Tim and I would probably not agree on our favorite tools as Tim always seemed to favor noisy power tools whereas I tend toward quiet ones. I realize that chop saws, table saws, power drills, routers, palm sanders, etc. have their place. But, a good hand tool is a thing of beauty and often of very intelligent design, has a long history and is pleasure to work with or hold in your hand.
I made a list of some of my favorite tools of the past year and why they were important to me:
Gimlet set: Usually comes in a set of four. It’s a hand drill for making a pilot hole or gaining purchase for a cup hook or hanging a picture. I read somewhere that in Colonial times entire houses were built using the gimlet. When you are making a single hole it’s a lot easier to get the gimlet than to get out the power drill.
Jaw Horse: I’ve used this so many times in the past year. It really grips stuff so you can clamp it, glue up, saw it, carve it, sand it or do what ever. Comes with attachment that will hold logs as well as one for full sheets of plywood.
Steam juicer: Live juices are no doubt healthier than cooked and canned juices but when you have lots of apples or berries to deal with a steam juicer is a pretty handy tool which allows you to make some juice and also creates pulp that can be used for jams and jellies. It’s more fun and tastier to use a cider press but I think you need a pick up truck load of apples to make the cider press worthwhile. We like pressing cider but the clean up is tedious and it’s usually cold when you do the pressing and cleaning up is a cold, wet job. The steam juicer can be efficiently used for small batches, is done inside on the stove top and is easy to clean up. We made quite a few quarts of apple juice plus lots of apple butter using the steam juicer.
Aeropress coffee maker: Makes one cup of coffee at a time. You need to grind some beans and heat some water. Takes about a minute and the coffee is consistently the same with each cup. It’s small, travels well and is inexpensive. Makes a better cup of coffee than a French press or Eva Solo coffee maker.
Narrow collinear hoe: Bought one after a tour of the Loganita gardens where they used this hoe to “floss” between and around plants. It’s a brilliant tool which can be used with surgical precision. Perfect for the anally retentive gardener. I have two. One has a three and a half inch blade. The other has a seven inch blade. Both are narrow with long handles allowing your to hoe without bending. Both use a scraping motion like a hula hoe. But, they work better than a hula hoe. I do sharpen them from time to time.
Two wheeled wheelbarrow: Don’t know why anyone uses a wheel barrow with single wheels. The argument is that you can’t maneuver it into tiny spaces. I rarely have a problem navigating mine with two wheels down garden paths or in between rows. Whatever disadvantage exists is offset by the fact that they never tip over and you can move them with only one hand. One of my most important tools.
Silky pruning saw: When it’s too much trouble to get the chain saw out and put on all the protective gear just grab your Silky saw and start sawing. Amazingly efficient on limbs up to six to eight inches. Great for pruning any size limb. Couldn’t be without this tool. I have a spare blade on hand to replace my saw if it ever wears out.
Post puller: Just a big lever but invaluable if you have to pull any metal posts that you’ve use for fencing. Had to redo our orchard fences which meant pulling 48 posts. Thirty dollars well-spent. I’ve pulled narrow diameter wood posts well (like the ones you use to stake trees).
Kuhn Rikon knives: Amazing knives. Colorful. Inexpensive.
Carving Chisels: I’ve got some nice carving tools but I’ve found this really cheap ($17) set from Harbor Freight to be very useful for a variety of tasks. They are so cheap I bought two and don’t have to worry about them like you do with expensive chisels.
I’m always interested in learning about other people’s favorite tools.
Chime in please.
First thing every Monday I read James Howard Kunstler’s blog. He writes essentially the same essay every week and has for years but is such a skillful and colorful writer that I still look forward the latest iteration. His thesis is easy to recap: Happy Motoring will come to an end. Suburbia is screwed because it is so auto dependent. The party is almost over. Things could get pretty bad. Young people ought to become farmers. And, we better get used to the idea of living smaller and more locally for the time when we no longer have fuel or are able to afford fuel to jump in our car and drive or fly wherever we wish to go.
I’m sympathetic to his point of view and have taken some basic steps to prepare (as in “prepper”) for the economic and social disaster that might be just around the corner. That is, in fact, the continuing point of this blog—to suggest that, while we do our thing, we should give some thought to what our future might look like as individuals and as a community.
Living on an island it is a bit easier to imagine being cut off, to be forced into localism by circumstances beyond our control. As an example, if the ferry craps out we have a whole lot of problems to solve quickly and probably expensively. In the case of a general economic breakdown which more than a few commentators believe is possible, we’d need to do some real work to keep our heads above water.
One interesting thing to think about is who would have value if we were forced to go it alone. If we had to rely on ourselves and our own resources it’s obvious that people who grow food, raise food, know how to forage for food or catch food would be extremely important. Anyone who has skills relating to wells, water, water systems, water purification would be in demand. A person capable of making fuel out of available material could write their own ticket. Those with construction, mechanical and engineering skills would be very busy. A bike builder or bike repair person would be a VIP. Scroungers and inventors would be very popular.
We would need medical and surgical talents as well as unconventional healing skills. Security could be an issue. Like it or not, islanders knowledgeable with weapons could be important to us. We would want to keep our fire department staffed and trained and fueled somehow. Woodcutters, bakers, home health care, nurses…I could go on about skills that would be required to maintain some semblance of comfort.
Saturday, at the Grange Country Living Series Workshop, Ann MacDonald, a voice coach and therapist took a group of us through an hour of voice work, a reminder of another important set of skills a small community would need if cut off for what ever reason. We would need, in fact demand, the ability to entertain ourselves: to sing, play, act and write.
Ann’s workshop reminded me that I (and we) don’t sing enough. There is a psychological obstacle for most of us to singing. We don’t think we sound that good. Shockingly, with Ann’s coaching the singing among the dozen or so who were there was very pleasing. We learned, for example, that it was easier to sing standing on one foot. It forced us to concentrate on balance and those balancing muscles in the core of our body, which are the muscles that actually produce the sound, rather than thinking about making a noise in our throat. It was fun. It was therapeutic. It was motivational. We ought to start now to develop a choral group on the island as one of most important things we could do to get ready for an uncertain future.
At the end of the session she sang for us sitting in a chair, relaxed and patient, letting the sound flow. It would be nice to be able to sing like she did.
Maybe we can.
“Beans are good food. They have no cholesterol and almost no fat. They are loaded with Proteins, calcium and iron. They have soluble fibre, which many people associate only with oat bran and they have omega-3 fatty acids which we tend to think of in fish oils. About the only thing that beans do not have is a good lobbying group to promote their advantages.”
– Neal Barnard, M.D. Foods that fight pain.
Surprising for a vegetarian I have never been a big fan of beans. Not until I started growing my own. After reading The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe I changed up my garden planting scheme to follow her formula for growing lots of calories and protein. I was already familiar with an array of bean choices from some presentations that Krista Rome of the Backyard Bean and Grain Project had made to our Gardener’s Network. Krista has reintroduced some old bean varieties in Whatcom County and sells them on her website.
Three years ago I had a good crop of shell beans (a couple of quarts) and was surprised at how satisfying they were compared to beans I had previously eaten. My guess is that the beans you buy in the store have been around so long they’ve lost their flavor and, more importantly, their texture as every bean I had every eaten was mealy or crunchy even with long soak times. The beans we’re eating now are smooth and flavorful.
Last year I had a good bean crop going. They made it to the bloom stage when, apparently, a few hundred rabbits showed up one night and ate them to the ground. Last year—no beans. And, if I can digress, I’m starting to understand why sheep herders shoot coyotes, wolves and mountain lions. After deer rampage through your orchard, the rabbits eat all your beans and orc-like swarms of yellow jackets decimate your beehives it is probable that one will begin to feel illiberal and develop an us-against-them mentality.
This year I put poultry fencing around the bean patch and now we have a cat. We call him Little Buddy but could have named him Dexter because he is the sweetest little serial killer you’ve ever scratched. Buddy has kept the rabbits on the run. The poultry fence kept him from using the bean patch as a cat box.
This year we got two gallons of beans in four varieties: Ely, Saxon, Jacob’s Cattle and Ireland Creek Annie. (Two gallons represents 32 entres for the two of us). Jacob’s Cattle and Ireland Creek Annie are bush beans. The others are pole beans. All are quite delicious spiced up with a bit of onion, green pepper, salt and touch of Tabasco. So far I like the Saxon the best. Because beans are such an important food for the non meat eater I think I will expand the bean patch next year.
But these were not the only beans for 2013. Gary P. and I decided that we wanted to experiment with growing food for the island. We were allowed to use a 1500 sq ft plot on some other people’s property. The experiment was to try and grow food with a minimal amount of work and no irrigation other than normal rain water. Interesting that we decided to do this in one of the driest years on record. Gary plowed, disked and tilled the plot with his tractor. We planted soybeans. I hoed it once a week and we were amazed that we got about 100 lbs of beans off the plot. These were the edamame variety which you steam or boil and eat from the pod. They are quite addictive and I’ve got about 25 lbs blanched and vacuum packed in the freezer.
“A 1/2-cup serving of shelled edamame contains only 100 calories, with 3 g of unsaturated fat and 8 g of protein. It also provides 4 g of fiber and is a good source of calcium, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K. Edamame doesn’t contain any cholesterol and has very little sodium.”
Many people complain that beans cause “digestive upset.” Carol Deppe points out that if you eat beans regularly your body will adapt.
Eat enough beans and you might write a poem.
Next to white rice
it looks like coral
sitting next to snow
Hills of starch
The burnt sienna
Azusenas being chased by
the terra cotta feathers
of a rooster
There is a lava flow
through the smoking
spills on ivory
Ochre cannon balls
next to blanc pebbles
Red beans and milk
make burgundy wine
from the eggshell
tinge of the plate.
My brother-in-law came for a visit. He brought a box of Twinkies. He offered me one. I declined, but then decided to take a bite for old time sakes. I used to love the Twinkie back in the 50’s. In fact, the Twinkie was one of my favorite snacks along with another Hostess House product—the cream filled chocolate cupcake.
The Twinkie disappeared for awhile when Hostess House took bankruptcy protection. But a financial holding company bought the Hostess House Brand and relaunched the new Twinkie this past July. The advertising on the box proclaims, “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.” I don’t quite understand what that means. But the point is that the Twinkie is back on the shelves and people will be consuming them in large quantities.
The new Twinkie doesn’t taste vey good. I may suffer from nostalgia infused memory but the Twinkie of sixty years ago was quite tasty, a rich sponge cake with vanilla filling. It was, no doubt, replete with offensive ingredients as is the new Twinkie which, I’m certain, if kept in a cool, dry place you would be able to eat one hundred years from now. The ingredients give the impression that it was conceived in a lab. It’s something the Uni-bomber might have kept on hand to avoid trips to town.
Here’s what’s in the new Twinkie: Enriched wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup, niacin, water, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable shortening – containing one or more of the following: partially hydrogenated soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, beef fat, dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, whey, leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrupsolids, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium caseinate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, yellow No. 5, red #40.
Much of our processed food is loaded up with these emulsifiers, desiccants, preservatives and colorings. And, the evidence is becoming clearer and clearer that high fructose corn syrup is the work of the Devil. One wouldn’t think this kind of article from this week’s Yahoo.com news would be even necessary—that soft drinks (loaded with corn syrup) make little kids aggressive. High fructose corn syrup is ubiquitous. Soft drink annual sales are $60 billion. Average number of cans consumed by males in the 12-19 age group—an astounding 868. High fructose corn syrup is no doubt responsible for the epidemic of obesity. I’m talking sloppy fat; not healthy fat. Go-to-the- doctor fat.
I understand why people eat processed food. I understand why I eat it. It’s easy. Making your own food is not so easy in that it takes a lot of time. I’m reminded at how much time it does take to provide for oneself this time of year as the harvest gets heavy and we begin to put food by. Yesterday I started working on beets at 8am. Pull the beets, trim them, cull the leaves for freezing, wash the beets, boil the beets, remove the skins, cut the beets, measure the amount, make the brine, etc. etc. Finished that up about 1pm then went back to the garden and harvested about a third of our dried beans. Of course, once you pull those bean pods off the stems you have to get the beans out which took two of us another hour. Got about a gallon of beans.
There’s so much to worry about: Big Brother, Fukishima radiation, climate change, economic collapse. Yet, I become more and more convinced that the only constructive thing we can really do in a positive way to change things is to grow and preserve healthy food. At least it’s the only thing I can think of to do to affect change. Driving to the market today I noticed a guy down the road, a retired doc no less, spraying weeds across from his house. I doubt it was fertilizer. I expect it was Roundup. Lots of people are still spraying Roundup. It is nasty stuff and there is scientific proof to back this statement up.
It’s frustrating that Roundup, corn fructose syrup, and Twinkies are more popular than beets and beans from the garden.
We live in Twinkie World.
So here’s a question for you problem solvers out there: What do you do if your bees swarm and decide to land on a branch twenty feet above the ground?
I picked up the phone and called Mike M. On the island Mike gets lots of weird calls. “Could Mike come over with the bucket truck and help me catch some bees that are way up in a tree?” I asked. Pretty soon I got a call back. “Mike wants to know if he has to go up in the bucket and get the bees.”
I don’t blame him for not wanting to. Most people are wary of bees as bee stings do hurt a lot as both Mike and I can attest to after our adventure today. Of course, I didn’t want him to go up and get the bees. I wanted to do that. Catching a swarm is a real thrill for most beekeepers. It’s hard to explain why. You can stop swarms from hiving but I don’t want to do that. You can get more production if you stop the swarm but I’m not into production; just into having pollinators around and making a home for the endangered honey bees. I use top bar hives and don’t really do much in the way of animal husbandry. We just watch them and enjoy having them in the yard and garden.
I’ve not had very good luck as a beekeeper to date and am now in year three. The first package of bees didn’t survive the winter. Last spring I bought two packages and changed to a Carnolian queen. Carnolians bees do better in colder weather and as the worker bees only live four to five weeks, after a very short time your hive is full of hybrid bees who are more adapted to our climate. Last July those two packages swarmed a few days apart. The first swarm landed on the tip top of a forty foot cedar trees. No chance to get them. The second hive wrapped themselves around a vine maple low enough that I could reach them with a 16′ extension ladder.
When a hive swarms the old queen takes about half the bees and skedaddles. The swarm makes its way into a ball around the queen and scouts go out to look for new real estate. They come back from their missions to report what they’ve found doing special bee dances that tell the hive the location, size, etc. Over a two or three day period the hive reaches a consensus on the best location, location, location and takes off for their new digs. So, the beekeeper doesn’t have to be in a hurry to grab them. But, who wants to wait?
Thus, last summer I ended up with three hives. The remainder group of the hives one and two and the swarm that I scraped off the vine maple. One of the remainder hives failed to make a new queen. It died out. The other two made it through the winter but this spring, hive number one discovered that hive number two was weak and robbed their honey, causing them to starve. It is a cruel world.
I was very anxious to catch my swarm, elated when I was around to hear the swarm music (they make a tremendous noise) and very annoyed when they landed twenty feet up. It would be nice to capture a swarm with my feet on the ground. Not to bee.
Mike showed up with the bucket truck. I showed him the bee ball up in the tree and explained that I wanted to lop off all the branches around the ball, then cut the branch loose and put the bee branch in a cardboard box. Mike was going to maneuver the bucket from the ground. My first surprise was how deep and narrow that bucket was. I managed to get both legs into it and my loppers, hand pruners and pruning saw but had to balance the box on the edge of it.
Mike raised the bucket toward the branch and I tried to give hand signals because we couldn’t hear each other but it’s hard to signal well when you are holding a large cardboard box in one hand and loppers in the other. He got me within lopper range and I cut off a bunch of branches. But then I discovered that the ball of bees weren’t wrapped as tightly around the branch as I thought and the ball was drooping down and a big wad of bees dropped off. I had to change my plan which meant holding the box under the bees and using my gloved hand to scrape them into the box. This was hard to do from the bucket and I was working too fast. I was sloppy and cloddish and clumsy and the bees were getting really pissed off and swarming all over the place. I heard Mike tell Linda, who was taking pictures to back off, that he’d been stung. I looked down to see a pile of bees in the bottom of the bucket and covering my shoes and worse, could feel them crawling up my legs under my pants (I had neglected to tuck my pant legs into my socks). Getting stung now was inevitable but also didn’t matter. I scraped more bees into the box and motioned for Mike to take me down. Dude was still there. He doesn’t run.
It was hard to get out of the bucket as there were bees all over the edge of it but I brushed some out of the way and hopped out. I figured bending my legs would trap the ones in my pant and sure enough the stings started as I climbed off the truck and headed toward Mike and Linda who had finally backed away. I gave into to sting panic and began to smash the girls who hadn’t stung me yet.
Mike had been stung on the ear and I felt badly about that. If you are going to get stung, the face is my least favorite. On the legs it’s not so bad although it always hurts.
“Sorry,” I said. “That didn’t go as planned. What do I owe you for a lift and a bee sting?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Mike said. “I’ll get even with you.” Can’t wait for that.
He took the bucket truck and went home. I looked up the tree where it appeared there was still a good sized ball of bees. What you do after you get the swarm in the box is to put the box under the tree, hoping the queen is in the box. If she is then over time the rest of the bees will fly to the box to join their queen and then when you have most of the bees you can hive them. Last year I saw the queen in the box and knew I had her. But today I couldn’t spot the queen and there were lots of bees in the air. Maybe she was still in that ball in the tree. Three hours later the ball of bees was still in the tree but there were way more bees in the box. I decided I might have her and suited up to hive them. At dark they settle down and are much less active, just working to keep the queen at the proper temperature. I had prepared one of my old hives and even left some comb in there to give them a head start.
I picked up the box which felt like it weighed at least five pounds, walked fifty yards, tipped the box and dumped the bees into the hive. Suddenly, bees were everywhere but most were in the hive. I closed it up and called it a day.
The big event for bees is the blackberry bloom which is about over so both hives have their work cut out for them having swarmed so late. They will need to lay lots of eggs and make lots of honey before winter sets in. The bees that are left in the original hive will await the maturing of a new queen. Preparing for the swarm the bees have created several swarm (queen) cells. The first one of these to hatch will kill the other unborn queens then go on a mating flight and then begin laying eggs to keep the population growing.
In a perfect world I will end up with two healthy hives that will survive winter and swarm again next summer giving me four hives and so on. That’s in a perfect world. It probably won’t go that smoothly. It hasn’t so far.
Pray for the bees. Thanks be to Mike.
A little over a year ago The Lummi Island Grange decided to offer a series of workshops on the general subject of rural life, community education being one of the Grange missions. We called it the Country Living Series, a name we borrowed from the Hood River Grange which runs a similar program.
Most of us have arrived at the island from a city setting and there are many things we never knew, used to know or had forgotten about. Rural life, especially life on an island, is markedly different from city life. One must be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. It’s important to learn how to do stuff or at least know who on the island has those skills.
In the lingo of The Transition Town Movement what we are doing is called “reskilling.” The intention is to learn to do things for ourselves and our neighbors. We have forgotten basic skills. I have written before about my grandparents farm in Virginia. It was a subsistence operation where they grew their own food, milled their lumber, built their house and outbuildings, slaughtered and butchered their animals, repaired their equipment and manufactured parts. There was even a barber chair in garage because they cut their own hair as well. People of that generation knew how to do stuff.
At the heart of reskilling is the idea of localization. That is, doing as much as we can for ourselves. Personally, I was thrilled to see Chris Immer’s recent Nextdoor post that he is milling lumber from Lummi Island trees and making it available for sale. If you are somewhat familiar with the island you will know that we do have people with specific skills and talents. We have people who know how to fell trees, catch fish, sail, weld, garden, sew, weave, heal, write, build boats, can and preserve, cook, throw a pot, carve, build, fix bikes and cars. There are more people that have fascinating hobbies and special musical talent. We have people who actually know what goes on inside computers. And people who can build musical instruments.
So, the whole idea of the Grange Country Living Series is to identify those people with special skills, talents and interests and try to cajole them into sharing their knowledge with the community at large.
We had a good first year and hope to do as well in the next twelve months. Here are the details:
25 workshops on 20 different subjects (5 workshops were repeated due to demand)
Over 200 people attended in total.
Highest individual attendance was 23. Lowest was 1.
Most of the workshops were presented by islanders but we did have help from the mainland for six workshops.
Subjects (not in order of presentation):
potting soil and fertilizer,backyard chickens, pruning fruit trees, seed saving (2), chainsaw safety and maintenance (2), bread and cheese, neighbor electric vehicles, cheese making (2), rag rug construction (2), bread baking (2), how to make soap, keeping mason bees, herbal gifts, backyard beans and grains, end of life preparation, eating local, kim chi, how to buy a side of beef, making wine, using nettles.
I encourage you to volunteer to share your knowledge on any subject you deem important to share. You might find that only three or four people have an interest and that’s okay. It’s still paying it forward and helping to educate islanders to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient.
Call or email me with ideas: email@example.com or 2130.
In my garden the overwintered kale (White Russian) is six feet tall and bolting, buzzing with honeybees and bumblebees. Seed pods are forming and will drop seed and new plants will pop up later in the summer. This is a form of permaculture, I suppose. I like to see the kale blooms and though some find the leaves bitter after the plant bolts, we enjoy the taste. We will save some of the seeds to make sure we can perpetuate the kale in the future. Seed saving and exchanging seeds is growing in popularity. But at the same time, it’s under attack from companies that want to control the seed business.
This is really the problem with GMO. It may be years before we understand completely what the health hazards are with GMO seed, how the inserting of strange genes impacts humans and our environment, though it seems logical that, at this point, we can not know all the ramifications of messing with genetics. On the face of it, rearranging DNA sounds kind of like a Nazi war experiment to me. Distasteful at a minimum. Criminal at worst.
If this were a James Bond novel Monsanto would be the villain. A real life SMERSH.
The problem with GMO is the control issue. You can’t patent my kale seed. It’s not proprietary. But a genetically modified seed can be patented. Once you have the patent you can control how that seed is used and who gets to use it. If one or two companies can control the source of seed they control the food supply. They will then control the world. It is the stuff of science fiction or Ian Flemming.
It’s difficult to fight back when Monsanto has the inside track in Washington D.C. with even a Supreme Court Justice, one of their former attorneys (Clarence Thomas0, in their camp. Is it surprising that Monsanto recently won a landmark case in the high court involving a farmer’s “misuse” of Monsanto proprietary seed?
Our government works hand in hand with Monsanto to promote their agenda world wide. We know this thanks to Wikileaks.
Beth, the healthy home economist has provided us with four suggestions for keeping Monsanto out of our home gardens now that they control more than 40% of the vegetable seed market:
- Avoid buying from the seed companies affiliated with Monsanto. Here’s a list of these seed companies: http://www.seminis.com/global/us/products/Pages/Home-Garden.aspx
- Buy from this list of companies Monsanto HASN’T bought and are not affiliated or do business with Seminis: http://www.occupymonsanto360.org/ 2012/03/06/monsanto-free-seed-companies/
- Avoid certain heirloom varieties because Monsanto now apparently owns the names. This article lists the seed varieties to avoid: http://www.occupymonsanto360.org/2012/03/17/monsanto-owned-seednames/
- Ask seed companies if they have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. Here’s a list of companies that have done so: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/ViewPage.aspx?pageId=261
There have been some questions about Territorial Seed where a lot of us buy seed and their relationship to Monsanto’s Seminis Seed Company. Here’s the skinny on that:
The case of Roundup which, sadly, many Lummi Islanders still use to kill weeds, points out how unethical Monsanto actually is. People still using Roundup need to read this and the many other studies available proving that it is harmful to human and animal health. Monsanto doesn’t care. They make using Roundup look like great fun and a manly activity at that.
And, finally, a brilliant essay by a young woman who has a connection to Lummi Island, granddaughter of a Lummi Island resident.
Money quote: “Our place is here, fighting Agra-Giants such as Monsanto, Dupont, and GE here on American soil by tilling it up and growing our own food.”
I used to get excited about new computer apps when they hit the market but most of them ended up having limited value. This year, however, I discovered Evernote which has become my favorite application. Evernote helps me remember, document and journal things. This year I’m using it to document my garden with a combination of photo and sound files. For five years I’ve used a spiral binder and the results have been unsatisfactory. So, far I’m very happy with the way things are going with Evernote. Evernote allows you to tag items with as many tags as you want: “Garden 2013″, “gardening”, “seeds”, “garden beds”, “garden journal”, or whatever. The search function pulls all these notes together as in this snapshot:
Using the Cloud, Evernote syncs these notes to all my devices. Since I am blessed with an iPhone, iPad, iMac and Macbook, all these notes appear very quickly on each device. If I modify an item on one device the change is synced on all devices. So, I can use my iPhone in the garden to make a recording, describing what I have done, when I did it and where I did it, then tag it later when I sit down at the laptop. I can also access my files via Evernote’s website from a third party computer.
I can add to each file as the season goes along and also include links to web pages, photos of invoice (for seed) and pics of seed packs to show the source, date packaged, etc.
I found it was awkward in the garden to find the notebook, something to write with and to figure out how to organize the material. At the end of the season I was constantly paging through the entire notebook to find what I was looking for.
A small garden can probably do this on a page or two. But as the garden gets bigger (and we’ve added a small orchard, some grapes, kiwis, and vegetable beds outside the main garden), it’s more and more difficult to keep track of things. I can no longer rely on my vaunted memory which has now vaulted to places unknown.
Last Saturday, Lummi Island’s own Whitney Thomas of http://www.organic-unity.com led a three hour workshop on our favorite local spring plant—nettles. This workshop, graciously co-sponsored by The Lummi Island Heritage Trust, started with a foraging expedition on the Curry Preserve where we learned when and how to harvest the nettle. We then moved to the Heritage Trust office where Whitney showed us how to make nettles tea, infusions, decoctions and pesto. We lunched on fresh nettle pesto and crackers. The health and medicinal benefits of nettles are many and i wish more people could have taken advantage of Whitney’s knowledge. However, she is available for private consultations and can formulate herbal remedies based on your specific need. Check out her website.
Here’s what’s coming up on the Grange Country Living Series.
Mike Moye—Chain Saw Safety and Maintenance. April 6 10-12pm Mike has agreed to repeat his well-attended chainsaw safety and maintenance class. Show up for this one. Held at Mike’s shop at the end of Constitution (east side of S. Nugent)
Whitney Thomas— Herbs for Cleansing, Detoxification and Wellness. Cleavers, Dandelion and Elderflower. April 13 10-1pm. $25 fee. Date subject to change. Location TBD. Call 758-7997 for more info.
Karen Kupka—Rag Rug Workshop. April 17, 6:30pm Grange Hall. Limited to four people. (Three spots still available. Note: incorrectly reported as scheduled on April 16.
Judy Olson—Soap Making. April 20, 10am to 12 at the Grange. More details to follow.
The Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement—End of Life Workshop. April 23. 7pm to 8:40pm at the Grange. It is a free workshop about making end-of-life choices. Participants will learn why advance care planning is important; how to chose someone to be your durable power of attorney for health care; how to talk to loved ones and doctors about your preferences for end-of-lifecare; and how to complete advance directive paperwork.
Janice Holmes—Artisan Bread Making in an outdoor oven. May 4, Sat. noon to 5, 2722 Westshore. $5 fee. Janice is a graduate of the San Francisco Baking Institute. Class size 6. (5 spots still available).
Mary Stack—Cheese Making. May 19- 1-4pm. Grange kitchen
Whitney Thomas—The Heart: Wild Rose and Hawthorn flowers. June 8 10am to 1pm. Date subject to change. $25 fee. Location TBD. Call 7587997 for more info.
Diana Pepper —Self care with flower essences and accupressure points. June 15, 10:30-12:30 at Tree Frog Farm. $5 fee.
Whitney Thomas—Herbal First Aid: Yarrow, Plantain and St John’s Wort. July 6, 10am- 1pm. $25 fee. Date subject to change. Location TBD. call 758-7997 for more information
Additional workshops are in discussion.
When Carol Deppe wrote The Resilient Gardener she really got me thinking about what I wanted to plant in the garden to truly provide real food for the longest period of time. Her formula consisted of duck eggs, beans, corn, potatoes and squash. This would provide her protein and carbohydrates and lots of calories over a long period of time. Beans, corn, potatoes and squash all being foods that store well months if not longer.
Her squash of choice was a sweet meat, the Oregon Homestead squash, a large, rich tasting winter squash which, I believe, she developed. She claims that this squash will keep until the following summer if stored properly. I have no reason not to believe her. Following her storage recommendation (against the living room wall) our sweet meat squash are still delicious. We may not last till summer as there are only two left.
The first year I tried to grow this squash I ran an experiment that didn’t work well and only ended up with one squash. I replanted those seeds, also gave many away, and this past season ended up with about a dozen sweet meats. This actually seems like an adequate amount for us but am going to try and increase the number of squash produced. Expect if we had more we would eat more.
This really is a terrific squash. And, as Carol Deppe points out, one squash produces a serious amount of food with flesh that can be three inches or more thick and a small seed ball producing a copious amount of fat, white, nutritious seeds.
We prepare it in a straight forward manner, steaming it and eating it with a bit of butter. It has a wonderful creamy texture and we don’t seem to tire of it.
Extending the gardening and eating season is the next challenge. Growing veggies using the Carol Deppe formula works for us and food stacks up in the pantry for eating during the winter. It’s fun to be able to put a meal on the table in March that consists primarily of garden food. Last night: Oregon Homestead squash, steamed nettles/kale combo, shallots and cabbage in a stir fry. We could last a long time on squash, beans and cornmeal with a few potatoes thrown into the mix. And this winter we had volunteer arugula for the entire season along with some corn lettuce for salads.
If the mineralization that I’ve been blogging about works as advertised, the resilient gardener’s diet should help us survive many winters to come in good health.
The modern diseases of cancer, arthritis, chronic infection, diabetes, lupus, fibromyalgia, etc. are essentially symptoms of malnutrition brought about by insufficient nutrition in the food that we eat. Big agriculture treats their fields with chemicals and gene splicing. Medicine treats disease with drugs (chemicals) and surgery. It’s curious that every natural food store also has a large section of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, enzymes and other potions designed to supplement the organic food that we are purchasing in the produce section, the organic dairy products from the refrigerator case and the free range, hormone free meats from the butcher shop.
Why would we need all this supplementation if the food was good to start with? Why not put the nutrition back in the food? And, why isn’t it there in the first place?
The concept of mineralizing soil isn’t new at all. In the mid-nineteenth century Justus von Liebig invented nitrogen based fertilizer and the concept known as The Law of Minimum which postulated that plant development was limited by the one essential mineral that was in the shortest supply. Von Liebig’s theories generated the fertilizer industry and moved farmers away from using manures and humus to feed their crops.
In 1893 a chemist named Julius Hensel published a book called, “Bread From Stones.” Bread From Stones advocated using stone meal (ground rock or rock dust) in place of chemicals to vitalize the soil. Hensel claimed that plants needed more than Liebig’s nitrogen, phosphorus and potash and stressed the importance of trace minerals which were ignored in the Liebig system. According to some, Hensel’s book was suppressed by the chemical industry and he was forced out of business by unfair competition. Years later his work was rediscovered and the rock dusts have become commonplace in organic fertilizers.
Starting in the late 1930s, William Albrecht was Chair of the Soils Department at the University of Missouri. Albrecht determined that animals would be healthiest if the grass they ate came from soil with a balance of 68% calcium and 12% magnesium. Albrecht believed our soils had become depleted. “Albrecht was outspoken on matters of declining soil fertility, having identified that it was due to a lack of organic material, major elements, and trace minerals, and was thus responsible for poor crops and in turn for pathological conditions in animals fed deficient foods from such soils.”
Victor Tiedjens was a contemporary of Albrecht and was another soil scientist who believed that calcium was the key to rehabilitating worn out soil. He went farther than Albrecht concluding that the calcium saturation should reach 85%. “Tiedjens found that, once the soil was saturated with calcium, he could grow a huge crop of corn or soybeans using about one-tenth the quantity of fertilizers a typical farmer thought was needed to produce a similar result. And that is why the fertilizer industry made sure you never heard of Victor Tiedjens—lime is cheap; fertilizer is not.”(The Intelligent Gardener, p. 91).
