Garden & Agriculture Archive


Growing Food in the Face of Global Warming

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

If you want proof of how difficult it is to grow food in the face of global warming, look no further than the food basket of the United States. There, especially in California, soils are crumbling, drying, and the fight over water resources is increasing between farmers, cities, and rural residents. Crop insurance rates are on the rise as are food prices, and there’s no relief in sight.

This climatic uncertainty is forcing farmers, gardeners, and orchardists to desperately seek new ways to adapt how they grow food in the face of climate change. In his most recent Chelsea Green book, Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, author and ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan—one of the world’s foremost experts on agricultural traditions in arid lands—offers time-tested strategies to not merely adapt, but thrive, in dry growing conditions.

As Nabhan noted in this New York Times Opinion piece, roughly 40 percent of the net farm income for the entire United States comes from 17 Western states, and the ongoing drought threatens our food security:

[C]attle and sheep production make up a significant part of that, as do salad greens, dry beans, onions, melons, hops, barley, wheat and citrus fruits. The current heat wave will undeniably diminish both the quality and quantity of these foods.

The most vulnerable crops are those that were already in flower and fruit when temperatures surged, from apricots and barley to wheat and zucchini. Idaho farmers have documented how their potato yields have been knocked back because their heat-stressed plants are not developing their normal number of tubers. Across much of the region, temperatures on the surface of food and forage crops hit 105 degrees, at least 10 degrees higher than the threshold for most temperate-zone crops.

What’s more, when food and forage crops, as well as livestock, have had to endure temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than the long-term averages, they require far more water than usual. The Western drought, which has persisted for the last few years, has already diminished both surface water and groundwater supplies and increased energy costs, because of all the water that has to be pumped in from elsewhere.

From retaining moisture and nutrients in soils to reducing heat stress on crops and livestock, Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land offers detailed diagrams, descriptions, and real-life examples of how you can implement these desert-adapted strategies for your backyard, farm, or orchard.

As more of North America is impacted by drought, this book is increasingly a necessity for any farmer or gardener, or even eaters who care about where their food comes from and how it’s grown.

Below is a chapter on how to reduce stress on crops and livestock.

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Chapter 5

Capturing Landscape in a Wine: The Unlikely Vineyard

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Is it possible to capture landscape in a bottle? To express its essence of place—geology, geography, climate, and soil—as well as the skill of the winegrower?

That’s what Deirdre Heekin and her chef/husband, Caleb Barber, set out to accomplish on their tiny, eight-acre hillside farm and vineyard in Vermont.

Our farming came from wanting to grow particular vegetables for our restaurant kitchen. Once we started going with the restaurant garden and farm, I also became interested in the process of making wine. I was doing a lot of work representing organic and biodynamic wine growers on our wine list. Intellectually, I knew the whole process of making wine, but I had never done it on my own. I wanted to do that, just for my own edification,” Heekin told Modern Farmer in a recent interview. “In the second year we went to go visit another Vermont vineyard that was making some really lovely wine and it dawned on us. We have a fantastic south facing slope that would be perfect for a vineyard, there are some great people doing it in Vermont — let’s just do it. We left that particular winery with 180 plants that day. We planted that summer. It has been full tilt growing as we go along. We are now in our fifth vintage.”

AnUnlikelyVineyardChallenged by cold winters, wet summers, and other factors, Heekin and her husband set about to grow not only a vineyard, but an orchard of heirloom apples, pears, and plums, as well as gardens filled with vegetables, herbs, roses, and wildflowers destined for their own table and for the kitchen of their small restaurant—Osteria Pane e Salute, a restaurant in Woodstock, Vermont.

But An Unlikely Vineyard involves much more. It also presents, through the example of their farming journey and winegrowing endeavors, an impressive amount of information on how to think about almost every aspect of gardening: from composting to trellising; from cider and perry making to growing old garden roses, keeping bees, and raising livestock; from pruning (or not) to dealing naturally with pests and diseases.

Accompanied throughout by lush photos (Heekin is also an avid Instragrammer), this gentle narrative will appeal to anyone who loves food, farms, and living well.

An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir by Deirdre Heekin is now available.

Eliot Coleman’s Guide to Creating a Root Cellar

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

As temperatures start to drop, make sure you are ready to preserve your root vegetable harvest in a soundly constructed, home storage system. In the following excerpt (adapted for the web) from Four-Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman shares his expertise on building a successful root cellar.

For more step-by-step projects to jumpstart your season extension plans and prepare your spring plantings, check out these links:
The Endless Arugula Bed
The Ultimate, Bombproof Sheet Mulch
Grow Mushrooms on Your Jeans
And more…

*****

How to Build a Root Cellar

No one wants second best. A slimy cabbage from a dingy corner of the basement will never compete with the crisp specimens on the vegetable shelf of the supermarket. Wilted, dried-out carrots look unappealing next to the crunchy, plastic-wrapped beauties in the refrigerator. When home storage is unsuccessful, a case can be made for artificial refrigeration. But the cabbage need not be slimy nor the carrots wilted. A properly constructed root cellar does not take a backseat to any other method of food storage. It is no great feat to manage a simple underground root cellar so that the produce will be equal or superior in quality to anything stored in an artificially refrigerated unit, even after long periods of storage.

A successful root cellar should be properly located, structurally sound, weather tight, convenient to fill and empty, easy to check on and clean, and secure against rodents. Proper location means underground at a sufficient depth so frost won’t penetrate. The cellar should be structurally sound so it won’t collapse on you. It needs to be weather tight so cold winds can’t blow in and freeze the produce. You need to have easy access to fill it, to use the produce, and to clean it at the end of the winter. And it should be rodent-proof so all the food you have stored away won’t be nibbled by rats and mice.

Provision must be made for drainage as with any other cellar, and the cellar should be insulated so that it can maintain a low temperature for as long as possible and provide properly humid storage conditions. Finally, microclimates within the cellar (colder near the floor, warmer near the ceiling) should allow you to meet different temperature and moisture requirements for different crops. The cellar will be most successful if it incorporates your underground food storage needs into one efficient, compact unit. It’s surprising how easily a hole in the ground meets all those conditions.

Perfect Spot for a Root Cellar – Your Basement

Any house with a basement already has a potential root cellar. You just need to open a vent so cold air can flow in on fall nights, and sprinkle water on the floor for moisture. The temperature control in the root cellar is almost automatic because cold air, which is heavier than warm air, will flow down, displacing the warmer air, which rises and exits. This lowers the temperature in the cellar incrementally as fall progresses and the nights get cooler. By the time outdoor conditions are cold enough to require moving root crops to the cellar (around October 21 to November 7 here in Maine), conditions in the underground garden are just right-cool and moist. With minimal attention, they will stay that way until late the next spring.

No wood or other material that might suffer from being wet should be used in root cellar construction. The ideal root cellar is made of concrete or stone with rigid insulation around the outside. Any permanent wood in a root cellar soon becomes damp and moldy. Wood will not only rot but also will serve as a home for bacteria and spoilage organisms and is subject to the gnawing entry of rodents. The stone or concrete cellar is impregnable. It won’t rot or decompose, and the thick walls hold the cool of the earth.

Build a Wall or Dig a Pit

The easiest way to make a root cellar is to wall off one corner of the basement as a separate room. The best material is concrete block. There is no problem even if the rest of the basement is heated. You simply need to insulate one temperature zone from the other. Leave enough space between the top of the walls and the joists of the floor above so you can install a cement-board ceiling with rigid insulation above it. Also attach rigid insulation to the heated side of the cellar walls you build. The insulation can be protected with a concrete-like covering such as Block Bond. Install an insulated metal door for access, and the structure is complete.

There are several simpler options, especially for storing small quantities of vegetables. If your house has an old-fashioned cellar with a dirt floor and there is enough drainage below floor level, you can dig a pit in the floor 18 to 24 inches deep, line it with concrete blocks, and add an insulated cover. You will want to open the cover every few days to encourage air exchange in the pit. The pit won’t be as easy to use as a room you can walk into, but like any hole in the ground, it should keep root crops cool and moist. In warmer climates, you can use similar pits or buried barrels for storage either outdoors or in an unheated shed.

One of the simplest techniques we ever used, before we had a root cellar, was to dig pits in one section of the winter greenhouse. In that case we used metal garbage cans and buried them to their edge in the soil under the inner layer. To make sure they stayed cool we insulated their lids. We filled those cans with all the traditional root crops after their late fall harvest. Our whole winter food supply that year was in one central spot and when we went out to harvest fresh spinach and scallions for dinner we would bring back stored potatoes and cabbage at the same time.

Hot off the Press: New Fall Books!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

What better way to ease the transition from summer fun to the fall months than exploring all our exciting new books.

Whether you are looking for the ultimate mushroom guide; take the next leap in permaculture; get everything out of those weeds in your backyard; improve your digestive health or  just curl up with a  memoir — you’ll find that and much more!

For thirty years, Chelsea Green has published books that you will turn to again and again. We don’t cater to fads or trends, but focus on being a resource for a timeless and holistic approach.

Let our new fall releases inspire you with ideas and practical skills!

Happy reading from your friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

 

Farming the Woods The Heal Your Gut Cookbook Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
The Wild Wisdom of Weeds Defending Beef Integrated Forest Gardening

Save 35% on our New Crop of Fall Books

An Unlikely Vineyard Angels by the River Slowspoke The ALL NEW Don't Think of an Elephant
Carbon Shock In the Company of Bears Around the World in 80 Plants The Vegan Book of Permaculture

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). International orders can be placed by phone (802-295-6300) or email.


How Do You Like Them Apples?

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Crisp air? Check. Vibrant foliage? Double check.

It’s Autumn and that means orchards are overflowing with apples. As we tuck in to our first warm apple pie of the season, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on this quintessential staple of the American diet—the apple.

In the age of industrial food production, how much do we really know about apples? Here to shed some light on the subject is a selection of Chelsea Green books and authors that embrace the biodiversity of this fruit and all of its forms. From crafting the perfect cider to utilizing traditional preservation techniques to a history lesson covering 1,800 varieties, these books will take you on a journey deep into the world of apples.

Books About Apples

The New Cider Maker’s Handbook
by Claude Jolicoeur
If cider is the new craft beer, what’s holding you back from brewing your own? The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur is a one-of-a-kind guide to cider production, providing detailed and accessible instructions on the basics of cider making. Check out this excerpt on the many types of ciders that are within your reach.

Old Southern Apples
by Lee Calhoun
Explore the vast and forgotten world of southern apples with this ultimate guide by pomological expert and conservationist Lee Calhoun, including over 1,800 southern apple varieties and 120 color images. Here’s the full introduction to Old Southern Apples.
Taste, Memory
by David Buchanan
Buchanan’s memoir examines the relationship between preserving culturally forgotten foods and looking ahead to new varieties. Drawing from his experience as a grower of heirloom cider apple trees and more, Taste, Memory is based on the fundamental principle that a biologically diverse planet is not only good for the environment, but for humans as well. Here’s an interview with Buchanan on why we need biodiversity.
Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning
by Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante
Not sure how to preserve this season’s bounty? This essential guide to traditional preservation techniques provides numerous recipes that enhance the taste and flavor of food, all while preserving its nutritional value. The book offers multiple options and recipes for storing apples, whether it’s simply utilizing a cellar or making a delicious chutney. Or, try making a drying tray in order to naturally preserve and increase the sugar content of your apples without additives.
The Grafter’s Handbook
by R.J. Garner
It’s never too soon to begin planning for next growing season and The Grafter’s Handbook by R.J. Garner has everything any level horticulturalist needs to know about grafting. This essential reference provides five grafting techniques for fruit trees, all of which will ensure that your orchard can thrive!

Chelsea Green Celebrates 30 Years of Craft and Cutting Edge Books

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

We here at Chelsea Green have always had a nose for authors and books that are years ahead of the cultural curve. That knack is clearly on display in a new anthology that we’re making available to celebrate our first thirty years in publishing.

More than one hundred books are represented in this collection and reflect the many distinct areas in which we have published—from literature and memoirs to progressive politics, to highly practical books on green building, organic gardening and farming, food and health, and related subjects—all of which reflect our underlying philosophy: “The politics and practice of sustainable living.”

The Chelsea Green Reader offers a glimpse into our wide-ranging list of books and authors and to the important ideas that they express. Interesting and worth reading in their own right, the individual passages when taken as a whole trace the evolution of a highly successful small publisher—something that is almost an oxymoron in these days of corporate buyouts and multinational book groups.

“I like to think of these brief excerpts as individual stones in a cairn. A cairn is a landmark, a pile of rocks built by hikers high above tree line in the mountains. It grows larger and larger over the years as new hikers passing by contribute a new stone, or replace one that might have fallen. A cairn is there to confirm, even on a foggy day, that we are on the right path, and it indicates the way forward, to the summit,” writes Senior Editor Ben Watson in the book’s preface.

