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Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

Honeybee Swarm Season in New England!

Swarm setting in tree.

It’s May in Western Massachusetts- and that means the start of honeybee swarm season! Swarm season is the time of year when honeybee colonies may feel the need to take off in search of a new home.

There are many reasons a honeybee colony decides to swarm- including overcrowding, underproductive queen bee and disease. Beekeepers work to manage hives throughout the year, adding new frames and boxes to allow space for bees to store honey, pollen and for the queen to lay eggs. Beekeepers manage pests and diseases in a variety of ways, both synthetic and organic to keep colonies healthy and to prevent swarms. If the colony feels there is not enough space to store their necessities- or if the queen no longer has space to lay eggs a hive may swarm. If the colony feels their queen is subpar, they may swarm. If the colony is overrun with parasites, they may swarm. Sometimes colonies swarm on their own secret agenda- leaving even the most experienced beekeepers scratching their heads as to why.

The image of a swarm of tens of thousands of bees flying through the air is one that can bring great terror- but- it does not have to. Honeybee swarms are generally docile, they are focussed on finding a suitable new home and keeping their queen safe and warm during the journey- they are not looking for a fight. Before swarming, honeybees gorge on honey to sustain themselves for the long flight and search for a new home. With their bellies full of honey, it is difficult for bees to curve their abdomen in order to sting- great news for us!

A swarm of honeybees will at first look like a cloud of bees in the air, all flying in what look like little circles. There is a distinct sound swarms make, like a roar of buzzing- it is a sound beekeepers become very familiar with, and if you have heard it before you will know exactly what I mean. The swarm will settle on a tree branch, fence or other surface and cluster around the queen to keep her safe and warm. While the swarm rests, scout bees will fly off in all directions searching for a suitable new home- possibly a hollow tree, an empty hive in another beekeeper’s yard, or (hopefully not, but it does happen) a hole in your siding, chimney or deck.

Capped queen cell.

Queen bees give off distinct pheromones so honeybees that go out and collect nectar or pollen will be able to discern their hive from others. Once a swarm lands in a tree, or on a fence post- a pheromone is left behind and can lead to additional swarms landing in the same spot repeatedly. We have an old apple tree on our farm where at least four swarms have landed- our own ‘bee tree.’ 

If a colony feels their queen is not performing up to standard, they will supersede her by raising a new queen, the current queen’s daughter. Worker bees, who are all female, will build a specially shaped cup using beeswax. The current queen will lay an egg inside this special cup and worker bees will feed the larva royal jelly so it develops into a queen. It takes sixteen days for the new queen to fully develop. The current queen has to leave the hive before her daughter hatches, or risk a battle to the death- so when she senses the new queen is about to emerge, she will take a portion of the colony, usually about half, and swarm away. There are occasions where more than one queen cell will be built within the same hive. This can lead to multiple swarms, or a battle royale between the young queens where the victor kills her sisters to win the throne.

Caged Queen attracting bees with pheramone.

Interesting honeybee sting facts- worker bees are all female, and can sting but have barbed stingers, meaning their stinger gets stuck in whatever or whomever they stung- killing them. Male bees are called drones and do not have stingers. Queen honeybees have retractable stingers, similar to a wasp or hornet, and can sting multiple times- but generally save their stinging only for other queens.

If a honeybee colony is overrun with parasites, or does not have space in the hive they may abscond in a swarm- meaning the entire colony will fly off leaving only an empty hive behind. This type of swarm is a beekeeper’s worst nightmare- and if the absconding swarm can not be caught it means you watch your assets fly away!

A few days before swarming, the queen bee will stop laying eggs so that she is light enough to fly, and so there are not baby bees left behind. A queen bee lays up to 2,000 eggs per day and because of her abdominal size can not typically fly long distances. In order to make the swarm flight she has to take a break from egg laying and size down. 

Queen bee.

Honeybee swarms are the ultimate form of procreation- not making single bees, but a whole colony at once. While dealing with swarms is extra work for beekeepers, it is also an excellent way to expand an apiary if the swarms can be caught. Capturing swarms saves money and can help in developing generations of bees that are acclimated to specific climates and conditions.

If you come across a swarm of honeybees- do not fear! Watch them from a safe distance, and listen to them roar. Contact a local beekeeper to collect the swarm, and if you are in Berkshire County, MA- look up Olsen Farm. We are always happy to help remove a swarm!

Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Agrarian Commons: Community-Supported Agriculture's Role in Recovery


Among the cascade of changes the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed is a wave of interest in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In a time of insecurity, people like knowing where their food comes from. It's basic.

National Public Radio (NPR) caught wind of the phenomenon and headlined its story, As Food Supply Chain Breaks Down, Farm-To-Door CSAs Take Off. Civil Eats chimed in to report that people are signing up for CSAs in record numbers, and that community food coops are thriving. Meanwhile, in addition to the fresh wave of people joining existing CSAs, some small- and mid-sized farms are attempting to reckon with the economic blow of the pandemic, and the consequent loss of their usual markets in restaurants and schools, by starting up CSAs.

Even the USDA is jumping in with a box scheme. They're doling out $1.2 billion of our tax dollars in contracts for the Farmers-to-Families Food Box Program. The idea is to use web-based management systems to connect meat, dairy, and produce from farms with the multitude of families facing food insecurity. Let's call this GSA, Government Supported Agriculture. Because contracts for this program are already being given to some to dubious corporations, let us hope the program is not infested with epic corruption. It has that potential.

With this wave of interest and energy pouring to into CSA and various food-box schemes, questions arise. Where will the energy go? Will new CSAs follow a business model as many people advocate? With the desperate poverty and hunger now afflicting the nation and the world, that emphasis could become more challenging than usual.

Or will CSAs continue to develop as a range of creative community models? Will CSAs draw in, employ, and maintain the support of local communities so the farm keeps going even as the world turns upside down? Many people are now beginning to recognize the imperative value CSA farms can have in an era of global sickness, economic calamity, and climate catastrophe.

The community dimension of CSAs can engage and activate the revolutionary, agroecological potentials that lie in the heart of the movement, not just in the USA, but around the world (URGENCI). Both during and after this crisis the many creative permutations of the CSA template can serve people by offering valid group purpose, a critical factor in times of desperation.

Common Problems

When CSA is pursued as primarily a profit-or-loss business model, it fits into the commercial status quo. But as is increasingly obvious, the status quo is in many ways inadequate for reckoning with the oceans of challenge now engulfing the world.

In terms of cost and convenience, CSA will likely never compete with industrial-scale food production. But CSA is not about competition. It's about cooperation, and that arises from community.

CSAs create opportunities for farms, farmers, and consumers to play a cooperative role in restructuring the food system and thereby helping to reset the foundation of our 21st Century civilization. This is what Trauger Groh and I had in mind when we wrote Farms of Tomorrow: Community Supported Farms, Farm Supported Communities (1990).

"Farming is not just a business like any other profit-seeking enterprise," we wrote, "but rather a precondition of all human life on earth. It's also a precondition of all other economic activity. As such, farming is everyone's responsibility. The challenges of agriculture and the environment belong not just to farmers, but are the common problems of all people."

These same challenges also outline an opportunity, the opportunity to help transform our agricultural systems from a hierarchy of intensive chemical-industrial, bottom-line corporations, to an agroecological matrix yielding food security, healthy soil and water, climate stabilization, social justice, human and animal health, and beauty. All of that would constitute a giant evolutionary step forward. It's time to take that step. 


Key Ideas

As CSA pioneer Robyn Van En noted in a classic 1991 interview with Mother Earth News, many of the early CSA farms in Japan, Europe, and the USA were founded by mothers, the caregivers. These mothers were wanting to take care of their families with clean, healthy food, and also wanting to care for the farmers and the land. Those are community impulses, not commercial impulses.

Van En helped to guide an early wave of interest in CSA farms in America back in 1986 when she created a workbook and a video, It's not just about Vegetables. More than 34 years later, the validity of her title's observation is even more urgently apparent. Indeed, CSA is not just about vegetables, nor is it about eggs, meat, cheese, honey, or any of the other wholesome, local foods they produce. It's about community, about caring for the land, supporting the people who cultivate it in our names for our sustenance, and thereby securing clean, nutritious food. 

Those ideals are important to keep in mind as we churn through the cultural and agricultural changes provoked by the coronavirus. Farmers are our ambassadors to an abused and distressed Planet Earth. At this perilous juncture of time and circumstance, they need our support to be able to do the job right. CSA can make an important difference in this regard.

To go forward in the time of pandemic and in its aftermath as if CSA were primarily about business transactions—bucks for broccoli—would squander the opportunity presented by the intensity of our circumstances. CSA embodies the wholesome potential of helping to rightly and respectfully reconnect 21st Century human beings with the land that makes their lives possible. 

At the conclusion of Robyn's interview in Mother Earth News she observed, "This is the only earth we've got. And it's owned by a handful of people. It's only going to get more and more precious. Arable land is a much better thing to leave our grandchildren than a bunch of time-share condos."

Agrarian Commons

CSAs are naturally suited to leaving the kind of legacy that will feed and nurture our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, too, unto the seventh generation. A key goal for any CSA farm should be to secure land for the long term, so that it can be improved, made fully fertile, and then passed on to the next generations when the time comes.

Right now securing land suitable for farming is a formidable challenge for people wanting to start CSAs, because land is treated as a commodity. The marketplace has driven the cost of land beyond the reach of many people who have a vocational call to tend the Earth. 

This Spring a group called the Agrarian Trust began addressing that challenge by launching the Agrarian Commons, a program with potential to be profoundly helpful for many young farmers and awakened communities of citizens. Agrarian Commons is intended to provide secure, equitable, long-term land tenure, and to keep land open for succeeding generations.

Agrarian Commons addresses two primary barriers for beginning and exiting farmers: the high cost of land and the high debt burden borne by farmers. The Commons model supports farmland access for dispossessed farmers, and farmers of color. It's intended to rebuild human relationships with the land, and to return natural capital by transitioning land from private ownership to community-held commons.

It does that through collaboration with local groups to establish 501(c)(2) and 501(c)(25) land-holding entities to support land access and tenure in perpetuity. The Agrarian Trust itself is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with a focus of co-creating local Agrarian Commons with diverse communities around the nation.

Natural Nuclei

Now—with mounting consequences from the pandemic, economic upheaval, and climate catastrophe—it’s time to continue to expand the vision and the stabilizing, healing potential of CSA. That calls for Awakening Community Intelligence.

Many permutations of the basic CSA template are possible, and the years have given rise to a host of innovations. When it comes to establishing new CSAs, the existing community units embodied in churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples have already attained an essential step toward realization of a CSA farm. The group members already know one another, and are already part of a cooperative group with a system of inter-group communication.

As an already existing community nucleus they can if they choose expand beyond their central purpose of worship to also involve congregants in active relationship with the earth through a CSA farm, Congregation Supported Agriculture. Such groups—as well as other non-religious group constellations—can make a formal commitment, take steps to secure land suitable for crops, and then put members of their group to purposeful work cultivating the land, enhancing food quality and food security, and improving the environment.

Intelligent Steps Forward

cosmic csa

CSA is a social and economic arrangement in which specific communities—neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, and so forth—willingly share responsibility with specific farmers for producing, delivering, enjoying, and honoring the food that sustains them. The community supports the farm, and the farm supports the community.

CSA falls under the broad, unifying conceptual umbrellas of agroecology and deep agroecology, terms which describe a range of intelligent, sophisticated, practical, and effective ways to draw our sustenance from the earth, and to reckon with the challenges of our era by establishing a healthy foundation for the next evolutionary step of humanity, and for the next generations of our children.

The wide range of agroecological initiatives underway in the USA and around the world, including CSAs, represent promising evolutions in the rapidly shifting matrix of our lives.

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at You can read all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Pollen's Perils and Promises: What Allergens and Flower Essence Teach Us During Pandemics

Allergy image by cenczi/Pixabay

If you are drawn to read this then it's probable that you are already familiar with the perils of pollen, the aggravations of allergy. Enough about that. But as you reckon with pollen this season -- while coronavirus drifts ominously across the land -- you may find it strengthening to reflect on the promise pollen signals as an agent of the flowers.

