"The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass."
- Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947
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|| Reviews and Resources
• Not Far from the Tree – A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004
• Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows
• Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver
• The Weather Resilient Garden: A defensive approach to planning and landscaping
• Blue Ribbon USA: Prizewinning Recipes from State and County Fairs
New York Style Half-Sour Pickles (recipe by Adam Tomash)
• A Mystic Garden – Working with Soil, Attending to Soul
• Sacred Land – Intuitive Gardening for Personal, Political & Environmental Change
• Here if You Need Me, A True Story
• The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving
• Cooperative Development
• IPM for Household Pests
• Certificate of Specialization in Organic Agriculture
Not Far from the Tree – A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004
by John Bunker, self-published, 2007
Available from the author at 167 Turner Mill Pond Rd., Palermo 04354, ($22 plus $6 tax and shipping); at a few stores, including Rabelais in Portland and Gulf of Maine in Brunswick; and from Fedco, PO Box 520, Waterville 04903 ($22 plus tax and shipping; fedcoseeds.com)
Anyone who loves apples or loves history, or both, will also love John Bunker’s new book. Like Thoreau who traveled widely in Concord, Bunker has “made a big effort to visit all the apple trees in town …” as well as numerous trees around Maine.
In the 190-page, self-published, large-format paperback, Bunker consolidates his 35 years of “climbing apple trees around town, collecting, storing and eating fruit, pressing cider, learning to identify the varieties, grafting young trees and listening to stories from the old timers.” Bunker’s own stories and those of his Palermo neighbors explain part of what “made the town what it is today.”
Using aerial photos that the United States Department of Agriculture took of Palermo in 1939, Bunker identified orchards as patterns of black dots arranged in a square, often on gentle hillsides, where air drainage would protect trees from frost. More dots – more apple trees – appeared along roads and stone walls. He set off to visit what remained of those orchards and to identify the apples of Palermo, such as ‘Ben Davis,’ ‘Northern Spy,’ ‘Stark’ and, possibly, ‘Leather Coat.’
While Palermo residents grew other fruit trees, apples predominated because the trees adapted so well to so many sites, and the fruits could be used in so many ways: eaten fresh, baked, in pies, as sauce (or “sass”), cider (including hard), as vinegar (which also served as a tonic, medicine, food preservative and household cleanser), for animal food. They stored well in a root cellar and were easily dried. “In a time when interstate commerce was limited, growing apples allowed Palermo residents to have fruit almost all year round,” notes Bunker.
Bunker describes the history of the apples we eat today, noting that only three species of crabapples are native to North America, and that the apples our ancestors grew came from the area now called Kazakhstan, very near the border of China. They traveled along the Silk Road with many other foods and spices we enjoy today – including those associated with a good apple pie: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Apples made their way into Europe and later to North America. Scandinavian fishermen probably brought the first apples to Maine, says Bunker, planting orchards on Maine islands as early as 1550, possibly. “In my various island fruit exploration trips I still see apples that bear no resemblance to the more typical mainland varieties,” he writes. “These might be the descendents of those early immigrants.” Europeans brought their own apples to the mainland in the 17th and 18th centuries. Old Orchard may have held the first orchard on mainland North America, dating from around 1600, says Bunker.
This rich book continues with Bunker’s stories of learning to identify apples, educating readers about apple pollination and grafting, entertaining with stories of cider making from long ago to today. Of his own cider experiences, Bunker notes that in climbing and shaking trees in order to collecting fruit for cider, “I did avoid collecting fruit that landed directly in the cow pies. Cows are passionate about apples and every now and then I would have to battle them for the fruit. They can be incredibly persistent, and more often than not I gave up and went collecting somewhere down the road.” He relates how Palermo resident Howard Glidden, born in 1900, could scythe “with the precision of a lawn mower” – perhaps tempted by the jug of hard cider set at either end of the field that a team of men were preparing to hay.
Not Far from the Tree has stories about the importance of the narrow gauge railroad in transporting apples, about the best pie apples (determined by a pie eating event that Bunker and his friends hold each fall), about the beginnings of Fedco Trees (started and still coordinated by Bunker), about a horse named Prince who certainly knew the location of his favorite apple tree, and much, much more. The second half of the book includes maps showing locations of individual trees and orchards in Palermo; illustrations of defining traits of varieties; tables of the values of orchard products for residents of Palermo in the mid-1800s; and an excellent index. This is the book to buy this fall.
