The Earths Call

Summer 2015

Michael Zuck photographed at the 2002 Farmer to Farmer Conference.

By Michael Zuck

Michael George Zuck, 63, died on March 7, 2015. With his wife, Gail, he had built and operated Everlasting Farm in Bangor. He also was the founding president of the Mid-Maine Greenhouse Growers Association, a MOFGA member and an excellent speaker about biological control of greenhouse pests at a MOFGA Farmer to Farmer Conference. Three weeks before he died, Michael wrote to The MOF&G:

Dear Editor,

You may have heard that I have been fighting lymphoma for the past year. The success or failure of my treatment remains to be seen, but the current situation is not rosy.

Needless to say the experience has caused me to ask myself a lot of existential questions pertaining to the real purpose of my life. The love and support of family and friends has been overwhelming and has brought me to a keen awareness of the best of humanity. How I have yearned to get better, if only to spare all the dear people in my life the pain that this disease inflicts on their hearts.

In addition to these basic lessons in the giving and receiving of love and grace, there also arose in my soul a powerful need to write something of my love for the Earth … which might be useful in helping the next generation on their journey. It is my hope, of course, that young people might find their way back to the land.

Cancer is not particularly helpful in focusing one’s thoughts. Fear and uncertainty are the enemies of lucidity and eloquence. Nevertheless, a working title suggested itself early on in my endeavors: “The Earth’s Call.” It seemed to have just the right ring to it, while raising all sorts of questions to draw the reader in.

As time wore on and the horrors of the chemotherapy became manifest, my literary enterprise languished. I seemed to hit a roadblock as I sought to put into words just what the Earth’s Call might be. The more deeply I delved into such a question, the easier it was to get lost in introspection and abstraction.

Yesterday, as I attempted to explain my conundrum to my niece – who is deeply sensitive and lives in New York City, far, far from the land – the right words began to come to me at last. Just what is the Earth’s Call?

Here then, in the fewest possible words, is the distillation of what 50 years of gardening has taught me. I share it with young and old that they may come to such an understanding more readily than I.

Lessons of a Gardening Life

Garden for a while and you will learn many practical lessons from the Earth, whose patience as a teacher is infinite. Garden a little longer and your relationship with the Earth deepens. Each completed growing season brings a sense of fulfillment that goes beyond our physical needs and appetites into the realm of the spiritual. Through the activities of the garden, you realize that you are, in a unique way, “consummating” your relationship with the Earth.

As your relationship deepens further, you may be surprised as you begin to hear what is best described as the “Earth’s Call.” This complex living organism, this web of life that we call home, despite being taken for granted by so many, actually beckons us to return for another year of gardening. It is very much like a lover’s call, a call to share in the rich joy of fertility and fecundity.

“Join with me,” the Earth entreats, “and let us see what we can grow together.” To hear this call and answer it is to be truly gifted. It is a voice that brings us to an understanding of how the Earth, mother of all mothers, father of all fathers, loves us and yearns for our return.

In the cultivation of the soil and the husbandry of plants and animals, humans reach their highest potential as peaceful and sustainable beings. The Earth’s delight in this is quite real and, with practice, it is even audible. When we hear the Earth’s Call, we are finally made to feel both whole and at home.

Michael also wrote these letters to his niece in New York City, describing his personal philosophy of farming and gardening and of the back-to-the-land movement in Maine.

Toward a New Back-to-the-land Movement

Dear Lillie,

When you said that you and Maddie were thinking of leaving the city in a year or two, my heart leapt for joy, just as it does whenever Alex and Kristen say the same thing. The back-to-the-city movement that overtook your generation of mostly suburban, educated folks was a complete surprise to me when it manifested. I did not see it coming.

As you weigh your options, please keep them as open and wide as possible. I intend, with your permission, to write you some letters to help you see the value in joining a nascent back-to-the-land movement that has lately brought an influx of young people to Maine. I hope and assume that other parts of the country are experiencing the same quiet revolution if that’s not too strong a word.

You can easily research the back-to-the-land movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was unquestionably the reason I moved to Maine in 1975, even though I had to disguise this move from my father by going to grad school at the University of Maine. Helen and Scott Nearing wrote a series of books, most notably “Living the Good Life,” which caused an unknown number of mostly young people to move to states like Maine where land was cheap, with the goal of living a life of enlightened self-sufficiency. The Nearings’ books presented a blueprint for an independent lifestyle based on the concept that one should only work half of each day for “bread,” leaving the other half free for personal enrichment.