“Every book is a stone, or a brick in the wall, of an edifice that is always being constructed, constantly evolving, and never quite finished. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a publishing company is colloquially referred to as a ‘house,’” Watson adds. “At Chelsea Green we continue to build, with our authors and their ideas, a great house, one that represents our deeply held values and beliefs, our hopes and our dreams.”CGP_grasshopper_olive green

From the beginning, Chelsea Green’s books were nationally recognized, garnering positive reviews, accolades, and awards. We’ve published four New York Times bestsellers, and our books have set the standard for in-depth, how-to books that remain relevant years—often decades—beyond their original publication date. Books in this volume range from ones that appeared in our very first catalog in 1985 (and remain in print today) to ones that have long since gone out of print, but not forgotten as important touchstones for us as a publisher.

“Chelsea Green was born from a single seed: the beauty of craft. Craft in writing and editing, in a story well told, or a thesis superbly expressed,” writes cofounder and publisher emeritus Ian Baldwin in the book’s Foreword.

This attention to craft has even informed our business model: In 2012, Chelsea Green became an employee-owned company as a way to “practice what we publish” and lay the groundwork to ensure that the founders’ legacy remained intact in the decades to follow.

The move made Chelsea Green unique among book publishers in an industry dominated by investor-driven, multinational corporations. Only a handful of independent book publishers can claim employee-ownership status, and of those Chelsea Green will be near the top in terms of the percentage controlled by employees.

With the rise of the Internet, new media platforms, and a constantly shifting bookselling landscape, the future of publishing is anything but predictable. But if Chelsea Green’s books prove anything, it is that, despite these challenges, there remains a hunger for new and important ideas and authors, and for the permanence and craftsmanship of the printed word. Today our ongoing mission is stronger than ever, as we launch into our next thirty years of publishing excellence.

“People are moved by what they read,” adds Baldwin in his Foreword. “That pertains whether they read an ebook or a printed one, and they want to connect with the writers who make their lives richer. Part of the publisher’s role is to help make this vitalizing connection. This nexus among author, publisher, and reader is, I believe, unlikely to wither anytime soon.”

The Best of Autumn Project Special

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

There is no denying it: the days are shorter and unless you planned for season extension your garden is all about the root vegetables.

But don’t let the looming winter get you down. There are plenty of projects and recipes perfect for the changing weather.

Let our field guide to our favorite fall projects inspire you: from growing endless arugula, the ultimate sheet mulch, creating a root cellar, growing mushrooms on your jeans (no joke), cider making, and more!

Happy reading from your friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

P.S. Don’t let the permaculture sale pass you by! http://goo.gl/hgMI7g

 


The Endless Arugula
 The Endless Arugula Bed

Want to save time and money while enjoying your greens as soon as possible in the spring? Consider extending your growing season by overwintering your crops—it’s both frugal and forward thinking. Grow it »»

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Ultimate Bombproof Sheet Mulch

Ultimate Bombproof Sheet Mulch

A fresh bed of sheet mulch isn’t as productive as one that’s six months old, so fall is the perfect time of year to start a new layer of mulch for your spring plantings. Get a jump start on your spring planting and turn soil into black gold.  Build it »»

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Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait

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

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

So go ahead, make friends with the microbes in your life. Make it »»

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Winter Vegetable Magic: Creating a Root Cellar

Winter Vegetable Magic: Creating a Root Cellar

As we enter into autumn, the gardening locavore starts assessing her stock of pickled beans, dried herbs, and preserved fruits. But what about the potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots? What’s a gardener to do with those when the thermometer drops? Build it »»

 

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Oyster Mushrooms: Grow Mushrooms on Your Jeans

Oyster Mushrooms: Grow Mushrooms on Your Jeans.

Thinking about getting rid of that pair of worn out jeans? Think again. You could use them to grow mushrooms. That’s right, mushrooms.

Don’t have a lot of space? Not a problem. Oyster mushrooms are perfect for fruiting indoors and in small spaces.  Grow it »»

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Veggie Lovers Rejoice: Vegetable Tian

Veggie Lovers Rejoice: Vegetable Tian

Enjoy This simple but elegant dish from the newly released The Heal Your Gut Cookbook. It’s always beautiful, and the vegetables are completely interchangeable, so use what have.  Eat it »»

 
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Autumn Apples: The Basics of Cider Making

Autumn Apples: The Basics of Cider Making

An increasingly popular, and mouth-watering, approach to handling the overflow of orchard-fresh apples is to make a batch—or five—of hard cider.