– Jean English
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Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows
by Lynn R. Miller
Small Farmer’s Journal, Inc., 2006
221 pages, paperback, $15
Those who were moved by Lynn Miller’s rousing keynote speech at the 2004 Common Ground Country Fair – and anyone who values non-industrial farming and/or farming with horses – will enjoy this latest collection of the renowned and outspoken farmer’s essays. While railing against industrial systems (including “war systems,” a term Miller uses in place of “defense”) on the one hand, Miller promotes humanistic systems on the other. “I want to propose that the prosperous and noble approach would have us consider every potential customer as a fellow human being worth our trust and respect,” writes the author (who is also publisher of the Small Farmer’s Journal).
In one essay Miller tells of a rodeo that began with six equestrians carrying red, white and blue Pepsi flags and an announcer “pumping up the crowd to a patriotic fervor”… for Pepsi. Miller’s response? “Balled up my fist, shook it in the air and hollered ‘down with corporate fascism!’”
Miller’s anger extends to environmentalists who attack “individuals, small businesses, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, tree farmers and leave the earth murdering consortium of megalithic multinational corporations alone.” He implores us to “walk away from consumption and into production … If we were to follow the little voice inside ourselves to creativity and thereby forsake convenience, I am certain pollution of the environment would cease. I am certain lives and communities would bloom.”
Many essays in Dancing Cows celebrate farm production and community, and encourage readers – even would-be farmers without land – to move forward in these areas. One of my favorites is the story of Wilbur Long, who was forced to retire from a factory due to arthritis. After bee pollen and venom dramatically reduced his symptoms, Long took up beekeeping and created a beautiful, diverse farm around his hives. Miller’s description of the transformation of the 40-acre, rundown, hillside farm along an intrusive highway, into “Wilbur’s magical farm” could have the most hardened industrialist (not to mention the poorest future farmer) dreaming of his own magical place. “If you want to be farming someday, start now, don’t wait,” Miller urges.
Other essays describe the small, important details of farming and of farming with horses; the loving quirks of neighbors; the “unpalatable, bland or plastic tasting” supermarket fruit; the necessity of improving farm income.
The book concludes with recipes for Poached Chicken in a Pot, and Real Eggs. These are complete essay-recipes, describing the source of each ingredient (including “goodies” such as cloves, that you “have traded for from pen pal farmers in other climates”), the type of guests who will most enjoy the feast, and other important details.
“Our farms need to be little churches,” writes Miller. “Common crude glorious little shrines to fertility and biodiversity.”
Miller’s faith in those little churches is reflected in his own farm. “I am a fortunate man to be part of where I live and to try to farm here,” he says. Read these essays in your spare moments, and your faith, too, will be strengthened.
– Jean English
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Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver
by Fern Marshall Bradley
472 pages, paperback, $19.95
Bradley’s book lives up to its subtitle: “The best and latest advice for beating pests, diseases, and weeds and staying a step ahead of trouble in the garden.” Her underlying theme throughout the book is that healthy plants are more resistant to problems than stressed plants. Attaining a healthy and well-balanced garden, however, is a multi-year project – especially for gardeners who have to patchwork their passion for plants into a life full with child rearing and a daily job.
A healthy and resistant garden begins at ground level. The soil, Bradley emphasizes, is a living, active community. Garden practices that support the community of soil organisms will ultimately help your plants. In addition to reminders to reduce tilling and eliminate use of synthetic chemicals, she urges gardeners to cover the soil. Natural mulches provide habitat for beneficial insects and spiders, and cover crops help build fertility.
Bradley gives helpful hints on how to deal with compacted soil, what size to make your garden, and reasons for planting flowers among vegetables; but the meat of the book is in the encyclopedic entries, from “Alternaria Blight” to “Wireworms.” (Zucchini-loving gardeners will have to look under “squash” to find out what pesky critters are nibbling the tips of the vines.)
This book is easy to access. A beginning gardener who knows little about diseases can easily flip to the entry on “melons” and look for information under “troubleshooting problems,” where an entry reads, “powdery white coating on leaves.” Descriptions are simple and direct, with references to further information.
Likewise, the gardener who knows that cucumber beetles are gnawing her plants will find an entry with a pest profile and extensive list of control methods that includes timed planting, row covers, sticky traps and more. A handy “control calendar” highlights methods to use before planting, during crop growth and during storage.
The section on disease control emphasizes healthy soil and lists other strategies to fend off disease, including resistant varieties, crop rotation and carefully handling garden debris. The discussion of breaking disease cycles goes beyond the basics, highlighting “biofumigation” as an alternative – i.e., growing a crop that, when turned into the soil, releases natural fungicides as it decays. Mustards and rapeseed are often used this way.
Crop entries outline basic information, list a few “secrets of success” – tips we wish other gardeners had passed on to us when we were beginning – provide a quick checklist for preventing problems and include regional notes. Want to grow carrots in the humid Southeast? Because frequent rains can saturate the soil for hours at a time, Bradley suggests planting in raised beds.
