Category Archives: books

The Usefulness of Cilantro

Cilantro Flowers
Cilantro is a mainstay of our cooler season garden. We love having it in meals and it also provides a pretty green spot in our garden. But besides eating the leaves, did you know about all the other parts you can eat? And did you know that it’s thought to be an aphrodisiac? And helps with digestion? And is the oldest herb mentioned in literature? Who knew?

We typically grow cilantro from seed in late winter and fall and it always grows healthy and large. We put it in full sun and provide it with moist soil and it grows to about a foot tall. During the times when we’re really on top of it, we’ll plant a handful of seeds every few weeks so we have a constant supply of it. But once we have had our fill and the season starts to change, it sends up these beautiful white flowers.
Coriander
After the flowers come, they develop little round seed pods that when dried are commonly called coriander in America. In other countries both the leaves as well as the seedpods can be called coriander, so make sure to read your recipes carefully to find out what part of the plant they mean. Dried coriander seeds are commonly used in Indian curries. We’ve tied ours upside down until they fully dry. We’re looking forward to some delicious curries this winter.

While I knew about eating the leaves and seeds, I just found out that you can also eat the roots. I read about that in Ruth Reichl’s book, Comfort Me With Apples(which is a fantastic read). On her trip to Thailand, she discovers them making stir fries with cilantro root. We haven’t tried this yet, has anyone else? At first glance, they don’t look especially appetizing, but we should give it a try one of these days.
Cilantro Roots
The taste of cilantro is pretty distinct. Do you like it? Or do you hate cilantro? You might not if you are of European heritage. It’s been said that those of European descent don’t care for it, and thinking of it, cilantro or coriander has never been a big hit in Europe. My mom can’t stand the stuff, but me, oh I really enjoy it. What do you think of it?

Update: If you are having troubles with your cilantro bolting, you may want to try this Slow Bolt Cilantro variety.

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How to Grow More Vegetables…Part Three

As promised, today I’ll explain about how this Grow Biointensive way of planting as explained in How to Grow More Vegetables can improve your garden. As I mentioned this style of gardening has been rediscovered and studied for over thirty years by Ecology Action, up in Northern California. But it’s originally the ancient 4,000 year old Chinese Biointensive way of farming which is patterned after nature’s own intensive biological plantings.

Scott and I figure, if its worked for the Chinese for all those years, it might just in fact make our garden a better place. And while we don’t follow the method exactly, we add a little bit more of the method’s theologies every year. And it has improved our garden greatly. The man who initially brought this method to attention in the States, Alan Chadwick, wisely said, “Just grow one small area, do it well. Then, once you have got it right, grow more!” So, let’s learn this method already, okay?

Here are the components:
Deep Soil Preparation. This is the most important part. Loose soil structure enables the roots to grow deep down in the soil and a steady stream of nutrients can flow into the stem and leaves. Double digging your soil is admittedly back breaking, but it can be done is small steps and the benefits last for years and are certainly worth the effort.

Composting. “In nature, living things die, and their death allows life to be reborn.” (See, Compost really is proof that there is life after death!) Composting is an important way to return carbon, nitrogen, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, phosophorus, potash, and trace minerals back to the earth. These elements are all necessary to maintain the biological cycles of life that naturally exist. So ahead make that compost pile, it’s easy!

Close Plant Spacing. Nature doesn’t grow it’s plants in long, spaced out rows, why should we? We waste a lot of space growing things so far apart.

Companion Planting.
This is a fascinating subject to explore. It’s one of our favorite garden explorations. Basically, you want to grow things together that will enhance each other, such as beans and cucumbers.

Plant Carbon-Efficient Crops. Planting your garden in about 60% of the growing area with seed and grain crops will produce large amounts of carbonaceous materials for compost and provide significant amounts of dietary calories. Have you ever thought about growing crops for not only your consumption, but also to return back to the soil? That’s a new one, isn’t it? But a great one.

Plant Calorie-Efficient Crops. Remember, this methodology is taught to show people how to grow their entire diet in one 4,000 square foot plot (a vegan diet of course). So thinking of planting the most calorie rich vegetables is important. You want to plant about 30% of your garden to potatoes, burdock, garlic, and parsnips which produce a large amount of calories for your diet.

Open-Pollinated Seeds. Use these to preserve genetic diversity.

A Whole, Interrelated Farming System.
This Grow Biointensive food-raising method is a whole system and it’s components, when used all together create high yields that nourish not only yourself but the earth.

Cool system, isn’t it? What I’ve written about is only a taste of what you find in the actual book, How to Grow More Vegetables. Its full of incredible information on starting from seed planting with lunar cycles, charts like you wouldn’t believe, and diagrams of how to lay out your garden. Step by step illustrations on how to start small and eventually grow a plot into a 4,000 sq. foot self sufficient garden of Eden, or Garden of Eatin’ as it were.

I can’t tell you how much you need to read How to Grow More Vegetables. Add it to your Amazon wish list or check it out at your local library. You’ll love it too!

Read Part One & Part Two.

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Filed under books, Compost, Soil

Grow More Vegetables… Part Two

Melons
I hope I didn’t scare you yesterday with that doom and gloom about the future of agriculture. I’m sure if I tried I could round up links to a ton more stories of fear, but I like to keep things positive here, so let’s hurry up and talk about how we can improve things, okay?

The challenges of world hunger, soil depletion, and diminishing resources is overwhelming. And many people tend to look for big solutions, such as mass distribution, miracle high-yield crops, mass producing fertilizer. But all of these solutions, really are harmful and create long-term dependency. How to Grow More Vegetables, the Grow Biointensive way of farming, teaches the world to become self sufficient. To nurture the soil, and to view the ecosystem as a whole, so we can continue to farm generation after generation.

The benefits for this Grow Biointensive way of growing are a:

    67% to 88% reduction in water consumption per unit of production
    50+% reduction in the amount of purchased fertilizer required per unit of production
    99% reduction in the amount of energy used per unit of production
    100+% increase in soil fertility
    200% to 400% increase in caloric production per unit of area
    100+% increase in income per unit of area.

Fantastic, right? Why hasn’t the world already adopted these practices? Well, they have. This type of farming was done in China as far back as 4000 years ago. The Europeans and Latin Americans adopted it long, long ago. But since the invention of mechanized and chemical agriculture, much of these practices have been destroyed. Ecology Action is working to reteach these methods world wide.

But how does this apply to your garden? What is this book going to do to make your garden better? Well, stick around for tomorrow’s post on what How to Grow More Vegetables will benefit you directly.

As for now, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Up to 6 billion microbial life-forms can live in one 5-gram amount of cured compost, about the size of a quarter. Life makes more life, and we have the opportunity to work together with this powerful force to expand our own vitality and that of this planet.

Read Part One & Part Three.

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How to Grow More Vegetables… Part One

…than you ever thought possible on less land that you can imagine.
Butterfly
Did you know that at some point during the years 2014 to 2021, there probably is not going to be enough land to provide the nutrition needed for most of the world’s population using todays current agricultural standards? Scary, isn’t it? Currently, we need about 7,000 to 36,000 square feet of farmable land to keep up with the worlds eating habits. And most people only have access to 9,000 square feet. You do the math.

And most of that land is used for growing only food, which doesn’t produce enough soil-nurturing humus needed to ensure the development of healthy soil. So the land gets stripped of it’s nutrients and becomes un-usable. Again, to keep a garden alive and thriving means to take care of the most basic of elements, the soil. (Here’s a list of 7 Things To Improve Your Soil today)

Regardless of how much soil we have in the world to grow on, we also need to consider the water to irrigate the crops. Many countries, as early as 1992, had only enough water to irrigate 4,000 square feet per person. Far from enough water to keep up with today’s farming practices.

It’s not all doom and gloom, there is a way to change these practices, and that’s what I’m going to talk about this week. This method described in How to Grow More Vegetables shows you how to grow all the food needed for one’s own nutrition, as well as nutrition for the soil on as little as 4,000 square feet.

We are going to start a little mini-series on A Sonoma Garden this week about the book How to Grow More Vegetables written by John Jeavons, the director of Ecology Action. This book features the Grow Biointensive method of mini-farming which has been adopted by UNICEF, Save the Children and the Peace Corps. This book is indispensible for anyone who is interested in food and farming activism and growing. The first part of the book is devoted to explaining the current status of the farming situation in the world as well as a look into the future. The majority of the book, however, explains this Grow Biointensive Method in great detail so you can easily adopt it into your gardening routine.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the benefits of Grow Biointensive.

Go to Part Two.

If you like this post and would like to have the rest of the series e-mailed to you click here.

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Weeds and Why They Grow

Yellow Flowers

Here’s an unusual read for Green Bean’s Bookworm Challenge.

I bet you never thought that weeds are really an indication of the nutrients in your soil. I never did. I just thought certain weeds grew where they grew because they just kept sprouting from the year before. But by changing the nutrient content of your soil can actually allow new weeds to grow and stop the growth of weeds you currently have. Interesting, isn’t it? I never would have thought. We learned this all in a book that Scott ordered called, “Weeds and why they grow” by Jay McCamen from Moses (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Inc.)

