Archive for July, 2013


Permaculture Activist on Resilient Farm and Homestead: ‘Highly Recommended’

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

The following review of Ben Falk’s book The Resilient Farm and Homestead appears in the Summer issue of Permaculture Activist. This thoughtful, and thorough, review is an example of the kind of in-depth reviews and reportage that make this magazine a staff favorite—as well as a key voice for permaculturalists everywhere. It’s reprinted here with permission. For more information, visit www.permacultureactivist.net

 

Rice and Ready
by Peter Bane, Permaculture Activist

Readers of this magazine may remember Ben Falk as that crazy fellow growing rice in Vermont. If you wondered what that was about, this book provides the answer. Rice paddies turn out to be a good way to use a cold, wet, sloping landscape. The land-shaping they require works well for a host of purposes. And Ben is all about getting multiple uses from every element and project.

It is a pleasure to see a younger author contributing strongly to permaculture’s still modest shelf of literature. Falk’s personal story involves strong interactions with landscape and strategic decision-making—he writes of wilderness camping—so the systematic thinking that characterizes whole systems design (Falk’s business handle and his preferred term) seems to come naturally from his being.

Resilient Farm and Homestead Early Autumn Landscape

This book is tightly argued and rich with information. Modest in scope—it really is a case study of his 10 acres in Vermont—it nevertheless packs a wallop, in part from the author’s intensity of consideration and attention to detail, and in part from the gravity of the subject. Though he assures us toward the end that quality of life is his primary driver (good … he’s sane), the discussion of living well on the edge of a shaky economy ranges across a vast terrain from the weight of firewood to detailing of buildings that last to making medicine from plants and fungi in the garden. And though he modestly announces the limits of his knowledge on a range of subjects, the treatment he typically provides is not lightweight. We have to wonder what he hasn’t yet turned his attention toward. There are lists of tools and species, firewood densities, specific recommendations for brands and types of equipment (do not miss the discussion on chainsaws), thoughtful exploration of the nature and durability of fuels, foods in storage, and the caliber of communication equipment you might need with the electric grid down. Layer upon layer of thought and care have gone into creating his system. The reader will benefit.

The illustrations present a pleasing array of large and high-quality action shots with people doing everything from drawing maps and splitting wood, to making tinctures and working an excavator. These are interspersed with tables, lists, and maps, and some intriguing graphs that suggest the seasonal and developmental rise and fall of various kinds of labor on the homestead—from food preservation to creating shelter, to animal management and preserving food—further evidence of a systematic mind at work.

This range of subjects is present in the book as well. Falk is strongly opinionated, and in most arenas I would have little reason to challenge his judgment, though I suspect he has more to learn about a few things. He’s most critical of other authors in his discussion of animals, breeds, and characteristics, which he largely dismisses as irrelevant distinctions, insisting that animals are almost entirely individuals, that their behaviors vary widely with setting, and that seemingly undesirable qualities (laconic foraging in some chicken breeds, for example) may be a boon in disguise or better suited to certain management situations. Might be true.

Resilient Farm and Homestead Falk

To his enduring credit, the author admits where he doesn’t have problems solved or techniques mastered. Making compost is apparently one of those: damping off problems with seedlings, indifferent performance; he buys in his compost from a pro. Fair enough, problem solved. And we see that Falk, for all his intensity and ambition, is not a superhero. It’s bad enough that he’s smart, good-looking, successful by all accounts, and surrounded by friends. You can’t begrudge him though, because he’s learned to share. Certainly this book shares ample amounts of his learning, very well chosen and presented in a concentrated style.

I found his practical discussion of succession fascinating. He tried for several years to move a degraded pasture filled with goldenrod and other clumping herbs toward better grazing but couldn’t master it by rotational pressure from sheep, even when combined with mowing. Finally he tried fire, which apparently reset the conditions to a place from which the animals could move the sward toward greater health and diversity. This took determination and insight and speaks well to his adaptability. The same approach might be ill-advised in a drier climate.

The range of subjects in the book is impressive, and with many authors this means they would be treated somewhat superficially. Falk seems not to know how to do that. In the broad chapter on Fertility Harvesting and Cycling, we get a good look at animal management and pasture renovation, leading into a 20-stage graphic explication of keyline fertility development, showing how this integrates with continuing rotations for soil building. This emphasis is on function and that permaculture essential, connection: the keyline subsoiling allows plant roots to go deeper where their decay builds humus. The animals are there to manage the plants. And while it’s necessary to know how to treat the animals properly, it’s just as important to know when the paddock needs to be moved and how to sharpen the scythe. We get these details, carefully explained, in the context of the systematic development of fertility. Oh, and some great pictures of sheep, the crop that nearly destroyed Vermont 150 years ago. That Ben enjoys the rhythmic peace of scything wet pasture grasses in Spring more than almost anything is a lovely bonus.

The book’s largest theme is the dialectic between regeneration and resilience—renewing the fertility and richness of natural systems and of our knowledge and interaction with them, even as we plan for dramatic volatility in social, economic, and ecological conditions. All of the book’s sections use this template to present their material, beginning with the first chapter on Legacy and Change, which asks such questions as “Dwelling or fleeing?” and “The Green Distraction and the Political Black Hole.” Here he addresses emergencies and scenario planning. From this meta-view, coupled with an introduction to his own site, Falk launches into Design Process and Site Establishment with a wide range of excellent drawings and techniques illustrated. Note to reader: Learn to draw! The middle chapters cover fundamental elements of the farm and homestead: Water and Earthworks, Fertility, Food Crops, Adaptive Fuel and Shelter, and lead directly to the final chapter on Long-Term Regeneration and Resiliency. In this section, the author considers forms of land tenancy, the nature of cooperation, care of the human genome through medicine and responses to increasing toxicity in the environment. The whole is a thoughtful assembly.

Resilient Farm and Homestead Happy Accident

I could single out any of the areas Falk covers and find many things to praise. His view of Shelter is very practical and informed by experience. Here, as in other areas of the book, the sense comes through that Vermont’s difficult climate presents the ecological designer with few options. Falk seems to relish cracking these nuts to extract the kernel of necessity, then wedding each to comfort and grace to build an enjoyable life. His mind runs in ways I appreciate: heat with wood, he says. It takes more work, but you can control the process from start to finish and capture all the benefits. And you need never be cold. Then he tells you that your shelter must be efficient because burning a cord means moving 12,000 lbs. of wood in a year. (Oh, and he’ll tell you how to stack it to dry well and how to use it too: burn the top ¾, then restack the bottom ¼ onto a new stack for the next year—the bottom wood has been buried in the snow!) The typical Vermont house uses 5-10 cords annually. Good building design and lots of insulation free up time to think, play, write…

Whether you have 10 acres in the Vermont hills or a half-acre in suburban Louisville, this book will help you make better energy, technology, cropping, and land management decisions and will give you the context for understanding why you might want to choose a pathway of self-reliant living. Doubtless The Resilient Farm and Homestead will inspire others to follow their dreams soberly toward a thriving future. We should look for more from Mr. Falk in the years to come. Carrying a hefty price, but delivering generous value, this volume is highly recommended.

Growing Grain: A History and Holistic How-to for the Future

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Emphasizing small-scale and ecological methods, The Organic Grain Grower is a truly complete guide to organic grain production and a testament to Jack Lazor’s life’s work in keeping local grain growing alive and well.

For years, local grains were the missing link in the locavore diet. That is changing, Lazor says, and a Grain Renaissance is emerging as more small-scale organic farms begin to experiment with grain growing, and find ways to bring these processed grains to market.

Since 1976, Jack and Anne Lazor have been inspiring farmers and eaters alike with Butterworks Farm organic yogurt, cheese, milk, kefir, and more. Though the Westfield, Vermont farm is largely successful due to dairy production, Jack’s other passion lies in growing grain.

What began as a six-acre homestead striving for self-sufficiency has expanded to a 350-acre highly respected organic grain growing operation. Through years of experimentation and hard work, Lazor learned to feed himself and others, including his animals, and to break free of corporate-controlled seed and manage his farm holistically.

Lazor’s passion for grains is evident in this wide-ranging book that will benefit both the homestead grower and professional farmer. The Organic Grain Grower provides in-depth information on a wide array of key topics, including:

  • nutrient density and building soil fertility;
  • grinding grains for livestock rations;
  • Pregrowth, Soil quality, tilling, seed sourcing, and planting;
  • Growth, harvest, storage, sale & other uses; and,
  • Extensive instruction on and information about individual crops, such as corn, wheat, oats, soybeans, and more.

With more than three decades of firsthand grain growing experience under his belt, Lazor, co-founder of the Northern Grain Growers Association, asks important questions such as, “Can we develop a viable regional food system that includes local grain? What sort of infrastructure will have to be put in place to accomplish this dream? How does grain growing fit in to the context of an increasingly erratic climate that makes agricultural activities even more challenging? Can we grow grain crops and improve soil fertility at the same time?”

Lazor argues the need to integrate grains on the organic farm (not to mention the local food system) for reasons of biodiversity and whole-farm management—both crucial in today’s quest for greater soil and farm resiliency in an age of climate adaptation.

Jack Lazor did not wait for a new movement to inspire him. Jack inspired the movement,” writes acclaimed organic farmer and author Eliot Coleman in the Foreword. “Jack began reclaiming the small farm’s grain heritage right from the start of his farm many years ago. That is why this book is such a delight. These are the words of someone who has talked to all the old-timers and done it all himself. It is like acquiring hundreds of years of knowledge in one book. And he presents everything in an appealing, storytelling manner that will have you sitting up late reading page after page.”

Whether you’re a first-year homesteader or a longtime farmer like Lazor, The Organic Grain Grower is a book you’ll return to again and again.

The Organic Grain Grower is available now, and on sale
for one week
(until August 5, 2013) at 35% off.

Celebrate Jack Lazor and the release of The Organic Grain Grower

Join Chelsea Green Publishing and friends of Jack in celebration of his inspirational work and the release of The Organic Grain Grower on Sunday, August 4th at The Gateway Center in Newport, Vermont. Special guests include organic farming pioneer Eliot Coleman and Brent Beidler, president of the Northern Grain Growers Association.

UPDATE: Due to circumstances beyond our control, this event has been postponed until further notice. 

All are welcome at this free and public event. Signed copies of Jack’s book will be available for sale. Complimentary food and beverages will be available, thanks to generous donations by Organic Valley and Strafford Organic!

Read the Foreword below.

Foreword

Five Ways You Can Support Climate Change Adaptation

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

In response to the widespread and overwhelmingly positive responses to the guest editorial by Gary Paul Nabhan in Monday’s New York Times titled The Coming Food Crisis — many people have been wondering what they can do in addition to applying the heat and drought adaptation strategies mentioned in Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land.

Nabhan and some of his colleagues have come up with a list of action.

One of the most critically important efforts you can make is ensuring the wild and cultivate plant diversity is available to heal our foodsheds and watersheds after climatic disruptions and to adapt to hotter and drier conditions. Unfortunately, several key programs that allow effective collaborations among federal agencies, farmers, ranchers, non-profits, and grassroots community groups are threatened with budgetary cuts or closures, as Nabhan mentioned in his op-ed. In addition to voting with your fork for the right kind of food system, contact your Congressional delegation and federal program leaders to express your continuing programs, some of which are now on the chopping block. Good policy and good practices are needed to survive the coming years, and there is no time better than now to ramp up these efforts.

Nabhan, and others, recommend helping these valuable programs as either an advocate, volunteer, or collaborator:

1. Plant Materials Centers of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service

The 27 Plant Materials Centers play vital roles in collecting and evaluating native plant materials for ecological restoration and reclamation after catastrophic events, and for wildlife and livestock production in many habitats. Despite an outstanding legacy of service in the public interest, several centers are now threatened with closure due to budget cuts. Write your Congressional representatives expressing continuing support for their good work—especially if they are in a district which hosts a plant material center—and copy the letter to the following national staff leaders. See

John Englert, National Plant Materials Program Leader
USDA-NRCS, Ecological Sciences Division
PO Box 2890, Room 6157, South Bldg.
Washington, DC 20013
Phone: (202) 720-0536 | Fax: (202) 720-1814
Email: [email protected]

Shawn Belt, National Plant Materials Center Acting Manager
USDA-NRCS, Norman A. Berg National Plant Materials Center
Bldg. 509, BARC-East, Beaver Dam Rd.
Beltsville, MD 20705
Phone: (301) 504-8175 | Fax: (301) 504-8741
Email: [email protected]

 

2. Seeds of Success

The Seeds of Success (SOS) program is part of the Federal interagency Native Plant Materials Development Program. It supports and coordinates seed collection of native plant populations in the United States to increase the number of species and the amount of native seed that is available for use to stabilize, rehabilitate, and restore lands in the United States by partnering with the seed producing industry. The program began in 2001 through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for collections on public lands in the West. The need for geographically and ecologically diverse collections from across the United States led to partnerships with eight additional institutions. It and its partners draws upon a number of funding sources, some of which (like NFWF, below) are threatened with closure. Write your Congressional legislation and express support for a broad interagency plant diversity conservation initiative with funding equal to what mammals, birds and fish receive. Copy your letters or emails to the following national leaders.

Native Plant Materials Development Program
Bureau of Land Management Plant Conservation Program Lead
Peggy Olwell Bureau of Land Management
1849 C Street NW, Rm 2134LM
Attention: Peggy Olwell
Washington, DC 20240
Tel: 202-912-7273
Email: [email protected]

Seeds of Success National Collection Curator Megan Haidet
Bureau of Land Management
1849 C Street NW, Rm 2134LM
Attention: Megan Haidet
Washington, DC 20240
Tel: 202-912-7233
Email: [email protected]

 

3. National Plant Germplasm System

The National Plant Germplasm System holds more than 561,000 accessions of more than 14,800 plant species useful in adapting crops to heat, drought, and other climatic or ecological stresses. Despite its international leadership in plant conservation and many crop-specific climate adaptation projects underway, it is chronically underfunded relative to its significance. Write your Congressional representatives to express continuing support for their good work—especially if they are in a district which hosts a USDA/ARS Plant Introduction Station—and copy the letter to the following national staff leader. You can also check out their holdings and programs online.

Peter K Bretting
Crop Production and Protection
General Biological Science
Plant Germplasm & Genomes
[email protected]
Phone: (301) 504-5541
Fax: (301) 504-6191
Room 4-2212
5601 Sunnyside Avenue
GWCC-BLTSVL
BELTSVILLE, MD, 20705-5139

 

4. USDA Strike Force

Last year, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack launched the StrikeForce Initiative, a cross-agency effort to accelerate assistance to Historically Underserved groups. Through this initiative, USDA is working to ensure all producers have access to programs that can help them thrive, including proven conservation programs. In partnership with local community-based organizations, three USDA agencies—Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency and Rural Development—are working to improve USDA’s outreach to these communities in order to increase their access to—and participation in—these valuable programs. The StrikeForce Initiative is currently being piloted in 12 states stricken by poverty to help farmers, farmworkers, and food microenterprises adapt to changing conditions. Write your Congressional representatives expressing continuing support for their good work—especially if they are in a state which hosts a Strjke Force Initiative.

5. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

After years of supporting national plant species conservation initiatives among agencies and non-profits, NFWF has closed its program and restructured its assets away from plant conservation to animal conservation. Write Executive Director Jeff Trandel and VP for Evaluation Claude Gascon to request they reconsider:

Executive Director and CEO: Jeff Trandahl
VP for Evaluations: Claude Gascon
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
M 1133 Fifteenth St., N.W., Suite 1100
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: 202-857-0166

Summer Green Beans: 4 Ways to Preserve Using Salt

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

It’s summer time and green beans are officially in season. Yum! It’s so tempting to gobble them all up, but now is a great time to think about simple ways to preserve your food.

Here’s to months of delicious green beans ahead!

The following is an excerpt from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by the Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante. It has been adapted for the Web.

Above a certain concentration of salt in food, microorganisms cannot develop and thus the preservation of food is assured.

While preserving with salt seems a relatively ancient process, it is not as old as the methods we have described so far. At one time, salt was mainly used for preserving meat, fish, and butter; every rural household had a salt tub. Today, salt still is used for fish, such as cod or anchovies, as well as for pork and butter. Among vegetables, we sometimes salt green beans, herbs, and vegetable mixtures for soup stock.

There are two main disadvantages to preserving food with salt:

1. The salt must be removed from most foods before consuming them, which usually requires lengthy soaking and repeated rinsing that also eliminate some of the nutrients;

2. If the salt is not completely removed, we risk consuming more than is considered healthy these days.

However, for preserving foods that we eat in small quantities, or that don’t need much soaking and rinsing, salt has its place. It is one of the best ways to preserve fish, for which other methods tend to be less convenient. Green beans seem to be the vegetable that best lends itself to being preserved with salt. There are many versions of this method of preservation, and we have included in this chapter several of the most common ones. Yet, among all the foods preserved with salt, mixed vegetables are perhaps the most appealing: no salt need be removed; they do not cause you to eat too much salt; and they make instant stock for soup.

 

Bottled Green Beans

  • Green beans
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • Widemouthed jars

String and wash the beans. Pack them tightly in jars (preferably with a wide mouth) and cover with water. Change the water every day for three days.

On the fourth day, replace the water with a brine made of one-half cup of salt to one quart of water. Finish with a capful of oil and close the bottles.

Mr. Buisson, Riorges
Green Beans in Brine

  • Green beans
  • Salt
  • A saucepan
  • A stoneware pot

Make a brine using one-half cup of salt to one quart of water. Boil and let it cool. String, wash, and blanch the beans in boiling water for five minutes, and let them cool. Put them in a stoneware pot, cover them with brine, and check now and then to see that they are always well covered in brine.

Soak the beans in water for a few minutes just before cooking them.

Marie-Françoise Lavigne, St. Ismier
Green Bean Halves with Coarse Salt

  • Green beans
  • Coarse salt (1 cup per 2 lbs. of beans)
  • A bowl
  • Canning jars and lids

Break the beans in half, and put them in a bowl with the salt. Leave them to marinate for three days, stirring occasionally.

Next, put the beans into canning jars (used rubber seals are okay). Fill the jars to the top and seal them. Do not transfer any liquid from the bottom of the bowl to the jars, nor should you remove any salt from the beans as you pack them in.

These beans will keep for three years. To use them, rinse the beans under the tap, before parboiling in a large quantity of water. Rinse the beans once again under the tap, and then finish cooking them.

Maurice Valle, Neufchâtel-en-Bray
Green Beans in a Salt Pot

 

  • Green beans
  • Table salt
  • An earthenware or stoneware pot or wooden barrel

Use only young and tender green beans, preserving them as you harvest them. Using the following method, they taste as good as fresh ones, and much better than frozen ones. Another great advantage: You don’t have to prepare all the beans in one day.

Put some salt in the bottom of a clean container (an earthenware or stoneware pot, or a wooden barrel). Fine table salt is best, but coarse salt will do.

Quickly wash and dry the beans. Remove the stems and the strings. Put a layer of beans in the container, packing them down carefully but firmly with a wooden stick or a bottle.

As you harvest additional beans from your garden, continue adding salt and beans in alternating layers until the container is full. Cover the container and store it in a cool place. Eventually, a brine will form, soaking the beans. Do not discard this brine—it’s the essential ingredient in the preservation process—but from time to time remove any film that has appeared on the surface.

When winter comes, use the beans as you need them. Rinse first in cold water for five minutes; then soak for two hours (not longer). Cook as usual.

Martine Saez-Mercadier, Camarès

 

New from our Publishing Partners

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Food. Water. Energy. Raw materials. Resources are limited and in high demand. Cultivating the ability to harness, reuse, and replenish is essential to sustaining a healthy planet.

Since 1984, Chelsea Green has been the go-to publisher for people and communities seeking sustainable solutions to systemic problems. Along with our own authors and books, we are proud to promote and feature books produced by like-minded, forward-thinking writers and publishers from around the world.

Whether they’re cooking up delicious local and seasonal foods, conserving woodlands, or collecting rainwater, our publishing partners offer the same quality, hands-on advice Chelsea Green is known to publish. Below are a few of the most recent books we’ve added to our catalog; more will be arriving in the coming weeks.

– –

Farm-Fresh and Fast Cover

The makers of nationally best selling From Asparagus to Zucchini have done it again. FairShare CSA Coalition brings us practical culinary techniques and over 300 original recipes to the table with Farm-Fresh and Fast. Menu suggestions, flexible recipes and beautiful photographs and illustrations encourage creativity and inspiration for any cook to make the most of fresh, local produce throughout the seasons.
Living Wood Cover

Mike Abbot takes us along for his green woodworking journey in Living Wood. Now with visuals from his workshop at Brookhouse Wood, the fourth edition is a comprehensive guide to developing and managing a woodland facility and setting up a woodland workshop. Tips, projects, instructions and resources abound to get you started on your own green woodworking adventure.
Rainwater Harvesting Vol. 1 Cover

In its second edition, Rainwater Harvesting Vol. 1 provides even more integrated tools and concepts, along with updated illustrations to aid in the design and implementation of sustainable home water-harvesting systems.

Brad Lancaster offers simple, time-tested solutions to making better use of the water falling on properties. The tools and strategies presented have the potential to help homeowners replace nearly all their landscape water use with water derived from onsite sources: rainwater, stormwater runoff, and greywater.” —Water Engineering Australia

Lancaster’s latest project, American Oasis, builds on these techniques on a larger scale to revive and expand the traditions and heritage of water-harvesting in the American Southwest.

Can’t Find the Perfect Garden Tool? Make Your Own

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Is hoeing hurting your back? Is your trowel cramping your wrist? Are the tools at your local hardware store just not cutting it?

Gardening can be such laborious work, but what you put into your garden is what you get back. With a few simple do-it-yourself modifications you can find and alter your tools to suit your individual needs. Put your tools to work for you and watch your garden grow!

The following is an excerpt from The Winter Harvest Handbook: by Eliot Coleman. It has been adapted for the Web.

The garden tools in a hardware store are mass-market items. The shapes and sizes available are limited in order to minimize costs and maximize profits—ease of use is not the goal. Years ago when farm and garden tools were used by professionals as well as by amateurs, the choices were far broader and tool designs were based on efficient use rather than marketing. A look through old tool catalogs or the collection in a historical museum will give you some idea. Nuances abounded. Shovel catalogs offered all conceivable blade sizes, shapes, and angles. Regional peculiarities were acknowledged. I have an old tool book with pictures of dozens of English hedging knives (billhooks). Each slight variation in design is named after the town or county where it evolved. They were the distillation of centuries of local experience in cutting the different varieties of hedge plants common to different climates and different soils.

This functional diversity still exists on small farms in Europe. For example, over many years I have taken photos of different styles of wheelbarrow. Whether single or double wheeled, wide or narrow, decked or open, there was no single perfect design, but rather many aspirations to perfection. In addition, the farmers had added cuts or bends or welds to the standard models to fit them even more precisely to their needs. It was like looking at an author’s drafts or an artist’s sketches—a study in the creation and evolution of an idea.

The bricklayer’s trowel on the right has been modified into the transplant trowel on the left by cutting off the tip of the blade and lowering the angle of the handle.Those who engage in sports encounter similar distinctions and refinements every day. Enormous amounts of time, money, thought, and ingenuity go into perfecting sports “tools” such as golf clubs, tennis rackets, and skis. Think what a difference graphite shafts, larger sweet spots, and metal laminates have made. How often in your farming endeavors have you wondered whether things would work better if the equipment were modified in a certain way. Although there seems to be an appreciation for quality workmanship in farm and garden tools there does not seem to be a market for the nuances of perfection as in sports. The answer to that is to be your own innovator.

Modifying existing tools or inventing your own is not complicated. Inventing doesn’t have to mean factories and engineering degrees, just imagination and ingenuity. Creativity means escaping from the traditional patterns in order to see things differently. You can accomplish wonders with a hacksaw, a file, a drill, a pair of pliers, and a vise. Stop considering the tool you have as a finished product rather, consider it as a point of departure.

A good example was our desire, years ago, to improve the hoes on our farm. Although most hoes we owned had a large blade at a 90-degree angle to the handle, there were a few with smaller blades at an 80-degree angle, and they were somewhat more pleasant to use. Off to the workbench we went with a couple of sacrificial hoes and proceeded to cut, bend, and file. After repeated trips back to the fields to try them out we came up with a prototype with a narrow blade (7 inches side to side and 1 inch front to back) and with the neck bent to hold the cutting edge of the blade in line with the handle at a 75-degree angle.

After further experimentation with many eager participants we determined that the optimum angle was 70 degrees. We also determined that a draw hoe of this style cut weeds best when sharpened like a chisel with the sharp edge next to the soil. We now sharpen our hoes by holding them with the handle upright and filing across the upper edge of the blade. I am fascinated by the great improvement in tool performance that can result from such seemingly small refinements. Since the edge of the blade was in line with the handle we called it the “collineal” hoe.

Another tool innovation in our market garden came as a result of changing our transplant system years ago. When we started using soil-block-grown seedlings rather than bare-root plants, we found ourselves holding the transplant trowel in an uncomfortable position. So we made a new tool. We modified a sturdy bricklayer’s trowel by shortening the blade and changing the angle of the handle to parallel the blade, thus creating a tool that was comfortable to hold blade-down for jabbing and pulling rather than digging and made a perfect hole for inserting a soil block.

Tool modifications used to be common practice. Many have been forgotten. For example, a newly purchased scythe blade has a standard angle between blade and tang. When scythes were commonly used, everyone understood that it was up to them to bend that angle to fit their mowing style. Another example is that store-bought tools usually come with one length of handle. Is it logical to assume the same handle length will be ideal for tool users from 5’4″ to 6’4″? Don’t struggle with a handle that is too long or too short—either cut it off or look for a longer one.

While you are looking at handle length also check out the type of wood and the grain. The preferred woods for tool handles have traditionally been ash for long handles like hoe and shovel and hickory for short handles like axe and maul. The grain can be seen in all those little lines running down the handle. Ideally the lines of grain should run straight from one end of the handle to the other. If the grain lines run at an angle across the handle, the stress of tool use will most likely initiate a break at that point. Once you find a good handle you will want to keep it in shape by coating twice a year with a pure linseed oil or beeswaxlinseed mixture. That treatment keeps it from drying out. Dry wood loses its liveliness, becomes brittle, and is more likely to fail.

Often the handle length on old tools had another purpose besides matching the height of the worker. Back when hay was collected loose, long-handled hayforks were used for pitching hay up on to the wagon. A second worker on the wagon used a shorter fork to make the load stable. Exchange those tools and both workers would have been awkward and inefficient. That long-handled fork was the true “pitch fork.” Today pitchfork has become the common name for most tool forks. However, they are functionally very different. Simply learning by name alone that there are hayforks and manure forks and spading forks and garden forks will help you come closer to finding the right tool for the job.

I want to encourage all growers to look beyond the tools that are readily available. Make your farmwork easier and more pleasant by searching out unique tools or creating your own. There are lots of other growers out there looking to pioneer new systems and new crops who can benefit from your ideas and who can in turn inspire you with theirs. We need to invent the future of small farming by ourselves to make all of us more efficient.

And the winners are… Award Winning books 35% Off

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The James Beard Foundation. The John Burroughs Association. The American Horticulture Society. These are just three of the many prestigious organizations that honored Chelsea Green authors this past year with top writing and publishing awards.

These awards recognize the quality of our authors’ ideas, the power of their writing, and in some cases, the beauty of the book’s design and presentation.

Since 1984, Chelsea Green has set the bar high for the sustainability movement and for green publishers—proudly printing our books domestically and on recycled content, while also paying close attention to the editing and design work that ensure our books are a lasting
part of any library.

Join us in congratulating Chelsea Green Publishing’s authors by taking 35% off these select award-winning titles until July 30th!

Happy reading from the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing!

Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers

Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking Cover
Retail: $40.00
Discount: $26.00

ForeWord Magazine Book of Year: Gold Winner

Book Industry Guild of New York: 2nd Place

New England Book Show Award

New York Book Show: Professional Reference

Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking is a must-have book for the aspiring cheesemaker or cheesemonger. Not only is it amazingly easy to use as a reference book – laying out cheese science in as clear and jargon-free a way as possible – it’s also a fun time for the cheese obsessed reader.” —Gordon Edgar, author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

The Art of Fermentation Cover
Retail: $39.95
Discount: $25.97

James Beard Foundation Award Winner

A New York Times Bestseller

International Association of Culinary Professionals Finalist

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“This is, quite simply, the finest book on fermentation available. It is comprehensive, erudite, and surprisingly profound. Sandor Katz is the guru of a large and growing tribe of fermentation enthusiasts and this book will awaken you to the thrilling world of benign bacteria all around us. Not only do they provide us with pickles, cheese, bread, alcohol – but our existence depends on bacteria and they deserve our reverence and respect.” —Ken Albala, Food Historian and Coauthor of The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home: The Luddite’s Guide to Domestic Self-Sufficiency

The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer’s Guide to Vegetable Seed Production

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Garden Writers Association Silver Award of Achievement

