Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Women in the Garden

Girls in the garden 

As human beings we are all confronted, at times, with someone questioning our worth.  This can come from all aspects of our experience and often times it is happening in more parts of our lives than just one-whether it is our value at our jobs, our role in our family dynamic, the expectations of a partner, or a myriad of other complex societal demands that have us questioning ourselves over what it is we truly bring to the table.  It is the nature of the Universe to ebb and flow, to build something beyond capacity until it is forced to organize a different way, and often we are called to stand up for ourselves in the face of several fronts of doubt. As a woman, I have been coached to shoulder the burden of people’s limited expectations of me and have always been advised to seek the approval or validation from a more qualified man.

It is difficult to stand apart from people’s ideas about who and what you are and at times it has felt nearly impossible to cultivate a sturdy sense of self in the face of so much evaluation.  In our modern, industrialized society, women have been downplayed for their roles in agriculture, trades, and other callings where the patriarchy has built a steadfast ceiling not meant to be broken by ambitious females.  My heart breaks when I consider how the shape of our modern world was actually built and how this prejudice has been even more severe and commonly deadly for Indigenous people, People of Color, and those whose gender identity or sexuality never fit into a cozy, socially mandated box.


Self doubt is insidious in all of our pursuits in this world and I find myself deep in its shadows when fear, rejection, and questioning cast me off of my perch of confidence.  I try to remember that no one is going to love or believe in me if I don’t do a good job of that myself and yet endless faltering is a necessary part of growth. In a world where the fear of failure has kept so many fledglings from taking the leap, I find myself writing a lifelong narrative about why it is I matter, what it is I can do, and why my past mistakes and regrets were necessary for the wisdom I garner today.  Being an ambitious woman I am often held to stricter accountability for the usefulness of my skill sets, the success of my endeavors, and the credibility of my insights. With all of the centuries of women in the garden I am still asked to prove to others that I have the equal physical strength of my male counterparts, even where this is impossible and not true.

women Farmers Together in GA

Choosing to farm may seem like an act of defiance or as an activism in today’s runaway, industrial culture, and it certainly is.  My manifesto for living on this planet does include verses about spitting in the face of the corporate tyranny that robs the world and its people of the finite resources that bring homeostasis to communities and ecologies alike.  There exists a greater, deeper draw still and it is a difficult resonance to put into words. Identifying as a woman and putting a seed in the ground is some form of communion with the great mother that brought us all forth. A deep healing takes place when I acknowledge the forces that manifest all life on Earth by participating in the miracle myself.  To nurture life into this world is a part of our collective DNA as people and while I may not be respected at the feed store or acknowledged by the elders in my field, I am comforted to the core of my being when nurturing transplants within the quaking womb of spring thaw.


It is a lifelong path for those whose bodies have been weaponized.  Walking the tightrope of masculinity and femininity in the gender binary that judges each of us is difficult in the agriculture sector.  To be too masculine is to be undesirable and therefore unworthy while being too feminine makes it difficult for others to take you seriously.  Being intuitive in the garden may be the connecting fiber that taps the pulse and flow of life but is labeled a liability by those who seek to disregard a woman’s consciousness as emotionality and unpredictability.  The same characteristics that sync women to the rhythm of unfolding nature and could be used to tune to the greater cosmology of life are labeled as inferiorities and handicaps to be overcome. Meeting the requirements of appearance and body shape alone are impossible hurdles that further cut into the prospect of loving ourselves just as we are.

Kale Yes

If nature teaches anything, it teaches that all forms and evolutions of masculine and feminine energies are alive and well in the garden of Eden.  The more diversity that can nest atop its growing limbs, the more prosperity and regeneration is possible within the system. As women in the garden, we are fulfilling the wishes of our ancestors and awakening the Earth’s people to what it is we are meant to be.  To value every person from every life experience on this Earth is a gift given to us by the feminine forces of vitality. We all have a role to play here and unfortunately for women and other marginalized communities on our war torn Earth, that role right now is to stand firmly in our truth, lifting each other up in the face of oppression, and speaking loudly about our value until the corporate kings in their plastic castles can hear us.

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.

Lasagna Layering. Does it Really Work?


Does lasagna layering really work?

Weeds are a big issue for me and I’m always on a mission to find ways to reduce and kill them without the use of chemicals.  Weeds can take over a garden bed in a week and the zeal and growth potential will make your head spin. 

One method that has been featured in journals and on social media is lasagna layering.  Lasagna layering has been a hot topic over the years.  The concept is a little more involved than weed control, but that’s one of the benefits of the method.

So lasagna layering is the process of making layers on top of the garden soil to add compost, retain moisture, provide good soil amendments, increase worm habitat, regulate temperature, and control weeds.  So this mysterious layering technique had caught my attention.  But does it work?

