Tuesday Book Review – The Worm Book

I’m always looking for ways to be more efficient and consistent in my farming.  I like water timers that ensure we deliver an even amount of moisture to the soil.  I like grow lights that deliver the right amount of lumens to help my seedlings sprout and stay happy.  One other way to set a system in motion that will support a healthy garden is to cultivate worms, both to put into the garden, and to create compost and worm “tea” to feed your plants.

The Worm Book: The Complete Guide to Gardening and Composting with Worms

The Worm Book by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor shows how to begin vermiculture – the process of multiplying worms, and then using them to eat your garbage and give you gorgeous worm casting compost and worm tea.  Important measures of health are provided in the book, such as pH levels, moisture, and aeration, and a large section is given to troubleshooting. I didn’t know that moles will raid your worm bins, but apparently, moles love them.  Yum yum.

 

Red Wigglers

Red Wigglers

Not every state has native earthworms, but in California, they’re essential.  I’m not talking about nightcrawlers, a destructive worm.  I mean red wigglers, the hardworking worm that can “mix and aerate the soil, improve soil structure and water infiltration, help moderate soil pH, bring up minerals in the soil, make nutrients more available to plants, break down plant and animal materials into compost, and increase beneficial microbial action in the soil.”

Simple Vermiculture Bin

Simple Vermiculture Bin

My friend Lynda enjoyed a small vermiculture bin in her suburban backyard like this one.  My aunt Clara had large beds of worms at her ranch in Watsonville.  I look forward to doing the same, and reaping the rewards.  Loren Nancarrow’s book provides me the details to make it happen.  –Allison

Tuesday Book Review – Farmer Jane

My son Bernhard gave me this book for my birthday awhile back, and it’s a keeper.  Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat by Temra Costa includes profiles of 31 leaders in farming, female leaders.  Their wisdom is splashed all over the pages, and my pink highlighter makes the wisdom pop.

Farmer Jane: Women Changing The Way We Eat

Jessica Prentice writes, “Traditional peoples ate freshly ground or whole grains that were sprouted, soaked, soured, or leavened before being baked or cooked.  Once you understand how much more digestible and nourishing grains can be if you approach them that way, it’s hard not to follow suit.”

Sprouted Bread

Sprouted Bread

Deborah Madison writes, “You see plums – black plums and red plums.  You might not know there are hundreds of varieties in all colors – purple, green, yellow, blue.”  Consumers should be able to say, ‘This is a Blenheim; this is a Royal; this is a Katy; these are great for eating fresh; these for canning and pies.  What you’re looking for in an apricot are the speckles; these are better dried.’ etc.”

Green Gage plums

Green Gage plums

Marion Kalb writes, “Nearly 30 million children eat school lunch five days a week in the United States.  For many, it is their most nutritious meal of the day.  Studies show that without the nutrients that come from “real” food, kids can’t learn as well.  It’s as simple as that.”  Then she goes on to discuss a study of students in Wisconsin that tied fresh nutritious food to a marked decline in behavioral problems.

School Lunch - the most nutritious meal of the day?

School Lunch – the most nutritious meal of the day?

I hope you pick up a copy and enjoy!  –Allison

Tuesday Book Review – Seed to Seed

Yesterday I was watching Antique Roadshow.  Someone brought in an Anasazi pot, a big bellied thing with a tiny hole in the center of the top.  What was that for?  The curator said it was a seed-saving vessel.  I always wondered why some pots were made with small openings.  They certainly weren’t vases, or cereal bowls.  Now I want to collect little pots like that for my seed collection.

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, 2nd Edition

Are you interested in saving seeds?  The seeds of hybrid vegetables and fruits don’t produce offspring similar to the parents – the genetic work falls apart, and you can get some freakish food.  If you want to save seed and have the same food grow from it as you enjoyed last year, you need heirloom varieties that aren’t hybridized or GMO.  Seed saving is a skill, and though it’s not hard, there are some things to know.  This book by Suzanne Ashworth treats it as a scientific skill giving step-by-step directions to help you save seed simply and practically.

One of my favorite spices is paprika.  I don’t like hot peppers, but I love the warmth and the earthy aroma that comes with paprika.  When I include it in food, I get a sensation in my palate, upper cheeks and sinus that is so wonderful. When I searched for paprika seeds, they were nowhere to be found.  I could find hybrid paprika, or bell pepper, jalapeno, habaneros (eek), but not paprika.  Why is this?  Every supermarket has paprika in the spice rack.

