will thank you!

Maybe Read This: Experiments with Plants, 6th Edition

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As a farmer and a researcher, I am constantly reminded that agriculturalists from earlier times are often the best teachers. Experiments with Plants (6th ed.) written in 1911 by Harvard Associate Professor of Botany Dr. W.J. V Osterhout, is a good example of this phenomenon. An extraordinary book, it provides fresh learning experiences from the past, as interesting and relevant as if it had just been written. It is an enjoyable read and is easy to comprehend. Learning can truly be fun and in this book is enhanced by 252 illustrations!

The Chapters are:

  • The Awakening of the Seed
  • Getting Established
  • The Work of Roots
  • The Work of Leaves
  • The Work of Stems
  • The Work of Flowers
  • The Work of Fruits
  • How Plants are Influenced by Their Surroundings

A few of the many topics to intrigue students and teachers include:

  • A method of determining whether air-dry seeds contain water.
  • Learn how to determine whether or not seeds can germinate without air.
  • Easily test the swelling power of a single seed and a mass of seeds.
  • Learn how leaves work by projecting yourself into their molecular structure.
  • Did you know seeds planted under the soil can “see” the light above?
  • Plants Which Cause Decay, Fermentation and Disease
  • Making New Kinds of Plants

Out of print, it’s still available on Amazon, or you can borrow a copy through your Inter-Library Loan service. However you get it, you’ll be starting a treasured learning experience. You cannot help but enjoy this publication!

Save Water! Use Seedling Flats!

Or: How to feed an extra person and still save over 5,000 gallons per year.

It may be a little late in the season for this post (at least in this hemisphere), but we just had a series of storms that would feel right at home in February, and this information isn’t going to become less useful, so I’m going to go ahead and post it anyway.

You may not think that starting seedlings in flats vs. sowing them directly in the growing beds makes much difference in terms of how much water your garden uses over the course of the year. You may think that the extra step isn’t worth the work, even when water is expensive or scarce. Think again! Study the two attached information sheets carefully:

  •  The first shows a comparison of factors that impact seedling development and resource use in direct sowing vs. sowing in flats and then transplanting.

Direct Sowing and Transplanting Compared page 1

  • The second shows water saved by using flats. You may need to zoom in to read it.

Direct Sowing vs Transplanting p.2 shows water saved by raising seedlings in flats

Do you see the amazing possibilities for growing food and soil sustainably with biologically intensive practices on an increasingly water-scarce Earth? By starting your seedlings in flats and transplanting them into the beds when they are sufficiently matured, you can save enough water to grow calories and compost materials to support up to one additional person annually without increasing your overall water use AND you can save up to 14.8 gallons of water per day all year long to use for other purposes.

This savings is in addition to the 67% less water used per pound of food produced with biologically intensive practices compared with standard gardening and farming methods!

The solutions are available to us. Let’s change scarcity to abundance now, so there can be more than enough for all as we go forward into the future!