I never actually read the books when they were current. My sister summarized the Nearings’ message for me, and that was enough. I was hooked. It was back to the land for me. Incidentally, when I finally got around to reading “Living the Good Life,” I found it both inspiring and at the same time rather tiresome and academic. Scott Nearing was a passionate believer in the use of index cards. He felt that they offered the only means of organizing one’s thoughts and experiences so as to learn by them. Did I mention that before dropping out of mainstream life he had been a professor at Columbia? Ever the academic, he.

At any rate I was easily convinced to attempt to go back to the land mainly because of my mother’s earth-centered influence. She was raised on a farm, and though she became an educated college professor herself, there was a part of her that was always out of doors, always in the soil or very close to it. I should mention that my father was a passionate vegetable gardener himself, yet his earthiness was subordinate to his love of science and academia.

Thus, being a dutiful child, I was forced to divide my loyalties between a career as a lesser plant pathologist at the University of Maine and charting a course back to the land. This unhappy conflict of interests finally collapsed after eight years when I lost my position as a researcher and was forced to become self-employed as a horticulturist.

Little did I realize as our little business, called Everlasting Farm, evolved that it was a monumental detour on my journey. Greenhouses sprouted like clover on our small plot, generating lots of cash and an equal amount of hard work that would prove an irresistible distraction from achieving that idyllic life described by the Nearings. Goethe said, “What man wishes for in youth, he achieves in middle age.” There is something of a sad little curse embedded in that aphorism. Substitute retirement for middle age and you’ve got my life’s timeline just about right.

Now, I don’t mean to say that one must be young to go back to the land. No, the beautiful thing about the land is that it is always there, beckoning, always fresh and ready to receive our first tentative assaults upon the soil, and always ready to reward our efforts as gardeners and farmers in direct proportion to the effort and wisdom we bring to the endeavor.

I had a friend who said she loved plants because they always tried their hardest to grow and bear flowers or fruit. They never lost heart. I think the same can be said of animals and of the living soil. Every square foot of soil if left alone will grow as much plant, animal and microbial life as it possibly can. The Earth’s motto seems to be, “Grow it to the max,” rather than, “Eh, close enough.”

The point here is both subtle and deep. The land is a living entity thriving because it is powered by that infinite energy source, the sun. In human terms the soil is like a bank account that constantly renews itself. If we learn how to manage our plot of land sustainably and thriftily, we tap into a truly inexhaustible resource. Inexhaustible because it is alive and contains the wisdom of evolutionary time in the DNA of the myriad of organisms that colonize and improve it.

Am I making myself clear? Let me put it another way. One of my favorite things when traveling by car is to stop at random places for a “woods tinkle.” Until I do this, I have no idea of the land that I am passing through. It’s just a tableau whizzing by the windshield. But once I have tinkled clandestinely on some spot of “unimproved” ground, I feel that I have gotten to know at least the basic gist of where I am. And I can honestly say that in all the years of doing this, I have never encountered a piece of land that wasn’t vigorously growing toward its fullest potential of productivity. Nature never tires of improving Herself.

So there you have it: reason Number One for going back to the land. It’s the “winning team,” tireless, inexhaustible and capable of almost infinite self-improvement. I cannot think of any man-made enterprise that can make such claims. Indeed, we are witnessing unprecedented dislocation and suffering brought on by the collapse of many human enterprises, notably manufacturing.

Somewhere in the clutter of every Extension Service office there is a sign that reads, “Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a 6-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”

How’s that for a leveling comment? Not much there one could argue with, is there? It’s too bad the statement comes across as something of a “downer.” I’d rephrase it to say, “Rejoice in the top 6 inches of soil and in every raindrop, and make a plan to improve the profile to 10 inches of topsoil, while conserving moisture with mulch and drip irrigation.” Join the team and make it better.


Dear Lil,

So what do we mean when we say going back to the land? I suppose it’s a matter of both attitude and degree.

The attitude shift is the fundamental change I’m recommending. One needs to begin thinking of the soil as our most basic resource. Find good soil, open it up to cultivation, obtain good seeds, seedlings or starter plants, and voilà. You may now feed yourself, independent of the corporate system that has thus far dictated the terms of your life.

One adopts this attitude for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that it amounts to the most powerful and direct form of civil disobedience we can all exercise. The freedom to feed ourselves by growing our own plants and animals is truly our elemental birth right. Yet most of us cede this right over to corporate concerns without even considering it.

