News posts from jmccharen's Archive


Four Perennial Vegetables Perfect for Shady Spots

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Perennial vegetables are a food gardener’s dream. Plant them once, treat them well, and they’ll keep on feeding you year after year.

Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, is the reigning expert on these easy-to-grow crops, and his new DVD takes you on a plant-by-plant tour through his garden in Massachusetts, as well as edible landscapes in Florida and Mexico. If you’re looking for some new crops to liven up your garden and your palate, Toensmeier will show you plants you never dreamed could be dinner.

In this clip from the DVD, Eric introduces four perennial crops that do well in shady spots:

  • Edible Shoot Bamboo – Harvest the young shoots and eat it like asparagus, it’s also a useful plant for making garden stakes and other projects.
  • Giant Fuki – A Japanese vegetable that loves damp shade. Harvest the stalks, boil them, peel them, then add them to soups or tempura.
  • Edible Hosta – Typically sold as a shade-loving ornamental, Hosta is a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia. Harvest the curled shoots that emerge in early spring.
  • Giant Solomon’s Seal – A beautiful ornamental that’s also a delicious vegetable. Harvest the shoots, cut off the leaves which are bitter, and prepare it like asparagus. Solomon’s Seal also produces edible tubers that you can cook up like potatoes.

Watch the clip to learn more about these versatile veggies:

Eliot Coleman’s Guide to Great Compost

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Compost is the key to a lush, abundant garden. Do you know how to turn kitchen scraps and yard waste into fragrant, crumbly, plant food? If not, your garden is missing out, and you are missing out on one of the most exciting and profound lessons organic gardening has to teach: the simple fact that in the circle of life, all waste is food.

Learn the basics of making compost from four-season gardening guru Eliot Coleman, and open a new door into the joy of growing your own food.

The following is an excerpt from Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman. It has been adapted for the Web.

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Fertile soil is the key to growing garden vegetables

So often, the obvious solution is right at our fingertips, but it looks so simple that we fail to notice. Generations of gardeners have consistently come up with the same chain of logic: a fertile soil is the key to growing garden vegetables; compost is the key to a fertile soil. The first step in the four-season harvest is learning to make good compost. It’s not difficult. Compost wants to happen.

Compost is the end result of the decomposition of organic matter. It is basically a brown to black crumbly material that looks like a rich chocolate fudge cake. Compost is produced by managing the breakdown of organic material in a pile called a compost heap. Compost enhances soil fertility because fertile soil and compost share a prolific population of organisms whose food is decaying organic matter. The life processes of these organisms help make nutrients from the organic matter and the minerals in the soil available to growing plants.

A fertile soil is filled with life. Compost is the life preserver.

Gardeners are not alone in their reverence for compost. Poets have found it equally inspiring. Andrew Hudgins, in a poem titled “Compost: An Ode,” refers to the role of the compost heap in uniting life and death: “a leisurely collapsing of the thing into its possibilities.” John Updike reminds us that since “all process is reprocessing,” the forest can consume its fallen trees and “the woodchuck corpse vanish to leave behind a poem.” Walt Whitman marvels at how composting allows the earth to grow “such sweet things out of such corruptions.”

Good compost, like any other carefully crafted product, is not an accident. It comes about through a process involving microorganisms, organic matter, air, moisture, and time that can be orchestrated in anyone’s backyard. No machinery is necessary, and no moving parts need repair. All you need to do is heap up the ingredients as specified in the next section and let nature’s decomposers do the work.

Compost Ingredients

The ingredients for the heap are the organic waste materials produced in most yards, gardens, and kitchens. That is what is so miraculous and so compelling about compost. If you pile up organic waste products they eventually decompose into compost. There is nothing to buy, nothing to be delivered, nothing exotic. This acknowledged “best” garden fertilizer is so in harmony with the cyclical systems of the natural world that it is made for free in your back yard from naturally available waste products.