The root systems of some weeds, especially perennials, can penetrate deep into the subsoil to loosen it. Some weed roots can go down into the soil as much as twenty feet, breaking up the soil and improving drainage and aeration. They also bring up minerals and make it possible for the root systems of other plants, such as vegetables, to use those minerals and natural aeration.

As I mentioned, you can identify problems in your soil by what weeds are growing in it. There is a detailed chart that lists almost every weed out there and the soil nutients that allow that weed to proser. Through reading this book and looking in our yard, we found that the prolific srouting of purslane, amaranth, dandelions and some others that we have a calcium deficiency. That would also explain our yearly battle with blossom end rot on our San Marzanos. So off to the nursery we went, and back we came with liquid calcium which the man working there said is the best way to apply calcium at this stage in the growing cycle.

So once we get our calcium problem fixed, will the purslane, amaranth and dandelions leave? Quite possibly. And in its place maybe red clover will arrive. How will it get there? Well weed seeds can lie dormant and viable in the soil for as long as 30, 50, even 70 years! They are just waiting for a spec of light and for their proper soil conditions to sprout. (I’m serious about that spec of light, a fraction of a second of sunlight will do to get it growing, which is why he recommends tilling at night.)

Another thing I learned is that a garden that is free from weeds is actually a very unhealthy garden. When very little weeds grow it means the soil is actually extremely unhealthy. So it’s a good thing if you have weeds. Healthy weeds mean a healthy soil.

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Filed under books, Fertilizing, Seeds, Soil, Weeds, what we've learned

Sharing the Harvest

Sharing the Harvest

Those that know me know that I’m a dreamer. Head in the sky, full of lofty ideas – a true daydream believer. What’s been in my head lately has been this house. This 100 year old farmhouse for sale just outside of town on four and a half acres. A few months ago, on a whim, I decided to go to its open house and completely fell in love. I guess the whole romance begins on the long lavender lined drive up to the front, just that alone lets you know that you are in for something good. As soon as I opened the front door I could just sense that we belonged in that house. Maybe it was the old wide planked wood floor that creaked just so, or the original built ins or the huge country kitchen that demanded daily fried egg breakfasts. But I can’t get this place out of my head.

If we lived in this old house we’d certainly breath a little deeper, speak with a little more thought and walk a bit slower. At least that’s how I see it in my head. The boys rooms would be upstairs. Up creaky steps to pitched roof rooms. With some new windows to open for a breeze and some old windows so they could spend boring rainy days looking out at the world through melted glass.

The property around the house is flat and surrounded by large trees – perfect for a future apple orchard and vegetable garden. I walked out of the backdoor, off the back porch, past the lawn through a gate to the back of the property where a creek runs. Stepping over the hap-hazard stepping stones to the water, I brushed by some wild mustard and onions and it just overwhelmed me with the thought that this is what childhood should smell like. And what it should be made of. Swimming and exploring in that creek, smelling those wild smells and moving about your day with the secret thought that maybe ghost wonder around those old pitched roof rooms of theirs.

So, you’re wondering, why haven’t we bought this dreamy place already? Well, four acres with a dreamy farmhouse in Sonoma doesn’t come cheap. Even in these hard economic times. But, I think I have figured out a way to make it work, thanks to this book I’ve read for Green Bean’s Bookworm Challenge called Sharing the Harvest: A Citizens Guide to Community Supported Agriculture. We are going to start our own CSA. And you are all invited to join! Its going to be just wonderful. This book explains everything you need to know on how to start and operate a CSA and I think, in my dreamy mind, that it would be great fun. We’ll grow acres of fruits and vegetables to shower you with and since there’s already a chicken coop there, we’ll bring our chickens and provide eggs for you too. I’ll bake you all tarts and Scott will make you all jam. You can all come over on the weekends to help and we can have picnics in the orchard and bonefires during harvest parties. And after doing all the math, this will only cost you a cool $1000/month. Hmmm, what’s that? Oh, I guess that is a little pricey. And I suppose running a farm wouldn’t be all fun all the time. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

It makes me feel good though, that even though we can’t afford this place just yet, that it exists. That in this world of shiney homedepot granite and mcmansion newness that there still are small, authentic houses on large pieces of land that are to be had. And someday we’ll own one, but maybe not quite yet.