But enough politics. The satisfaction of civil disobedience is short-lived and not all that satisfying. Returning to the land is a virtue in and of itself, and virtue, it is often said, is its own reward.

The question of degree is the other potentially troublesome aspect of going back to the land. You can easily scare yourself back to the supermarket and the day job by imagining a much too radical lifestyle shift. Picture yourself living in a drafty shack, starving on raw vegetables, picking bugs out of your hair, and the whole idea of living close to the land collapses in the imagination.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. The most obvious and least disruptive course is to start by planting a modest home garden. Learn from each year’s experiences. Keep a journal. Expand your garden a little each year as you gain confidence. Build on your successes. Then at some future point, if you want to quit your day job and use the land as your source of both nutrition and income, you will have a better chance for success and a reduced risk of inconvenience and dislocation.

This cautious road map does require that you have long-term access to some decent soil. Whether you buy, rent or borrow, the question arises: How much do you need?

During the ‘60s and ‘70s movement, most of us naïve back-to-the-landers believed we needed a homestead that measured in the tens or even hundreds of acres. Here in Maine those sorts of properties were plentiful and cheap. I almost persuaded my father to buy a 120-acre farm with an 1820s Cape Cod house, two barns, beautiful fields and woods, a pond and stream, all for $45,000. He chickened out when he realized that I wanted to live on that farm more than I wanted to finish graduate school.

In terms of arable land for the would-be back-to-the-lander of today, I say keep it as modest as possible, so that there is more land available for more folks to get back to. A quarter acre of carefully gardened ground will bury you in food, with plenty left over to sell.

An acre is a square 209 feet on each side. In other words, it’s a lot of soil to tend to. The more acres you cultivate, the more you will have to commit to machinery and fossil fuels to manage them, which takes you down an inherently unsustainable road.

A quarter of an acre is a little over 100 feet on a side. In some areas even this modest plot may be prohibitively expensive. Move on. You probably wouldn’t be comfortable living close to the soil in an overpriced neighborhood anyway.

The more important consideration is the soil itself. Buying land without putting a spade in the earth is as crazy as marrying someone without knowing his/her true character. You can always improve on the soil you buy, but there are limits to how much you can accomplish. And if you start with reasonably good, friable loam, you will thank yourself as time goes by. Gail and I started our gardening life together in Winterport on the banks of the mighty Penobscot River. Marine clay is just about the toughest soil to garden I know. We never did succeed in making any sort of long-lasting change in the ease with which that clay was tillable.

I believe one may successfully go back to the land in any community that affords access to the soil. My top choice for making a new start in life would be some place reasonably accessible to civilization and where there is a corps of like-minded people. Ask any Amishman, and he will tell you just how important his reliance on his neighbors is. Labor sharing, knowledge sharing, materials sharing: These are all so helpful in working the land.

Here in Maine we have the second oldest organic organization in the United States, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). Founded by the first wave of back-to-the-landers, it has grown into a venerable institution with its own research and demonstration farm and year-round educational activities, which eclipse those of the almost defunct Cooperative Extension Service. In addition, MOFGA puts on a three-day event each September called the Common Ground Country Fair – A Celebration of Rural Living. Tens of thousands attend and are inspired by the exhibits and activities. It’s a really big and fun event, which significantly boosts the size and vigor of Maine’s back-to-the-land community.

So where do you find the courage to make the basic change in attitude and lifestyle of a back-to-the-lander? I can’t answer that. For me it came so naturally that it may have been there all along.

I can, however, suggest what may be the most compelling (of many) rationales for making the shift: 400 ppm atmospheric CO2! The level was pegged at 290 ppm when I first learned of it. Back in the 1960s, it was hoped and assumed by forward thinkers that the oceans would absorb all the CO2 we were spewing into the air. Evidently: NOT.

Our society’s ostrich-like response to the looming prospect of climate change amounts to a historic failure to imagine the unimaginable. Human nature triumphs over enlightened self-interest yet again. The overwhelming response to the dire predictions of climatologists appears to be a global migration to the cities. Safety in numbers seems to be the dominant hope and driving force for the vast majority.

The back-to-the-landers’ response is entirely different because of their basic belief and understanding that the soil is what truly sustains us. Forget the cities; look for higher ground and learn to cope with growing crops under changing climatic conditions. This is how the back-to-the-lander thinks.


Dear Lillie,

That last letter was getting a little scary, wasn’t it? I tried to end it on a positive note, which is where I will pick up the train of thought.