The more eclectic the list of ingredients, the better the compost. That is only logical. The plant wastes that go into your compost heap were once plants that grew because they were able to incorporate the nutrients they needed. So don’t pass up any weeds, shrub trimmings, cow pies, or odd leaves you can find. If you mix together a broad range of plants with different mineral makeups, the resulting compost will cover the nutrient spectrum.

I suggest dividing your compost ingredients into two categories based on their age and composition. The two categories are called green and brown.

The green ingredients include mostly young, moist, and fresh materials. They are the most active decomposers. Examples are kitchen wastes such as apple peels, leftovers, carrot tops, and bread, and garden wastes such as grass clippings, weeds, fresh pea vines, outer cabbage leaves, and dead chipmunks. The average house and yard produce wastes such as these in surprising quantities. National solid waste data indicate that approximately 25 percent of household trash consists of food scraps and yard waste.

The brown ingredients are usually older and drier than the green ones, and they decompose more slowly. Examples are dried grass stems, old cornstalks, dried pea and bean vines, reeds, and old hay. The brown category is usually not well represented in the average backyard. To start, you may want to purchase straw, the best brown ingredient of all. Straw is the stem that holds up the amber waves of grain in crops such as wheat, oats, barley, and rye. After the heads containing the grains are harvested, the straw is baled as a byproduct. You can purchase straw a few bales at a time from feed stores, riding stables, or a good garden supply store.

The advantage of straw as the brown ingredient is that it will almost guarantee the success of your composting efforts. When home gardeners encounter smelly failures in their attempts to
make good compost, the fault usually lies with the lack of a proper brown ingredient. In years to come, when you become an expert at composting, you may choose to expand your repertoire beyond this beginner’s technique, but it is the most reliable method for beginners or experts.

Building the Compost Heap

Pick a site near the garden so the finished compost will be close at hand. Whenever possible, place the heap under the branches of a deciduous tree so there will be shade in hot weather and sunlight to thaw the heap in spring. A site near the kitchen makes it convenient to add kitchen scraps. Access to a hose is handy for those times when the heap needs extra moisture. If the site is uphill from the garden, the heavy work of wheelbarrowing loads of compost will have gravity on its side.

Build the compost heap by alternating layers of brown ingredients with layers of green ones. Begin with a layer of straw about 3 inches deep, then add 1 to 6 inches of green ingredients, another 3 inches of straw, and then more green ingredients. The thickness of the green layer depends on the nature of the materials. Loose, open material such as green bean vines or tomato stems can be applied in a thicker (6-inch) layer, while denser material that might mat together, such as kitchen scraps or grass clippings,
should be layered thinly (1 to 2 inches). These thicknesses are a place for you to start, but you will learn to modify them as conditions require.

Sprinkle a thin covering of soil on top of each green layer. Make the soil 1/2 inch deep or so depending on what type of green material is available. If you have just added a layer of weeds with soil on their roots, you can skip the soil covering for that layer. The addition of soil to the compost heap has both a physical and a microbiological effect: physical because certain soil constituents (clay particles and minerals) have been shown to enhance the decomposition of organic matter; microbiological because soil contains millions of microorganisms, which are needed to break down the organic material in the heap. These bacteria, fungi, and other organisms multiply in the warm, moist conditions as decomposition is initiated. If your garden is very sandy or gravelly, you might want to find some clay to add to the heap as the soil layer. As an additional benefit, the clay will improve the balance of soil particle sizes in your garden.

Gardening Tips from Eliot Coleman: How to Start Seedlings in a Cold Frame

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Are you ready to get a start on the gardening season? With a cold frame you can jump in now.

A cold frame, essentially a garden bed surrounded by an angled frame and covered with glass, is a simple way to harness the heating power of the sun to get seedlings going before it’s warm enough to plant them outside unprotected. Everything but the most heat-loving vegetables (tomatoes and peppers) can be started this way. Plus, a cold frame has the added advantage of getting your plants into the real soil right away, instead of constricting their roots in trays, which can leading to unnecessary stress.

