Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Reviews and Resources – Spring 2009

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Small Scale Organic Seed Production
by Patrick Steiner of Stellar Seeds
FarmFolk/CityFolk Society, 1937 West 2nd Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6J 1J2
Print copies $10 plus shipping; e-copies (PDF) $5

This book gives practical advice on why and how to incorporate vegetable seed production into existing farming systems. Interviews with farmers who have successfully integrated seed crops into their farm economies and ecologies address such considerations as marketing models, seed yields, seed cleaning and storage, and disease prevention.

Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis
by Rowan Jacobsen
Bloomsbury USA, 2008
277 pages, hardcover, $25

In 2007 a quarter of honeybee populations worldwide were discovered to have disappeared. The reader who wants to know what is causing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) may go straight to chapter 4 of Fruitless Fall. There the author reviews evidence for several hypotheses: electromagnetic radiation, genetically engineered crops, global warming, parasites, a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup, overwork (trucking to new sites every few weeks), viruses, fungi, fungicides, herbicides and neonicotinoid insecticides (neurotoxic by design, imidacloprid the most common). All could play a role in combination – especially given synergistic interactions among chemicals – but neonicotinoids, introduced in the early 1990s, are of particular concern. Nervous-system damage known to be caused by this class of chemicals corresponds with the aberrant behavior of bees that disappear: apathy, immobility, disorientation, appetite loss and presumed memory loss (since bees fail to return to hives). Jacobsen cites several studies showing that although neonicotinoids may not kill bees outright, so-called sublethal doses cause breakdown of the immune system, making bees vulnerable to disease and other stressors.

The heart of the "coming-crisis" argument is that apart from commercial honeybees, the extinction of native insects such as bumblebees, fig wasps and moths will pose an even greater threat. Those most subject to decline are specialized insects (not flies) and specialized flowers (not dandelions), the ones that contribute rich diversity. "For decades," Jacobsen says, "we've been wringing every last drop of efficiency from our agricultural system, not noticing that we were sacrificing resilience to get it." This leads him to predict that the pollinator crisis will get worse before it gets better. In some areas of the world where beneficial insects have been wiped out, fieldworkers are hand pollinating, one flower at a time.

Although I appreciate the wealth of information amassed in this book, I have a bone or two to pick with the author. In particular he is very quick to conclude that the electromagnetic-radiation and genetic-engineering leads "didn't pan out" as causal factors in CCD – an assumption that must have been made without considering all the available evidence. Likewise, I find inconsistency in his dismissal of the organic beekeeper's strategy for keeping CCD at bay: avoidance of pesticides and antibiotics and of overworking bees. If farmers were to follow Jacobsen's advice – replace global economic practices with local practices, forgoing chemical inputs – the result would likely be a sustainable agricultural system. Genetically modified organisms engineered with insecticide and/or resistant to herbicide would not be part of such a system because of the havoc they wreak on the environment.

Jacobsen's book carries an important caveat for Maine, one of the few regions in which CCD has not appeared. Our good luck may be explainable by the fact that producers of major crops such as blueberries import most hives needed to pollinate them, but this is only a guess. What we do know is that neonicotinoids are widely used on fruit, vegetable and grain crops in the state, as well as on trees, ornamentals and turf. Newer products are introduced as insects become resistant to imidacloprid. Their expanded use, along with increased reliance on other neurotoxic insecticides, could well foreshadow a fruitless fall here.

– Jody Spear

(Spear works on toxics issues with the Maine Sierra Club Conservation Committee.)

Complete Book of Garlic

The Complete Book of Garlic
A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks
by Ted Jordan Meredith
2008, Timber Press, Portland, Ore., and London;
Hardcover, 330 pages

Serious, indeed. This heavyweight book is loaded with information about the history, botany, horticulture, medicinal qualities and cuisine of garlic. Meredith takes readers from the origins of the wild crop to the myriad groups and cultivars grown worldwide today.