Ever wonder how you can dive in and make your very own? With these basics we’ll get you started. Learn it »»

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Sweet Desserts: Cinnamon Spiral
Sweet Desserts: Cinnamon Spiral

Warm up your kitchen this winter with this sweet temptation. This isn’t just any bread – the crumb is firm and reminiscent of pound cake, while the crust is soft.

Cinnamon Spiral is comfort food with style. Bake it »»

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 ~ ~ Hot off The Press for Fall: New Releases ~ ~

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds
Retail $29.95
Sale: $19.47

Farming the Woods
Retail $39.95
Sale: $25.97
The Heal Your Gut Cookbook
Retail $29.95
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
Retail $39.95
Sale: $25.97
~ ~ Need More? Don’t forget to look at our Sale books  ~ ~
Resilient Farm and Homestead
Retail $40.00
Sale: $26.00
Grass, Soil, Hope
Retail $19.95
Sale: $12.97
Integrated Forest Gardening
Retail $45.00
Sale: $29.95
Edible Perennial Gardening
Retail $22.95
Sale: $14.92
For a full list of all our sale books – more than 30 for 20% off or more—take a look at the full list here.

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only)
 

Grow Mushrooms on Your Jeans. Seriously.

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Thinking about getting rid of that pair of worn out jeans? Think again. You could use them to grow mushrooms. That’s right, mushrooms.

Mycologist Tradd Cotter has been experimenting with mushroom cultivation for more than 20 years. Through his ongoing research he has not only discovered the best ways to successfully grow morels but also how to use fungi to help manage invasive species and reduce our dependence on herbicides. How Cotter figured out that mushrooms could be grown on old clothing perfectly illustrates how he’s constantly finding ways to learn from our fungi friends.

In the excerpt below from his new book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation, Cotter provides an easy, step-by-step outline of how anyone can grow oyster mushrooms using the most unlikeliest of materials – a pair of jeans.

Don’t have a lot of space? Not a problem. Oyster mushrooms are perfect for fruiting indoors and in small spaces. All you need for this fun(gi) project is some clothing scraps, water, a plastic bag or container, and a little mushroom mycelium.

Happy mushrooming!

*****

Cultivating Mushrooms on Clothing

By Tradd Cotter

I started growing mushrooms on clothes when I first became interested in mycoremediation of waste dyes and pigments. There was a textile mill near our farm that manufactured denim for the production of jeans and other clothing. My wife Olga and I went to the mill one day and were greeted by a few friendly folks. I told them I was interested in remediating the indigo carmine they were allowed to release into the waterway based on EPA daily allowable standards. They looked at me a bit nervously, as if I were a whistle-blowing undercover environmentalist; picking up on that, I quickly told them about my mycoremediation research and passions. The man I was speaking to happened to be the owner, and he was excited to hear about the prospect of lessening the mill’s environmental impact. The following week I decided to grow mushrooms on old jeans to see if they could decolorize the indigo carmine that makes them blue.

My first experiment was a success, with oyster mushrooms colonizing and fruiting very well on old cotton jeans, but the decolorization of the indigo carmine that I expected was not evident. Turkey tail mushrooms and a few other species are more efficient at the decolorization process, but what I learned is that old cotton clothing can support fruiting oyster mushrooms. (This could be potentially valuable survival information for anyone directly impacted by a natural disaster, where there is a huge amount of debris, but food is scarce.) Old cotton shirts, bits of rugs, hemp and sisal rope—any material composed of natural plant fibers, including cotton, hemp, and bamboo, can be used to cultivate mushrooms. It only needs water and a bit of oyster mushroom mycelium to get started.

Step-By-Step Cultivation on Clothing

Step 1. Soak the clothing in fresh water. The water does not have to be sterile or clean, only free of heavy metals.

Step 2. Flatten the clothing on a surface. Sprinkle the mushroom starter culture over the surface sparingly. Remember, more spawn will speed the process, not necessarily produce more mushrooms.

Step 3. Roll the clothing tightly, or if you have more than one article of clothing, stack it in spawned layers. Place the clothing in a plastic bag or an enclosed container with a few holes.