Vermont’s premier climate change guru, Bill McKibben, has begun saying that it may already be too late to stem the tide of global warming. Not to say that we should go on burning fossil fuels endlessly, but it now also behooves us to begin considering how we shall adapt to major shifts in climate that are coming. Hallelujah!

I’ve been trying to say that global warming is actually mankind’s great and perhaps final opportunity to begin getting it right. Start with conservation, move on to technological innovation, and end up in the promised land of grow local/eat local sustainability. Our very survival rests on these tenets. Maybe if it gets hot enough or dry enough, we’ll all be forced to agree on what needs to be done, and just do it!

In the meantime, the back-to-the-lander is perfectly positioned to begin to “be the change,” as the current expression goes.

By taking charge of the entire food production system, you take on not just the responsibility for growing successful crops, but you also assume the ability to adapt your system to changes of all types. This is hugely empowering, this ability to adapt. And for the seasoned gardener, it is actually nothing new. Every year is different and requires adjustments to the vagaries of weather. Climate change is just weather vagaries writ large.

I want to describe to you some very modest technological advances in gardening and farming that have led to vast improvements in what the small scale producer can hope to accomplish. Combining this new technology with the age-old wisdom of organic soil and crop management techniques can really bring the modern back-to-the-lander to higher ground, in terms of yield and labor investment. It’s a very exciting time to go a-gardening or a-farming. (It is also very helpful that the various food movements, such as “buy local” and “eat organic,” have generated tremendous demand and a willingness to pay the farmer a “living wage” as it were.)

Drip irrigation heads the list of truly cool technology for the back-to-the-lander. Plants need plenty of water to thrive and produce optimally. Drip tape and other types of drip irrigation make it incredibly easy and affordable to deliver water to your plants with a minimum of waste and very little effort. Of course you do need a supply of relatively clean water and a pump to do any sort of irrigating, and this is an important consideration when choosing your plot of land. Drilled wells and submerged pumps offer the most reliable system for obtaining irrigation water, but it is very important not to waste this precious water resource. Drip irrigation goes a long, long way in this regard, as compared with any sort of inherently wasteful sprinkler technology (50 percent-plus losses to evaporation).

I’m not making this topic very exciting, I realize, which is too bad because when you actually see the difference that drip irrigation can make, it’s very exciting indeed.

For example, blueberry bushes are very responsive to water stress. Here in Maine what typically happens to an un-irrigated planting is that when July turns sunny and dry, the berries all try to ripen at once. This leads to smaller fruit, aborted fruit, lower sugar and flavor content and greatly reduced yield. Add a constant moisture supply to the equation via drip irrigation, and everything changes for the better. The bushes “relax” and ripen their fruit gradually, allowing each berry to reach its optimal size and yummy-ness. It’s really a dramatic change. We are able to harvest berries into October, beginning in mid-July, and we really enjoy the relaxed harvest schedule of an unstressed blueberry planting.

Irrigating blueberries doubles the yield or better, and it ensures that every year is a good year. Incidentally, bird netting will double the yield again. This is another example of how modern small-scale technology comes to the back-to-the-lander’s rescue.

Cantaloupe vines like abundant water early followed by relatively dry soil for flower and sugar development. Almost any other crop you can think of benefits hugely from drip irrigation. It’s the simplest thing you can do to be a more successful gardener. The technology is cheap and durable, and made of black plastic that is easily recycled. Israel is a world leader in drip irrigation, not surprisingly, given their dry climate and difficult neighborly relations along the River Jordan.

A back-to-the-lander is more than likely a pacifist by nature, meaning that he/she prefers to avoid a fight wherever possible. In the garden such fights involve critters who threaten your crops. Deer, rabbits, groundhogs, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks and birds all pose imminent threats, especially to newly emerged or freshly transplanted seedlings. Add in a variety of common insects, slugs and snails and some airborne diseases and it’s a wonder that anything ever makes it to fruition.

Here’s where technology comes in: Floating row covers to the rescue. For very little money you can purchase a roll of spun-bonded (non-woven) polyester fabric that nicely excludes all the potential pests listed above, except for slugs and snails. The fabric is very lightweight and allows sunlight, air and rain to penetrate, while providing a nice protected microclimate for tender young plants underneath. After planting a row of whatever, one inserts hoops (bamboo, wire, plastic water pipe) in the soil at intervals of 2 to 6 feet to support the row cover. Bury or pin the edges of the cover to keep the wind from carrying it away. This system takes so little time and investment to install, and best of all, it allows you to avoid a whole lot of fights. By early to midseason your plants will be big and strong enough to be uncovered, and the row covers can be put away for next year. It’s hard to exaggerate how much stress row covers eliminate in the gardener’s life. Pacifism rules!