Smoked Paprika

Smoked Paprika

Further research taught me that the word “paprika” means “pepper” in Hungarian, and that the country of Hungary is known for its exquisite peppers.  I asked at Lockhart Seeds in Stockton (where I buy my heirloom seeds), and they gave me their contact person in Florida for peppers – The Pepper Gal (www.peppergal.com).  She has over 130 varieties of hot pepper in her list, and nearly another 100 sweet peppers.  From her, I was able to purchase three tiny envelopes with these varieties: Pimento L Sweet, Apple Sweet, and Round of Hungary Sweet.  These heirloom varieties have seeds that will be true to the parent, and I’ll be able to save them from the best fruits to plant again next year.

Pepper Gal Paprikas

Pepper Gal Paprikas

How am I going to save them?  Ms. Ashworth is excellent in her directions.  On page 153 it says, “Peppers can be cleaned in a blender if the flesh is not going to be eaten.  Cut the stems off of the fleshless seed cores, adding enough water to cover the cores.  Blend at low speed until the cores disintegrate and the seeds are free.  Gently stir the mixture, and the good seeds will sink to the bottom.”  Isn’t that neat?  I want the best seeds, and right at the start, I’ll be able to filter for them. Then she describes how to clean, dry, and store these seeds.  She also describes how to save seeds for beans, lettuce, melons, etc.  Everything you’d want to plant.  You’ll never have to buy seeds again, and will have seed to swap in Springtime.

Our ancestors knew how to save seeds.  The seed storage was carefully protected, so good food could be grown next year.  I’m relearning something my great-grandparents knew, and did routinely. –Allison

Tuesday Book Review – How to Grow More Vegetables

This beautiful big book by John Jeavons was a present to me by my daughter Jenna.  It is so helpful.  In the foreword by Alice Waters, the renowned chef of Chez Panisse, she says that this book “may be one of the most important how-to guides ever written.”  Chef Waters is known for pioneering California cuisine, and for starting the locovore movement in Berkeley ages ago.

How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You … (And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains,)

Mr. Jeavons focuses on building soil tilth and then moves into the left-brained methods of charting and planning.  If you are a math geek, an engineer, an accountant, or a list-maker, the information provided here will give you a thrill.  –Allison

Tuesday Book Review – Soil Mates

Soil Mates by Alway, Sara [Quirk,2010] (Hardcover)

Soil Mates by Sara Alway is a very cute little book that describes companion planting in a romantic style.  Plants are shown with their “love match,” “turn-ons,” “stalker alerts,” etc. in a style that will leave you laughing while teaching you what works together or what plants might stunt each other’s growth.  Serious topics like crop rotation are addressed, and recipes are provided, e.g. Pumpkin Chutney with Sunflower Seeds and Dried Cranberries.  But this book is definitely a humorous addition to your gardening library.

Tuesday Book Review – Growing Great Garlic

I loved this book: Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland:

Growing Great Garlic

 

Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers

Thank goodness for Stuff-Knowers!  Here is an absolute expert on growing garlic.  Mr. Engeland has a lifetime of experience with garlic, and clearly explains every type of garlic and the way to prepare the soil to get the best result.  Here’s the review posted on the Filaree Farms website:

A BESTSELLING BOOK FOR GARDENERS AND SMALL FARMERS PUBLISHED BY FILAREE GARLIC FARM:

This book is the definitive guide and the first garlic book ever written specifically for organic gardeners and small farmers. Growing Great Garlic tells which strains to plant, when to plant, how to plant, when to fertilize (and when not to fertilize), when to prune flower stalks and when to harvest – plus how to store, market and process your crop. Growing Great Garlic covers everything – from site and soil preparation to harvest, curing and storage. Thirteen chapters include the history and evolution of garlic. It’s so thorough and extensive even commercial growers buy and consult this book. Written by Filaree’s founding farmer RonEngeland, this book has become a classic for many growers. A welcome addition to every gardener’s library.

