Category Archives: Gardens

Why Garden?

The Garden in July

I am a committed, joyful gardener who wants to teach everyone else to grow their own food, too! I encourage others to garden NOT because it’s easy and anyone can just do it. I have heard stories from people about how they tried gardening but ran into so many problems that the 10 tomatoes they ended up with likely cost them $15 each. It is frustrating and does happen! But I believe that it’s worth not giving up, rising to the challenge and learning the skills you need to have your own garden. Here are a few reasons why…

Environmental Benefits

For a few thousand years, many agricultural systems have created as many problems as they have grown food. The big traps we fall into are: monocultures, soil disturbance, and more recently, chemical use. Our current US conventional ag system is guilty of all of these sins.

Now, however, we have the information needed to grow in ways that can heal the planet. We can even reverse climate disruption if these techniques are implemented on a wide-scale! There are great people and groups leading new movements to change our large-scale food systems.

Another answer that I see clearly is that smaller food systems can be much easier to manage well and efficiently. More growers working smaller pieces of land can address problems of air & water pollution, water consumption, soil erosion and soil carbon loss while building a community’s food sovereignty (ability to feed themselves).

Garden, Mid-July

In your own garden, no-till is easy, diversity an obvious choice, and chemicals become unnecessary as you build healthy soil. You can eliminate food miles, use far less water, create healthy habitats for pollinators and other creatures, and sequester carbon in your own backyard!

Save Money

While there is the phenomonom of the $15 tomato, with a bit of skill and some good choices, gardening can absolutely save you money. The key is to identify what you like to eat, consider the prices for buying these, and find out which are easy crops to grow.

Beet Tops

Herbs and greens are pricey, high-end items, so if you love salad and basil, those should go to the top of your list. If you don’t like beets – don’t grow them. Even though they are an easy crop, this will feel like wasted effort in the end. Now, I know most everyone loves tomatoes, but – they are not easy to grow in New England! Tomatoes are a heat-loving crop that, in my experience, do better in dry conditions – does that sound like our climate? In our humid summers, there are numerous blights that will attack them, causing them to turn ugly and die before you get much from them. Actually, last year’s terrible drought in our area gave us the best tomato crops we’ve ever seen. If those conditions continue, maybe tomatoes

Zucchini

will become easy here, but meanwhile, be careful!

Don’t go overboard on one veggie either – remember that diversity is necessary in a healthy garden, and that by the 50th zucchini, it will start to feel less like well-deserved bounty and more like a curse.

 

Your Health

Every day there seems to be another study pointing to good nutrition as a key to good health. One of the problems we face is that much of our food contains fewer minerals and more chemical residues than in the past. You can buy certified organic (higher priced food in this case is actually cheap compared to health care costs). You can also give even more attentive care to a small plot you watch over and know you and your family will eat from.

Red Nasturtiums

We also now know that gardening has positive effects on mood. Less depression and anxiety is a great bonus, don’t you think?

 

Connection to the land

It’s great to admire, love and watch our landscapes and wildlife. But, I think it’s even better for us to understand on a visceral level how much we depend on the land, the earth. In the US, where so many of us have been here for merely a few generations, we often lack a sense of rootedness and connection to place. We move and travel and don’t like to feel “tied down.” I don’t believe this is working out well for us.

First, I think it makes it easier to tolerate and ignore wrongs being done to the land when we think we can just move on.

Let me share with you this excerpt from an interview with author and environmentalist, Derrick Jensen: “It’s really problematical, because we can talk all we want, but the truth is, if my experience is that my water comes from the tap, I will defend to the death the system that brings that to me, because my life depends on it. If my experience is – not my philosophy – but if my experience is that my food comes from the grocery store I will defend to the death the system that brings that food to me, because my life depends on it. If on the other hand, my experience, my reality is that my water comes from a river then I will defend to the death that river, because my life depends on it. If my experience is that my food comes from a land base, from not a land base, but this land base, my land base, my home, I will defend to the death that land base because my life depends on it. So that’s part of the problem, we’ve been made dependent on this very system that is killing us.”

Kale

Second, I believe many people would feel happier and more secure if they felt they did belong somewhere.  (Making this sort of commitment to a place doesn’t necessarily mean you own that land, by the way.)

How well do you know the place you live? How was it used in the past? What sounds do you expect to hear when you open your windows this spring? What does the soil smell like after a rain? Where does water run across the landscape? How does food taste grown there?

My life is enriched just by asking these questions and looking for the answers.

As Robin Wall Kimmerer says in her book Braiding Sweetgrass: “This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.” 

Red Oak Lettuce

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Honored By NOFA-NH

I was greatly honored to accept the 2017 Leading Organic Gardener of the Year award from The Northeast Organic Farming Association of NH on January 28, 2017 in Concord NH.

It is especially meaningful to me to be recognized by NOFA because the New England organic community has been crucial to my development as a grower.

Garden, 2016

So many of the new agricultural endeavors I took on over the years, I was told were impossible to do without chemicals. The examples, connections and support I found in NOFA (along with a bit of stubborness I must have inherited!) helped me persevere.

There are many rewards inherent to gardening. Time outside, observing growth and beauty, eating such healthy food. Some days that is more than enough.

However, it’s also the case that, like the life of the soil, which is the basis of organic farming, the work of gardeners, caregivers, and organizers is not

My Garden Soil

always recognized and valued. Sometimes we can feel as invisible as the millions of organisms in each teaspoon of soil.

So, to have my work recognized is truly gratifying.

Of course, my work rests on the efforts of many others as well. As permaculture teaches us, it’s only through our relationships and working together that any of us thrive.