En route, we learn about allicin – one of the medicinal compounds in crushed garlic but not in whole cloves. Meredith explains that allicin is created when the enzyme alliinase, located in some cells in garlic cloves, reacts with the compound alliin, held in other cells, to produce the medicinal compound allicin. Cloves must be crushed, chopped, sliced or bitten for the two compounds to contact one another and form allicin. Then this fleeting compound is destroyed by heat – but if it’s formed before crushed garlic is added to dishes and heated, additional sulfur compounds are formed, and they contribute to flavor and “likely additional therapeutic benefit.” If you want to get maximal health effects from garlic, however, eat a clove a day of the raw, crushed vegetable, says Meredith. This method is more certain than consuming garlic capsules, which are not subject to standardized testing for beneficial compounds.

The author has an interesting section on conducting taste tests of garlic varieties. He was so taken with the flavor of ‘Russian Red’ Rocambole garlic soon after harvest that he wondered why he should bother growing ‘Shvelisi’ and ‘Ajo Rojo’ in his Washington state garden. By January, he had his answer: ‘Russian Red’ was shriveling and sprouting, while ‘Shvelisi’ had become easier to peel and “the flavor had rounded and deepened. I discovered that it was an outstanding cultivar for mid storage season.” Likewise, ‘Ajo Rojo’ became his favorite variety when ‘Shvelisi’ began to wither. Much like the discussion about sweet potato taste tests at the 2008 Farmer-to-Farmer Conference, and a Trades Show discussion a few years ago about the which winter squash varieties to eat when, readers learn that taste test results depend on when the tests are done. Meredith concludes, “There is really no meaningful way to evaluate the taste of garlic objectively. Although taste tests can be enjoyable and revealing, the best way to evaluate various garlic cultivars is to live with them.”

This complete book tells how to grow garlic, in detail and with experiences of various growers. It tells how to cook with garlic – whether with young, tender (not older, woodier) scapes or with cloves; where to buy planting stock; what pests attack the crop; and much more. The many different groups and cultivars of garlic are described in detail. Sometimes the detail seems redundant; sometimes it reads as a textbook – but how else can a writer discuss the intricate morphology of garlic plants?

Most striking are Meredith’s photos. They are works of art, and Timber Press has presented them beautifully. Few books qualify as coffee table books, and botanical manuscripts, and cultural guides, and cooking guides. The Complete Book of Garlic does all these, and more. It is available in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English



The Eat Local Foods Coalition ( is launching a searchable online map to connect consumers, producers, distributors, processors and others involved in the Maine food system. Visit the site to learn how to submit listings and for information on events and other ELFC projects.

Straw Directory: – University of Maine Cooperative Extension Straw Directory (complementing its Hay Directory) for those seeking or selling straw; or contact Sónia, UMaine Cooperative Extension in Waldo, (207) 342-5971; in Maine (800) 287-1426;

Ag Weather Site: Enter your zip code at for current weather, a five-day forecast for temperature, precipitation, wind direction and speed, percent available soil moisture, drying index, solar radiation (Watt-Hours/Sq. Meter) and more.

Draft animal discussion forum: – Using draft animals; sustainable forestry; sustainable living; items for sale or wanted; jobs; calendar and more.

Mass. farmland matching service – The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at Tufts University Friedman School has a Farmland Matching Service for Mass. farmers and aspiring farmers. See (go to “Resources” section under the heading For Farmland) or call (978) 654.6745.



www.portlandmainepermaculture.comPortland permaculture enthusiasts

www.newforestinstitute.orgNewforest Institute, Brooks. Home of The Permaculture Center, operated by Charles and Julia Yelton. Demonstration permaculture gardens, Edible Forest Garden, workshops, classes. Permaculture Gardens, Whitefield – the private home of Charles and Julia Yelton. Passive solar home, gardens, woodland “sun trap.” Pond Arts + Ecology, Otisfield. Workshops and courses in ecological housing, local organic food production, holistic health and more.

http://longgreenhouse.wordpress.comLong Green House, Orono. Combines digital culture, permaculture and indigenous culture.


Maine Farm Fresh Connection coordinate supplies of local foods to schools and other institutions in Maine. Contact Martha at (207) 939-4748.


MOF&G Cover Spring 2009
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