Category: gardening

Janisse Ray on saving seeds

Book cover image courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

The public radio show Marketplace featured an interview with environmentalist and author Janisse Ray on seeds and seed saving in the modern era:

Ray explains that it’s only in the last hundred years that farmers have shifted from caretakers to “renters” of genetic material in the form of high-tech seeds.

“With the advent of patenting laws and the ability to patent life, basically, a patent supercedes the rights of a farmer to save his own seeds,” says Ray. Seeds have always had value, but the legal right to plant is a new phenomenon — thanks to “G.M.” or genetically-modified seeds.

Her book on the topic, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, received strong reviews. As Kirkus Reviews describes, Ray

unabashedly proclaims that seeds are “miracles in tiny packages.” Through accounts of her own journey in saving them, as well as facts and anecdotes, she urges readers to consider the practice, in order to avoid genetic erosion, to improve health, to work against a system that determines and limits availability, and more. Without stridence, Ray forthrightly presents her case, advocating for small organic farmers and less corporate dependence. In her most persuasive chapters, she recounts her travels in Georgia, Vermont, Iowa and North Carolina to meet others involved in saving specific varieties. She emphasizes the importance of diversity and also the ways in which preservation becomes a cultural resource….

And as the starred review from Publishers Weekly suggests,

avid gardeners will relish recognizing their idiosyncratic, revolutionary sides in its pages, and it’s likely to strike a spark in gardening novices. Even couch potatoes will be enthralled by Ray’s intimate, poetically conversational stories of her encounters with the “lovely, whimsical, and soulful things [that] happen in a garden, leaving a gardener giddy.”

Head here for a brief excerpt on how to save tomato seeds, which includes steps like “milk the pulp, meaning the gelatinous matrix that suspends the seeds like frog eggs, into the jar.” Then, track down a copy of the book to enjoy yourself!

_____

The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on September 29, 2012.

Vermicomposting; or, the wonderful world of worms

Tucking in the Worms

Setting up the “Worm Factory.” Photo by ellenmac11 (Ellen Macdonald) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A couple days ago Slate ran a nice piece from Catherine Price on small-scale, in-home composting. Having moved to a city that (unlike her former municipality) didn’t collect kitchen and yard waste curbside as part of regular trash pick up, she decided to try composting herself. As she describes,

They arrived early on a Tuesday morning in a cardboard box. “1000 Red Worms,” read the label in large letters printed beneath the USPS tracking number. Return address: Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. My mailman handed the package to me with no emotion, but I was excited. Inside were the catalysts for my latest experiment: vermicomposting. Or, to be less Latinate about it, composting with worms….

Whereas traditional composting relies solely on microorganisms like bacteria and fungi to break down food particles into new soil (and requires active maintenance so it doesn’t stagnate), in vermiculture, worms speed up the process for you. Once microbes have taken care of some of the predigestion (worms don’t have teeth or many digestive fluids), the worms suck the food through their mouths. Inside their bodies, strong muscles and particles of sand and grit grind the food into even smaller pieces; microbes in their intestines then finish the digestion, converting the food into nutrient-rich castings—a fancy word for worm poop. Vermiculture is like normal composting, turbocharged.

Price is a worrier and details how overly obsessed she became with her kitchen-scrap–digesting red wigglers. It’s an entertaining article, and it includes some nice info and links, so check out the full piece here.

For more, learn all about vermiculture as Wisconsin Public Radio’s Judith Siers-Poisson interviews Joe Van Rossum, Recycling Specialist and Director of the Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center at University of Wisconsin Extension. Finally, head to TreeHugger’s post on “Vermicomposting and Vermiculture: Worms, Bins and How To Get Started” for more details and links.

More edible landscaping may be coming to Madison

ari tastes from the berry tree

Photo by Shira Golding Evergreen via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

As Linda Falkenstein reported for Isthmus earlier this week,

An ordinance will be introduced at [Tuesday, February 26th’s] Common Council meeting making it easier for residents to plant edible landscaping on city land….

Right now, it’s not practically possible for people to plant edible perennials on city land, due to the high cost of insurance. A similar plan was okayed for master gardeners doing work in parks and for those who take care of neighborhood signs; they’re covered on the city’s insurance as volunteers.

Head here for Falkenstein’s full piece, which also mentions another proposed change that would “make it possible for residents to plant gardens in their terraces,” by which she means that patch of land between the curb and sidewalk—what my family in Cleveland, Ohio called the “tree lawn” when I was growing up.