Related to the row cover revolution is something called high-tunnel gardening. Inexpensive pipe-framed greenhouses are erected in the garden and covered with one or two layers of polyethylene film. This produces a warm microclimate that is just right for certain crops (e.g., tomatoes) while also extending the frost-free growing season by many weeks. I see this technology becoming increasingly important to gardening and farming in a changing climate. High tunnels give us a lot more control over the vagaries of weather.

Well, I think I’ve proven, to myself anyway, that it’s hard to write about agricultural technology and make it come out exciting. Suffice it to say that it’s a really good time for the back-to-the-lander because of a lot of recent innovations in technology. Paralleling these many improvements is the steady march of plant breeding toward garden plants that do just what we want them to. Heirloom veggies are interesting and have their place in our lives, but so do modern hybrids that resist diseases and insects while out-yielding their forebears. It’s just a fun time to be growing your own food, and it’s getting “funner.”


Dear Lil,

Having just waxed eloquent in praise of technology in the garden, I think it’s worth looking at the overall philosophy of the would-be back-to-the-lander. You have noticed my frequent references to organic gardening and farming practices. Gail and I are longtime members and supporters of MOFGA. It’s a wonderful organization that has achieved far more positive social change than was thought possible. I think the success is due to the accessibility of the underlying concept. Which would you rather eat, a plate of sprayed vegetables or a plate of unsprayed vegetables of equal or better quality? Kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Behind the simple distinction between sprayed and unsprayed crops, there are equally important aspects of organic agriculture to consider. The rules that govern certified organic growers force them to practice much safer soil management practices, thereby reducing pollution of both surface and ground water. Nevertheless, the concern has arisen that large corporate organic farms, mostly on the West Coast, are cultivating vast acreages using tons of water and fossil fuels. They may be technically organic (and thus worth supporting if no other options exist), but their scale of operation seems to violate the original spirit of the organic movement.

How does this affect you? Only by shining a light on the power you can exercise by growing your own food. Just say no to corporate farming, organic or otherwise.

You may be aware that the USDSA, under pressure from corporate farmers, stepped in a few years ago to define the standards of certified organic farming. It was not a politically pure process, but at least the final rules didn’t drive the small-scale organic farmer out of business.

A lot of back-to-the-landers, myself among them, support the principles of organic farming but don’t subject themselves to the rigors and expense of being annually certified as organic. The typical patrons of the farmers’ market are more concerned with buying local than buying organic. They want to touch the hand that grew the broccoli they’re about to buy, and they want to be told by the grower that their broccoli is safe to eat.

This brings us to the subject of the proper goals and methods of the back-to-the-lander. It seems to me there is an overall guiding principle that can be summarized in six words: Refer to Nature, Defer to Nature. It sounds easy enough, but in reality this idea commits you to a lifetime of studying the natural processes that are going on in the garden. You will never get to the end of this study, but you don’t have to feel frustrated if you learn to enjoy the journey. The journey will take you solidly down the same path as the certified organic grower, so perhaps there’s no real distinction here. The point is that a certified organic grower may believe he has arrived at the end of a process (because his certification says so), while a “natural” gardener has a sense of moving along a continuum.

The thornier issue that confronts the modern back-to-the-lander is “sustainability.” You could easily adopt a purist’s viewpoint with respect to such things as carbon footprint and the use of fossil fuels in growing your own food.

Fair enough. Buy a nice spading fork, and use your own energy to turn the sod and remove the grass roots. For the first hour or two, you may actually enjoy the process as you slowly subdue the prairie, so to speak. As time passes you will either become very patient and very strong, or you will find someone with a plow and get your quarter acre turned in an hour with what amounts to a relatively modest one-time expenditure of fossil fuel. You decide.

Of course, you could skip the whole sod-busting process by killing the grass using anything that excludes light to cover the ground you hope to garden. Give the process six weeks, but a whole growing season would be better. Another splendid example of how pacifism works in the garden.


Dear Lillie,

The focus of these letters may have grown somewhat diffuse as I ramble on about this and that. I apologize. Let’s move from the general to the specific, shall we?

Let’s say that you have made the commitment to go back to the land. You’ve purchased an acre or two with some sort of a dwelling on it. You’ve managed to open up some ground so that it is relatively free of grasses and other perennial weeds. Now what? What will you grow? And how will you grow it?