When I was writing Legend of the Rainbow Warriors decades ago, I gained some uncommon insights into the many-petaled mysteries of flowers. My senses were roused through color, form, fragrance, and essence

That book included a chapter titled Blossoms in an Age of Flowers, and that chapter included an interview with Cherokee and Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Ven. Khandro Dhyani Ywahoo of Vermont.

Dhyani shared with me her observation that many people are out of alignment with the Earth. This is in part a result of the long-term drugging of our farms and our food. For decades we've been using artificial fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and preservatives, meanwhile gobbling jars of artificial vitamins.

Because the plants are jazzed up, so also are the farm animals who eat the plants in their closely confined industrial quarters, and who then become meat for human beings. It's an overall chemically jazzed-up diet for most people. 

Having ingested great gobs of artificiality over years, our bodily systems may become unbalanced and consequently respond to natural substances as antagonists.

Yet the very flowers that release the rhythmic cascades of pollen, also offer us insight into personal and planetary well-being. Flowers are a way to bring spirit light into our lives. In releasing pollen as a messenger they attract the attention of human beings, albeit in uncomfortable ways. Acting as a quickening agent, the pollen demands our attention and response. We must strive to put ourselves, and our world, back into balance.

In my experience, chemical drugs are not the way to restore balance to human bodies, or to farm fields.

As Dhyani explained to me during our interviews, "flowers give light and joy. They also have a very subtle consciousness. They have a unity of mind. Flower energy is peaceful, and flowers are great medicine.

 "Flowers move with the sun; thus they have a certain committed solar consciousness, They know the proper relationship between spirit and earth. The flowers remind us to look up to heaven and to actualize the solar energy in our own lives -- to speak more clearly and to act more clearly.

On the level of fundamental appreciation for the floral possibilities signaled by pollen, The Flower Essence Society teaches that flower essences address health in a broad sense. They strengthen the links between body and soul.

Borage image by flockine/Pixabay

Flowers are the highest, most beautiful, and most refined part of plants. They can help awaken and develop the highest, most beautiful, and most refined parts of ourselves.

In our time of coronavirus, as we all contend with the pandemic swirling through our lives, it strikes me that many people could benefit from engaging the essence of one flower in particular, borage. Borage can help lift feelings of heavy heartedness, encourage the quality of courage, and generally add a note of buoyancy to the soul. 

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at You can read all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Getting Through the Coronavirus Crisis

 container potatoes

During times of crisis, every self-reliance skill will give you a major advantage over those who don't have it.

With the coronavirus crisis taking over the world, the preppers, with their stashes of non-perishable goods and their remote bug-out locations, don't seem so out of touch with reality anymore. All of a sudden, those who have taken the trouble of getting ready for a crisis way ahead of time, have the privilege of looking smug and telling the rest of the world, "we told you so." 

Living in a quiet little town and working from home, we haven't had to make any major adjustments so far, although the quarantine is sure to create a heavy, oppressive atmosphere. I am looking ahead with cautious optimism, however, and hope that with the timely measures of our government, the virus will be contained. 

While many panic-spreaders like to talk about everybody isolated at home, hiding behind stacks of canned beans and towers of toilet paper, if you live in a small community and you know for sure your neighbors are responsible people who don't take risks and mostly stay put at this time, I see no reason why one shouldn't keep socializing (on a small scale). Banding together won't only help maintain a feeling of normalcy, but it might also reduce the need for contacting outsiders at this time. 

For example, if I need a tool or a certain service right now, and I check among my neighbors and find someone who can help me, I have saved a potentially risky trip to town. The community that has its own carpenter, plumber, computer tech, etc, is at a big advantage.

I am no expert, but I believe that this crisis will have effects on the economy that will last long after the risk of contagion is curbed. We might experience an overall recession. Money may lose some of its value. Some imported goods that we have become used to taking for granted might not be as readily available anymore. And I think many people are now beginning to see how problematic it is to rely so heavily on foreign industry for just about everything. 

Communities where people understand the value of self-sufficiency and support local businesses and local production of food and commodities are and will be less vulnerable, both in the short term and in the long run. Apart from keeping safe, which is paramount, there are also other things we can and should promote. 

Start a vegetable garden. Learn to forage. Check the possibility of keeping a few hens in your backyard. Learn to repair rather than discard and buy new. Learn basic plumbing, roofing, and carpentry skills. All of this will surely come in handy - and in times of crisis or economic recession, it might just be the thing that helps you keep one step ahead. 

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Compost as Solution to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Black Tumbler Style Composter 

Putrefaction. Fermentation. That’s what vegetable scraps in a kitchen garbage or landfill go through. It’s also called anaerobic decomposition, which occurs in oxygen-poor environments. As “putrefaction” implies, this is a stinky process. Yet much of the Western world puts vegetable scraps in a kitchen can and thinks nothing of it until it’s time to tie up that fetid, hot, weeping plastic kitchen garbage bag and drag it out. Putrefaction’s end products are methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, organic acids, and heat.

Carbon dioxide is not the only problem. Methane is the problem, too, says Sally Brown, PhD, an environmental researcher and author of Carbon sequestration in urban ecosystems (Springer, 2012). I corresponded with Professor Brown by email about her research. Methane is not “clean” despite what fossil fuel companies’ commercials say when they are selling natural gas. Methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its heat-trapping ability over a 100-year timeframe. And atmospheric methane levels are rising faster than carbon dioxide, according to NAOA. Decreasing methane emissions is the number one reason composting is important.

Compost Depends On an Oxygen-Rich Environment

Professor Brown says we should be composting vegetable scraps rather than sending them to kitchen garbage cans and landfills. A ton of food scraps sent to compost rather than a landfill prevents the emission of the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — of course, with a lot of variance based on what materials went into the compost.

Unlike decomposition in a landfill, which occurs without oxygen, composting requires an oxygen-rich environment. Composters have openings for oxygen to enter as opposed to air-tight garbage cans and compacted soil-covered landfills.  Compost piles should be small to moderately sized so that they can be turned over to create oxygen-rich pockets allowing the aerobic microbes that degrade vegetable scraps to breathe. My composter, the one in the photo, is on rollers allowing the contents to be rolled over to mix it with air.

The are benefits with this process, aerobic decomposition. Aerobic microbes breathe like we do. Like us, their respiratory end products are carbon dioxide, water vapor, heat energy and, in their poop, ultimately minerals. Plant-accessible minerals make soil healthier. Healthy soil means healthier plants. Healthy plants photosynthesize more carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere.

Reducing Fertilizer-Related GHG Emissions

There are other carbon dioxide-reducing benefits of composting. Using compost as fertilizer eliminates the need for commercial fertilizer. This eliminates the carbon dioxide emissions incurred by commercial fertilizer manufacturing. Adding compost to soil is a way to return carbon to earth’s solid part where 99.96% would normally be stored.

Composting doesn’t just return carbon to the soil — it recycles nutrients. Think about it: We grow corn. We eat the kernels and send the husks and cob to the landfill. The husk and cob also contain the nutrients nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, iron, boron, manganese, zinc, copper, and nickel. We have removed nutrients from the earth and locked them in a toxic landfill where we can never use them again. It’s not sustainable.

Composting is practical. A composter is outside the house. This eliminates fruit flies in the house, the reason I was forced to get one originally. Plus, the kitchen garbage won’t get so smelly. There’s also less trash volume. Less garbage to cart away means reduced fuel and emission costs with transporting it, less financial burden on municipalities. Less trash means smaller landfills, another urgent need. The constant growth of landfills is not sustainable.

Compost Has Its Caveats

Unfortunately, sustainability is not yet a common value. Few policymakers, albeit a growing number, even use the word. Still, many of us feel the need to do good. We use the word “organic” unaware that to be organic, a practice should also be sustainable but is not always under legal definitions.  Therefore, a kind of, what I call, “organic dissociative schizophrenia” has emerged.

For example, the pesticide-free organic banana which finally doesn’t contaminate compost comes with a plastic label which will contaminate compost with microplastics or nanoplastics during the 400-year plastic degradation process.  Regarding this, Sally Brown, PhD issues a caveat to the well-intentioned composter.

First, be careful to remove all the plastic labels from vegetable scraps before putting them in the composter.  Second, action is needed to change how food — really all things — are packaged. This is the next be wave. She says ultimately our economy should be driven less by spending on “stuff” and more on the intangibles that matter. Three hundred dollars spent on a good night out on the town is better for the environment than six synthetic, multicolored hoodies which will end up in a landfill. I’ll see you out on the town.