Farmer Eliot Coleman is the master of growing vegetables year-round, and he has some simple guidelines for using cold frames to start seedlings right. If he can do it in freezing coastal Maine, you’ve got no excuse!

* * * * *

The following excerpt is from Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman.

Your cold frame can serve as a greenhouse for starting seedlings

You can use it for all seedlings that are transplanted except the early-spring sowings of heat-lovers such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. They should be started in a sunny window in the house. For all the others, the cold frame is an ideal place to start growing. Once you begin raising seedlings in the cold frame, you will find it so simple and successful that you will never go back to flats on windowsills. Here’s how to do it:

Spread potting mix about two to three inches deep in whatever part of a frame you wish to use for seedlings. Lay 3-inch boards around the edge as a border, then treat that area as if it were a flat: make furrows, drop in evenly spaced seeds, cover them shallowly, mark them with name and date on a small stake, and water them lightly with a fine sprinkler. The rows can be as close together as they would be in a flat. Space seeds evenly in the seeding row so they won’t be crowded. We always try to avoid plant stress at all stages of growing. It takes a little more time, but the results are worth it.

Cutting the Seedlings into 3-inch Blocks Inside the Cold Frame

When the seedlings are up, move them to an adjoining section of the frame, which also has a 2 inch covering of potting mix over the soil. Do this as soon as you can handle the seedlings. Within reason, the younger you transplant a seedling, the better. Dig under each one with a small, pointed dowel, lifting and loosening the roots as you extract them from the soil. Always be gentle with seedlings. Hold them by a leaf, not the stem, so you don’t crush the vital parts if you squeeze too hard.

Poke holes in the potting soil of the adjoining section with the dowel to make space for the roots, then tuck them in lightly. A good distance for all seedlings is 3 inches apart. When they are large enough to transplant to the garden, use a knife to cut the soil into cubes with a seedling in the center of each. It is just like cutting a tray of brownies. If you make sure the soil is moist (sprinkle if necessary before cutting), the blocks will hold together nicely. You can use a bricklayer’s or right-angle trowel to slice underneath each cube, lift it out, and set it in a tray for transport to its permanent garden home.

There are many advantages to growing seedlings in a cold frame

Scooping the Seedling with the Transplanting Tool

No flats are necessary. There is no potting soil mess in the house. The seedlings will be hardy because the cold frame is not artificially heated. Any additional hardening off is easily accomplished by opening the lights slightly wider.

Finally, watering is more forgiving, since your seedlings are connected to the earth and they can’t dry out as quickly as they can in the limited confines of a flat. Thus, an occasional lapse in watering is not disastrous.

The intermediate transplanting from the seedling row to the 3-by-3-inch spacing makes transplanting seedlings a two-step process. We think it’s worth the effort because the intermediate step has been found to stimulate increased root regrowth, resulting in slightly more vigorous transplants. You can do it as a one-step process by simply starting out with the 3-by-3-inch configuration and planting three seeds in each square. After they emerge, you thin to the best one in each square and proceed as before.

Planting a Seedling in the GardenWith some crops, we use a Dutch idea called multiplants and sow four or more seeds in each square with no intention of thinning them. This allows us to grow transplants in groups rather than as singles. The onion crop will serve as a good example of how to go about it. Sow five seeds together. Plan for four of the seeds to germinate. When the onion seedlings are large enough to go to the garden, cut out the blocks as usual and set them out at a spacing of 10 by 12 inches.

If you were growing single plants in rows they would be set 3 inches apart. Four plants in a clump every 12 inches in a row is the same average spacing as one plant every 3 inches. Each onion is allowed just as much total garden space,and the yield is the same. The onions growing. together push each other aside gently and at harvest time are lying in a series of small circles rather than single rows. If all the seeds germinate and there are five onions in each clump, that’s no problem.

In addition to onions, you can use the multiplant technique for early transplants of beets, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, scallions, and spinach. Not only is this system more efficient because four plants can be transplanted as quickly as one, but it also can be used to control size when desired. A clump of broccoli, for example, will yield three or four smaller central heads rather than one large one. For many families, the smaller unit size is more desirable.

How to Plan the Best Garden Ever

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Growing your own food is hard work, but with a few easy tips you can make it a lot easier.

Carol Deppe grows almost all of the food she eats, but with a cranky back and complaining knees, she has been forced to figure out labor-saving techniques and tricks, and she shares them in her book The Resilient Gardener, along with detailed guides for growing the five crops you need to survive: bean, corn, squash, potatoes, and eggs.

An easy-to-use garden starts with a good plan. This excerpt, adapted from Carol Deppe award-winning book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, explains the difference between planting in long straight rows and planting in smaller beds.

Rows might be great for tractors, but beds can be easier to water, and can help you to space your plantings throughout the growing season.

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How many gardens start thus? First, we haul out the rototiller (or hire the tractor guy) and till up the entire garden. We let the buried thatch decompose for three weeks and hire the tractor guy or rototill again. Then we try to plant the whole thing all at once, preferably before it rains. Rain will compact the soil and make it harder to create furrows for planting. In addition, if a couple of weeks go by before we plant, weeds will have such a head start that we really should rototill again or hoe the entire area before planting. So after the second plowing or tilling, we tend to want to plant everything all at once. Planting becomes a bottleneck. Needing to plant everything all at once creates an emergency.

Once we have successfully planted everything all at once, it will all need to be weeded all at once. And the entire garden is in seedlings needing maximum watering care all at once. Many a garden fails because, once planting has been turned into an all-at-once emergency, the gardener collapses (exhausted but happy) and forgets the garden for a while, during which time the seedlings fail to germinate or die from lack of water, or weeds get too far ahead.

For small gardens, there is much to be said for beds. In many situations they are the only option. A garden bed is a soft place where you don’t walk. You don’t walk on beds even when weeding, harvesting, or digging to renovate them. This means the width must be limited to what you can comfortably reach across from the sides—a maximum of about 5 feet, generally. Beds may be any length, however.

We usually create or rejuvenate beds by digging. Someone, of course, has to do the digging. But you don’t have to dig all the beds at once. Gardening in beds particularly lends itself to areas with long growing seasons, mild winters, and year-round gardening, with different beds being planted at various times throughout the year. Gardening in beds is also typical for perennial or ornamental plantings. I had no choice about gardening in beds when vegetable gardening in my backyard. Various concrete walls and fences and property lines made it impossible to drive a tractor into the yard. So there was no option of hiring the tractor guy. Also, there were so many septic easements and shady areas that the space available for gardening was limited to small areas here and there. Even rototilling with a walk-behind tiller isn’t practical with tiny dispersed beds.

When we garden in beds in the backyard, it is often automatically in raised beds. When we start with poor soil or the subsoil typical of many backyards, we usually add bulky organic materials (leaves, compost, etc.) to help create a decent garden soil. These added materials plus any dug soil translate into a raised bed. Raised beds have special advantages and liabilities. They dry out and warm up faster in the spring than planting areas that are level with the ground around them. This is a big advantage for early plantings in areas that experience cold, wet springs (such as Oregon). In addition, if the water table is high or the soil is shallow you may need raised beds to provide deep enough soil for plant roots. However, when there is little or no rain (such as in Oregon in summer), the fact that raised beds dry out faster means they need more frequent watering.

Beds don’t need to be raised, though. They can be level with the rest of the ground. You can, for example, start by tilling a garden area, then just designate certain areas as beds and others as paths. Beds also do not have to be permanent. Temporary beds are not walked on throughout the growing season but are tilled up at the end of the season; and next year’s beds may not be in the exact same places. Even raised beds need not be permanent. You can till up the entire garden area first, then hoe or till the soil up into beds. Then you plant and tend the beds as beds (and avoid walking on them) for just the one growing season. Several large organic farms around here operate largely or completely with a style of temporary raised beds. They till a field, then shape it into raised beds with a tractor-drawn bed-forming implement. Then they treat the beds as beds (and don’t walk on them) for a season before tilling the entire field again.

For many years, I used a mixed strategy. I grew the crops that needed to be harvested almost daily for summer meals in permanent raised beds in the backyard. Then I had a larger tilled garden elsewhere for field corn, dry beans, and winter squash. In my backyard I planted about one bed every three weeks as the breaks in the weather permitted. I planted the bed for first-early peas in February; greens in March and April; tomatoes, summer squash, and green beans in May and June; overwintering brassicas in July and August; and garlic, fava beans, and overwintering peas in October. My plantings of corn, dry beans, and winter squash were too large for me to be able to deal with as hand-dug beds. They also needed to be planted approximately all at once in May, fitting perfectly with the pattern of just calling the tractor guy to till up a field. These crops also did not require tending or harvesting daily. So these are the crops I grew in the tilled field away from home.

Gardening in intensively planted beds is the way to get the most yield from small spaces. In order to obtain those high yields, however, you must have very fertile soil, must water regularly, and must plant intensively. You really crowd the plants compared to traditional plantings in rows. I found that such intensive plantings did not work for me. The crowded plantings must be watered almost every day it doesn’t rain. Here in maritime Oregon, that is every day starting in June and going right through the entire summer.

I am not the sort of person who, given my druthers, wants to water or do any other chore every single day, even in the best of times. During the period I was caring for my mother, absolutely all of my ability to do those kinds of tasks was taken up with the caregiving situation. Garden beds do not have to be planted intensively, however. If I planted my beds with about 50 percent more space than typical for intensive beds, I didn’t have quite the watering pressure. I found I could water every other day or even skip two days without much problem. Nevertheless, I still lost entire beds here and there whenever an emergency in my mother’s medical situation took me totally out of the garden for a while. I learned to minimize the impact of these emergencies on my gardening by not planting more than one bed every three weeks. That way I had only one bed at a time at its most vulnerable stage with respect to either watering or weeding. Whenever the unforeseen deprived the garden of my labor for a while, if I lost something, it was usually only one bed, not all of them.

These days Nate and I garden entirely in a tilled garden arranged in traditional rows, and our spacings within the rows are on the generous side. We space things so as to allow ourselves to water only the most moisture-dependent plants (tomatoes, full-season sweet corn, melons, and kale) once per week and the least water-needy plants (potatoes) not at all. This cuts down on the total amount of water needed as well as watering labor. This garden can survive and thrive when left completely alone for a week, even during the worst heat waves in summer, and considerably longer the rest of the time. Nate doesn’t like must-do-every-day chores any more than I do. Until I had expanded to a much bigger leased garden elsewhere (and a collaborator), however, garden beds in the backyard were an essential part of my strategy. And I simply did not have the room to give the plants as much space as they needed for once-per-week watering and greater water resilience. Gardening, like the rest of life, is full of trade-offs.

Un-Coop your Poop: Everything you Need to Know about Chicken Tractors

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

If you’re keeping your laying hens in a stationary coop, you’re missing out on their incredible soil building talents. Un-coop that chicken poop by putting your flock in a mobile shelter! Not only will a mobile shelter — or chicken tractor — allow you to effortlessly spread valuable manure, the hens themselves will till it in for you with their strong claws. Plus they’ll eat up all the pests they can find, and keep your grass mowed.

To put your ladies to work and give them a movable feast the whole barnyard will envy, you need to build the perfect chicken tractor: one that’s secure enough to keep hens safe from predators, but easy enough to move that you’ll be happy to do it every day.

Harvey Ussery explains the ins and outs of mobile shelters in this excerpt from his new classic The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.

Un-Coop Your Poop: Build a Chicken Tractor by Chelsea Green Publishing

Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait: Four Simple Steps to Making the Best Sauerkraut on Earth

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Making your own delicious, healthy, probiotic sauerkraut or kimchi is easy!

Four easy steps are all you need to turn fresh garden veggies into a long-lasting, tangy, pungent condiment perfect to serve alongside sausage or eggs.

Sandor Ellix Katz is the gregarious, mutton-chopped master of all things fermented, and his easygoing attitude will inspire you to experiment in your own kitchen. So go ahead, make friends with the microbes in your life.

All it takes is Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait!

The following excerpt is from The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz. It has been adapted for the web.

The English language does not have its own word for fermented vegetables. It would not be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation.

Pickles are anything preserved by acidity. Most contemporary pickles are not fermented at all; instead they rely upon highly acidic vinegar (a product of fermentation), usually heated in order to sterilize vegetables, preserving them by destroying rather than cultivating microorganisms. “For pickles, fermentation was the primary means of preservation until the 1940s, when direct acidification and pasteurization of cucumber pickles was introduced,” writes Fred Breidt of the USDA.

My vegetable ferments are usually concoctions that do not fit any homogeneous traditional ideal of either German sauerkraut or Korean kimchi. But of course, everything I’ve learned about sauerkraut and kimchi reveal that neither of them constitutes a homogeneous tradition. They are highly varied, from regional specialties to family secrets. Nonetheless, certain techniques underlie both (and many other related) traditions, and my practice is a rather free-form application of these basic techniques rather than an attempt to reproduce any particular notion of authenticity.

In a nutshell, the steps I typically follow when I ferment vegetables are:

  1. Chop or grate vegetables.
  2. Lightly salt the chopped veggies (add more as necessary to taste), and pound or squeeze until moist; alternatively, soak the veggies in a brine solution for a few hours.
  3. Pack the vegetables into a jar or other vessel, tightly, so that they are forced below the liquid. Add water, if necessary.
  4. Wait, taste frequently, and enjoy!

Of course there is more information and nuance, but really, “Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait” is what most of it amounts to.

Image Credit: The Kitchn

Green Buildings for a Better World

Monday, May 6th, 2013

To address a warming world and an ever-more-erratic climate, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Even as awareness of the threats of climate change spreads, the world is becoming more and more industrialized, and more urban every day.

Efficiency is one of the most important concepts to embrace as a would-be planet-saver, and one of the best places to scrimp and save on energy use is in our buildings.

Buildings use a whopping 42% of America’s total energy each year, and a mind-boggling 72% of all electricity generated. That’s more than any other single sector of the economy, and according to the research in RMI’s book Reinventing Fire cutting the wasted energy from buildings could save, get this: $1.4 trillion!

So called “green” buildings come in many forms. The US Green Building Council‘s rating system for buildings, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED, is the most common, especially for new and large-scale construction. LEED practices look at every aspect of a building, from how much power it takes to air condition to how much construction waste gets recycled, and whether there are bike racks for conscientious commuters.

But let’s say you’re not a major corporation or government. How can you participate in building green?

If you’re in the market for a new home, you can explore LEED rating for new home construction. You can also look into EnergyStar standards which focus more narrowly on the home’s energy efficiency.

You can also investigate a deeper level of green, and look into natural building techniques. Whereas “green” buildings tends to look and act a lot like “normal” buildings, natural buildings can look as if they grew organically out of the earth itself — which is basically true. From timber framing with whole logs, to thick walls made of straw bales and plaster mixed from site soil, and built-in wood-fired heating systems, a natural home can be a beautiful way to build a better world.

If you already own a house, you can still gain a lot from green building practices. There are countless small ways to increase your house’s overall efficiency, from insulating your refrigerator to building a simple outdoor shower heated by the sun.

But if you’re facing any sort of extensive renovation already, you’ll gain the most through the process of a Deep Energy Retrofit (or DER). This is not for the faint of heart — it involves getting into the guts of your old house and tightening things from the foundation to the rooftop. But if you can afford it, a DER will bear fruit for the entire life of your house.

Coming this summer, we’ve a great book to help you master a deep green renovation of your existing house. The Greened House Effect by Jeff Wilson tells the story of his family’s DER. Even better: the Wilsons documented the whole process on video, and you can watch right here! Below is Episode 1 of The Greened House Effect show, and you can find the others on our book page.

The Six Pests Plaguing your Fruit Trees — and How to Control them Organically

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

If you grow fruit, you know you’re creating something delicious when the entire natural world sets its sights on your apples, peaches, and pears. You’re up against a vast and devastating army of insect pests, and if you’re committed to growing organically, conventional sprays and treatments are out of the question. But you’re not powerless in this worthy fight. And you’re not alone.

Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard and the classic book The Apple Grower, as well as star of the new DVD Holistic Orcharding with Michael Phillips, knows what you’re up against. He also knows that the only way to win the war of organic growing, is to pick your battles with the myriad insect enemies you face.

In this excerpt from The Holistic Orchard, Phillips explains the six most common pests you’re likely to encounter in the organic orchard. You’ll learn what they look like, what they’re after, whether they’re worth fighting at all, and how to do so without disturbing the precious balance of beneficial organisms that make a holistic orchard work.

Bugs and More Bugs: An Excerpt from The Holistic Orchard by Chelsea Green Publishing

Workers of the World Unite: It’s May Day!

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Most countries honor Labor Day on the first of May, but we Americans celebrate it at the end of summer, an excuse to barbecue and raise a glass to the passing season. Traditionally, May Day is not a beer and lawn chair kind of holiday, it’s a day of rallies, protests, and direct action in solidarity with the workers of the world, and a day of hope that our rights will be protected and upheld.

Workers have always been at the mercy of the owners of the factories, offices, and companies where they labor. In the often dark history of the industrial era, workers were routinely exploited, injured, and even murdered when they protested the inhumane conditions they faced each day. But when workers came together to form strong unions, they finally were able to defend themselves, at least a little bit.

Tireless labor leaders like Tony Mazzocchi fought for protection from toxic exposure, and ended up making meaningful progress toward a more humane version of capitalism. Mazzocchi’s work led to the passage of OSHA, which still regulates working conditions today. Les Leopold wrote a beautiful biography of Mazzocchi: The Man Who Hated Work But Loved Labor.

Today, labor unions are weaker than ever, and despite having won many important battles over the years, the state of worker power is eroding. Companies can easily outsource labor to more affordable markets overseas, and high unemployment makes it hard for workers to negotiate for better pay and benefits.

But there is a quiet revolution happening despite all this. Worker-owned companies are on the rise, from cooperatives that are wholly owned and operated by their workers, to gradual employee buy-out schemes like the Employee Stock Ownership Plan that Chelsea Green enacted last year.

Worker-ownership avoids the perennial conflict between labor and capital by understanding that the two can never be considered entirely apart from one another. Capital needs labor, and labor needs capital. Both need sustainability, and the only way to achieve that goal is to slow down, pay attention to place, and take care of all the people affected by the work of the company. As worker-ownership spreads, communities will be reinvigorated by increased wealth, and inequality will decrease because nobody in a company will hoard more wealth than is necessary for sustenance and encouragement. Learn more about this “next American revolution” in Gar Alperovitz’s new book, What Then Must We Do?

Five Cities that Could be the Next Chernobyl

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Twenty-seven years ago today, a power surge caused an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. A plume of radioactive smoke spread fallout across Europe, making this the most devastating nuclear accident since we first smashed atoms to make electricity.

Could your town be the next Chernobyl? If you live near one of these five nuclear plants you might want to invest in a family-pack of haz-mat suits.

No power plant is completely problem-free, but five are the worst because they’ve suffered from the most dangerous accidents, or have had an abnormal number of near-misses, or are located near massive numbers of people who would suffer in a catastrophe. Despite a dodgy record of ignoring safety abuses and refusing to reprimand violators, even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agrees that these plants are accidents waiting to happen.

From New York City to San Diego, the danger of nuclear catastrophe hits far too close to home. Literally in the case of Vermont Yankee, which is, unfortunately, on this list. We’ve put together a slideshow of images of the five plants, as well as an excerpt from Nuclear Roulette that details the inexcusable mistakes and alarming history of mismanagement that makes them all so scary.


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