Aug 302011

Most of you have no doubt been following the progress of public orchard #2 which will be in the area bordered by the county parking lot across from the ferry dock. Mike Skehan has ramrodded this through. There is an agreement with the County. County crews have already been over to take out some trees and eliminate noxious weeds. Mike is waiting for the ground to soften up a bit to till it up and plant some grass. In October we will plant trees in the same manner we did at the Curry.

This project will, of course, need volunteers on an on-going basis and at tree planting time we hope we can pull a good sized crew together to amend the soil, put up the fences and plant the trees.

As always, the project needs the moola. Mike estimates the dollar cost of the project at about $1600. $600+ has already been raised. We will be looking to buy metal fence posts, fencing, staking posts and trees. If you are in the mood, you could make a donation to the project through LICA with checks delivered to Paul Davis. Likewise, we would love to have you volunteer or help recruit volunteers to be stewards for this orchard.

After planting the trees this fall we need to prune the existing trees on the property to get them back into shape.

This whole orchard project started as a result of some discussion on the blog. Because the Heritage Trust controls the Curry Preserve, on that project stewards are volunteers of the Heritage Trust.

On orchard #2 (we’ll find a better name someday), stewards will be volunteers of the Lummi Island Community Association  as LICA has the contract with the county. All this may be a bit confusing and awkward but the important thing is to develop some local and perpetual food sources. A second and equally important goal is to develop a cadre of folks who know their way around an orchard, who have learned to prune, to properly water and to deal with issues that face fruit trees (disease, pests, etc.)

If we had enough volunteers and a degree of expertise we could expand our portfolio to include helping private landowners plant fruit trees, develop public orchards on private property for find more property in common where orchards could be established to benefit the island.

Aug 182011

I started this blog with the goal of raising awareness of “peak” problems that we might face as a community and a country. In the ensuing two years not much has improved. The situation actually looks much worse in every area with the additional problem of such catastrophes as Fukishima, a world-wide water crisis and the manipulations of the economic fortunes of our country.

The problems seem so vast and overwhelming it’s hard to know where to start. And, to complicate matters, the majority of citizens think everything will work out in the long term. Technology will find a way to keep the cars moving down the road, etc. There is no general impetus to do anything.

This is why the two year long “ferry crisis” has been so instructive. One can see that when the crisis becomes local, people will take an interest and get involved and make changes in how they will manage their lives, often because they are forced to.

So, what’s this have to do with an orchard? Well, it’s hard to measure the impact of a continuing discussion of Transition—that is, how will we manage our lives with less of everything? Less money, less oil, less ferry service, less parking, less food. Food security has been part of the discussion as in—how will Lummi Island feed itself if the supermarkets are no longer able to provide. Gardens have flourished as the idea of making one’s own food as a healthier way to live has seeped into the general consciousness. Another example is the community effort to create a public orchard at the Curry Preserve.

The broader goal of the group who instigated the Curry Orchard is to increase the number of fruit trees on the island which could provide significant amounts of food in years to come. A thirty tree orchard may be symbolic. But a second, third, fourth and fifth orchard plus encouragement of private land owners to add food producing trees to their property could be a start to offering food security to the island.

Now, to the point: Mike Skehan has spearheaded a plan for public orchard number two. This orchard will be located at the County Parking Lot across from the ferry landing in that infield space that was overgrown with weeds and grass. The Lummi Island Community Association (LICA) has adopted this project and has an agreement with the county who will offer some help in removing dead and diseased trees and getting the weeds under control. The area has already been mowed and will soon be tilled. A new path will meander through the area, grass will get planted and this fall approximately twenty-five fruit trees will be planted and fenced.  A cadre of volunteers will be needed to maintain the orchard. Each tree will cost about $75 (including fencing, posts, and grass seed).  Islanders need to take up the challenge and adopt a tree with a generous donation or memorial gift to the LICA – Orchard Project.   Any excess donations will be kept separately to pay for the pathway, benches, and future needs. (Note: the Curry Orchard sponsored by the Heritage Trust has received enough donations to build out the rest of the orchard which will also happen this fall).

Please send your donation to:  LICA, PO Box 163, Lummi Is 98262, (Orchard Project)

Questions should be directed to Mike Skehan, Sec. (758-7333) or David Thorn, Pres. LICA

When we are faced with gigantic problems on a macro scale it’s comforting to be able to take some positive action locally that will improve our environment and stand as evidence that we can make changes that will move us forward.

Aug 072011

Most people don’t get them. (Soil tests that is). Gardeners who grow organic have been taught to believe that adding organic material in the form of compost will solve all problems. According to people like Michael Astera and Steve Solomon this is not the case. (There’s a rumor that Michael and Steve are joining up to co-write a book on this subject). You can actually have too much organic material in the soil. However, if necessary minerals are not in the material you use to make compost, compost additions will not add minerals to the soil. Michael Astera gives this explanation:

“Soil is formed from the rocks that break down to make it. In most cases, that means the bedrock beneath your field. For young soils, whatever minerals were in the bedrock are the ones in the topsoil, and in pretty much the same proportion. Sandstone, limestone, granite, or basalt will all form a soil with a different mineral balance, and different types of each one will make different soils.

As soils age over thousands and millions of years, their mineral content changes as minerals are eroded or leached away. River bottom lands are usually the richest soils because they have been formed by all of the rocks and minerals that have leached or eroded from the whole watershed.

Over the past 170 years, some researchers have looked into which soils with which mineral balances grow the most yield, or the most nutritious food (not the same thing). What I work with and recommend is an “ideal” balance of minerals for growing food to feed people and animals. This is pretty much the same mineral balance for any food crop from radishes to pastures to fruit and nut trees.

The only way to know what minerals are in a given soil is to get it tested by a lab, with the right test. The next step is to compare the results against the “ideal”, figure out what’s missing or what is in excess, and then add the missing minerals in such a way that the excess, if any, is dealt with at the same time.

In theory, after you did that, your soil would be as rich and fertile as any soil in the world, and the crops would be as nutritious as any crops ever grown anywhere. From there on, you would just add small amounts of whatever minerals were taken up by the crops or leached away through precipitation and irrigation. For a few years you would need to have the soil tested regularly, but after a while you could probably come up with a good idea of what your particular soil needed on an ongoing basis.”

So what does a soil test look like?

Continue reading »

Aug 042011

Michael Astera reading Brix with a refractometer

What if it were practical to make certain the food you eat had the highest nutrient value possible?

For the last two years I’ve been a participant in the High Brix (now called the Nutrient Dense Project) conceived by Michael Astera of soil and includes such esteemed gardeners as Steve Solomon, author of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. The idea is that in order to produce the healthiest possible food, food that provides all the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, our soil needs to be balanced and contain the minerals that will be transferred to us by the food we eat. So, what exactly is the Nutrient Dense Project about?

The Hypothesis:

Food grown in mineral balanced soil is more nutrient dense, thus healthier, than food grown in soil that has not been amended.

The Experiment:

Grow crops in both mineral-amended and non-amended soil, with all other fertilizers and treatments being the same and testing and comparing the results.

The Opportunity:

You can be a participant in this basic science by making a donation to the Nutrient Dense Project.

“Who are we?

We are a small, volunteer group of farmers, gardeners, orchardists, ranchers, agronomists, writers and researchers from the USA and around the world who banded together in early 2010 with the goal of finding the answers to the following questions.

1. Is it true that our food is nutrient deficient because our soils are mineral depleted? If this is so, what can be done about it?

2. Is it true that modern hybrid crops have less nutrition than the traditional open pollinated varieties?

3. If grown on the same soil, which varieties of the common fruit and vegetable crops contain the highest levels of nutrients?

4. Is it true that high-Brix crops are more nutrient-dense than crops with a lower Brix reading?

Continue reading »

Aug 012011

A wheelbarrow load of garlic and onions

Consider the fact that if we only had to eat a meal say every fourth day how different our culture and our civilization would be. Hard to even imagine what that would be like. In fact, not worth the time to try except to point out how ubiquitous is food. Food dominates our thoughts, our work day and our social lives. It’s a big effort to eat three times which involves collecting and preparing meals.

We just finished with the third annual Edible Garden Tour which has the dual purpose of raising some money for the Beach School Foundation. The secondary purpose, and more important, is to encourage people to start gardens and begin to raise some of their own food.

There are many considerations in preparing for an uncertain economic future. Certainly one of the most important is insuring that one has food. It is uncertain that the long supply chain that provides for Safeway, Costco, Trader Joe and even the Community Food Store will continue uninterrupted and it’s common knowledge that if the trucks quit running and the trains slow down that store shelves would be empty in a week. Thus, it’s imperative, particularly for those living on an island, to have food on hand. Lots of food. In the long term it makes sense for everyone to learn how to grow some of their own food.

One can forage, of course, and we are fortunate to have many native plants that are edible. There’s a young woman named Felisa Rogers writing for who offers up articles like, “How to deep fry dandelions,” “The tasty flower in my back yard,” and “Can you live without cooking oil?” Felisa and her husband both lost their jobs and moved to isolated Deadwood, Oregon where they working on getting by with less. As one might expect there are blogs on the subject of foraging like this one by a Seattleite who covers foraging for plants and animals. Clearly, if hard times were to strike we live in a land of plenty with lots of sea life and people who know how to get it. This sea life (seaweed, crab shells, fish carcasses) could also be used as fertilizer to revitalize our gardens.

To complement foraging we can all raise some food in our own space or in a community garden or in borrowed or shared space.

The Edible Garden Tour illustrates that one can take a lot of food out of a small plot. Two or three raised beds will provide a surprising amount of food. With a larger garden, one can extend the eating season. Add a greenhouse and extend it even more.

As I’ve become more involved in gardening I’ve learned that there are many schools of thought on how to garden. There is the chemical approach which involves dosing the dirt with NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium), the organic approach which suggests that continuous additions of compost will do the trick, there is the Biodynamics of Rudolf Steiner which applies homeopathic solutions of herbs and treated compost, no til gardening of Masanobu Fukuoka, Korean Natural farming, permaculture, the nutrient dense method of Michael Astera which works to balance minerals in the soil. There are huge disagreements among gardeners as to what method is the most successful and which grows the most nutritious food. There are regional problems of climate and soil types that face gardeners in different parts of the country and different countries of the world. Clearly, there can be a huge learning curve.

But one can start gardening with a mason jar and some sprouting seeds and make salad greens inside all winter long. From there you can move to some big pots on the deck. Graduate to square foot garden in a raised bed or clear a small piece of dirt and plant some seeds. There is plenty of time to learn all the arcane stuff about gardening. In the meantime you can be enjoying a salad from your own yard.