Because of the content of this book, we planted our cover crops last summer. I highly recommend Mr. Engeland’s book for your garden reference library. –Allison

Tuesday Book Review – My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

by Ray

My wife knows how much I love to read.  She also knows that one of my passions is survival skills, so combining the two for a present was a smart thing to do.  One birthday, she gave me a copy of My Side of the Mountain, which tells the story of a boy whose father had the courage to let him run away to the “family farm,” a place abandoned for many years.  “He left New York in May, with a penknife, a ball of cord, an axe, $40, and a flint and steel kit.”  Sam was able to find shelter, find and prepare wild edibles, tame a falcon, and basically live the life I would love to be able to live.  He was away for a long time, even wintering inside a large tree.

My Side of the Mountain Trilogy (My Side of the Mountain / On the Far Side of the Mountain / Frightful’s Mountain)

The skills described are accurate.  The recipes used are doable, even edible, through there are easier and tastier ways to make the same dish.  Jean Craighead George did some serious research and is capable of sharing the result.  If I were able to give it three thumbs-up I’d borrow someone’s thumb to do it.

Tuesday Book Review – The Seed Underground

by Allison

In Petaluma, on the main drag through town headed toward Dillon Beach, my sister Rebecca and I passed The Petaluma Seed Bank.  So we had to turn around and go back and spend a few minutes.

Petaluma Seed Bank in a bank building

Petaluma Seed Bank in a bank building

The Petaluma Seed Bank carries many farmers’ seeds, including Baker Creek heirloom seeds, see http://www.rareseeds.com/. The seed racks were arranged against the walls in giant U’s their arms coming out toward the middle of the floor forming little rooms.  Posters celebrating the farmers who had provided each open-pollinated, non GMO seed made beautiful art on the walls and hung from the ceiling over the racks.  Freshly made beauty products were arranged on the far wall, and gardening tools were available upstairs and down.

 Inside the seed bank

Inside the seed bank

Rebecca was on a mission to find loofah.  It took us a little while, but we found it, and I bought a packet too.  In the center of the room there were round tables loaded with books, and I bought two: one on companion planting that was written with a little snark, and  The Seed Underground: a Growing Revolution to Save Food by Janisse Ray.

 The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food

In short, interesting chapters, Ms. Ray alternates between telling the story of her seed collecting experience, and discussing our farming heritage, showing how in just two generations we’ve lost several thousand years worth of seed culture because of the recent move to corporate farming, which focuses on only a few varieties.  How to solve the problem?  Follow after Gandhi, who says, “Big problems need small solutions.”  She suggests we find an heirloom variety of each vegetable we like, grow it, and share the seeds.  Going bigger, she shows on page 127 how saving seed can be a full-time career with just tomatoes.  If you have 320 plants, 4 each of 80 varieties, at 30 tomatoes per plant that’s 3,200 tomatoes.  given 250 seeds per tomato, you would harvest 800,000 seeds.  And at 10 cents per ceed, that equals $80,000 worth of tomato seeds.  Not bad!

I enjoyed her reports of conversations with heirloom growers, many who are VERY old and grateful that someone wants to keep their vegetable strains alive.  One fellow was talking about the varieties he saved, remarking about the “adventure” strain of tomato, “Impossible to exaggerate how good this one is,” he said. I like that Ms. Ray gets specific in describing varieties – making me want to try them: Napoli tomatoes for paste, Gensing Red sweet potatoes, rich with “tar” when cooked, Keener corn for cornmeal.  She talks about which fruits on the plant to save and when, and describes how to pollinate plants with a paintbrush or just using anthers, in order to keep the strain pure.  For example, each squash plant (like zucchini) will bear it’s whole plant’s fruit based on the first female flower’s pollination.  As the flower forms, just before it’s ready to open, she tapes it shut with masking tape so that in the morning, she can hand-pollinate it, ensuring the zucchini is not cross-pollinated with the crookneck squash.  Same goes for beets and chard, etc. If you don’t want to fuss with this, then only grow one strain of each vegetable and keep plants of the same genus separate (she provides a list).  Or grow a similar vegetable of another type in somebody else’s garden across town. Last year I grew my watermelons next to the cucumbers, and I got something weird because the bees cross pollinated them.  Distance between plants of the same genus is helpful.  I’m ready to draw up a master plan of plant rotation, including spacing of varieties and companion plantings, so that the garden is a perpetual success.

You can be a successful seed-saver.  It’s worth doing.  Each year save two year’s worth of seeds in case bad weather ruins next year’s garden.  Then you’ll never have to buy seeds in the springtime, and you’ll have something to trade with others, helping to ensure the biodiversity in our food supply.  To me, that’s being a hero.