I hope that each of us can see more clearly the maybe small but absolutely necessary good work being done all around us. Someone creating a thriving

Home-Cooked Garden Veggies

landscape, working to protect pollinators, refusing to give up cooking for their family… doing the work that supports us all and develops healthy communities.

We are all so connected, we are in this together. Please give your thanks and encouragement to someone who deserves it but wasn’t as privileged as I was this year to receive public acknowledgment!

NOFA-NH Award Ceremony 2017

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by | March 2, 2017 · 8:02 pm

Earliest Signs of Spring

Winter has never been my favorite season. I do, however, have a better relationship with it now that I am involved in agriculture. The growing season gets busy and overwhelming, and winter encouraging me to rest, plan, and catch up on other parts of my life is good for me. I also do most of my presenting and organizing while the plants sleep. I value and believe in that work of outreach, teaching and sharing with others and am glad that NH winters give me the space for it.

But the cold pains me, the dark comes so early, and being cooped up like my chickens starts to frustrate me. I miss the green, the flowers, the sounds of critters calling to each other at night. So, I look forward to spring and appreciate signs reminding me it’s coming.

A Few of my Favorite Seed & Plant Catalogs

The arrival of seed catalogs starting in late December was the first. Right around the Solstice, when it is darkest but the light begins to grow, they appear. This prompts me to review my seed stock, look at our long range homestead plans and put together my orders. All gardeners love this task. My challenge every year is to be realistic and not over-order! How many trees can we really plant and tend to properly every year? I continue to research that question, and it does depend on the weather, but it’s often less than I convince myself of every January!

PV Solar Display – right side is most recent

The increasing light can also be tracked on our photovoltaic (PV) solar array display. This is our second winter with the system, and you can see the upwards trend of energy being made, with a few days off when snow covered the panels. Here in our forested area, we are entering the best season for making our own power. By February the sun angle and hours up has changed considerably since Winter Solstice, and with no leaves on the trees we generate lots of power. The panels also function more efficiently in colder weather.

Then, this week, seeds arrived!

Seed Packets from Seed Savers Exchange

This year I am excited about some of the heirloom varieties I found. After seeing the film “Seed: The Untold Story” – which I wrote about already for this blog – I decided to get more serious about saving my own seed, which means using fewer hybrid varieties. I won’t leave all of them behind – there are some great garden plants created by mainstream plant breeding (this is not genetic modification or engineering) which I’m grateful to have access to and that can eventually be stabilized into seed-savable plants. But there are also many old, stable varieties that I am thrilled to help continue the lines of.

Also, I had my eyes opened to the importance of New England Native American seeds by Dr. Fred Wiseman and the Seeds of Renewal Project. There are corn, squash and bean varieties that were developed over hundreds of years, selected for a level of hardiness that is unusual to find now and that we might really need as our weather becomes more unpredictable. Some of these varieties were the only to survive the Year Without a Summer in 1816. That kind of resilience is so valuable.  (Dr. Wiseman will lead a workshop in Portsmouth NH on April 1, 2017.)

The Pile of Seeds Grows!

Abenaki Calais Flint Corn came from the northern Vermont Abenaki tribe and is known to have survived 1816’s year long winter. Calais is for drying and storing to make flour, cornmeal, and cereal. I am new to growing corn. The first farmer I worked for felt that corn used a lot of space and took a lot from the soil for not much nutrition. I still agree with that for sweet corn, but the dry corn options offer a winter food with more nutrients accessible after home processing.

I began exploring dried beans a few years ago and love them. This is a crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil and offers a high-protein, long shelf-life food and has very easy to save seed. I was at first daunted by processing by hand, but have not found that as hard as I’d feared. In fact, sitting by the fire, watching a movie or listening to music while I shell the beans is becoming a task I look forward to. Others like knitting, I like bean shelling. I am especially enamored with beans that climb. Using vertical space gives me more growing room, plus they dry well up off of the ground.

True Red Cranberry Pole Beans

Some great varieties I’ve already been growing include True Red Cranberry Pole and Jacob’s Cattle Bush, both on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste. True Red Cranberry is a northeastern Native American bean, big and beautiful, and I’ve had great luck with it the past two years. Jacob’s Cattle is said to be a Maine Passamaquoddy heirloom, big and tasty.

This year I found some new climbers to try. They aren’t quite as local. Hidatsa Shield Figure Beans, from the Hidatsa tribe of North Dakota, and Turkey Craw Beans, from the VA/NC/TN area are both on the Slow Food Ark of Taste. Good Mother Stallard Beans, named for Carrie Belle Stallard of Wise County, VA, can be traced back to the 1930s. Sarah Mostoller in PA found Mostoller Wild Goose Beans in 1865 in the crop of a wild goose and her family grew them for 116 years before donating them to Seed Savers. Those Turkey Craw Beans were also found in a bird – the craw of a turkey – by an 1800s hunter.

I might also track down some Sweeney Bush Beans, which is a Canadian heirloom possibly from the Mohawk, or Kanonsionni, people. It spent some generations being grown out by The Sweeneys of Nova Scotia and my mother was a Sweeney, so I feel a connection to it. I know that Dr. Wiseman has experience with this bean, so I hope to hear about it from him at his workshop in Portsmouth NH this April.

As a lover of stories, knowing the journey these seeds took before arriving in my mailbox delights me.

All this researching and dreaming keeps me connected to the gardens through the cold months.

In about a month I’ll take the next step: seed starting. Onions and leeks are first, in late February. To me, that’s really the start of gardening season. It will be here before we know it.

Winter in NH

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