Brian Frank reports on environmental issues locally with a passion for using numbers to define sustainability challenges and solutions. Connect with him on his blog, Subsurface Stories, and read all of Brian’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Landscaping Inspiration from Public Gardens

Alfred Maclay garden 

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo by Carole Coates.

When my husband and I escaped our cold climate for a week in Florida’s panhandle in early February, one of our first stops was the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee. Since the Maclays made Florida their home from January to April, Mrs. Maclay insisted on being surrounded by plants that would bloom during that time. (Small fee.)

I came away with a new inspiration and the determination to landscape our property so we will have continuous color as many months as our climate will tolerate. That got me thinking.

I love to visit public gardens. Though those properties are planted on a grand scale, they are chock full of ideas we everyday humans can scale to our own needs. And garden features can be found in all sorts of places: zoos, college campuses, city and state parks, sculpture gardens, historic homes, and even cemeteries. We found a fascinating topiary garden open to the public in a small-town in South Carolina.

The Daniel Boone Native Gardens are not only in my back yard (so to speak); they feature flowers and trees that grow naturally in our local environment. What could be easier than selecting local, native plants to grace your landscape? (Small fee.)

My state has more than two dozen public gardens for me to wander, dream, and photograph to help me plan my own garden spaces. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens, on the grounds of Duke University in Durham, have so many features, it’s impossible to take them all in during one visit. That’s a good thing because each season brings its own charms. With an Asiatic arboretum, a carnivorous plant bog, a woodland garden, a moss garden, and nearly two dozen other sections, a garden aficionado is bound to find plenty of inspiration for a home landscape. (Free; small parking fee.)

Urban Gardens

Yet, at fifty-five acres, it’s small-time. The Bronx’s 250-acre New York Botanical Garden. It boasts eleven different plant habitats right in the heart of the city. (Fee) And the Chicago Botanic Garden clocks in at 400 acres. (Free; parking fee.)

New York’s Central Park is the iconic urban garden. A much smaller and newer urban garden would surely win the Sow’s-Ear-to-Silk-Purse award. (Free) Still under development, but operational since October, Louisville’s Waterfront Botanical Gardens are built atop a former landfill. (Free.)

You can find yet another fine urban garden example with Nova Scotia’s Halifax Public Gardens, the oldest Victorian garden in North America. If I worked in downtown Halifax, I’d spend every seasonable-weather lunch hour there. (Free.)

Halifax public gardens

Halifax Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Themed Gardens

Does art inspire you as it did for the developers of Topiary Park in Columbus, Ohio? The garden’s sculptured greenery is a living reconstruction of Georges Seurat’s famous pointillist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. (Free.)

Looking for an interactive children’s garden? Try Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, rated by the Travel Channel as one of America’s best public gardens. (Fee.)

Lewis Ginter gardem

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Another garden to make the Travel Channel’s cut is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. A perfect palette for Southwesterners to draw from, it features only desert plants—50,000 of them! (Fee.)

If roses are your thing, you can’t beat the International Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. Literary gardeners will find inspiration in the park’s Shakespeare Garden. (Free.)

Balboa Park in San Diego has fifteen themed gardens, such as the Spanish-themed Alcazar Garden. (Free). Find authentic Asian horticulture in the Furman University Asia Garden in Greenville, South Carolina. (Free.)

Balboa garden pic

Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego, California. Photo by Carole Coates.

Chocolate garden, anyone? Not to mention iris! Check out the Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, South Carolina. (Free.)

Quilting gardeners will be wowed by the quilt garden at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, also home to a world-renowned bonsai exhibition garden. (Free; parking fee.)

North Carolina arboretum 

Quilt Garden, North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville, NC. Photo by Carole Coates.

And More

The United States Botanic Garden was part of George Washington’s vision for the young nation’s capital city. On the grounds of the Capitol, it is one of oldest botanic gardens in North America. (Free.)

I long to visit Longwood Gardens, 30 miles from Philadelphia near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. But I’ll be sure to take a good pair of walking shoes. At more than 1,000 acres of gardens, meadows, and woodlands, Longwood has everything from fern to Mediterranean to tropical to silver gardens. I want to see them all! (Fee.)