Step 4. Check the moisture content of the clothing every few days during colonization to make sure the fabric does not dry out; mist or water it as needed. Room temperature or cooler is perfectly fine for colonizing clothing scraps.

Step 5. When the entire mass of clothing seems to have been completely colonized by the mycelium, increase ventilation by adding more holes or cracking the lid of the container, but not enough that the clothing will quickly dry out. Keep the surfaces misted slightly to induce mushroom formation. The colonization process can vary from one to two weeks depending on how much spawn you use. At this point the mushrooms are not interested in fruiting so no light is needed to promote primordia formation.

Step 6. Once mushrooms begin to appear, which can occur a few days to weeks after colonization depending on temperatures and spawn amount used, they will double in size every day. Mist as frequently as needed to keep the mushrooms from drying out at a young state. When the mushrooms stop growing, they are ready to harvest.

 

The Ultimate Guide to Sheet Mulching

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

A fresh bed of sheet mulch isn’t as productive as one that’s six months old, so fall is the perfect time of year to start a new layer of mulch for your spring plantings. The layers of mulch and organic matter also help to protect the soil during the long winter months making it ready for your plantings come spring.

In the following excerpt from Gaia’s Garden, author and gardening expert Toby Hemenway presents a step-by-step tutorial on how to prepare and install the ultimate, bombproof sheet mulch.

For more tips on building soil fertility, conserving water, enhancing pollinator habitats, and creating your own backyard ecosystem, check out Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.

***

The Ultimate, Bombproof Sheet Mulch
By Toby Hemenway

Sheet mulching can be as simple as putting down layers of newspapers topped by eight to twelve inches of nearly any mulch material. But if you want to build the perfect sheet mulch, here’s how.

If this is your first sheet mulch, start small. Sheet mulch gobbles up a tremendous amount of organic matter—the roughly two cubic yards held by a full-sized pickup truck will cover about fifty square feet. But don’t scrimp. It’s much better to blanket a small area thoroughly than to spread the mulch too thin to smother weeds or feed the soil properly. Choose a site that’s not more than 200 square feet, in the proper location for the intended plants, and preferably near the house. Remember your zones: Deeply mulched beds will soon be covered with a riot of plant life, and you want these awesomely productive areas right outside your door, to easily tend or to admire the many avian and insect visitors.

What You’ll Need:

1. A two- to three-foot stack of newspaper, minus any glossy sections, whose inks may contain metal pigments (the black and colored inks on standard newsprint are soy-based and nontoxic), or about 300 square feet of corrugated box cardboard without staples or plastic tape. You can also use cloth, old clothing, or wool carpet, provided they contain no synthetic fabric, but these take far longer to decay than paper.

2. Soil amendments, depending on your soil’s needs: lime, rock phosphate, bonemeal, rock dust, kelp meal, blood meal, and so on.

3. Bulk organic matter: straw, spoiled hay, yard waste, leaves, seaweed, finely ground bark, stable sweepings, wood shavings, or any mixture of these, ideally resulting in an overall C:N ratio between 100:1 and 30:1. Grass clippings are also good, but only when mixed with other “brown” mulches—otherwise their high nitrogen content causes anaerobic—and hence smelly, slimy—decomposition. You will need about four to eight cubic yards of loosely piled mulch for 100 to 200 square feet, or six to ten two-string bales of hay or straw.

4. Compost, about a quarter to half a cubic yard (six to twelve cubic feet).

5. Manure: a quarter to one cubic yard, depending on the concentration and amount of bedding mixed in. About six cubic feet of composted steer manure or other bagged product will be plenty.

6. A top layer of seed-free material, such as straw, leaves, wood shavings, bark, sawdust, pine needles, grain hulls, nut husks, or seagrass. You will need roughly one cubic yard or two to four two-string bales.

If you can’t find every item, don’t worry. Sheet mulching is very forgiving. As long as you have enough newspaper or cardboard, plus organic matter of almost any kind, you’ll end up with great soil. Store your supplies near the chosen site so you won’t have to move them too far on sheet-mulch day. Keep them dry, too.

What To Do:

The day before you mulch, water the site well unless the ground is already moist from rain. The organisms that will be turning your mulch into rich earth can’t work without water, and, once the mulch is in place, it takes a lot of water to moisten the bottom layers. Conversely, it takes a long time for the layers to dry out—you’ve got lots of water storage.

