Spring has arrived, resplendent in all of its verdant
fullness, and the seasonal cornucopia of flower and
fragrance overflows. Fat, proud peonies perfume the lambent
air, the year's first fresh-picked peas delight the palate,
and—as soft night surrenders to day in the battle of
the hours—winter's desolate chill is forgotten in the joy of
There's still time (again, in most parts of the country) to
tuck some popcorn seeds in an unused corner of the garden, and MOTHER EARTH NEWS has found a merchant who's offering ten
different kinds of the explosive kernels! The Crockett Seed
Company—which has purchased a mail order seed
business formerly owned by that old-time supplier of
organic necessities, the Natural Development
Company—has varieties ranging from the relatively
early Strawberry corn (90 days) and White Hulless type (95
days) to the long-season Tiny Tender Black (120 days). Contact Crockett Send Company and get the popper ready!
Though instantaneous decomposition may be a bit down the
road yet, we've come across some news (reported by R.M.
Carleton in the journal of the American Horticultural Society that's pretty exciting. It seems that a new
composting system has—in tests—transformed shredded
matter comprising weeds, citrus peels, tomatoes, mangoes,
melons, a slightly decayed whole chicken, several
corrugated cartons, and (!) a pair of woolen trousers into
garden-ready compost with the consistency of ground.
up, moist tobacco in only eight days! The technique, which
was invented by a Canadian, Jack Warrington, employs a
"bin" made of felted plastic material that provides
excellent control of heat, moisture, and air. The required
containers, and a special shredding blade for use on rotary
mowers, will be marketed some time this year. MOTHER EARTH NEWS will do her darnedest to rush test results to you.
In many parts of the country, last autumn was so dry that,
by December, the word "drought" began to be heard. And in
January—which had the least rainfall ever recorded
during that month in the Northeast—big cities' water
supplies had dropped perilously close to the crisis level.
Worse still, many meteorologists began predicting that the
next two decades—right to the end of the century—would be
marked by much less rainfall than normal. For the thousands
of gardeners who have been able to rely—without much
thought— on nature for ample supplies of moisture,
there was a whole new set of problems to face.
Well, with the spring some rainfall came and the
water levels in many reservoirs rose. But wise gardeners
are aware that the promise of spring sometimes withers in
summer's heat, and that precautions against the
possibility of a long-lasting dry spell should be taken.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS has come up with a five point program that should
help your garden make it through all but the worst of
The first step—although it may be too late for you to
take action on it this season—is to increase the
water-holding capability (known as field capacity) of your
garden itself by incorporating all of the organic
matter that you can into the soil.
The second step is to preserve vital moisture by making
extensive use of mulch. You'll find a number of good
suggestions on mulching in Stu Campbell's The Mulch Book
(Garden Way, 1973).
The third step is to make maximum use of the water that
does fall. Set rain barrels under your downspouts to
harvest the runoff from your roof. Buy a small pump
attachment for your 1/4" drill and reclaim the rinse
cycle's "gray water" from your washing machine. Certain
precautions must be observed when you employ gray water,
and there's an excellent discussion of the subject in the
Farallones Institute's book The Integral Urban House
(Sierra Club Books, 1979).
The fourth step involves insuring that whatever
moisture you have available gets to your garden in as
efficient a manner as possible. Oscillating sprinklers may
be fine in ordinary times, but such devices cause an
enormous amount of water to be lost to evaporation. Since
your vegetable garden needs an inch of water a week in the
summer, you'll conserve the precious liquid best by putting
it where it will do the most good: right above the roots.
If you hand-water, try using a soaker hose. The Super
Soaker sold by Domestic Growers Supply is made of materials recycled from old tires,
and it's a good one.
After you've done everything possible to bring what water
there is to soil that's well prepared to receive and retain
it, there's a fifth step: Plant drought-resistant
varieties. Cleopatra broccoli, for example, tolerates dry
weather better than any other type, while lochief Hybrid
corn is known for its performance under parched conditions.
Apple Cider Book
With the apple trees already past blossoming in many parts
of North America, it's time to think ahead to that most
refreshing of beverages: apple cider. And Lew Nichols and E.A.
Proulx (the authors of "Taming Wild Apples and Wild Berries") have just published an exhaustive
study of the subject: Sweet and Hard Cider: Making It,
Using It, and Enjoying It . The book
covers everything from home orchard care to the making of
six different ciders.