Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WooHoo...Catalogs are coming! Make way for the lists!

Oh what fun to open the mailbox these days... everyday brings at least one new seed catalog if not more... I get so excited... planning, making lists, and more lists, wanting everything heirloom and colorful and exotic and, and, and....
Yesterday I got this full color absolutely fabulous heirloom catalog.... I fell into it with such a feverish enthusiasm... David laughed... said that a good seed catalog must be like "porn for a gardener". That man has a way with words... Me, I usually liken it to going through the Sears Big Wish Book at the start of the Christmas Season when I was a kid... circling wishes and filling the book with dog-eared pages!
I go through each seed catalog with a pen and circle the likely candidates... then make a list with page numbers and prices..
This makes it easier to compare from one catalog to the next...
Of course, the very first step is to go through any seed that is left over from this year or has been saved from the crop this year...... more lists.... A list of what I must order from where, based on what worked well this year or in years past... After all there is my never fail variety of eggplant... and the Sweet Italian Peppers I love so much.. right... more lists of the things I just can't live without...
And now lists of the produce that is much loved by my "Fresh Start" families who I also grow food for now.
The list of lists goes on and on... as the seed catalogs and lists become a mountainous pile by my chair ready to cascade to the floor... a slippery slope of lists, possibilities, the ultimate in local food, color, nutrition and lists and more lists.......
Soon time to make a list of seeds to start....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Silent but Busy!

Dear Readers,
I have been silent for quite some time... it has been a crazy few weeks full of all sorts of hustle and bustle. My silence here has certainly not been because I had nothing to say... quite the contrary.... just that there is SO much to say and there has been SO little time to stop and write! Between the holidays, travel, and big changes at home...

So the BIG NEWS is that David and I are now engaged! Woohoo! After 6 years as a single mama and 45+ years of waiting for the right one to come along... here HE is! Rebecca adores him and life is SO good. Really worth the wait! I must say that it is the easiest relationship ever and just gets better all of the time. Yay!

So now we are in the process of selling David's home on the other side of town. Then we will all move into my little house at the garden. It will be SO good to live back at the garden and not be commuting anymore! I SO look forward to being on site and the great time that will be saved from the travel back and forth.. also looking forward to the more integrated life that we will be able to live all in one place! Cooking and gardening and doing the usual household chores.... an inter-planting of work, so to speak!

My Fresh Start produce business is coming along. I have about 20 families on my weekly email list with 3-8 orders per week. It is what I can manage for now. As the Spring and Summer season comes on I expect that it will become twice a week email with more orders! Right now the winter options are limited to fresh greens and mesclun mix salad greens as well as some fresh herbs.

My row covers are working well! I currently have six covers up and have plans for more. I am using the French Chenille Style of row cover written about in Elliot Coleman's book, The Four-Season Harvest and by our friends at Shibaguyz . I had read the book and seen to information on row covers but it was not until the Shibaguyz posted about their experience making these row covers that I promptly followed suit! Thanks for the inspiration! I promise to write more about the process and include how-to pictures!

We are getting a storage building built at the garden to serve as storage and a woodworking shop for David.. But wouldn't you know it... the ideal place for the building is were my mountainous mulch piles have been for the last few years. So for the last 3 days we have been moving the mulch. Who needs a membership to the gym? My body hurts in places that I didn't think that it was possible to hurt! And I am not done yet.. David helped for the first day until his asthma started up thanks to the molds in the pile.. I took over after that! But I am almost done.. one more day! One of the side benefits of this little project is that now the mulch is closer to the garden and will save steps later. I also managed to get the wide row of berries mulched and the herb garden paths too!

There of course is more... but It is time to cook dinner. Chicken Risotto with mushrooms and onions and a salad of freshly picked (an hour ago) mesclun mix with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 garlic clove (finely minced or pressed)
salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

For the Good of the World

The man who has planted a garden feels that he has done something for the good of the world.
~Vita Sackville-West
We've planted a wonderful new victory garden for our world with this election. Now it is up to us all to roll up our sleeves and nurture this freedom garden we have begun, for it is only through our care and tending that the seeds planted will bring forth abundance for all.
Yes WE can!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote! Vote! Vote!

Today is an HISTORIC and PIVOTAL day. Perhaps the most historical and pivotal of our lives.
Make sure you all get out and vote today if you haven't already done so! And if you have already voted... make sure that all of your family and friends have also voted!
It is OUR Democracy and it will only work if we all participate!
Vote! Vote! Vote!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Peace and Serenity

Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.
~Lindley Karstens

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A New way to look at the Victory Garden

You really must check out the Freedom Garden Movement! It is a new way of thinking of the Victory Garden concept of days gone by. Think victory over your food bill, victory over manufactured and genetically modified food, victory over your status of couch potato. Yes indeed, Freedom from all of the above and more!

Here is the press release from the FREEDOM GARDEN website....

Think of it as Facebook meets the Farmer’s Almanac: A social networking site for 21 st century pioneers who want to fight soaring food prices and global warming by growing their own food. On this site, novice and expert growers from all over the world can gather to post success stories, ask questions, and challenge one another to ever-increasing levels of self-sustained living.

That was Then, This is Now

In response to the heavy impact of World War II on the U.S. economy, Americans were urged to grow a victory garden (also called a war garden) in 1943. The gardens were planted by about 20 million families and would eventually provide nearly half of the fresh produce consumed during this troubled time. On rooftops, in back yards and even in containers on front porches, Americans produced eight million tons of fruit, vegetables and herbs in their own households.

Presently we are faced with a future that’s will be fraught with fuel scarcity, rising food cost and environmental implications.

As the world encounters hard times - there will be need of practical and back to basics solutions.

Freedom Gardens is growing beyond victory garden a food security movement person to person, blog to blog, neighbor to neighbor. A modern gardening era/movement for the 21st century resulting in efforts to become free of foreign oil, corporate controls, contamination and food miles while creating a sustainable future by promoting local food production.

Behind This Site

Freedom Gardens is backed by the example of its founders, the Dervaes family, the urban-dwelling “eco-pioneers” who have been growing most of their own food since 2001. On their one-fifth acre residential lot in Pasadena, Jules Dervaes and his three adult children, Anais, Justin, and Jordanne, grow over 400 varieties of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers-with enough left over to run an award-winning “green” business selling fresh organic produce to local restaurants and caterers.

Freedom Gardens is an offshoot of the family’s first website,, a seven year-old sustainable living blog that gets 5 million hits per month from 125 different countries. The new, more interactive site uses social networking software to connect visitors with other gardeners in their area. They can share tips about local climate and soil issues, display which challenges they are participating in on their profiles, and find others nearby doing the same challenge.

Through, people everywhere can take back control from the corporate food system. In the process, they can improve their health, reduce their ecological footprint, and save money.