After the water has soaked in overnight, slash down any vegetation. Don’t pull up weeds—leave all the native organic matter right there, including the roots. Just clip, mow, scythe, or weed-whack everything down in place. It’s great worm food, and the nitrogen-rich greens and roots will be a tasty starter for the decomposers. Remove any stumps or big woody pieces.

Next, add any soil amendments. If your soil is acid, sprinkle on some lime. For alkaline soil, a little gypsum or sulfur will help. A dusting of rock phosphate or bonemeal will supply phosphorus. Greensand, kelp meal, or rock dust will add trace minerals. Use a soil test or your own understanding of your soil’s fertility to guide the type and quantity of soil amendments.

If your native earth is clayey or compacted, now is a good time to open it up a bit. Just push a spading fork into the ground, rock it a little, and pull it out. Do this across the entire mulch site. Don’t turn the earth, just poke some holes into it and crack it open to allow better moisture and root penetration and soil-critter movement.

Then add a thin layer of high-nitrogen material. This can be manure, blood or cottonseed meal, fresh grass clippings or other lush greens, or cast-off produce from restaurants or markets. For concentrated matter such as rabbit manure or blood meal, sprinkle down enough material to just cover the soil. Grass clippings or bedding-rich manure should go down about an inch thick. While this layer isn’t essential, it attracts worms and burrowing beetles, which will aerate and loosen the soil.

Now the fun begins: putting the sheet in sheet mulch. Lay down newspapers and/or cardboard to create a continuous light-blocking layer that will smother existing plants. Cardboard is very satisfying to use since those big sheets, especially boxes from appliances and bicycles, cover the ground fast. Overlap the sheets by six inches or so to keep weeds from sneaking between them. Newspaper should be laid down one-eighth to one-half inch thick.

As you spread out the sheets, wet them thoroughly. Do this frequently if a breeze comes up—watching your sheet mulch flap away is pretty demoralizing. Soak the sheets several times to make sure the water seeps through. If you’re sheet mulching with a group, this is when hose-fights usually erupt, tugging any well-orchestrated work-party toward mayhem.

Try not to walk on the paper, especially after it’s wet, as this pulls the sheets apart and creates gaps. Pretend you’re painting a floor: Start at the far side and work toward the access or materials pile so you won’t walk on your work.

Next, toss down another thin layer of nitrogen-rich manure, meal, or fresh green clippings. This will entice the worms up through the soon-to-be rotting sheets and coax plant roots downward.

On top of this, pour on the bulk mulch, about eight to twelve inches of loose straw, hay, or other substances listed above. Weed seeds in this layer aren’t a big concern, as a thick, seed-free stratum will lie atop this one. Weed seeds seem to rot rather than germinate in the slowly composting mass.

Bales of hay or straw don’t have to be fluffed up to their original grassy bulk. Just break the bales into thin “flakes” about one to two inches thick and lay down about three thicknesses of these. Broken into several layers and moistened, the dense flakes will expand and compost perfectly well.

To create an easily compostable sheet mulch, pay attention to the carbon:nitrogen ratio in the bulk mulch layer. If you’re using high-carbon materials such as straw or, especially, wood shavings, sprinkle on nitrogen in the form of blood meal or other nitrogen-rich source, or “dilute” the carbonaceous mulch with perhaps one part clover hay, seaweed, grass clippings, or other high-nitrogen mulch for every four of high-carbon matter (see Table 4-1 for a list of mulch materials and their C:N ratios). A mulch that is extremely low in nitrogen, such as wood shavings, will be slow to rot down and may cause anemic plant growth. You don’t need a perfect C:N balance—just make sure there’s some nitrogen in the mix to feed the compost critters.

As you build this layer, spray on water every few inches. This layer should be damp but not wet; you’re looking for that wrung-out sponge state. This can require a surprisingly large volume of water. It may take a couple of minutes of soaking every few inches to achieve the damp-but-not-wet state.

Atop the bulk mulch, add an inch or two of compost. If this is in short supply, add compost plus whatever soil is on hand to reach the final thickness. Or, if the pile will have a few months to compost before planting, you can substitute manure or several inches of easily compostable material for this layer. But if you plan to plant the sheet mulch within a few weeks, a layer of compost will be necessary to act as a seedbed.