– Sue Smith-Heavenrich
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The Weather Resilient Garden: A defensive approach to planning and landscaping
by Charles W.G. Smith
2004, Storey Publishing
412 pages, $19.95. paperback.
Weather resilient gardens and landscapes can withstand a number of pressures, Smith declares. His book provides detailed advice on what to do when a weather disaster strikes, and includes a useful encyclopedia of 100 hardy plants to help you garden defensively.
The key to defensive landscaping is to become more aware of your garden and the forces that affect it. For many people this means taking a different approach to designing and tending their landscapes. According to Smith, this process begins with plant selection.
Consider how plants do under different types of stress, he writes. Instead of using color, shape and form as guiding principles in garden design, he suggests a different list: understand a plant’s cultural needs and preferences regarding weather-related conditions; consider the plant’s natural strengths; combine plants that will enhance the resiliency of the group; and allow plants to grow in the place that best suits their strengths.
“Healthy soil is the single most important buffer your garden has going for it,” Smith says. If your soil is healthy, your plants are more able to weather the weather, and Smith includes information-packed pages on how to improve your soil, make compost and use soil tests.
The second part of his book focuses on “really bad” weather. He devotes a chapter to cold, discussing how the hardiness of permanent plantings changes throughout the year. An apple may be hardy to -40 degrees when it’s dormant, he points out, but when the buds are opening it may be hardy only to 32 degrees. Some plants are even susceptible to chills, Smith notes.
He discusses bridge grafting to deal with rodent damage, lists deer-resilient plants and ice-resilient deciduous trees, and describes how to deal with road salt spray and sidewalk salt damage.
At the other extreme is drought. Though not as spectacular as, say, flooding or wind, drought is slow and persistent, wearing down the vitality of the landscape one day at a time, and the damage may go unnoticed until too late. In addition to lack of water, drought-induced wildfires are becoming more frequent.
To design a garden that will survive drought, Smith suggests researching the native climates of your plants. Plant them in groups that reflect their moisture needs. For example, place daylilies, lupine and penstemon together.
In the vegetable garden, Smith notes, drought robs produce of its sweetness, tenderness and juiciness. He suggests planting staggered rows in wide beds with lots of compost, and mulching. Even a thin mulch layer reduces evaporation.
In other chapters Smith tells how to deal with wildfires, floods, hail, wind and even lightning. His last section lists his top 100 recommendations for weather-resilient perennials, shrubs, trees, vines and ground covers, ornamental grasses and annuals. Useful references include an updated hardiness zone map and an index of botanical names.
– Sue Smith-Heavenrich
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Blue Ribbon USA: Prizewinning Recipes from State and County Fairs
by John Margolies and Georgia Orcutt
128 pages, Chronicle Books, 2007, $16.95
Tidbits about state and county fairs combine with prize-winning recipes from fairs – one from each state, some heavy with less-than-healthy ingredients. Maine’s recipe (below) is from the Common Ground Fair and is made with real ingredients, most of which can come from your own garden.
New York Style Half-Sour Pickles
© 2005 Adam Tomash
This recipe produces those wonderful, garlic-flavored “not quite cucumber, not quite pickle” treats served with sandwiches at authentic delis in the bigger cities. They are a delightful garnish and surprisingly easy to make. Most recipes that attempt this pickle use way too much salt and result in a pickle that does not have the true flavor of the real deli “half-sour.”
The recipe makes a 1-gallon jar. Use glass or food-grade plastic with a non-metallic lid. Make pickles within 24 hours of picking the cucumbers. Use only small, 2- to 4-inch cucumbers that are well formed. (If they are hollow or pointed from poor growing conditions don’t use them.)
5 pounds (enough to fill a 1-gallon jar) fresh pickling cucumbers
2 to 6 cloves garlic (to taste)
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
4 to 12 heads fresh dill (to taste; don’t use the really old, dry heads)
1/4 cup pickling salt
2 tsp. brown mustard seed (just regular old mustard seed)
2 tsp. black mustard seed (use more brown if you can’t find black)
4 tsp. fresh pickling spice
1 small, dry, hot chili pepper (optional)
Wash cucumbers in cold water. Brush or scrub to remove dirt and spines. Drain well. Put a quarter of the dill and a quarter of the onion in the bottom of the jar. Layer a third of cucumbers on top. Repeat twice with two more layers of dill, onion (quarter each) and cucumbers (third each). Place the final quarter of dill and onions on the top of the last layer of cucumbers. Fill the jar with quality water until it reaches the very top of the jar.