Dr. Carey Reams was a biochemist and biophysicist who, “…demonstrated that all disease is caused by mineral deficiencies and when a person remineralized, the symptoms of those diseases disappeared, and the remineralized person would no longer have that disease. It was so simple that the medical community of the day could not accept the fact that their drug, cut and burn way of treating people was the completely wrong way to treat disease.”
Authors Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird (authors of the well-known Secret Life of Plants) wrote a less well-known but more fascinating book called Secrets of the Soil. They cover many alternative agricultural and gardening practices and spend a lot of time on mineral rock and the remineralization of soils.
Michael Astera took the work of Albrecht and Reams and wrote The Ideal Soil which explains how to test and analyze for soil minerals and the proper balance of cations and anions. It was Astera’s work that got Steve Solomon interested in the subject resulting in his book The Intelligent Gardener.
A backyard gardener can experiment with nutrient dense food at quite a low cost—$20 for a soil test and perhaps $50 for a supply of minerals to begin balancing the soil. After a few years, perhaps as soon as one year, a gardener should be able to taste the results. Using plant tissue tests, an additional expense if one insists on being completely scientific, the gardener can verify increased minerals in the tissue of plants.
Improving nutrient density of our garden produce should not only improve taste and reduce disease in our plants but increase our own ability to withstand disease.
In organic gardening circles compost is sacrosanct. So when somebody with a resume like Steve Solomon says we can use too much compost, as he has in his new book The Intelligent Gardener, organic gardeners recoil in horror.
JI Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine introduced organics to North Americans.
Steve Solomon summarizes Rodale’s approach as follows: “To grow an abundance of highly nutritious vegetables and fruit, make and then dig in compost. Lots of it.”
Rodale encouraged bringing in or importing lots of organic material and putting it in the garden. And then his recommendation was to counteract acidic soil to by adding crushed limestone to bring the pH close to neutral. Roedale said if you’re going to add lime it’s better to use a sort called dolomite because dolomite contains both magnesium and calcium and magnesium is as much a vital plant nutrient as calcium is.
Some compost in the garden is, of course, good. Making composts satisfies our desire to recycle the plant material from our garden waste. Compost increases the organic percentage of the soil and turns to humus which helps the garden hold moisture. And, it does provide some nutrients but, at a point in time, the benefit of compost is lost. And, depending on the materials used to build the compost there might have been much nutritional benefit to start with.
The real problem with using the composting method of organic gardening is that we don’t know the mineral or nutritional makeup of our compost. We are flying blind. We don’t know exactly what our inputs consist of. Thus, if we just keep adding compost we don’t really accomplish very much.
Excessive inputs of compost will usually imbalance the soil’s profile with the result that nutritional outcomes will be degraded. And if, in addition, one adds dolomite as one’s lime source the magnesium in the dolomite will change the behavior of the clay in the soil making it stick to itself and you’ll end up with tight or clumpy soil in your garden beds.
In the Puget Sound region the soil already holds huge supplies potassium but insufficient calcium and magnesium to properly balance that potassium. Plants concentrate potassium into their structural parts. So if we import lots of grass clippings, straw, spoiled hay, tree waste, etc. into our compost we are adding enormous additional quantities of potassium which will have a devastating effect on the nutritional quality of our food, even though it makes plants seem to grow great.
Here’s the problem with potassium: If potassium gets out of balance, that is top heavy in relation to the other important minerals like calcium and magnesium, plants grow differently. Instead of making proteins they make more carbohydrates. The bottom line is this. Crops on high potassium soils produce about 25% more carbohydrates. At the same time their protein content is lowered by around 25%.
By continually adding compost we end up with the situation where our food looks good, grows well but we’re producing more calories and less proteins. Plus according to Steve Solomon the nature of those proteins changes.
In the Intelligent Gardener he writes, “Proteins are long complex chains chains of about 20 different amino acids. A few amino acids usually are scarce. In plants grown with excess potassium these are even scarcer lowering protein quality and leading to diseases in all the animals eating them including us. Another shift occurs in the food’s mineral content. As soil potassium increases the mineral content of the plant growing on that soil also shifts. Excessive potassium in the soil results much higher levels of potassium in the plant tissues but correspondingly lower levels of calcium and phosphorus and minor nutrients. Our bodies can hardly get enough calcium magnesium phosphorus but
We do not need high quantities of potassium.”
We need some potassium, yes; but not lots.
We don’t have naturally balanced nutrient rich soil in our region. Part of this is because of constant winter rains which leech nutrients particularly calcium from the soil. If we bring in fertility by importing local vegetation we further imbalance our soil.
So this is why the composting method isn’t necessarily the best method and why getting a simple soil test and balancing the nutrients in your garden makes all the sense in the world.
We’ll take up this subject in more detail and learn an easy way to build a customized fertilizer for our particular garden at the Gardener’s Network meeting, Feb. 11, 6:30pm at the Lummi Island Grange.