There are lots of possible answers, of course – as many as there are people going back to the land. Potatoes get my vote as the best crop to start with. Relatively easy to produce, highly productive and very nutritious, spuds top the list of satisfying plants to grow. Oh yes, there is also the added attraction that digging potatoes is a bit of unexpected fun, a sort of subterranean Easter egg hunt that never fails to delight.

Potatoes afford the home gardener the chance to become self-sufficient in an important crop. That feeling of self-sufficiency is what the back-to-the-lander is seeking after all.

Gail and I haven’t purchased a potato in decades. We enjoy a variety of unique and delicious spuds, and by growing more than we can possibly eat, we also enjoy a feeling of food security. Two or three barrels of potatoes in a cool cellar amount to a very basic guarantee that you won’t starve to death.

Conventionally (non-organically) grown potatoes are heavily sprayed throughout the growing season using pesticides that are quite toxic and often systemic, meaning that the plant absorbs and translocates the active ingredient in the pesticide. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you really don’t want to eat potatoes grown conventionally.

So, think about potatoes as a starting point on your journey back to the land. If you want to make money, potatoes command a decent price at farmers’ markets. Grow half a dozen or more varieties with different shapes and skin colors, and you can make an attractive display at the market. People will happily pay $2 a pound for chemical-free unique varieties.

Potatoes differ from almost all the other veggies you might grow in that you use a small potato or piece of a potato in place of a seed. Every eye on a spud is actually a dormant bud or growing point capable of rapidly developing into a new plant by tapping the energy in the starchy tuber. It’s a neat way of propagating the new crop but not without its drawbacks. A variety of bacterial, fungal and, especially, viral diseases are transmitted on or in the so-called seed pieces.

“A Farewell to Spuds” – An Essay

Since the days of my youth, the Earth has called to me, saying, Michael, what can we grow together? I have answered this call in a great many ways ranging across a vast assortment of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, trees and shrubs.

Now at the end of life, I am hearing a different call from mother Earth. It is a call to return to her. And while I am in no particular hurry to answer the call, still it is a deeply comforting call.

Now at the end of February, I lie here doubting that I will see another growing season, yet longing to go a-gardening once more. And of all the crops I’d like to grow, the lowly spud is the one I will miss the most. No other plant rewards my modest investment of time, money and effort quite as handsomely as the common or Irish potato.

Our unheated cellar is just about the ideal place to store potatoes. We have several barrels of different varieties down there. Just knowing they’re down there is so very comforting and gives such a sense of security and self-sufficiency. Potatoes are vitamin- and mineral-rich while providing 10 percent of their dry weight as complete protein.

My techniques for growing potatoes have evolved over the years. The twin goals are to always achieve the best quality and quantity, and it’s tricky to meet these goals. There is a whole lot of science that has been devoted to growing potatoes, almost all of it centered on conventional production techniques. Not interested! Sorry! Throwing a bunch of granular chemical fertilizer and nasty pesticides at a crop just doesn’t rise to the level of respect that I reserve for real farming. If ever there was a crop that suffers from monoculture, the potato is that crop. Diseases and insects that are relatively easy to control organically on a small scale assume biblical proportions when given the opportunity of an acre or more of the same variety of spud planted row by row, side by side.

The truth is you should never plant more than one row of any variety, and then ideally switch to another unrelated crop: kale, for example. Potatoes are an energy-rich crop for pests and diseases, so once an infection or infestation gets going, there’s a lot of fuel for the fire, so to speak. If possible, you should plant your potatoes in soil that hasn’t known any solanaceous crops for the past 10 years. This sounds like a long time, but there are soilborne diseases that persist for such periods, notably Rhizoctonia, aka black scurf or “dirt that won’t wash off.”

An Untitled Poem

The Earth’s call, old and pure,
Is everywhere to be heard,
But only the practiced ear, and settled mind
Above the din and tumult of the world,
may sense its urgency and meaning.

We ride the waves of History
Theology, and Mystery.
Through the gathering years
Sure of our assumptions, bold and sure,
Our righteous destiny awaits.

A better life, eternal life,
Enlightenment and Peace,
Promises so long enshrined,
Their origins by now are hid
Covered by the vines of time.

“It may not be as you believe,”
Earth’s gentlest admonition falls,
“The passion and the certitude you deep perceive
Are not mine, but yours.”

Live Now! My best advice
Be sure of the seasons




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