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“There is nothing more important right now than growing and saving seeds; that most essential aspect of life. While we may have all done this once upon a time, we have mostly lost these skills to private industry or urbanization. Until now. John Navazio reveals all the techniques and tricks, some simple and some complex, that he’s learned only after decades of careful observation and practice. Incredible photos help tell the story of life that seeds represent. The Organic Seed Grower is what we need to take back community control of seeds from those who have taken it from us.” —Tom Stearns, president, High Mowing Organic Seeds

 

The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food

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Nautilus Book Awards Gold Winner

American Horticultural Society Book Award

Garden Writers Association Silver Award of Achievement

“Traveling about the country to introduce us to some of her devoted fellow seed savers, Janisse Ray teaches us more than we thought we needed to know about seeds: how remarkable they are, why they need saving, how to save them, and how many of them—each holding the future of some particular plant—have been lost and are being lost to our indifference. But in a world where everything we love—including seeds—seems to be under threat, Ray ultimately offers us hope.” —Joan Gussow, author of Growing, Older and This Organic Life

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Save Your Soil with the Power of Pee

Monday, July 15th, 2013

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get down into the dirt – but you may want to grab a bucket, especially first thing in the morning. Nutrient loss in our soils is an ongoing issue for some gardeners, and you may find help in an unexpected—liquid—form.

Carol Deppe, author of The Resilient Gardener and Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties touts the benefits of nourishing soil to keep your garden growing, even in hard times. Using grass clippings, leaves, and other organic matter is common practice. Many use manure, too, but Deppe also boosts soil fertility with urine. She recommends the first pee of the morning. Here’s why:

“I collect my first pee of the morning in a bucket. Later pee is pallid stuff. Both color and odor suggests that the first-early pee is more concentrated. My guess is that there are more nutrients in the first batch of pee after waking than in all the pee put together for the entire rest of the day. So I collect the first pee and forget the rest,” writes Deppe. She also dilutes the pee then waters both the plants and the ground. Although, she said she doesn’t water the parts of the plants she’ll eat, like lettuce leaves.

Deppe is not alone in recognizing the power of pee. In The Resilient Farm and Homestead, author Ben Falk describes human urine as the “ideal plant food for the vegetative state of growth.”

To find out more about how to put pee to work for you and your soils, read this excerpt from The Resilient Gardener.

The Power of Pee by Chelsea Green Publishing

Community Resilience: Rebuild, Renew, Reform

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Increasingly, citizens are finding new and innovative ways to reclaim, if not rebuild, their food, energy, and financial systems — and with incredibly successful results.

How can you help your community join this growing relocalization movement and become more resilient?

Chelsea Green Publishing has partnered with Transition US and Post Carbon Institute to bring you Community Resilience Chats—a webinar series that delves into details essential for communities that are ready to take the necessary steps to reclaim their future. These chats stem from the Community Resilience Guides co-published by Post Carbon Institute and Chelsea Green.

In the first Community Resilience Chat, Philip Ackerman-Leist, author of Rebuilding the Foodshed, tackled the array of questions that arise in the face of the foodscape revolution. Missed it? Watch the video here:

The next chat is tentatively scheduled for July 24th at 11 AM (PST): Power From the People. Greg Pahl’s book fortifies community resilience through the planning, finance and production of reliable, renewable, clean, local energy for a sustainable future. Two of the people featured in the book will talk about how they launched community-based energy projects.

Coming Soon: Local Dollars, Local Sense. Michael Shuman’s perspective sheds light on rebooting the economy to meet the needs of investors and entrepreneurs for a healthy and secure local economy.

Want more? Chelsea Green is offering The Community Resilience Guide Series Set to keep you informed in the conversation on rebuilding clean food systems, creating renewable energy and reforming the economy as resilient community.

How to Keep Your Vegetable Garden Pest-Free—and Pesticide-Free

Monday, July 8th, 2013

We here at Chelsea Green are nuts about gardening. We just can’t wait to dig our hands in the earth and plant non-GMO seeds in our organic, pesticide-free, extremely local victory gardens.

And we’ve got just the literature to help us along—a book for every job. Indoor, urban gardening? Think Fresh Food from Small Spaces.

Year-round gardening? Look no further than Perennial Vegetables, The Four-Season Harvest, and Winter Harvest Handbook.

And don’t even get us started on permaculture: Gaia’s Garden, The New Organic Grower, Permaculture, brand new The Resilient Farm and Homestead, and on, and on….

The right tool for the right job. You get the idea.

For pest management, here’s a helpful organic how-to guide from Getting Started in Permaculture.

The following is an excerpt from Getting Started in Permaculture by Ross and Jenny Mars. It has been adapted for the Web.

Organic Pest Control

When we first started in permaculture we made many different types of organic sprays to deter pests. While we had great success, we felt that even this is probably unnecessary. If you have lots of strategies for pest control the need for sprays diminishes. We haven’t used any sprays for the last four years.