Funding for Freedom Gardens is from the Dervaes Family businesses (Dervaes Gardens, Peddler’s Wagon) and from their non-profit Dervaes Institute. Dervaes Institute is registered as a 508(c)(3) public charity and governed by the state of California.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Abundance of Greens and Herbs

I have begun offering fresh produce to friends and family weekly as I have such an abundance of greens and herbs that we can't eat it all. Fresh greens are so good for you and the more you pick, the more they seem to produce. And the possibility of growing greens year-round means that there is no reason for preserving the harvest for long-term storage! Besides greens are much better fresh.
The picture here shows greens (rainbow swiss chard, mixed cole greens..collards, purple veined brussel sprout leaves and broccoli leaves) and herbs (chives and lemon grass) harvested and waiting for pick-up. I pick the fresh greens and rinse them, then bundle them into bunches and put them in mason jars with fresh water to keep until pick-up.
Here is an excerpt from my letter to family and friends, introducing the "Fresh Start" concept.
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This year my garden plot has turned the corner and is producing a beautiful abundance of organically grown, lovingly nurtured produce. More than my family can hope to eat... and we are eating well!

My mission with my garden was first to grow the organic produce that I wanted to feed Rebecca but could not afford to buy at the grocery store. As I got more into my project, it became more and more about eating LOCAL, minimizing my carbon footprint and nurturing the planet. It has been a wonderful journey, watching the land that is my yard become a magnet for birds and butterflies and bees. There is more good happening here than meets the naked eye! Layers and Layers of good and important steps forward. A Fresh Start!

I have spent the summer wondering what to do with all of this wonderful food and realizing that the time and effort I spend is like having a full-time job! I have been looking for ways to get my garden to start bringing in some income. I have considered starting a small CSA but have concluded that I am not ready for that yet..
What I have decided to do is to offer each week an email of what is available in the garden. This email will go out on Monday and Thursday. Let me know what you want to order and the next morning, I will pick and bag your order. You can pick it up that day (Tuesday or Friday) at the Garden......

You can be assured that your produce was fresh picked because I am not going to pick it until you let me know what you want! This is LOCAL food at it's best with a small footprint and layers and layers of good!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Making Connections

Oooo I have discovered another great site which to my way of thinking speaks to some of the "whys" of the grow your own food movement. The site is Slow Movement and has fabulous food for thought! Check it out!
Here is their take on "How to make the connection to food"
We can create a strong connection with our food, local farmers, community members and others by:
* Joining or starting a community food system;
* Eating food grown in your local area or bioregion;
* Eating organically or sustainably grown food;
* Starting a back-yard veggie garden; or helping someone else to do it;
* Joining or starting a community food garden;
* Encouraging local shops and restaurants to buy from local farmers;
* Becoming acquainted with local farmers;
* Volunteering to work on a local community supported agriculture project or community food system;
* Growing and promoting traditional foods;
* Refusing GM food;
* Promoting community food systems amongst your friends and fellow workers;
* Growing fresh produce to donate to food kitchens
* Joining a local slow food group.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Organic Facts of the Week

I want to encourage you to check out the work of the Organic Consumers Association. They are working for everyone on this planet! Their website encourages a "Get Local" approach and includes an action center to keep you up-to-date on issues that matter to us all. OCA gives you ways to add your voice to the grassroots campaigns for "health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy".

Check out the many calls to action. You may be surprised to find that some of your favorite "organic" products are not what you think they are.

You can subscribe to their newsletter which includes great information on the following topics...Organics, Planting Peace, Environment and Climate, Health Issues, Genetic Engineering, Food Safety, Fair trade and Social Justice, Farm Issues, and Politics and Democracy.

In today's newsletter there was the following list of Organic Facts...
* If organic farming methods were practiced on all the planet's food-growing land, it would be like taking more than 1.5 billion cars off the road.
* You can increase your antioxidant intake by 30 percent by choosing organic.
* The average child in America is exposed to five pesticides daily in their food and drinking water.
* The U.S. water system is regularly contaminated above safe limits immediately following chemical fertilizer applications to farm fields.
* Farms in developing countries that use organic techniques produce an average of 79% more than farms that don't.
Now if that don't make you want to buy and grow organic... I don't know what will!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Grow your own Shiitake Mushrooms!

Last year, I had to good fortune to get 8 shiitake logs passed on to me by a friend who was moving. I am a lucky woman! They have been around a while but still have life in them! Generally, I pick out 2 logs to soak in the rainwater barrels. I soak them for a day, then set them out in the shade. After a few days, they start fruiting and we get to enjoy shiitake mushrooms for dinner! Local food that requires only a few steps to harvest!

here is a quote from ShiitakeMushroomLog.Com
Shiitakes have four to ten times the flavor of common white button mushrooms. In addition to their robust/pungent, woodsy flavor and meaty texture, shiitakes provide high levels of protein (18%), potassium, niacin and B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. They have natural antiviral and immunity-boosting properties and are used nutritionally to fight viruses, lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure. Lentinan, an immunostimulant derived from shiitakes, has been used to treat cancer, AIDS, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibrocystic breast disease, and other conditions with impressive results. Researchers S. Suzuki and Oshima found that a raw shiitake eaten daily for one week lowered serum cholesterol by 12%.
Oh my family loves our mushrooms and how wonderful it is to know there is SO much goodness in them.
Think about growing your own. It really is worth the investment and effort. You can watch these baby mushrooms emerge from the logs and enjoy knowing that you will soon be feasting on a delicious nutritious local meal!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Raised Beds

I love working with raised beds. I think that is the sense of great organization I get when I look out over the beds. But what this picture shows is the great variety of possibilities available in found materials! I get alot of my materials from FreeCycle, the side of the road, or the recycling bin!
The above beds are made of found bricks, concrete pavers, wine and beer bottles, scrap wood, concrete pieces, and rocks from the garden. If you can let go of the need for everything to match or be the same size, you can make just about anything work.

Why raised beds??

Most gardeners find that raised beds are easier to maintain and promote better plant growth. Walking in a garden causes soil compaction, which can cause problems with drainage and oxygen availability to the roots. It's also more difficult to weed when soil is compacted. With a raised bed, you can plant, weed and harvest without ever walking on the soil.

Raised beds can be filled with high-quality soil and it's easy to add compost or other organic matter. Long-rooted plants, such as carrots, do especially well in this environment, because there are no stones to hinder their development.

Plants in raised beds get more sun and air circulation and they can make better use of water. You often can plant earlier and harvest later, because raised beds warm up early in the spring and stay warm later in the fall.

Raised beds also make ideal places to grow plants that can be invasive in a regular garden – such as mints and horseradish. But ease and convenience is the benefit many gardeners appreciate the most. If you get a bad back and sore knees every year from gardening, a raised bed may put an end to those aches and pains.

Raised vegetable beds are excellent for gardeners who have trouble with their backs and older people who don't have limited flexibility. They are also excellent for people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities and those who don't want to spend the summer on their knees in the garden.

I invite you to keep your eyes open to the vast possibilities of materials that are available for free or nearly free for your raised beds. Raised beds can be had for free or little money out of pocket. You will be amazed at the difference it will make in the success of your garden!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What to do with all of those greens

My winter greens are starting to really come in now. Swiss Chard, Spinach, kale, collards. Yum! But what to do with them all. I am always looking for new ways to prepare the feast. Greens can be picked fresh all year round so I see no need to try freezing or canning them. Besides they are best fresh picked right out of the garden! Here is a recipe that I found and adapted to suit my family and they loved it! Give it a try.

Greens with Toasted Pine Nuts and Raisins
Serves 6
2 1/2 pounds of greens
(spinach, kale, chard, collards, others) either mixed or one kind
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions sliced
1-2 cloves of minced garlic (optional)
4 tablespoons of raisins
(or dried cranberries or blueberries), plumped in hot water and drained
4 tablespoons of pine nuts, toasted
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Fresh pick and rinse greens well. Saute in a large pan with only the rinse water that still clings to the greens. Cook over medium heat, turn frequently until wilted. Drain and set greens aside.
Add olive oil to the empty pan. Saute the onions and garlic over medium heat until tender (about 8 minutes). Add the greens, raisins and pine nuts. Saute briefly to warm and bring the flavors together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

With the leftovers, I made the most fantastic frittata topped with cheddar cheese! Warm the oven to about 350. Scramble 2 or 3 eggs. Put the left over greens in an iron skillet that has been lightly oiled. Pour in the scrambled eggs. Top with grated cheese. Bake until the eggs are cooked. ENJOY..

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quote of the day

To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise. Whether the result is a horticultural masterpiece or only a modest vegetable patch, it is based on the expectation of a glorious future. This hope for the future is at the heart of all gardening.
~Marina Schinz

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Celebration of Rainbow Swiss Chard

Today's post is a celebration of Rainbow Swiss Chard. Why eat boring food when you can eat a rainbow imbued with liquid sunshine!

~from a seed catalog description....
A beautiful chard, its colors are brilliant (pink, yellow, orange, red and white). This chard originated in Australia. Very mild, ornamental, and tasty. Great for market growers and specialty markets. Pretty enough to plant in the flower garden, so delicious, one of our favorite greens! Can be sown any time up to late summer for fall use; often overwinters except in very cold-winter areas.
But what is this stuff called "Chard"? and where does it come from? And what the heck do you do with it?

Swiss Chard, the beta vulgaris Cicla group, is actually a close cousin of the beet and also goes by the name "spinach beet." The rainbow variety of Swiss chard, often known as "bright lights" comes with stems in a wide range of bright colors including magenta, orange, red, purple, and golden yellow.

Cooks prize Swiss chard for its colorful veins and ribs. The contrast of the vibrant red, orange, yellow, and white stalks against deep dark green leaves make for a strikingly beautiful presentation. And chard not only looks fantastic but it has a mild delicate flavor that is sweeter, and more refined then other greens. Swiss chard can be used as a substitute for spinach in recipes, or stands alone nicely as a side dish.

One cup of cooked chard provides the following vitamins, minerals and nutritional components shown below as percentage of USRDA.

Vitamin K: 300%
Vitamin A: 100%
Vitamin C: 52%
Magnesium: 37%
Manganese: 29%
Potassium: 27%
Iron: 22%
Vitamin E: 16%
Fiber: 14%

So again I say, "Why eat boring food when you can eat a rainbow imbued with liquid sunshine!" Try some today!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

You know that time between really waking and not quite still sleeping.. that seems to be the time that I remember dreams best... Well I woke from a strange one this morning. It seemed that the city decided that home gardens needed to be permitted. With a hefty permit fee of course and all sorts of odd rules. Rules about everything and mostly rules that made no good sense. Yikes.. The permit would require an end to the season, a specified date when the garden would need to be shutdown for the winter and covered over with some sort of impervious cover so the it could "rest" properly... It had rules about what could be grown and what was not allowed. And rules about when to plant and what chemical applications were required.
What really got me was that one of the best reasons for home gardening is that not only do you know where your food comes from and how it was grown but that you don't have to worry about the regulations or lack of regulatory oversight for our food industry.
I tell you it was the strangest dream!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Garden Fresh Roasted Veggies

Here is an amazingly simple yet wonderful garden fresh dish shown here before cooking. It has a beautiful variety of colors! My High School Home Economics Teacher would be SO proud. Beets, Carrots, Onions, Garlic, Potatoes (red, russet, blue), tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and topped with fresh parsley and sprigs of rosemary.
Bake uncovered in the oven at 350 or so... oven setting can be more or less depending on what else you are cooking in the oven at the same time... consider a cover for a bit if you are cooking at a higher heat. Bake until the veggies are done.
Local and Fresh... it can't be beat!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why Bother?

You can't start growing your own food without asking yourself the question, Why Bother? It is work, pleasurable work with amazing returns... but at the end of the day aching and tired, you just gotta wonder.. if it really is worth the bother... Friends may even give you a hard time about your "million dollar tomato". And you wonder... I could just drive to the grocery store and buy food... I could even buy food already made...
Ahhh, but the rewards of growing your own and making food from scratch.....the good feeling, the great food.
I am writing now with a full and satisfied belly from an amazing meal. A mostly local meal: Meatloaf (made with local beef and homegrown carrots, squash, onions, garlic, shitake mushrooms, and tomato), Fresh Homegrown Kale braised with homegrown garlic, and Rice. Yum!
This evening I stumbled on an article by Michael Pollan, first published in the New York Times on April 20th, 2008. You can read the entire article, WHY BOTHER? But here is the piece that I wanted to share with you..
But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.
A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food, we forget, comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis. Years ago the cheap-energy mind discovered that more food could be produced with less effort by replacing sunlight with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, with a result that the typical calorie of food energy in your diet now requires about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce. It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.
Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious), with a carbon footprint so faint that even the New Zealand lamb council dares not challenge it. And while we’re counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. What else? Well, you will probably notice that you’re getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of the modern division of labor that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now have to burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way “solutions” like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can’t do much of anything that doesn’t involve division or subtraction. The garden’s season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit — will you get a load of that zucchini?! — suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. Michael Pollan

Don't Play with Your Food

Well sometimes you just can't resist the temptation to play with your food!
So meet Pedro the Hot Pepper Guy! He's one of a kind, spicy and debonaire!
My hot pepper harvest has been abundant.
I am hoping to find the time to make a batch of hot pepper jelly this week.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What Eating Local Really Means

  1. Eating local means more for the local economy.
  2. Locally grown produce is fresher.
  3. Local food just plain tastes better.
  4. Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen.
  5. Eating local is better for air quality and pollution than eating organic.
  6. Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons.
  7. Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story.
  8. Eating local protects us from bio-terrorism.
  9. Local food translates to more variety.
  10. Supporting local providers supports responsible land development.
I found this wonderful list at
Consider committing to the EAT LOCAL Challenge.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Pesticides.. Ain't Killed No One"...

Yep, Believe it or not... that's what the guy said!
So the whole story... my family and I went to the WNC Farmer's Market.. the BIG one in town.. the one run by the state... not one of the many small farmer ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) sponsored ones at the Health Food Store parking lots or the City Market where organic growing methods are common and a general understanding that natural and organic methods are important for so many reasons!
This Farmers Market is sponsored by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. We went in search of a bulk quantity of apples, peaches and gourds...
Well it was amazing! First we explored the retail barns.. NO organics... some heirloom tomatoes but nothing touting it's organically grown and natural methods..
Then we moved on to the Watermelon and Peach area which for some reason also has pumpkins... It was clear to me that the lack of signs about ORGANIC, meant that everything was conventionally grown..
I spoke with one fellow who was selling gourds and pumpkins... When I asked him about pesticides... he told me that it was me NOT possible to grow pumpkins without spraying them...
Well, I have some lovelies that we harvested that very day from my garden... beautiful pumpkins WITHOUT spraying of any kind! Nothing!
Then we moved onto the barns. Lots of vendors....not a single mention of ORGANIC!
By this time I had sworn off the peaches I wanted.. I have been dreaming of peach butter.. but if I am going to put in the time and effort to make and preserve peach butter... well... I am going to do it with organically grown produce...
David just wanted apples that he did not have to pay $2/pound for... which is what the conventional ones are in our local grocery store.. So there he is buying a box for $12. a deal!
But I say to the guy selling them, "So are there pesticides used on these apples?"
"Of course" he says.
I say, "Well, that's too bad."
He continues, "Pesticides are safe, Ain't killed no one... look at all of the people walking around!"...
Do you believe it?? By this time, I am almost speechless...
But I manage to say, "Depends on how you measure the dead."
This interaction has given me alot to think about! So just how DO we measure the cost of pesticide is SO about the poisoning of our planet... Our water, our air, our soil...
these are all things that are necessary for life... all life!
Your life, my life, the lives of our pets and food animals, and yes... even those who are unwilling to believe that there is a problem!
The more we degrade our soils with chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer, the less we actually can produce from that land. And unhealthy land yields unhealthy life!
How do we measure the dead.... if we don't want to look at those who are in their actual graves .. how about the walking dead... those with cancer and other unexplained deteriorative illnesses.. what is it that causes these and many other diseases? Who knows... but my money is on the untold multitude of chemical inputs to our bodies that we ingest through the foods we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink and the drugs we take in, both on purpose and those in our food supply and water supply...
Think about it... "Ain't killed no one..." I say again.... it depends on how you measure dead!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eat your Veggies!

My young assistant, Rebecca, and I have been having a big time putting up our bounty this year. We watch the squirrels in our neighborhood stocking up for the winter and feel like squirrels ourselves as we can and dry and freeze everything that we can't eat in the next few days.
Rebecca's been a great help in the kitchen. Her big responsibility, besides tasting, is washing the canning jars. Her little hands fit right into the jars. She scrubs them till they squeak and has developed her own system of soaking, scrubbing and rinsing. She checks for chips in the rims and has learned all about the importance of using sterile equipment. Enlisting our kids to help in these tasks is a great way to reinforce the "we're all in this together" and "we need to work as a team" lessons.
Rebecca feels such a great sense of satisfaction when we break into the canned foodstuff. Just this morning she had a bowl of our spiced applesauce with breakfast. And was ready to lick out the bowl she liked it so much! I sent her off to school filled with yummy healthy food and bursting with pride that she had helped make that applesauce. She taste tested throughout the process, decided what spices to add, stirred the pot and washed all of the jars.
Early this month, my friend Amanda and her 3 year old Emma took care of my garden for a week while my family took a trip to Alaska. We were chatting the other day and she told me that Emma had never been very interested in eating vegetables but while helping to pick cherry tomatoes, she discovered that she loved tomatoes. Sometimes the best way to get kids to eat something, is to involve them in the growing, picking and processing of our food.
So many children today (and adults) are so disconnected from the source of our food. For most people, food simply comes from the supermarket, so therein begins the disconnect in our society. But when we start asking about where our food comes from and how it is processed, when we start taking part in the process... that sense of pride that Rebecca carries with her is available to each and every one of us!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tomato Bounty!

I have honestly been SO busy keeping up with my tomato harvest and the demands of the garden that I have had no time to write!
My tomato plants are the most amazing ever. I have about 50 plants and an unknown number of varieties. I planted a mixture of Heirloom Tomato Seed from Gurney's this year, so a real variety of red tomatoes, cherry and mini tomatoes as well as yellow, orange and purple tomatoes!
The plants have been really prolific but are starting to wind down. One day in August I had a 40 pound harvest day! It has been amazing.
Canning has taken up a bunch of time and I have a cabinet full of canned tomato sauce to use through the winter.
My sweetie gave me a super dehydrator for my birthday in August.. so I am also drying cherry tomatoes and sheets of tomato paste! In the past I have cooked some tomatoes down for paste and frozen them in ice cube trays then transferred them to freezer bags. The cubes were then added to sauce as a thickener or soups for extra flavor. I never would have thought of drying the paste... but the dehydrator instructions suggested it and I really like the idea! The amount of room it takes up is dramatically diminished. And I am not storing water... the paste should work really well as a thickener!
I imagine that I will spend the winter catching up with posts!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Minor adjustments to Rainwater Barrels

The proof of anything is always in the using... well, in using my rainwater barrels for watering I have found that because of the height of the barrels, I was wasting too much water in spillage whenever I filled my watering can.
Lowering the barrels was not an option because I need the difference in height to make the overflows from one barrel to the next really work. So I figured that adding an extension hose to effectively deliver the water directly into the watering can was the way to go!I got some old garden hose and bought some fittings for about a buck each and custom made hose extensions for each of the higher barrels. Each extension is incrementally shorter as the barrels go downhill. The watering can fits under the hose and it keeps all the water in the can... No spillage. Problem solved.
Necessity is the mother of invention!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

First Pesto of the Season

This week I made two small batches of Pesto. The Basil is coming in and we LOVE Pesto in our family, with an Italian name like "Molaro" it is practically required!
I grow the Basil Variety called Sweet Genovese. This is the third year in a row that I have gotten this seed from Cook's Garden and I have been very happy with the results.
Last year we also grew a Lemon Basil variety.. but were not as pleased with it for Pesto or tomato sauces. So halfway through the season we just started ignoring it. Let it flower and just forgot about it.. Well this year we are overrun with Lemon Basil and we have learned to cook with it. The lemon basil is nice in Thai and Indian cooking..
But the lesson here for me is that it is easy to have basil reseed itself! I never knew this because I am so obsessive about heading the basil to let it bush and keep producing new leaves. So this year.. I will allow some of the Genovese to flower and go to seed so I will have self-seeded Basil next year! And I will save seed to get some started too.. just in-case this variety is not as good about reseeding itself. I'll let you know.

So.. PESTO..
My Recipe..
~A colander full of freshly picked basil leaves washed, de-stemmed and dried in a salad spinner
~1/4- 1/3 cup of nuts (I have used pine nuts, toasted almonds, cashews, walnuts, toasted sunflower seeds... depends on what you like and what you have on hand)
~1/4 - 1/3 cup of grated cheese (parmesan or romano)
~3-8 cloves of garlic (depends on your love of garlic~)
~enough Extra Virgin Olive Oil to make it the "right" consistency
Zip it all up in a food processor and freeze as quickly as possible.
When I make Pesto, I put the finished product in Ice Cube Trays and freeze for a few hours before I put the cubes in a zip-lock bag. The quicker you can get them into the zip-lock.. the greener the pesto will stay.. Keep them open to the air and they will turn a dark almost black green on the outside.
These Pesto Cubes make a great addition to soups, stews and sauces. Add a cube or two depending on your personal tastes.
If you are making pasta take a few cubes out the thaw before you start the pasta water, then toss with the pasta after it has been drained.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Rain in the barrels!

Western North Carolina is in an extreme drought so Rain is always exciting but I've got to tell you that watching one barrel fill and then overflow in to the next and on and on is pretty darn Exciting!
My young assistant, Rebecca (age 7) had a grand time watching too and learning about how important it is that we conserve water and make the most of what we have.
We got the camera out and had fun shooting the following pictures in the rain.

This second shot shows my latest addition... the upper overflow spigot on the "Barrel 5". It has a 10 foot length of hose which leads into the garden and ends at the "whirly bird" sprinkler. The spigot is kept open. This way the overflow is kept away from the house and waters the garden some more!
One good rain is enough to fill all of the barrels and gives us enough water to keep up with the garden until the next rain.
It's a good feeling!

Friday, June 27, 2008

More on Catching Rainwater

I have gotten several requests from people for more details about how I connected my barrels. So here are some detail photos and more information.The above shot shows the five barrels coming downhill. Each barrel feeds into the next with an overflow hose. "Barrel 4" has an overflow pipe as it is a steel barrel.

This is "Barrel 1". It is the primary barrel and is fed by the flexible downspout from my roof gutter. The downspout simply pours into the top of the barrel which has a screen top with a perforated plastic support insert. Sometime junk from the gutter collects in the top of this barrel and I just have to gather it and put it in the compost pile.
I drilled a hole in the top of the barrel to accommodate the fittings that I got in the plumbing department of the local hardware store. The fitting slips into the hole and has a screw on piece that hold it in the barrel. The hose then fits onto the outer piece which has barbs on it to hold the hose in place. Works pretty well. I wish that I had drilled my holes a little lower as the angle of the fitting and the arc in the hose means that the water level needs to be above the arc before the overflow begins.
During the first rain I had to adjust the hoses a bit to make it work better. Some wire and an old tent spike wedged under the hose pulls it down just enough to make it work better. The other option is to have more height difference between barrels.

This next photo shows "Barrel 3" into "Barrel 4". The tops of "Barrel 4" and "Barrel 5", my two steel barrels, are made of window screen stretched over the opening and held on with bungie cord. It is important to keep mosquitos out of your barrels. This will do it! I also like that I can open the steel barrels and soak my mushroom logs in them. The openings on the plastic barrels are too small for log soaking.

These photos show the spigots of "Barrel 4" and "Barrel 5". Again outfitted with parts gotten from the plumbing department. "Barrel 5" (silver steel barrel) has soaker hose feeding into the nearby Asparagus bed. This is the final overflow of my system and I open it when all barrels are full and more rain is coming.
The steel barrels were scavenged but the plastic barrels were purchased at out local healthy grocer, EarthFare. They came outfitted with spigots and cost $70 each. The parts to connect them all cost about $30 from the hardware store. I figure that the savings on my water bill will cover this well within the first year. Not to mention that my plants are happier without city water and I am doing my small part to conserve resources.
The barrels each hold approximately 60 gallons. So together they give me about 300 gallons. Because I have such a drop from the collection site and the garden, which is below... I can hook up a hose with a sprayer to a barrel and run it down hill to the garden and have a gravity watering system.
Generally I only water what needs watering and use a large amount of mulch to keep watering needs to a minimum.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Catching Rainwater

When I first started the garden, we set up one barrel for rainwater and we watered from that one 60 gallon barrel for the first year and a half, then added a second barrel. And this year I have added 3 more. The three orange barrels have the added value of having begun their lives as olive barrels and have been recycled into rainwater barrels. I really like that!
Each barrel overflows into the next. They are each outfitted with a plumbing fitting with a piece of hose attached that runs water into the top of the next barrel. Together they give me a 300 gallon capacity! The set-up for this system was easy. I did it myself! And it works. I had a great time during the first rain watching one barrel fill and then overflow into the next and so on. Better than watching TV! The lower steel barrel has a soaker hose that runs into the asparagus bed around the corner from the barrels. This soaker hose is the controlled overflow for when all of the barrels are full. And the Asparagus is happy to have some extra water.

I like not needing to use city water to water my garden. I like the honesty and connection when you water with a watering can. The attention that I get to pay to each and every plant seems important to me. I only water the beds that need watering. I use lots of mulch to hold the water and conserve as much as possible. During really hot and dry spells I need to resort to the sprinkler for overall watering.. But for the most part I water from the barrels.

How much water is it possible to catch in your barrels? Consider the following formula...
1 inch of rain on a 1000 sq ft roof yields 625 gallons of water. To calculate the yield of your roof, multiply the square footage of your roof by 625 and divide by 1000.
One good rainfall, and my 300 gallon capacity is overflowing!

Here in the East we have been in a severe drought for a few years now. Anything we can do to conserve will make a big difference to our environment and add to your sense of self-reliance. Catching rainwater and saving it for when you need it is a good first step.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Urban Homesteading hits the Mainstream Media!

Woohooo! ABC News program NIGHTLINE ran the following story last night on their show.

A Family Farm in the Midst of Suburbia

IT is SO exciting to me to see that our message of self-reliance and resourcefulness is now going beyond our circle of like-minded people. The more we get our story of food empowerment out to "the people", the more likely we are to see real change that will improve everyone's lives.

Next week my daughter's 1st grade class is walking the two blocks to come and visit my garden. So many of these children think that food comes out of a box or from the "golden arches". These school kids are simply the product of generations of Americans who have been taken in by the ease of fast-food and the simplicity of processed food products. I look forward to showing them another way to think about food and backyards!

The first year that I had this garden underway, my daughter was 3 years old. When the tomato plants started putting on fruit, I showed them to her excitedly. "Look, " I said, "look at the tomatoes!" I was shocked when she said, "Mom, those are NOT tomatoes! Tomatoes are RED!"
Wow, she really needed a garden. Now green tomatoes are her favorite. And she has her own raised bed or two and is in charge of edible flowers in the garden.

We need to get our kids involved in food production. It is the only way to truly break the chain of apathy and dependence on long-distance produce and overly processed convenience food.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What can WE do?

Everyone wants to talk about the rising costs of food and fuel. We all have worries about the impact of these rising costs and the possibility of food shortages.

"Historians know that nations that cannot keep food supplies cheap, abundant and secure are in trouble. Food is national security. Food, fuel and the rise and fall of nations are inextricably linked. If the cost of fuel rises, the price of food will rise as well. That's the big picture." ~Rose Hayden-Smith
Amid cries of "Bring back the Victory Garden" and the news that according to the World Bank's food price index, our Global food prices have risen 57.5 per cent from a year ago, I have been reading the 1919 book, The War Garden Victorious by Charles Lathrop Pack.

It has been interesting and eye-opening to say the least. Pack was the founder of the National War Garden Commission which was formed in 1917. The express mission of the Commission was to develop latent resources of food supply and to that end to arouse the patriots of America to the importance of putting all idle land to work, to teach them how to do it, and to educate them to conserve by canning and drying all food they could not use while fresh. Thus began the War Gardens of WW1 and later known as Victory Gardens in WW2.

"Put the slacker land to work" became the slogan of the National War Garden Commission. In response the people in 1917 put to work more than 3,000,000 pieces of such uncultivated territory. In 1918, the total number of war gardens is conservatively estimated at 5,285,000. The food value was estimated at $525,000,000.

The huge PR campaign was promoted through leaflets, instructional pamphlets and posters. War gardeners were called on by the beautiful figure of Liberty to "Sow the Seeds of Victory." Another slogan, a clever paraphrase on the title of a famous song, told them to "Keep the Home Soil Turning." West Virginia started the message: "Food Must Follow the Flag," which became a household word throughout the United States. The Marion (Indiana) War Garden Association put to the home food producers in this fashion: "Earn the Right to stay at Home–Plant a Garden." The honored title of "Soldier of the Soil" gave the home tiller the feeling that he, too, was performing a service for his country although he was not wearing the uniform; and when he was informed that "Every Garden is a Munition Plant" he knew that he was helping the boys over there to fight their battles, for "The Seeds of Victory Insure the Fruits of Peace."

The patriotic spirit is contagious and the war gardener helped mightily to spread it.

The success record of the Victory Garden Project is well documented and it was not only the US Government that encouraged the participation of Americans but Big Business and the media as well.

The government and civilian groups such as the Red Cross and the Scouts organized committees to coordinate gardening efforts and allocate seeds, fertilizer and other resources. Gardening classes and literature were made available to the public. Because food production was critical, the literature emphasized getting the highest yield from each garden and the most nutrition from the crops by raising plants rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals.

The response was phenomenal. In 1917, Americans raised $520 million worth of garden produce in vacant lots, backyards, and unused land. Victory Gardens yielded as much as 40 percent of the country's nonmilitary produce. But the gardens did more than feed the civilian population. They gave people a chance to participate in the war effort and brought them together. People from all walks of life and every ethnicity and age group mingled in the many committees and the thousands of community gardens.

In Dallas, Texas there were around 20,000 war gardens in 1918. These citizens produced 17,500 cans of vegetables in just a few weeks from their garden plots. Temples, Texas had 5000 war gardens. In one growing season alone, the town produced an astounding quantity of black eye peas—one ton. The town of Marion, Indiana only had a population of about 29,000 people and it had 14,081 vegetable plots.

During World War II, a similar gardening movement swept the country. Most commonly these were known as Victory gardens. The White House lawn became a garden in which carrots, cabbages, and tomatoes were grown at the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. As part of the war effort, the American government called on citizens to plant 18 million victory gardens. The response was overwhelming. Some 21 million were established, and actually produced around 40% of the country’s vegetables.

Things that amaze me most about this movement:

1. The extent of government involvement
2. The extent of big business involvement
3. The extent of media involvement

I doubt that we will see this kind of involvement today. However, We don't really need the government or big business to start a grassroots effort. And how much more grassroots can you get than planting a garden.

I want to focus on what WE can DO.

Plant a garden and have some control over the effect of rising prices both food and fuel on your family budget!

Bringing back the Victory Garden makes sense. It's low cost; seeds are inexpensive. I personally do not find the labor of a garden to be drudgery. It is a pleasure to get away from my desk and work the earth and enjoy the sunshine and to watch to literal fruits of my labor come to the table and feed my family. For every bit of produce that comes out of my garden, I save untold dollars at not only the grocery store but at the gas pump, in wear and tear on my car, and at the doctor's office. In addition, I get a share in saving the environment by leaving a smaller footprint and I get the empowerment that comes with taking some control in my life and becoming more resourceful and successful.

Think of the task of starting a garden as an creative adventure. The educational resources to make your garden venture a reality are plentiful...the internet offers abundant information sites, blogs and forums that focus on new and experienced gardeners. Don't forget the local library and garden club workshops. You will meet teachers and like-minded people at plant sales and garden shows. The Cooperative Extension Office in every county has a Master Gardener who you can call on the phone and ask questions! No outsourced customer service here!

The foods you grow are fresh and minimally processed and therefore will have a higher food value than any vegetable you can buy at the chain grocery store down the street! The flavor will amaze you.. it is hard to believe that it can make that much of a difference but the proof is definitely in the tasting. Let your garden be a protest against bland grocery store produce that is bred for its ability to be shipped long distances and to have a longer shelf-life. Most of our grocery store produce travels 1200 or more miles from field to our table! When you do buy produce, make sure that you get as much as possible from the local farmers market or locally suplied produce in your grocery store. I encourage you to start looking at WHERE your food comes from. Grapes from Mexico. Lettuce from California. Garlic from China! Let me tell you garlic is SO easy to grow.. I planted 250 cloves in October and will start harvesting in a month or so.. no work... just plant and mulch! And that garlic will last us through next winter.

Grow heirloom varieties whenever you can. They are hardy, of superior taste and novel appearance, they benefit the environment because planting them increases the genetic diversity. The focus on mono-culture crops and genetically modified foods has seriously limited crop variety. Heirloom varieties tend to be more naturally pest and drought resistant.

Your garden need not be big to make a difference. Consider a small strip of ground or a series of containers filled with tomatoes and peppers. For less than the price of a tomato you can buy a plant already started at the local garden center, ready to go in the dirt. Potatoes can be grown in plastic bags! There are many creative and productive ways to garden.

Gardening is an excellent way to increase food security (the amount and quality of food) in America. Access to Good Food should be a right, not a privilege.

In a changing world, the ability to grow food, to share and enjoy it, and to live in a healthy world full of beautiful gardens may be the best legacy we can our children and grandchildren. The human race will not know peace till each everyone one of us has access to healthy food, and clean air and water.

Join the movement. Here are a few resources to get you started:
books and history of victory gardens

The main points of Modern Victory Movement encourage people to:

1- Raise & preserve as much of their food as possible.
2- Conserve energy, fuel, freshwater & other natural resources.
3- Reduce personal consumption of all goods & resources.
4- Repair, reuse & recycle to as great an extent as possible.
5- Plant trees as part of reforestation projects & edible landscaping.
6- Improve soils through wise use, composting & vermiculture.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Time for Victory Gardens is NOW again!

"If you have a back yard, you can do your part and help the world and yourself by raising some of the food you eat. The more you raise the less you will have to buy, and the more there will be left for some of your fellow countrymen who have not an inch of ground on which to raise anything. " - Bolton Hall, Three Acres And Liberty (Published by The MacMillan Company, New York. 1918)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Every Day Is Earth Day

My almost 7 year old and I were on the way to school the day after Earth Day and she let out with one of those "out of the mouths of babes" kind of statements. She usually comes up with these pronouncements after one of her rare quiet moments. She says, " Momma, actually, EVERY day is Earth Day. Why do we only have ONE day a year that we call Earth Day?" Well, she is right. Every day IS Earth Day. I explained how every day she is a day older but we only celebrate her birthday one day out of the year...
I told her about how I remembered the very first Earth Day in 1970. I was only a couple of years older than she is now. I told her how we got out of the classroom that day and cleaned up the school yard and planted trees and learned about the importance of taking care of the environment. I asked her what she had done for Earth Day at her school. I was disappointed, they watched a movie about Earth Day and wrote a journal entry. Not bad stuff to do but I would have felt much better about them getting out into the environment in some small way...
It all got me to thinking about the ways that we can honor the Earth each and every day. As a gardener who is concerned with the empowerment that comes with growing your own food, I realize that the things I do each day to support my garden also support the Earth. Those everyday things like composting and recycling the waste in my life and working to leave a smaller footprint.
Over the weekend, in full scavenger mode, I salvaged a great stack of plant pots from the neighbor's trash. I snagged them for my transplants. I also picked up a bag of grass clippings that another neighbor had put out on the street. Grass clipping are a fabulous addition to help any compost pile go thermophilic. And the score of all scores, two carloads of old hay from a construction site which will be put to use as mulch throughout my garden. Mulching helps to not only keep down weed infiltration, but keep the soil cool and moist. I have also added three more 60 gallon rainwater barrels to the two that I already had going to increase my rainwater catchment and minimize my need to use city water on my plants.
We also watched a movie called The Eleventh Hour . Watch the movie and check out the website for important information on the actions you can take to make a difference every day for our environment. Everyone should see this movie and then you will KNOW just how important it is that we all realize that EVERY DAY must indeed be Earth Day before it is too late.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eat Local Quote of the Day

Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people. ~Elizabeth Berry

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bring Back the Victory Garden

The April issue of WNC Woman is out and filled with great food articles but the one that caught my attention is Bring Back the Victory Garden written by Diana Cerce. Diana has been at this gardening/homesteading thing for a while at URBAN OASIS in West Asheville.

from the article......
Rather than grow a garden as a way to support war, let the victory instead come from knowing exactly what we are eating. Feel empowered by the relationships formed from participating in the full cycle of a plant's life, from garden to table, instead of contributing to the war effort. The new Victory Garden can reduce our dependence on government subsidized agribusiness adding a sense of security with each new vegetable, herb and fruit garden we add. Let the civic morale be about the satisfaction of knowing we as a community gardening together can become more self reliant. Growing food gardens in the city can promote community interaction as well when we poke our faces over the fence to ask "How's it growing in your garden today?" We can still make the Victory Garden part of our daily life, though now with the added benefits of becoming part of a community.

I am loving that more and more folks are interested the empowerment that comes with taking control of our own food supply. The gal who tends the plants at a local hardware store told me yesterday that people are planting tomatoes and peppers instead of flowers this year. It just makes sense...beautiful and edible.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Notes from the Organic Growers School

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Organic Growers School here in the Asheville Area. It was an amazing experience. I took three classes in the URBAN GROWING section. Two of the classes were about urban orchards and trees. These classes included specific varieties that are successfully grown organically here in Western North Carolina. I know that I will refer to these notes for years to come as they are filled with great information that I will guide my choices as I add fruit trees and fruiting shrubs to my edible landscape.
The third class was Cultivating Urban Abundance. Monica Williams was the presenter. She lives in West Asheville and gardens there on her urban lot. The course description: Urban home gardens have great potential for yielding abundant food, medicine, inspiration, and beauty. Even the most degraded lots can thrive by using the simple soil building techniques and sustainable practices presented in this session.
She encouraged us to begin with setting our intention. Her example was "My purpose is to create an abundant garden with a prayerful and grateful heart in order to heal our wounded soil." The setting of an intention helps to guide us through the choices we make throughout the life of our garden projects and shapes our vision. It can become the touchstone in times of doubt and frustration.
Next we looked at the "Blessings of the city".
  1. Moderate Climate
  2. Many Niches and Micro-climates along buildings and edges
  3. Abundant Resources.

Under Abundant Resources we explored both the people around us and the materials to be found in the city. The vast numbers of people located in the city offer us opportunity for networking, co-operative efforts, shared labor and costs.
And material resources abound.
  1. Compost-ables... leaf bags, wood chips, coffee grounds, restaurant compost, etc
  2. 5 gallon buckets
  3. firewood
  4. fencing
  5. straw
  6. construction material
  7. etc

Specific Techniques and practices for cultivating abundance:
  1. Compost
  2. Mulch beds
  3. Water catchment
  4. Winter gardens
  5. Diversified gardens
  6. Small Animals
One thing that I think that we all have in common, is the need to feel validated. This course really validated for me that I am on the right track with my garden project. The only technique listed above that is not already happening, is the bit about having small animals. Although, I have been thinking about how a goat and a few chickens would really round out the vision. I am not ready for them yet.
But everything else on her list is well underway in my urban plot.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quote of the day

Broad acres are patent of nobility and no man but feels more of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he can call his own. However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property.
~Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Do Away With Your Lawn

Earlier this winter I was looking for another book on gardening from Amazon and stumbled on the book FOOD NOT LAWNS. It's title really grabbed me and the subtitle sold me on it! "How to turn your yard into a garden and your neighborhood into a community". This book embodies my own personal goals. I waited with excitement for it to come in the mail and when it did arrive, I simply fell into it. I had already implemented so much of what this book talks about and yet H. C. Flores still has shown me even more ways of looking at lawns and their effect on our environment. She has also given me new resolve on the importance of what I am doing in my own front yard...not only the food I grow but the opportunity I have to show the people whose lives mine touches another way to think about the part we each play in our environment.
from the book
Whether you live in an apartment, in the suburbs, on a farm, or anywhere in between, growing food is the first step toward a healthier, more self-reliant, and ultimately more ecologically sane life. Gardening may seem like just a hobby to many people, but in fact growing food is one of the most radical things you can do: Those who control our food control our lives, and when we take that control back into our own hands, we empower ourselves toward autonomy, self-reliance, and true freedom.

Reading this book has sent me on an internet research quest to find out more about this phenomenon we call the urban lawn. I have come up with lots of interesting stuff which I will share here with you..


Turning our yards back into utilitarian spaces may be one of the most important things we do to combat the industrial food machine. It is the very best example of eating locally and has a positive impact on us by cutting down food miles and educating people (most importantly youth!) about the origins of ingredients.

Some amazing facts about lawns gathered from various sources:

* Nearly 50,000 square miles of America is covered in lawns.
* Americans spend $27 billion per year caring for lawns.
* A 25' x 40' lawn needs 10,000 gallons of water each summer.
* 30-60% of all urban fresh water is used for watering our lawns.
* Pesticides and fertilizers used to maintain lawns can increase water nitrate levels.
* Run-off from watering lawns pollutes our streams and rivers.
* Ground water nitrate levels are one of the largest landfill contributions to the greenhouse effect.
* A conventional mower pollutes as much in an hour as driving 100 miles in your car.
* Annually in the US, we use 800 million gallons of gas to fuel our lawn mowers.
* Mowing grass depletes fossil fuels as it emits high levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.
* According to the EPA, 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. To put that into perspective, that is more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
* We send over 160 million tons of lawn clippings as solid waste to the landfill each year.
* Americans annually use 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides on their lawns.
* The average urban lawn can produce several hundred pounds of food a year!

The most amazing thing that I turned up is the Urban Homestead site of the Dervaes family in Pasadena, CA. Another great example of what you can do on your city lot. They grow 6000 lbs of food on a 1/10 acre lot! This site alone has made me realize that I want to weigh everything that we harvest this year to see just how much I am growing. Inspirational~!

Once again, the driving force behind Path to Freedom , Jules Dervaes, has led the way with a radical challenge. Can we urban homesteaders deliver? PTF will be trailblazing a new path as we ask: How much food can be grown on such a small scale?

Back in 2003, we at Path To Freedom first shocked ourselves and “the world” by growing 6,000 lbs (3 tons) of fruits, vegetables and herbs on our 1/10 acre growing space and proved that we could approach a high level of self sufficiency both directly and indirectly from our city lot.

Can 1/10 of an acre (about 4,300 sq ft) grow a cornucopia of 10,000 pounds without using ANY organic NPK fertilizers? We are talking about a piece of land equivalent to 66′x66′! Such an urban food production feat has not been undertaken and documented with stats to prove its possibility. Are we crazy? Crazy, you say? Yes siree, bob. Whether or not this happens all depends on the weather. God willing, we hope to be blessed with abundant rainfall and good weather to reap a bountiful harvest! Stay tuned to this journal for the out-of-this world developments.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How did I get here?

It is a snowy day here in Western North Carolina, as I find myself reflecting on where I come from, I am realizing that the choices that I make for my family are based not only on the state of the world today but on my own personal history.
When I was in kindergarten, my family went on a Sunday drive in the countryside on Long Island and stumbled on a goat farm. Now this was back in the 60's and there really was still some country left on Long Island in those days. I remember duck farms and potato farms and other small farms. But we managed to stumble on a goat place and stopped to check it out.. Well my Mom fell in love with the idea of raising goats. Funny how well I can remember that day even now. It was all she could talk about on the way home. But we lived in a township that did not allow farm animals and so began the search for a place where we could have goats. We had always had a big vegetable garden and I remember their first discovery of the hornworms on our tomato plants and the big stir that they caused. Mom and Dad gathered them in a jar and pulled out the reference books so that they could look them up and figure out what they were. So odd looking and morbidly fascinating to us kids. It's been 40 years and yet I still remember that jar and the writhing worms!
Anyway the talk at our house was all about goats after that Sunday drive and "back to the land" and homesteading and where could we do it. I love this part of the story! My parents decided that Pennsylvania sounded like a good place to "do this" and so they got a map of Pennsylvania and blindfolded Mom and she "stuck a pin in the map"! She landed on Middleburg, PA. And we went on our first of many farm hunting trips to Pennsylvania shortly after. We looked at farms in Middleburg and then other Pennsylvania towns and then into New England. Nothing was quite right and eventually another Sunday drive turned up a very old house in Sayville, NY also on Long Island (not far from our original place) that was in a township that did allow farm animals. It was an old center-hall colonial house build pre-revolution and had been in the same family ever since it was originally built. It had no electric and no plumbing, three outhouses out back, an old chicken shed and another big out building. I think it was an acre. They added all of the modern conveniences and my Dad, a cabinetmaker, faithfully restored each part of the house to the period that was built in. It was an amazing process of research and restoration. It was a combination genealogy and archeology project. Old houses always have a story to tell hidden in the construction techniques, add-ons and items lost in the floor boards or tucked away in other places. But add to all those clues, the house and shed were filled with old letters, magazines, newspapers, clothes and more. These people did not throw anything out and Mom was able to piece together the family history of these original inhabitants.
So our first family homestead was on a town lot in a small town setting. We had goats and chickens and a big organic garden. We kids always had our own garden plots that we were our responsibility. We ordered most of our seed from Gurneys back then. Each of us would choose one vegetable that we wanted to grow and we'd each also get several "penny packs". In those days Gurney would package for kids the "penny pack". It is not in their catalog anymore. But Dad always guessed that after a day of packaging seed they must have swept the floor to fill these "for kids only" packs as you never knew what you would get from these seeds. It was a magical things for a kid to have this wonderful mystery only to to be solved as the plants came up and revealed themselves.
Books like Grow It and Stocking Up and magazines like Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening were standard family reading.
Our in-town homestead continued on until I reached the 7th Grade when my parents became restless for that "back to the land" life. They had a real desire to "get out of the rat race" and move to the country.
We started this farm search, as we had begun the first hunt, in Middleburg, PA and there, nearly 10 years later, we found our place. It was an overgrown Christmas Tree farm where the land either went up or it went down.. not much level land there but it was 53 acres with a barn and other out buildings. The 100 year old covered over log house had electricity but no plumbing. Okay it had plumbing.... a hand pump in the kitchen, a galvanized wash tub in the "back room" for bathing, and an outhouse on the hill between the garden and the house.
Whenever I tell this story, I hear that old John Prine song running through my head..." Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, Go to the country, build you a home, Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, ...." because that is just about what we did. No more TV, we grew most of our own vegetables in a terraced garden. Besides the goats, we raised chickens, ducks, and geese. We always had at least one beef calf and a pig or two for meat. We tried rabbit and strange but memorable things like beef tongue. For staples we shopped at the original Walnut Acres in PennsCreek, PA in our same county. (The original Walnut Acres, both the central Pennsylvania farm and the mail order food company founded in 1946 by organic pioneers Paul and Betty Keene, went out of business in the summer of 2000. The name and label is now owned by the Hain Celestial Group.)
This is how I spent my teenage years, milking and feeding the animals before school each day, helping in the garden and with the canning and preserving food for the winter. I am the oldest of five children and I know that I was often not a happy participant in this family experiment and way of life. But today, as I look at my life, I realize just how formative those years were in my view of the world and the choices that I now make for my family. When I look back into my deepest roots, I realize that my own urban plot and the path that I am on today first began in my family's homestead garden so many years ago.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Itching for Spring!

My young assistant (Rebecca age 6 and 3/4) and I spent last Sunday afternoon starting our seeds for the Spring planting. It is so exciting that it is finally time to get started! One of the most interesting parts for me was to gather together all of the containers that I have been saving to reuse for the seed starting. What an amazing array of cast-offs.

So what do I use you are wondering?!
1. My favorite seed starting containers are paper egg cartons. I get friends to save them for me so I have plenty. They make great "peat pots" and don't cost a thing. Four egg pots will fit comfortably in a plastic mushroom container (the 8 oz size). I like to label the mushroom container with a permanent marker, so I know what is what. If you label the egg carton part.. well it will eventually disappear even if you use permanent marker. (I speak from experience here!) I use the egg carton starters for seeds that I would ordinarily start in the garden but I want to get a jump start on the season and plant them sooner.. because you can plant the entire thing in the garden and not disturb the delicate roots. The paper carton does a great job of holding moisture so that the new seed starts stay nice and wet for initial sprouting.

2. Last year I purchased one of those make your "own peat pots out of newspaper thingies" (shown here in photo). I love it. I use it for planting things that will be around for a while before planting out in the garden...tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, etc. Here are some step by step photos.

First you cut newspaper strips to the right width and wrap them around the wooden cylinder.

Then, the newspaper that overlaps the base of the cylinder is folded in to create the bottom of the pot. With some practice you will find just the right place to start the folding in process for you to get a nice neat bottom that will be suitable for holding the soil in your little pot.

Next, the newspaper wrapped cylinder in pressed into the bottom disk of the wooden pot-making contraption. You press it in and twist with pressure 8 or 10 times around to get the bottom of the pot tightly wound.

Finally, you slip and gently twist your newspaper pot off the cylinder and presto! you have a free peat pot and have found another way to recycle newspaper for your garden and the planet!

Fill with soil and get those seeds started!

I must say that I take great delight in looking over the containers that I use for my seed starting. It it is veritable whose who in recycled containers and makes me feel good that these items will do my garden great good before being used up and sent on to their final place!
I find that the clear plastic "to-go" containers make mini-greenhouses as do the clear plastic lettuce containers from the grocery store. The mushroom containers and styrofoam packing trays are great under the both the egg carton pot and the newspaper pots.