In case you missed the 2010 brouhaha when the initial master-gardener plan was proposed (and eventually approved), head to the Madison Fruits and Nuts simple but informative website, which has lots of great links to local press coverage at the time.

FYI, according to the city’s website, the latest proposal was introduced at the Common Council meeting as expected and has been referred to various committees and such (like the Sustainable Madison Committee and the Board of Public Works) for their review.

Janisse Ray on saving seeds

Book cover image courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

The public radio show Marketplace recently featured an interview with environmentalist and author Janisse Ray on seeds and seed saving in the modern era:

Ray explains that it’s only in the last hundred years that farmers have shifted from caretakers to “renters” of genetic material in the form of high-tech seeds.

“With the advent of patenting laws and the ability to patent life, basically, a patent supercedes the rights of a farmer to save his own seeds,” says Ray. Seeds have always had value, but the legal right to plant is a new phenomenon — thanks to “G.M.” or genetically-modified seeds.

Her new book on the topic, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, is receiving strong reviews. As Kirkus Reviews describes, Ray

unabashedly proclaims that seeds are “miracles in tiny packages.” Through accounts of her own journey in saving them, as well as facts and anecdotes, she urges readers to consider the practice, in order to avoid genetic erosion, to improve health, to work against a system that determines and limits availability, and more. Without stridence, Ray forthrightly presents her case, advocating for small organic farmers and less corporate dependence. In her most persuasive chapters, she recounts her travels in Georgia, Vermont, Iowa and North Carolina to meet others involved in saving specific varieties. She emphasizes the importance of diversity and also the ways in which preservation becomes a cultural resource….

And as the starred review from Publishers Weekly suggests,

avid gardeners will relish recognizing their idiosyncratic, revolutionary sides in its pages, and it’s likely to strike a spark in gardening novices. Even couch potatoes will be enthralled by Ray’s intimate, poetically conversational stories of her encounters with the “lovely, whimsical, and soulful things [that] happen in a garden, leaving a gardener giddy.”

Head here for a brief excerpt on how to save tomato seeds, which includes steps like “milk the pulp, meaning the gelatinous matrix that suspends the seeds like frog eggs, into the jar.” Then, track down a copy of the book to enjoy yourself!

Jere Gettle’s Seed Bank and the National Heirloom Expo

heirloom vegetables

Photo by Southernpixel Alby.us (Alby Headrick) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Civil Eats recently ran a nice piece that features Jere Gettle, heirloom seed advocate and purveyor. As journalist (and Seed Bank and National Heirloom Expo promoter) Christopher Fisher writes,

the seedsman from Missouri seemed pleasantly surprised by all the fuss when asked recently about the meteoric growth of the business he began just 14 years ago, when Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sent out its first mail order catalog. That was 1998. He was 17….

I began by asking him about the book he published last fall … According to The Heirloom Life Gardener, which was lovingly illustrated with hundreds of exquisite, mouth-watering photographs of produce from the Baker Creek gardens taken by Jere and others, heirlooms matter for a number of reasons, not least of which is that they tend to taste better than hybrid varieties.

It’s a nice article and includes lots of great links, so check it out.

Gardeners: Share your bounty!

Photo by looseends via Flickr

This recent piece from Beth Hoffman at Forbes highlights ways that surplus fruits and veggies can make it to those most in need.

… how can leftover locally grown produce get into the hands of those who can use it quickly, without expensive refrigeration, storage and staffing? The answer: via the web. Three year old AmpleHarvest.org is an online forum created to connect the dots between fresh local produce and those in the community who need it most.

At the AmpleHarvest website, gardeners can enter their zip code, find nearby food pantries, and get links to more information such as donation times and contact info. With summer just around the corner, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to can, freeze, or force onto your friends those sometimes-overwhelming amounts of extra produce that come in at harvest time; consider sharing some of your bounty with folks near you who could use a helping hand.

NPR on Jefferson’s vegetable garden

Monticello Vegetable Garden by Black.Dots. via Flickr

If you didn’t catch Melissa Block’s recent piece about Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden on NPR’s All Things Considered, it’s a worth a listen. The post online includes the audio story, a slideshow, a link to recipes in Jefferson’s own (almost legible) handwriting, and info about a new book from Pater Hatch, who’s been working at the garden for the past 35 years. Hatch’s book is called A Rich Spot of Earth, and a short excerpt is available at NPR.

Give the story a listen; it’s a nice window into an early American gardening enthusiast. “Peas are often regarded as Jefferson’s favorite vegetable,” Hatch tells Block. “He grew some 24 different varieties.” Yep. Two dozen!