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In Defense of Food

So I’ve just finished my fifth (!) book about food. Really now, five in a row! Someone please hand me a piece of fluffy fiction! First it was The Omnivore’s Dilemma, then Heat, then Tender at the Bone, then Animal Vegetable Miracle and now In Defense of Food. All of them were fantastic reads and I’d recommend every last one of them. And each one has altered the way I buy food, cook food, or even just think about food. It’s made our grocery shopping trips completely different than what they were two years ago. I mean we’ve always grown much of our own produce and gone to the farmers markets on a regular basis, but I’m guilty of buying the crud when I found a good bargain.

I don’t have to explain my thoughts on food to most of you because I know you, feel much the same as I do and have read many of the same books, so I’ll just share this quote from In Defense of Food that I thought was beautiful:

When you’re cooking with food as alive as this—these gorgeous and semi gorgeous fruits and leaves and flesh—you’re in no danger of mistaking it for a commodity, or a fuel, or a collection of chemical nutrients. No, in the eye of the cook or the gardener or the farmer who grew it, this food reveals itself for what it is: no mere thing but a web of relationships among a great many living beings, some of them human, some not, but each of them dependent on each other, and all of them ultimately rooted in soil and nourished by sunlight. I’m thinking of the relationship between the plants and the soil, between the grower and the plants and animals he or she tends, between the cook and the growers who supply the ingredients, between the cook and the people who will soon come to the table to enjoy the meal. It is a large community to nourish and be nourished by. The cook in the kitchen preparing a meal from plants and animals at the end of this shortest of food chains has a great many things to worry about, but “health” is simply not one of them, because it is given.

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buy nothing wrap up

Buy Nothing Challenge - April 2008

I keep meaning to wrap up my Buy Nothing Challenge that Crunchy Chicken put on in April. I did great actually, as long we don’t talk about April 15th, I keep all of my unnecessary spending under $20 for the whole month. Just a few coffees out with a friend and a couple of organizing crates at the hardware store, oh and a few Ed Emberly books at the thrift store for 50 cents. So what happened April 15th? Well, I made a trip to Target, damn that store with all of its temptation. Actually everything I bought were things that we needed and I only make the trip there once every few months.

The interesting thing about this challenge to me was to view my own spending habits. I realized that this challenge wasn’t all that hard for me. I don’t buy very many unnecessary things, usually coffee, an occassional piece of clothing, a couple of treasures while browsing the thrift store, nothing outrageous or superfluous. We’ve always known that we don’t spend that much, but we do have expensive tastes. So we find that if we can’t have the best, than we’d rather go without until we can afford it.

My Challenge for May is Green Bean’s Be a Bookworm. I’m going to be wrapping up In Defense of Food and tackling maybe Affluenza or a gardening book. I’ll let you know!

Edit: So I just received our April credit card bill, it’s exactly half of what it was the month previous. Hmmm, so maybe I do shop more than I think! Needless to say The Buy Nothing Challenge was helpful to our pocketbook. Maybe I should make every month a Buy Nothing Month. Or at least a Buy Next to Nothing month.

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animal, vegetable, miracle

more food for thought

Before I would have normally thought twice about buying that green bell pepper that my husband requested from the store yesterday, I mean, I know they are out of season and this poor little pepper was carted all the way up from Chile via precious fossil fuels just to add a little life to our potato hash. But after finishing Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” last night, I feel really guilty.

We have always tried to eat with the seasons because we grow so much of our own fruit and veggies, but sometimes, like last night, you just have to have a bell pepper in the middle of March. Barbara and her industrious family of four commited to an entire year of eating locally and therefore in season. It was a very inspirational read, especially right at the beginning of gardening season. It’s one of those books that makes me want to immediately get out and start tomato, zucchini and basil seeds. Right now! Alas it’s a bit too early for us to do that. Maybe in the next couple of weeks.

Her casual and friendly writing style made me want to go visit her and walk through her garden with her. Meet her chickens and see her new turkey chicks. Her visit to the Farmer’s Diner in Vermont makes us daydream of opening such a restaurant here in Sonoma.

This quote by her husband Stephen is really eye opening:

Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We’re consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen – about 17% of our nation’s energy use – for agriculture, a close second to our vehicular use. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are not the machines, but so-called inputs. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, and in their manufacturing. More than a quarter of all farming energy goes into synthetic fertilizers.

But getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion’s share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food.

A quick way to improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it. More palatable options are available. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.

Steven L. Hopp

I don’t know if we’d be able to commit to a eating locally exclusively, but it sure makes me think. Think about finding meals that will accomodate whats in season, taking a second look at there the fruit is grown that I’m putting into my winter shopping bags, and of course it inspires me to garden!

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