The final layer is two inches of weed- and seed-free organic matter, such as straw, fine bark, wood shavings, or any of the others listed above. Besides smothering weeds, this layer gives the project, in landscaper jargon, “that finished look,” which will endear you to your more fastidious neighbors. For planting seeds and starts, push this layer aside to reach the compost/soil layer right below, just as you would with any mulch.

The 13 Weeds Essential for Human Survival

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Did you know there are 13 plants you can find, whether at home or traveling, that can help you maintain a state of optimal health with minimal cost and effort?

In The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, author Katrina Blair introduces these 13 global “survival plants”—dandelion, mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, amaranth, dock, mustard, grass, chickweed, clover, lambsquarter, and knotweed—that both regenerate the earth and support human survival. They grow everywhere where people live, from the hottest deserts to the Arctic Circle, and provide important forage for the bees and other wild pollinators especially today as human development is encroaching on wild habitat. They help regenerate the soil and bring fertility back to land that has been disturbed or overgrazed. The wild weeds are exceptionally nutritious as protein rich food sources.  The weeds typically have more nutrition than anything we can buy from the store. These 13 weeds each have powerful medicinal qualities and through utilizing them on a regular basis not only can they help cure illnesses but also prevent them from occurring.  The weeds often grow in abundance so overharvesting is not a concern.  The weeds are generally free and widely available to most humans living on the planet as an important survival resource.

With more than 100 unique recipes, Blair teaches us how to prepare these wild plants from root to seed, including information on growing “wild” microgreens, sprouting, fermenting, making wild green powders, and gleaning weeds from local lawns as a principled stance against pesticide use.

Introducing the 13 Weeds

Purslane (Portulaca) seeds are one of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids. The leaves and stems are juicy, succulent and taste lemony.

Mallow (Malva) has a pleasant mellow flavor and is delicious in salads and juices while gently drawing out congestion from the body.  The whole plant blended and strained also makes a great base for homemade lotions and shampoos.

Plantain (Plantago) is not only a great food, but also acts as the perfect first aid kit in a myriad of ways.  The leaves chewed into a mash draw out snake venom, spider bites, infection, and assist rapid healing of any injury.

Clover (Trifolium) replenishes the soil with nitrogen and re-mineralizes our bodies with a full spectrum rainbow of trace minerals that support the integrity of long-term health.

Curly dock (Rumex) leaves are used for lettuce when young and the seeds ground fine make great flour for adding to breads.  The root works as a fantastic natural antibiotic and immune builder.

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium) has far greater nutritional value than spinach and its seeds turn into the highly nutritious grain, quinoa.

Amaranth (Amaranthus) also known as pigweed is a wild food of choice.  The greens are delicious raw and for making into green chips and the little black seeds and leaves are packed with protein.

Grass (Poaceae) grows everywhere and is a true blessing because all wild grasses are edible. It makes a fantastic survival food because it contains all 8 essential amino acids making it a complete protein.  Chew the blades for the juice and spit out the pulp if it is too tough to break down.

Chickweed (Stellaria) is a delicate plant with five white flower petals that uses the support of other plants to grow higher.  It tastes mild, like fresh green springtime.  It can be used in salads, green juices, and salves.  It supports our ability to let go of excess and increases our bodies efficiency.

Thistle (Carduus) greens make a fantastic juice.  Harvest the greens carefully from the back stem or use gloves.  Place them in the blender with plenty of water, an apple, and a lemon.  Blend and strain the pulp out.  Drink this delicious thistle lemonade and experience a good energy that comes from shifting your body towards an alkaline healing state.

Knotweed (Polygonom) grows low to the ground and is often overlooked. It is a wild buckwheat that is highly nutritious and delicious. It is a first succession pioneer species and helps regenerate the soil.

Dandelion (Taraxacum) reminds us how to survive in style.  The whole plant is edible and highly beneficial for good living.  The roots are eaten raw or prepared like a wild potato, the greens are delicious with a slightly bitter flavor, the flowers taste like honey, and the stems make great musical flutes.

Wild mustards (Brasica) are spicy edibles and encourage good circulation in the body.  They each have four flower petals that come in different colors of the rainbow.  The greens make a flavorful addition to dishes and the yellow seeds create great condiments and add local variety to your spice rack.

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds is about empowering ourselves to maintain a state of optimal health with minimal cost and effort, and offers a tangible way to connect with our sense of place by incorporating wild edible and medicinal plants into our daily practices.

Save 35% off your purchase of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds when you buy it direct from us before October 13.


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