Integrated pest management is a method of pest control where many strategies are used. For example, you could use:

  • Animal predators such as frogs for caterpillars, predatory wasps for small insects, and ducks for snails and slugs.
  • Mixed planting in orchards and gardens to encourage predatory species. For example, buckwheat attracts hoverflies. These beneficial insects prey on aphids, leafhoppers and mealy bugs.
  • Herbs and other plants in companion planting.
  • Sound management and husbandry to discourage soil and leaf pests.
  • Plant competition to control land and aquatic weeds.
  • Insect traps and behavioural chemicals.
  • Mechanical management and barriers, such as the handpicking of insects and snails, sticky/wet bases (using Vaseline) of fruit trees to discourage climbing insects, and sawdust around garden beds to discourage slugs and snails.
  • Specific biological pest control, such as fungus or bacteria to kill pests.
  • Attractants/food to induce predators into garden.
  • Crop rotation. By moving the area where you grow tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables around each year you minimise the spread of disease. The cycle of pest and disease organisms is broken.

Crop rotation also has the added benefits of nutrient and fertiliser balance Some vegetables, such as leaf and fruit crops, may prefer high levels of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous and thus respond to the addition of animal manures.

Root crops do not grow well in animal manures and heavy mulch. Consequently, they become stunted or distorted. By rotating these types of crops there is a greater efficiency of fertiliser use.

One example of a crop rotation system is to plant legumes such as peas and beans in the first year then in subsequent years leaf flower vegetables such as brassicas (cauliflower and broccoli) and silverbeet, then fruit crops such as tomatoes and capsicum and finally root crops which include carrots, beetroot and onions. Some organic growers then leave this area fallow for a year to ‘rest’ the soil.

Should you have to use sprays to control pests or outbreaks of disease, here are some useful ones to make:

SELF-INSECT SPRAY

Use a teaspoonful of the insect pest and mash it up in a cup of water. Stand this in the sun for a day, filter through an old stocking and mix with 4l of water. Said to be pathogenically potent for the insect pest. This even works for woodlice and millipedes.

GARLIC SPRAY

Finely chop up 4 garlic cloves. Add this to one litre of water and let it stand overnight. Grate some soap flakes (about a level tablespoon) into the mixture. This helps the spray to stick to the leaves. Garlic spray is a good general purpose insecticide.

One variation is to include a couple of hot chillies or onions. Some people blend the garlic cloves in one cup of paraffin oil and let this stand for a day or two before soap is added.

FRUIT FLY CONTROL

To one litre of water add 10ml ammonia solution or urine, 10ml vanilla essence and 100g sugar (or 2 tablespoons honey). Partly fill small jars or the fruit fly traps made from plastic soft drink bottles and suspend 3 or 4 in each tree. The bottles must be kept clean to have any effect.

Many commercial organic producers use a substance called protein hydrolysate which is like marmite or vegemite in smell and appearance. The substance is diluted and then placed in the traps.

Some research has been undertaken on the use of neem oil, which is sprayed onto fruit, for fruit fly control. Neem oil only repels the fly, but initial experimental results indicate it may be just as successful as the protein hydrolysate. Neem oil is only now becoming available for general use, so you may need to ask around for a supply.

WORMWOOD SPRAY

Add 15g of dried leaves to 1l of water. Simmer for 30 minutes and allow to cool slowly. Use only on mature plants for larger pests such as caterpillars, moths and aphids.

PYRETHRUM

This is a natural insecticide which paralyses insects. It can be used in dry powder form or a spray made by mixing 30g of dry flower heads and 50ml of methylated spirits.

Grind the young flower heads to make a fine powder. You can either use this powder directly on your vegetables or make a stock solution by adding methylated spirits.

Keep this stock solution in a dark coloured bottle or jar which has an airtight lid, as sunlight will initiate the breakdown of the pyrethrum. Pyrethrum is toxic but it deactivates in bright light. Dilute this stock twenty times with water when you want to use it. You should apply the powder or solution at night as it will also kill beneficial insects such as bees.

CHAMOMILE TEA

This is effective against damping-off in cold, damp places, and mildew on fruit trees. Use a handful of fresh flowers or 30ml of dried flowers in one litre of boiling water. Cover and steep for 15 minutes, strain and use immediately as a spray. You can also add a small amount of seaweed to the chamomile to make a more potent antifungal spray.

RHUBARB SPRAY

One kilogram of leaves in 2l of water simmered for 30 minutes makes an effective spray against small insects such as aphids and whitefly. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which is quite toxic, so use this spray at night time.

From A Permaculture Perspective

Permaculture is a holistic approach to sustainable living. It integrates many disciplines such as agriculture, economics, and wilderness management, all of which are important considerations in pest management.

One of the principles of permaculture is to increase the sum of the yields. This is accomplished by examining the total yield of the permaculture-designed system which is provided by animals, annuals, perennials, trees and crops. The total yield increases dramatically when pests and diseases are controlled.

Pest and diseases only occur when there is an imbalance in the natural cycles involving predators and prey—essentially this means that there are not enough predators to control the pests.


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