Tuesday Book Review – Outdoor Survival Skills

by Ray

So.  O.Kay.  Let’s say you’re a mountain man and can survive in any condition be it mountain or desert or plain, winter, spring, or summer.

mountain man living large

mountain man living large

You can make your own bow and arrows.  You know what is good to eat and what is poisonous, and you’ve made your own clothes out of woven reeds and animal skins.  If this is the case, you have probably studied under Larry Dean Olsen.

Outdoor Survival Skills

Professor Olsen taught a course at Brigham Young University that covered all this and more.  His book Outdoor Survival Skills is one of my favorites.  First printed in 1967, the skills he teaches in this book have helped me be more “authentic” when working with our local Mormon Battalion group, and have given me confidence when camping with the family.  With the knowledge gained, and a little practice, I am satisfied that my family could be safe, warm, fed, and medicated in any situation.

I was introduced to Professor Olsen by one of the young ladies (Sonja) in my Family Home Evening group in the mid-seventies.  Sonja still had the sandals she had woven during the final exam for his course, which included a twenty-six day trek in the wilderness.  She also had the stone knife she had made, and the shirt made from the deerhide she had tanned.  I was jealous!  And then I found out that she had also met the guy who wrote the forward to the book.  He just happens to be one of my heroes, Robert Redford.

Tuesday Book Review – Seaweed, Salmon, and Manzanita Cider

by Allison

This last summer I went to the famous Haggin Museum in Stockton California with my friend Liz Richards to attend a celebration of Native American games and food.  I remember making acorn cakes when I was in 4th grade from the enormous Valley oaks that grew along the American River by my elementary school in Sacramento.  These giant oaks rival redwoods for big (in my opinion).

valley oaks are huge

Valley Oaks are huge

So it was delightful to eat acorn-based cakes at the museum that were truly sweet and delicious while watching children play traditional native-american games.  While I was there, I picked up a book by Margaret Dubin and Sara-Larus Tolley called Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider.  It celebrates California’s diverse tribal heritage, and shows how to make many of the foods they enjoyed.

Seaweed, Salmon, and Manzanita Cider: A California Indian Feast

The recipe for Manzanita Cider is shared by an Native American named Kumeyaay.  It says to use green manzanita berries, sugar or honey, and water.  “Cover the green berries with water in a saucepan and simmer 15 minutes until somewhat soft (reminds me of when I make cranberry sauce).  Bruise the berries, but do not crush.  Let stand overnight.  Decant the liquid, let sediment settle, and decant again.  Sweeten if desired.”

Manzanita berries with a little blush.

Our manzanita berries have a little blush.

Right now is the right time to make this manzanita cider.  Tomorrow we’ll give it a try.  I understand that there are a lot of tannins in the manzanita berries, so that’s why it’s important not to crush the berries, but just to let the berries flavor the water, and then to decant the juice off, leaving the pulp behind.  We don’t want a solution, just a suspension. (My chemist Dad, are you proud I know this?) Tannins are very astringent and bitter, but Jill Corleone in Livestrong.com says they are high in antioxidants http://www.livestrong.com/article/506117-what-are-tannins-polyphenols/ and Hank Shaw describes his experience making the cider in his blog: http://honest-food.net/2010/08/22/manzanita-cider/  While he says to use the berries when they are green with a blush in September in the Sierras, ours are ready now.  If you’d like to come see us on Thursday, we’ll have the finished product and you can try it.

  • Tuesday Book Reviews:

    "The One Straw Revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka
    Our review or Amazon:

    -
    "Grow Your Own Fruit" by Carol Klein
    Our review or Amazon:

    -
    "Hobby Farms Magazine"
    Our review or Amazon:
    Order Hobby Farm Magazine
    -
    “The New Self-Sufficient Gardener” by John Seymour
    Our review or Amazon:

    -
    "Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire, and Emergency Use" by Art Ludwig
    Our review or Amazon:

    -
    "The Woodwright's Guide: Working Wood with Wedge and Edge" by Roy Underhill
    Our review or Amazon:

    -
    "The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers" by Caleb Warnock
    Our review or Amazon:

    -
    "City Chicks" by Patricia Foreman
    Our review or Amazon:

    -
    "Making Your Small Farm Profitable" by Ron Macher
    Our review or Amazon:
%d bloggers like this: