Eastern Leatherwood

Dirca_palustris_-_EdwardsI wrote this post earlier this year, the week before Arbor day.

In honor of the forest-friendly holiday, I thought I’d talk about one of my favorite trees (or, more accurately, a shrub): Eastern Leatherwood (Dirca palustris L. Thymelaeaceae), which is native to eastern North America. It’s west-coast counterpart, Dirca occidentalis, or Western Leatherwood, is rare and endemic to the San Francisco Bay area of California. While D. palustris and D. occidentalis grow almost exclusively in moist, marshy areas, in 2009, an upland variety, D. decipiens, was discovered growing in more arid areas in the western Ozarks.

Leatherwood’s interesting and useful qualities are covered in the out-of-print book, Uses of Plants for the Past 500 Years and How to Grow Them by Canadian ethnobotanist Charlotte Erichsen-Brown, Breezy Creek Press, 1979.

Medicinal Plants and Where to Find Them
Image: Amazon.com

An in-print version, entitled Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants—A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes was published by Dover, 1989 – both books can be found with a quick search of your favorite online book retailer. In her writings, Charlotte documents Leatherwood’s uses from 400 B.C.E. to 1955 C.E.—2,355 years. These include sewing the timbers of a bark canoe together with strips of the leatherwood tree. It is also good for making ropes, thongs, cordage and baskets and many other purposes. At a point in its growth, it seems like it might be possible to remove the bark off the trunk and make huarache sandals with strips of this vegan leather!


For the past 25 years I have been encouraging individuals to “adopt” this plant, grow it out fully and then write a booklet on how to cultivate and best utilize some of its many qualities. Leatherwood is occasionally offered in the native plant nursery trade (Yerba Buena Nursery in Half Moon Bay, CA, has a waiting list for Western Leatherwood, and many online nurseries have Eastern Leatherwood seeds or seedlings for sale). How exciting if lots of individuals could similarly adopt many of the other plants in these books was well. Are you ready!

Resprouting Vegetables: Part 2

I’m really enjoying experimenting with re-sprouting vegetables from kitchen waste!

Just as celery bases and carrot tops can be cut specially and then planted to regrow without the need for seeds or seedlings (see my March 6, 2018 post), the same can be done with cabbages and root onions. Simply cut a core out of the root end of each vegetable, as shown in the first image above, and then set the cabbage cores out on offset spacing centers (see How to Grow More Vegetables… for full details on offset plant spacing).

The onions can then be planted separately on 4-inch spacing centers or interplanted among the cabbages on offset centers as shown in the second photo (cabbage cores are circled in orange). The photo shows the cores set out on top of the soil, so you can see the spacing, but in reality, you’d want to dig a little hole for each core, and then cover everything with an inch or so of soil so that the sprouts will be protected as they start to grow. If you interplant onions with cabbages, consider 6”-spacing with 12”-center spaced cabbages (shown here), 7.5” with 15”- center spaced cabbages, and 9” with 18”- center spaced cabbages. 

One of my favorite cabbages is the Greyhound variety (so called because it looks like a greyhound’s ear) because it grows so rapidly! It is planted on 12-inch offset centers and only takes about 2 months to mature—much less than the 90- and 120-day maturing varieties (which go on 15- and 18-inch offset centers respectively). Each Greyhound cabbage is smaller, but the yield per day per unit of area is about the same as for the larger varieties, as many more cabbages can be planted in a given area and take much less time to produce. 

For the highest root onion yields per unit of area/time, consider the Walla Walla variety. It’s delicious and sweet, and for us, its yields have tendency to double, plus it does not make your eyes water when you are slicing it! Also in the higher yield category is the Red Torpedo Onion. The roots are the same diameter as regular onions, but can be up to twice as long.


Resprouting Vegetables: Part 1

Do you ever wish you had a magically inexhaustible supply of food? Well, for some crops, that’s _almost_ possible.

Celery and carrots are amazing vegetables: they’re delicious, high in nutrients, and staples in much of our cooking. As if that weren’t enough, these powerhouses have one more gift to give us: with just a little bit of help, they’ll regenerate, and grow a whole new crop from the parts we usually send to the compost heap! I experimented with interplanting carrot tops (connected to a small amount of carrot) in the middle of celery bases on 8” centers in our kitchen garden, and they’re doing beautifully! In this manner neither seeds or seedlings are needed—just the refuse from the veggies you eat! They produce full-sized carrots and celery! Next, I’m going to try onions and cabbage.

A celery base and carrot tops, ready for planting.
Interplanted celery and carrots, grown from the bases and tops I saved from the kitchen.

Indoor and Container Gardening Inspiration

Feeling the stir of spring in your veins? Wishing you could grow something but you don’t have the space? Then this post is for you!!

Indoor/container/balcony gardening is a great way to enjoy spring in an apartment, with very young children, if you experience mobility challenges, or if you just enjoy having a garden as a roommate! There are a lot of resources out there, but I have found the following books fun for their indoor/micro-scale gardening possibilities. They are both available on Amazon, but you can also probably find them on your favorite online bookstore, or you can order them from your favorite brick and mortar store! I hope you enjoy them, too.

  • The Apartment Farmer by Duane Newcomb — both editions. The first edition is out of print, but your local library’s Inter-Library Loan Service should be able to access it for you for a small charge. The first edition has lots of tips for balcony-type applications and even lists a variety of small sweet corn that can be grown well in just 8”-deep growing boxes. The second edition – which is available online in paperback – focuses on mainly indoor applications.
  • Growing Tasty Tropical Plants (olive lemons, limes, citrons, grapefruit, kumquats, sunquats, Tahitian oranges, Barbados cherries, figs, guavas, dragon fruit miracle berries, olives, passion fruit, coffee, chocolate, tea, black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and more…) — in any home, anywhere by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. Martin, owners of of Logee’s Tropical Plants (www.logees.com).  The size of your home will define how many of these delicious and exotic plants you can grow, but the possibilities are exciting. This book is available online, and comes with beautiful color photos and detailed instructions.

Good luck and happy gardening!

Soul of Soil

A couple of years ago, I wrote this piece to share my hope and enthusiasm for the simple, vital act of growing the Earth in harmony with the gentle and powerful forces at work in Nature. Beautifully illustrated by Judy Chance Hope, this is a letter from my heart to the world.

Here’s an excerpt:

The industrial revolution is based on “fire”—and we are “burning
up” the planet.

As you simplify your life,
the laws of the universe will be simpler;
solitude will not be solitude,
poverty will not be poverty,
nor weakness weakness.
~Henry David Thoreau

In Silence, You can Hear More.
~Henry David Thoreau

It is Time to Listen.

We can choose to work with the most powerful energy source on
the Earth—photosynthesis.

Let’s take the Green Path. It provides a balanced reasonable
planetary temperature. In fact, properly applied, it can be the solution to
climate change.

Our greatness lies not
so much in being able
to remake the World,
as in being able to remake ourselves.

We need to experience this life-giving Force. As we heal ourselves, so
will the planet consist of thriving resilient sustainable mini-ecosystems.

Be the first neighborhood in your area to have one.

You can download the whole piece by clicking here (~8MB PDF).

Descarga la traducción al español haciendo clic aquí haciendo clic aquí. (~2MB PDF).