Place the salt in a pan big enough to hold all the water from the jar. Peel the garlic and put it through a garlic press, letting the pressings fall on the salt. Then mash the garlic into the salt and mix well. Pour the water from the pickle jar into the pan, stir and bring almost to a boil. It will foam over if left unattended. Let cool to about 170º F. If the water is hotter than that it may break the jar, melt the plastic and/or cook the cucumbers.
Place the mustard seed, pickling spice and chili pepper on top of the cucumbers. Shake the jar to get some of the seeds down. Ladle the still hot salt-garlic-water mixture very slowly over the cucumbers. This should fill the jar right to the brim. Screw lid on jar. Let the jar stand at room temperature overnight. The next morning place in a refrigerator and after two days begin sampling. The pickles should remain delicious for two to three weeks and edible for much longer.
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Books for the Holidays
A Mystic Garden – Working with Soil, Attending to Soul
by Gunilla Norris
2006, BlueBridge, N.Y.
112 pgs., paper, $18
Connecticut gardener Gunilla Norris writes beautifully about seasonal parallels between gardening and living: how humans are like bare-root roses, with the need to be “swaddled, sheltered, and fed.” Do weeds have a right to exist, as enemies do? If so, how? After edging the garden, Norris asks, “Could we use an edger on ourselves as well, to keep out interactions that are not ours to be in?” Norris refers to God (or “something so beyond our ken and so essentially unknowable”) a lot and relates working in the soil with our “profound need for meaning.” The “thought bursts” that Norris recorded during a year of gardening are food for the soul.
Sacred Land – Intuitive Gardening for Personal, Political & Environmental Change
by Clea Danaan
2007, Llewellyn, Woodbury, Minn., 274 pgs., paperback, $15.95
Danaan’s unique style of garden writing combines the “how to” with spiritual insights about plants, gardens and, sometimes, spirits. An essay telling how to plant a wild garden ends by asking, “If you find yourself living in a place you did not consciously choose, what can you learn about adapting to present circumstances through the teachings of these plants?” An essay about seeds (“sparks of life created by a plant’s interaction with the sun”) advises approaching them “with the respect you would an infant human. Place them in the earth gently, with mindfulness. This intention will grow with the seed and grow as a part of the fabric of your plants.” An essay telling how Dorothy MacLean, one of the founders of Findhorn, gained her gardening prowess through meditation and communication with devas is fascinating. This book is perfect for winter (or any season) reading and inspiration. The double column, double-spaced layout makes it attractive and easy on the eyes. A partial list of U.S. and Canadian gardening associations (including MOFGA) will lead gardeners seeking more cultural information to resources in their bioregions.
Here if You Need Me, A True Story
by Kate Braestrup
2007, Little, Brown and Co.
224 pgs., hardcover, $23.99
After Kate Braestrup’s husband was killed in a car accident, the young mother took up his dream to become a chaplain. Now a Lincolnville, Maine, writer and chaplain to the Maine Warden Service, she has crafted her inspirational memoir beautifully. Readers will find nothing about farming or gardening here, but, as people who love the outdoors, will be fascinated with Braestrup’s experiences helping during emergencies to which Maine Wardens are called – such as finding children lost in the woods. Nondenominational and with a very broad view of “God,” the book leaves the reader with a better understanding of and more empathy for humans interacting with nature.
The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving
by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard
Second edition, 2007, Firefly Books, Buffalo, N.Y.
376 pgs., paper, $19.95
Need a last minute holiday gift? Got a few cups of raspberries in the freezer? Here are recipes for making and canning raspberry jam, raspberry-blueberry jam, and more – in batches of about two to eight cups. With over 300 recipes that can be made year-round, from fresh or preserved fruits and vegetables, this book won’t spend much time on the shelf but will be in fairly constant use. If you don’t have the inclination to make “Beyond Hot Salsa” or “Fiesta Corn Relish” yourself, the book itself will make a great gift. Some recipes call for microwave cooking, which some MOF&G readers don’t trust; but creative cooks will be able to adapt the recipes to more traditional methods. Instructions for canning are included.
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Thinking of starting a co-op? Check the Cooperative Development Institute – The Northeast Center for Cooperative Business at www.cdi.coop.
IPM for Household Pests
The Best Control 2 reference manual is a free, online guide to IPM for controlling such household pests as bedbugs, fabric pests, termites and more. See www.stephentvedten.com/
Certificate of Specialization in Organic Agriculture
In partnership with the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College offers a certificate of Specialization in Organic Agriculture. Courses include Transition to Organic Agriculture; Composting and Compost Use; Principles of Organic Horticulture; Organic Field Crop Management; and Organic Livestock Production. Courses are available in French, Spanish and English, and credit is available at several Canadian institutions. See www.nsac.ca/cde
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