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To plant, or not to plant? May 8, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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That is the question, at least here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Days here are predicted to be in the 60s and 70s this week, but nights drop from the 50s into the 40s later in the week. This isn’t a problem for our greens, alliums (bulbing and walking onions, garlic, shallots, chives, and garlic chives), herbs, celery, cole crops (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.), and perennial crops (asparagus, rhubarb, potatoes, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, comfrey, strawberries, etc.). They’ve all been in the ground since April (or, for the perennial veggies and many of the herbs and alliums, for years now) and are doing fine.

The issue for us is our warm-season transplants: tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, sweet corn, tomatillos, basil. Should we set them out now or wait? Warm-season crops don’t like cold air or cool soil. Test after test has showed that waiting to plant until the nights are mild and the soil is warm gives your warm-season plants a better advantage than planting them in cold soil.

This makes perfect sense, but there’s an issue here that’s not addressed, and it’s about the plants’ roots. If you choose (like us) to buy your transplants rather than grow them from seed, most likely you’re looking at a 1-by-1 or, at best, 1-by-2-inch pot, with a healthy plant coming out the top and a rootball crammed into an unimaginably small area. We love the diversity, health, and heirloom variety we can purchase locally, and we love supporting businesses in our community. But those plants really need to go in the ground ASAP so they’re not set back by those tiny rootbound spaces.  

If our temps were going to stay in the 50s at night, this would be a no-brainer: Give those roots room to spread! But low 40s is a totally different situation. We don’t have any hotcaps, Wall’O’Waters, or row covers to toss over our raised beds. Once our plants are in the ground, they’re on their own.

We do have a greenhouse, and can set our flats out to harden off during the day (as we’ve been doing), then haul them back inside on cold nights. We could pot up every single tender transplant to avoid root-binding. We could plant them out, then cover them with sheets or other protection when the temps dip into the 40s. Or we could just step off the cliff, plant everything, and replace the plants if the weather kills them.

What would you advise?

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Get up and grow! March 18, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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With gorgeous sunny blue skies and daytime temps edging into the 70s, you can bet our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been outside getting our gardens ready to grow. We’ve been weeding our raised veggie beds and amending them with our own rich compost and composted cow manure from one of our favorite nurseries, James Weaver’s Meadowview Farm in nearby Bowers, PA. We’ve been cleaning out the greenhouse in anticipation of moving the endless container plants that spend each winter there onto our deck for the season. And of course, we’ve been checking our stash of seeds and planning what we’ll plant in each bed.

Mind you, there’s plenty already going on in our two perennial vegetable and herb beds. In the allium/herb bed, the walking onions, garlic, garlic chives, chives and shallots (all perennial crops with us) are coming on strong, along with thyme, peppermint and cilantro. We’ll be adding more herbs once we feel we can trust the weather to stay mild. (Usually we wait until May, but given our mild winter, we’re very tempted to move that up to mid-April. We shall see.)

Horseradish, rhubarb and comfrey are breaking ground in our perennial vegetable bed; no sign of the asparagus yet, but we’re watching. And Silence is planning to add Jerusalem artichokes to the bed this year, maybe even today; she has some nice, fat organic tubers. (Jerusalem artichokes are in the sunflower family and produce cheerful sunflowers, but it’s their tubers that are harvested for eating raw in salads or cooked.) This is also our catnip bed; we hope the minty catnip repels (or at least confuses) pests, and even if it doesn’t, we have three cats and they thank us.

Rain has been surprisingly scarce the past two weeks, but is predicted for tomorrow, so Silence is eager to sow cold-hardy greens and the like in our biggest bed this afternoon. Because this bed is now shaded by two of our apple trees, which turned out not to be nearly as “super dwarf” as their labels claimed and somebody’s (not, of course, to mention Silence by name) optimism warranted, we’ve devoted it to the production of shade-tolerant greens, plus early-spring salad crops like radishes, bunching onions, and snow and snap peas. We love greens raw and cooked, and usually include them in at least two meals a day (in soup and/or a sandwich for lunch, and as a cooked side and a salad at supper). And many are cold-tolerant, a definite bonus when trying one’s luck by seeding them in early spring.

Before moving on to what we’ll be sowing in the shaded bed, our friend Ben would like to point up an aspect of climate change, global warming, and weather in general that is really disturbing. It also shows us that the interactions in our gardens are far from simple, and could go some way toward explaining why simplistic “solutions” to garden problems often don’t work, backfire, or work less well than expected.

So, for a minute, let’s get back to those apple trees—and our pear trees, peach tree, pluot, elderberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes and other fruits whose buds are now swelling in preparation to bloom. Orchardists hate early bloom, since the flowers and developing fruit are subject to late frosts. If a frost hits while flowers are open, the result is frozen flowers and no fruit. If a frost hits the developing fruit, the result is usually dead fruit. And since fruit trees flower only once a year, if the flowers or fruit are killed, the whole year’s crop is lost.

This would be depressing enough for backyard gardeners like us. But what about orchardists who make their living growing fruit? Unlike vegetable gardeners, who can simply replant, the fruit grower’s harvest and income is lost for the year. (Yet another argument for diversification.) This may result in an even more horrific situation: orchards being sold off to make yet more McMansion-packed “house farms.”

And there’s another factor to consider: pollination. Unlike nuts, which are wind-pollinated, fruits are bee-pollinated. Honeybees, our chief pollinators, are already under attack from parasites and fungal disease, and their numbers have dropped dramatically. But what if unusually warm winters and springs wake up the plants before the bees?

Certainly, Silence and I haven’t seen any bees buzzing around here, yet our fruit trees are in bud and their flowers will open within a week or two. If they bloom before the bees emerge, we won’t get fruit; and if the bees emerge after bloom, they won’t get food. And what if the warmer weather favors the proliferation of the mites and fungi that attack bee colonies? This is a lose-lose situation for all concerned. Much as we love a mild winter and early spring, it’s not worth losing our bees, fruit, and many of our bee-pollinated vegetable crops. 

But let’s get back to seed-sowing. Silence and I believe in patronizing as many seed companies and local seed-selling businesses as possible, since our goal is to keep local businesses carrying seed and as many seed companies as possible in business. This particular batch, for example, includes seed packs from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, Rohrer Seeds, Renee’s Garden, The Cook’s Garden, Burpee, The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Botanical Interests, Seeds of Change, Agway, Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, and Happy Cat Farm.

Our technique is simply to scatter the seeds randomly over the bed, with the exception of the snow and sugar snap peas, which we plant in a row along a trellis we push into the soil along one end and part of the back of the bed. Then we drag the back of a raking fork over the bed to lightly cover the seeds with soil and to make sure they’re in good contact with the soil so they don’t try to root into thin air. When the seeds come up, since all the greens are edible—even the pea shoots—if some are too close, as they inevitably will be, we thin them and use the thinnings as microgreens and, later, mesclun mix in our salads. We’ll also transplant as needed to fill any bare spots.

Ready for our seed list? It’s pretty sizeable, but remember, we’re talking about a 4-by-16-foot bed. And we do eat a lot of greens! Here you go: ‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard greens, ‘Mizuna’ mustard greens, ‘Southern Giant Curled’ mustard greens, ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuce, ‘Grand Rapids’ lettuce, ‘Royal Oak Leaf’ lettuce, ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuce, ‘Red Salad Bowl’ lettuce, ‘Ruby’ lettuce, ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce, ‘Lollo Rossa’ lettuce, ‘Troutback’ lettuce, ‘Blush Butter Cox’ lettuce, ‘Red Ruffled Oak’ lettuce, ‘Red Devil’s Tongue’ lettuce, ‘Sucrine’ lettuce,  ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’ snow peas, ‘Super Snappy’ sugar snap peas, curly endive, arugula, wild arugula (roquette), corn salad (mache), French sorrel, ‘Merlo Nero’ spinach,’Long Standing Bloomsdale’ spinach, ‘Rossi di Verona a Palla’ (‘Dragon’) radicchio, ‘Red Verona’ radicchio, ‘Komatsuma Tendergreen’ oriental greens, ‘Tatsoi’ oriental greens, ‘China Rose’ winter radish, ‘White Icicle’ radish, ‘Cherry Belle’ radish,  ‘Crimson Forest’ bunching onion, and ‘Tokyo Long White’ bunching onion.

Wow! Our friend Ben hopes that reading that list didn’t wear you out. It’s only the beginning of our vegetable-gardening adventures this season, and, we hope, of yours! Tomorrow, we’ll share a few fun garden-resource sites we’ve found this season.

Grumbling in the rain. April 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben has actually heard of people who like to garden in the rain. Either these people are deranged, or whatever they do by way of gardening is far, far different from the things our friend Ben considers to be gardening.

Unfortunately, spring is such a busy time in the garden and landscape that even the rain-averse our friend Ben can’t let a little thing like a light rainfall (after two days of downpours) stand in the way of getting things done. So this morning found a reluctant OFB—goaded on by an increasingly sarcastic Silence Dogood—hauling myself outdoors to take care of the following, while Silence, mind you, remained warm and dry inside “writing.”*

First off, our friend Ben carted all the flats and containers of frost-tender veggies and ornamentals that will ultimately go into the garden beds out of the greenhouse for the day and set them either on an unoccupied bed or on the deck. This process, euphemistically known as “hardening off,” bears more resemblance to torture (from the plants’ perspective) on a cold, wet day like this. To make matters worse, normally our friend Ben would haul them all back in again for the night, as I’ve been doing daily for the past few weeks, but since overnight lows are supposed to stay in the mid-40s, I think I’ll leave them out there to fend for themselves tonight. After all, they’ll have to get out and stay out in just two short weeks, so they might as well get used to it. Plant boot camp, here we come!

Next, our friend Ben transplanted this year’s crop of surprise pumpkin-or-squash seedlings. Silence and I love to decorate for fall and the Harvest Home season, from September through Thanksgiving, by arranging a wealth of pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, ornamental corn, wheat sheaves, sorghum—you get the idea—around the front door, on our kitchen table, and on the deck. Then we typically compost the pumpkins and squash.

This move results in surprise squash or pumpkin seedlings emerging from our compost bins and taking over a fair part of the lawn around the compost bins the following year. Two years ago, we had a luxuriant butternut squash spilling over one compost bin and producing an abundance of large, handsome squashes. Last year, it was a delightful and prolific miniature orange pumpkin.

This year, our friend Ben noticed that the compost we’d spread on the hot pepper bed and perennial vegetable bed had somehow sprouted squash and/or pumpkin seedlings. The pepper bed had produced two seedlings with the most enormous seed leaves our friend Ben has ever seen. And lurking under the horseradish in the perennial vegetable bed was a cluster of super-healthy squash/pumpkin seedlings. (I’d better back up and note that pumpkins, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers are all related, collectively called cucurbits. Pumpkin and winter squash seedlings are especially hard to tell apart, and if they’re volunteers and could be either, you might have to wait until they fruit to find out what they really are.)

So our friend Ben transplanted the two huge seedlings, a couple of clumps of the smaller seedlings, and a yellow zucchini transplant we’d bought on Saturday to the raised bed behind our Pullet Palace (that is, enclosed chicken coop and yard). I’m pretty hopeful, since Silence and I chose all heirloom edible pumpkins for our display last fall, which should up the odds of getting some good and beautiful edible pumpkins this year from our surprise seedlings. (But Silence points out, correctly, that we need at least one more yellow zucchini and several yellow crookneck summer squash plants.)

The next chore on the list was to pull up an enormous armful of dandelions and throw them to the chickens. Normally, our friend Ben enjoys this chore. Far from another abysmal round of hand-weeding, pulling vitamin- and mineral-rich dandelions for the hugely appreciative chickens is more like harvesting. This natural spring tonic gives the chickens a real boost, and it shows in their delicious eggs.

But like every other rainy-day chore, there was the downside. First, hauling ever-more-slippery containers across the yard. Next, transplanting seedlings with muddy rootballs into muddy ground, then trying unsuccessfully to get the mud off your trowel and hands. Then the agony of knowing that the cold, wet air has made your nose run, and you have a tissue in your pocket, but your hands are coated with mud. Then trying to pull slippery, wet weeds out of the ground with your slippery, mud-coated hands.

Fortunately, by now there was only one chore left: Clearing one path through our Cultivated Wild Meadow and laying down newspaper prior to putting down mulch, once we actually get some. Our friend Ben should explain that our Cultivated Wild Meadow is divided into quadrants. One quadrant houses the chicken coop and fenced yard. The other three contain a combination of meadow plants native to our area and perennial flowers, biennials, and ornamental grasses that we’ve planted in over the years. A cross-path separates the four quadrants, with an antique chimney top capped by a silver gazing ball in the center where the four paths intersect.

Unfortunately, we’ve been rather neglectful of the paths in recent years, and weeds have encroached. So this year, it’s time to reassert authority by laying down thick layers of newspaper and topping them with mulch. Rainy weather is perfect for the newspaper phase of this project, since it will wet the newspaper down to a sodden pulp, which not only prevents weed growth but keeps the newspaper from blowing away before you can get the mulch to go on top of it.

Because of this, our friend Ben approached this particular chore with considerable enthusiasm. Pull any upstanding weeds from the path, put down the paper, weight it with rocks, and let the rain help us weight it down and solidify it. Sadly, we only had enough paper for one arm of the quadrant, but no matter, we’ll continue to accumulate more, since we subscribe to both our local paper and The Wall Street Journal. We’ll keep clearing the paths as we go. And one arm seemed easily doable, where four would be a real chore.

In this case, the rain—our ally in weighting down the paper—became our friend Ben’s nemesis in terms of hauling rocks. We keep the rocks we dig out of our garden beds and other ventures in an unobtrusive pile where they’re accessible when we need them for a task like this. But yow, the difference between handling dry rocks and wet, mud-covered, slippery rocks! Once again, OFB’s hands became mud slicks as I struggled to secure the paper as quickly as possible in case the rain intensified and the winds came up as predicted.

Returning at last to the house, I was confronted simultaneously by a horrified Silence (“Eeeewwww, don’t touch anything, look at your hands!!!”) and our exuberant puppy Shiloh (“Take me out, take me out, take me out!!!”). By now, our friend Ben was a sodden, miserable mass (and I still needed a Kleenex in the worst way).

Gardeners who like working in the rain, I can only ask, “Why?!” And as for you, Gene Kelly, much as I like singing in general, anybody who’d want to sing in the rain has water on the brain, if you ask me. Go soak your head!         

* An incensed Silence, reading over my shoulder, pointed out that she might be dry, but there was no way anyone without fur could possibly be warm in our frigid little cottage. I have to admit, she has a point there.

Vital statistics. April 22, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Good news for vegetable gardeners! Our friend Ben was paging through this month’s copy of greenPROFIT/GROWERTALKS magazine when my eye was caught by Ellen Wells’s editorial, “Edible Endeavors.” One paragraph provided some amazingly encouraging statistics for all of us who love to grow edibles. I quote:

“This is… what the Garden Writers Association Foundation found in its 2009 Edibles [sic] Gardening Trends Research Report conducted in November: More than 41 million U.S. households (38%) grew a vegetable garden; 19.5 million households (18%) grew an herb garden; 16.5 million households (15%) grew fruits; 7% (7.7 million households) were new to edibles [sic] gardening; about 33% of experienced gardeners grew more edibles in 2009; and 37%  of households reported plans to increase their edible gardens in 2010.”

Wow. How exciting! Finally, gardening with edibles has arrived, not just among the cognoscenti but across America. No wonder Michelle Obama is planting an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn and venerable nurseries like White Flower Farm and Logee’s are offering an amazing selection of edibles, from tomatoes to olives to coffee trees and vanilla orchids to passionfruit and citrus. But our friend Ben thinks this trend has taken its own sweet time. After all, the last time growing edibles was trendy was in the Victory Garden era of World War II.

Then, with the boom years of the Fifties, growing your own food fell into disrepute. The idea seemed to be that you should grow ornamentals in your landscape and get your fruits and vegetables from the grocery, that growing your own was somehow shabby, not respectable, even trashy. And unfortunately, this perception endured for decades.

The youthful Ben would wander through my beloved Grandma Simms’s backyard with its vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even a peach tree, as if visiting Paradise, it seemed so exotic. Certainly, no vegetable dared show its head in our home’s Colonial landscape, and when a German family moved into the neighborhood and began growing corn in their front lawn, they became instant outcasts and were the talk of the whole area. Shocking!!!

Fortunately, influential voices were raised in favor of edibles throughout the “all flowers, all the time” era. There was a big revival of interest in growing edibles in the 1970s, fueled by Organic Gardening magazine, by the popularity of Helen and Scott Nearing’s homesteading classic, Living the Good Life, and its sequels, and by the Back to the Land movement.

Ruth Stout’s books on mulch gardening, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book and How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back, proclaimed that vegetable gardening didn’t even have to be the backbreaking endeavor brought to mind by truck gardens of the era. John and Betsy Jeavons insisted that yes, it did, with the publication of the first edition of How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, introducing Americans to the concepts of double-digging, Biodynamics, and French Intensive gardening. But the complexity and one-upmanship inherent in Jeavons’s sytem was countered by Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution, which introduced readers to the Zen of gardening and reinforced that it didn’t have to be hard.

A generation largely raised on frozen and canned vegetables, TV dinners, and other “convenience foods” had had enough. But they were viewed as Hippies and radicals, an idealistic and foolish fringe. Flower gardening still reigned supreme.

The one “respectable” voice championing food gardening in the ’70s was that of Jim Crockett, whose pioneering PBS gardening show, “The Victory Garden,” took its very name from those vegetable gardens of old. Crockett grew ornamentals, including houseplants and greenhouse plants, as well as edibles, on the show. But his cheerful approach and easy-to-follow month-by-month format won the show and the books spun off from it a legion of admirers, even in the suburbs. The Stepford Wives and their Toro-riding husbands were still in charge of the landscape, but there were definitely cracks in the veneer.

By the ’80s, it looked like corporate culture was going to be the death knell of vegetable gardening. In the era of Yuppies and “upward mobility”—emphasis on mobility, move every two years at your company’s command and to hell with what that does to family stability, children’s sense of security, and sense of place—who’d want to do anything to the faceless, cookie-cutter house and property you’d bought in the new place? Not only would you not be there long enough to enjoy it, but it might reduce the property value when it was time to resell!   

Thank God, the ’80s also brought new forces to bear on the fight for edible gardening. Edible landscaping, a concept pioneered by Rosalind Creasy in her books The Complete Guide to Edible Landscaping and Cooking from the Garden, as well as by Robert Kourik and others, showed gardeners that vegetable and fruit growing didn’t have to be an eyesore. Bill Mollison’s Permaculture made its way from Australia to America, reinforcing the idea of planting dual-purpose plants (for example, nut-bearing shade trees) and landscaping for self-sufficiency.

Upscale food-plant-focused seed companies, such as The Cook’s Garden and Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, began offering gourmet varieties that had previously only been available in Europe, Central and South America, and Asia. Composting became a backyard phenomenon. City dwellers began rediscovering the venerable community gardens that had been thriving in their communities for decades. And that enduring blockbuster, Square Foot Gardening, took the fear factor out of vegetable gardening once and for all.

The ’80s also produced the largest rise in awareness of environmental issues, including pollution and what chemical-based farming and gardening were doing to our food and our planet, since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Buying organic produce began to move into the mainstream, out of the health food stores and into Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and the like. People began making an effort to eat better and use fewer chemicals. Organic finally went mainstream. But food gardening? Not yet.

Then came the ’90s. Now at last was the era in which chefs and their restaurants, like Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, gained national, even celebrity, attention. The organic vegetable gardens backing many such restaurants were prominently featured in the press, along with the small-scale organic farmers who supplied them with produce.

Potagers and kitchen gardens were hot. Vermiculture, earthworm composting, took the gardening world by storm. Farmers’ Markets came into their own, as more people became hooked on the freshness and variety of the produce and the relief of knowing where their food came from. Heirloom vegetables became the hottest trend in food, and companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and organizations like The Seed Savers Exchange thrived. Martha Stewart and her ilk made food gardening trendy, not trashy.

People also became fascinated with the Amish and the Pueblo cultures of the Southwest, where folks grew and preserved their own food and always had. And books like Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower’s Four-Season Harvest and Leandre Poisson’s Solar Gardening assisted gardeners in temperate climates to produce food even when the temperatures plunged outside. During the ’90s, back-to-basics magazines like Backwoods Home, The Mother Earth News, and Back Home were enjoying a renaissance as they helped people learn basic gardening and cooking skills.

The concept of eating seasonally was gaining ground (pardon the pun). And the threat of Y2K was encouraging more people than ever to learn how to grow and preserve their own food. Other ’90s trends: vegetarianism becoming accepted; edible flowers; broccoli and other sprouts; maitake, shiitake, and other “miracle mushrooms” being added to cooking for health; “spring mix” and mesclun salads; more exotic cuisines (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cuban, Ethiopian, Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish tapas, sushi, etc.) going mainstream; “spa cuisine.”

Fruit finally came into its own in the 1990s, too. Books like Lee Reich’s Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, Roger Yepsen’s Apples, and Lewis Hill’s Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden helped make the seemingly arcane prospect of growing your own fruits and berries plausible.

At last, the first decade of the 21st century. The rise of the CSA (consumer-assisted agriculture, aka seasonal subscription farming) is at hand, where people sign up for a season’s worth of produce, paying in advance, and the farmers provide them with an ever-changing assortment of seasonal organic produce. Veganism and raw foods take the stage. Locavores make a determined effort to eat only foods produced within a 100-mile radius. The Slow Food Movement has inspired people to cook from scratch and avoid fast food.

Even mainstream supermarkets are highlighting local produce. With obesity a national scandal and Monsanto a national disgrace, more people are making the effort to avoid “Frankenfoods” and chemicals and invest in fresh, organic foods, fresh air, and health, for us and for our land and the creatures we share it with.

Our friend Ben would like to see edible landscaping come into its own in the new decade awaiting us. Here at Hawk’s Haven, Silence Dogood and I make a conscious effort to plant fruiting ornamentals like elderberries and pawpaws, choose vines like hardy kiwis and grapes to climb our arbors and trellises, choose nuts like hardy pecans and filberts (hazelnuts) when we need new trees and shrubs, plant roses that provide beauty and nutritious, vitamin-C-rich rose hips like Rosa rugosa, and grow cherries instead of flowering cherries, apples instead of crabapples, pears instead of ‘Bradford’ Callery pears, and the like.

We choose herbs for container plantings, grow as many tropical fruits and spices as we can cram in our greenhouse in the winter and on our deck in the summer, and try to grow as much fresh produce as our raised beds and greenhouse can produce. What we’re not able to consume fresh, Silence knows how to preserve for delicious meals in fall, winter, and spring. These days, people don’t even look at us oddly when we say we have a little flock of heritage-breed chickens. They just ask if they can have some eggs.

It looks like almost 40% of Americans are joining us. We hope with all our hearts that soon that number will climb to 100%. Whether you’re growing one potted tomato on a balcony or a potager or a full-scale edible landscape, hooray for you!  Go for it and enjoy. We know we do!

(Er, a footnote is needed here. When covering whole decades of garden history, much is bound to be left out, at least when our friend Ben is acting as historian. The revival of herb gardening prompted by the likes of Jim Duke, Varro E. Tyler, Maud Greave,  Adelle Simmons, Bertha Reppert, and Rosemary Gladstar, among many others, is just one example. Alan Chadwick’s Biodynamic gardens in California, John Seymour’s homestead arts, and the Foxfire series are others. If you think I’ve left something out that needs to be mentioned, please comment here! It would be great to fill in some of the many blanks.)

White Veggie Farm?! March 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Call it the Year of the Vegetable. Our friend Ben was amazed to receive the latest edition of the always-luscious White Flower Farm catalogue earlier this week and see that not flowers but veggies were on the cover, with the caption “Grow your own fresh vegetables this summer.”

White Flower Farm, that ultra-upscale Connecticut nursery, has always been up with the trends. Always an icon of perennial and bulb gardeners, a few years ago it added trendy annuals and container combos to its listings. If White Flower Farm is highlighting veggies, veggies have finally crossed over from truck garden staples and reached iconic status. Thank God!

Admittedly, there are just seven pages of fruits, herbs, and veggies (most notably heirloom tomatoes) in the 144-page catalogue. But still. This is the equivalent of Yo-Yo Ma suddenly performing “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Margaritaville” in the middle of a Mozart symphony. Veggies have arrived.

In a faltering economy, subsistence gardening has historically been a popular option. Roses become more valued for their vitamin-C-rich hips than their lovely blossoms; people start eyeing daylilies and nasturtiums for their edible buds rather than their flowers. “Victory gardens” spring up in yards that would have disdained the “white trash” connotations of the truck garden. Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden on the White House grounds is a testament to the trend.

We applaud the White House kitchen garden and are thrilled by the trend back to food gardening. But there’s an ironic underside to this happy trend: Agrimonsters like Monsanto are trying to make it impossible to even grow backyard vegetables to feed your own family. If you’re not aware of the scary legislation they’ve muscled into Congress, our friend Ben suggests  that you check out recent posts on the subject by Alan Roberts (www.robertsroostecofarm.com), and on Jackie Clay’s blog at Backwoods Home Magazine and Granny Miller (click on them on our blogroll at right to see what they have to say).

These monsters are the worst examples of modern take-all businesses, concerned only with their own take-everything bottom lines. We at Poor Richard’s Almanac tend to keep quiet about politics, since we feel that our own views aren’t necessarily the end-all and be-all, and we hate being dictated to, even when we agree with someone’s stand. But when corporate monsters try to tell us that we can’t raise our own animals or grow our own vegetables without their express permission, we beg to differ. We have exactly one thing to say to them: Go **** yourselves, and burn in Hell afterwards, you monstrous, selfish, sinful swine!!!! You’re destroying our world, and you’re doing it for personal profit. We hate you, hate you, hate you!!!

There. Have we made our position clear? We’re so glad. Meanwhile, thank you, Obamas, thank you, White Flower Farm, thank you everyone who promotes backyard fruit, herb, and vegetable gardening. Garden power to the people!!!