Time to get busy planning. How about you? Where do you take your garden inspiration?

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, and modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Engaging the Heart of the Earth with Deep Agroecology

deep agroecology grain

We will define our destiny by the ways we farm, and the ways we eat.

Back in the 1980s, perhaps earlier, Trauger Groh articulated that foundational idea. An agrarian adept and a CSA farm pioneer, Trauger (1932-2016) was my coauthor for both Farms of Tomorrow, and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. His ideas made an enduring impression on me, and many others.

I felt then and I feel today that the point is irrefutable. Farms and food are the foundation of our corrupted present. They also embody the practical promise of a wholly balanced and healthy destiny on earth for human beings, animals, and plants.

Because we are at a critical stage of our group life on Earth, I wanted to emphasize this foundational idea again. That’s one key reason that motivated me to write another book, Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future.

After over 40 years of engagement with farms, food, and the escalating climate crisis, I regard agroecology as our best set of tools for tending land and animals, for feeding ourselves wisely, and for making an intelligent, strategic effort to stabilize the deteriorating environment.

While still forming an identity in America, agroecology is an emerging international concept. Like an umbrella, the concept stretches over a range of familiar and positive initiatives: organics, biodynamics, regenerative, permaculture, farm-worker movements, CSAs, coops, community gardens, community kitchens, farmers markets, native knowings, and a host of other sustainable pathways leading to a sane future for our children and grandchildren unto the next seven generations.

The basic idea, the spirit of agroecology, is approaches to farming and food that are clean, sustainable, humane, egalitarian, and just, rooted in ecology and other sciences, and - importantly - indigenous knowledge.

Emerging agroecological models are more than visionary. They are real, practical, clean, just, and ready for wide implementation. These models, and others, already exist. Now they require massive public attention and energy to stabilize us through these times, and to give us a solid, sustainable foundation for the high-tech, digital culture wave which continues to surge through the world.

The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels, up to this point, JP Morgan, has just this month sounded a five-bell alarm to its clients, warning that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity. The bank's report said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences. Don't wait for government or multinational corporations to come to the rescue. By and large, for reasons profitable to them, they are in denial. Citizens - that's us - are going to have to do it ourselves.

Deep Agroecology

One of the key reasons for writing Deep Agroecology was to explain to readers what agroecology already is, and what it can become. We’d be making confidence-building progress if every citizen learned about the multitude of possible agroecological initiatives, and supported one or more. 

But I had additional reasons for adding the concept of “deep” to agroecology,

In my conception, deep agroecology embraces and ratifies the ideas and approaches of agroecology and strives to call wide public attention to the healing agrarian pathways it represents.

Deep agroecology also acknowledges and ratifies the insights of deep ecology. In particular, the understanding that the well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have inherent value in themselves, independent of their usefulness and profitability for the human world.

Deep agroecology explores realms of subtle energy and their consequential influence on farms, food, and people. It also demonstrates how native wisdom ways can help guide both cultural and agricultural practices along necessary evolutionary pathways.

Deep agroecology calls for engaging and raising both the gross and the subtle energies of farms to such a degree that they serve as oases of environmental health. In this manner they may radiate a high, clear vibration to their surroundings, including the pervasive high-tech, digital ocean of technology, and then finally outward more widely into the world through the food they produce.

Deep agroecology is a philosophical and survival approach to this imperative undertaking, with intimations of destiny and activation of our spiritual potential as human beings. While this is new territory, it’s natural territory.

I wrote Deep Agroecology not just for farmers, but for all people. We must alter course, and we must do it together. It’s going to take more than 1% of our population – the farmers who touch the earth for the rest of us.

Agroecology and deep agroecology are not my limited personal visions, but rather resonant national and global visions that have been dreamed and then acted upon by millions of people around the world. They are an expression of practical, purposeful, and realistic hope. Many millions more people, actually billions more, are needed to take up and follow the vision now. That is a development devoutly to be wished.

With agroecology and deep agroecology we engage our minds, hands, and hearts with the earth in a circle of mutual respect and upliftment. Now is the time to dig in.

cover good agro

Grain image by Hans Braxmeir,  Book cover by Angela Werneke, River Light Media

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at You can read all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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