The first summer I tried cardboard and grass clippings from my yard.  This was a bad beginning because the green grass clippings attracted ants and weren’t composted so they went through a heat cycle.  Also, there was a moisture buildup between the cardboard and grass that was s fantastic mold habitat. weeds!  That’s right, the weeds never came through the barriers and so I decided to check out other resources in my environment.

The second summer I visited my local tourism office and asked them for all of the expired newsprint publications.  Jackpot!  I had a nice supply of non-glossy or plastic coated newspaper in tidy bundles.  The garden was prepped by cleaning the top of the soil layer and sprinkling a little rabbit compost.  Layers of newsprint (10 sheets thick) and pine straw (4 inches) were added.  Then plants were planted among the layers.  Needless to say, the process worked out and again I had very few, if any, weeds.  Nice!

So I’m sold.  I’ll forever keep my eyes on the lookout for newsprint to add to my soil and pine straw to keep the newsprint from blowing away.  Actually, the pine straw is aesthetically pleasing to my eyes so that’s kind of a bonus.

Now about the other claims that have been suggested by lasagna layering, does it retain moisture and help with temperature control?  I’m still not confident that this is true.  Living in central Louisiana, it’s hot and I have to water frequently and consistently.  However, even if this helps in a minimal way, it’s still worth the effort.

And does lasagna layering add amendments to the soil and provide a nice habitat for earthworms?  Yes, I can say with conviction that I’ve noticed an increase in worm life and so I take this as a sign that they have a comfy habitat with good nutrition.  The newspaper layers do compost within 6-9 months.  The pine straw lasted a lot longer.  In fact, it didn’t compost very well and I consider that a positive.  Less collection of pine straw in the woods.  And I feel better knowing that the acid from the pine straw isn’t “in” my soil since I didn’t fold it into the bed.

Now that I’ve attacked my weed problem head on I’m happy to report that I also have had better yields and less problems with “volunteers”.  You know, all of the seeds that drop to earth and take over the next season?  Become a weed warrior too, use the lasagna layering method in your garden today.

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.

Learning New Skills and Rehabilitating Old Skills

In my previous post, I gave a definition of “Horticultural Therapy”, according to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, it is defined as, “Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, people learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions.” Gardening has many benefits other than just fresh, wholesome, and delicious produce, it is so much more.

I want to take some time to discuss further, each of the benefits that are spelled out in the definition.

Let’s start with, “assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost.”

Learning is a lifetime achievement that never really ends. I like to say that, “A day not learning is a day not living.” Skills and abilities that we take for granted were actually developed very slowly over the span of our lives. We learned by watching our parents and family members, and then by mimicking them, then by assisting them, and eventually we were doing it all by ourselves, maybe not to a level of mastery, but we were doing it. Now this process was a dynamic and radial process, we learned many things in this way, all at different paces and starting at different times. The human brain is a miraculous thing.

Every day we are exposed to opportunities to learn and grow and, like a veggie in the garden we have two options, “grow or die.” Gardening is a wonderful opportunity to learn new skills and abilities. Mel Bartholomew, developer of Square Foot Gardening, knew the connection between gardening and learning. When working with children Mel, through his developed curriculum would teach the children the applications that gardening has with learning.

These applications were obviously biology and botany, but even more, Mel knew that gardening was an opportunity to teach children about the sciences, social and historical aspects of science, how systems work together, mathematical measurements and calculations, and even effective communication. These skills are vital for children to learn, if they are to be successful but also, they are good for us adults to have too. Gardening can and will teach us new skills in some of the most delicious ways.

Our skills and talents that we developed over the years are something we don’t put a lot of thought into or effort in appreciating but, ask someone who once was able to perform a task and now is no longer able to, just what a loss it is to them not to be able to enjoy. People are subjected to many situations that can cause a step back in our learning or ability. A sickness, an injury, or even emotional crisis. When we no longer can do or enjoy something that we once did, this can leave us struggling with even more than the underlying issue that brought us to this point to start with. Injuries and illnesses are depressing enough and then to add loss of enjoyment of activities multiplies that effect.

I have had the opportunity to work with many different types of people in many different situations, children with depression, ADHD, lack of self-confidence, emotional injuries and have been able to provide them with an escape and a place to focus their efforts in constructive activities of gardening. Adults with physical and emotional issues such as depression, loss of physical mobility, even addiction can benefit from gardening activities. Seniors are a special group as they seem to have the fondest memories of gardening and now that they are living in assisted living or long term care facilities, where the daily activities of gardening can bring them so much joy and happiness.

This whole gardening as therapy is much larger than can be dissected in a simple blog but having the understanding that gardening can and will provide benefits to others is huge too. Remember, that when we are gardening, we are exercising our bodies, minds, and spirit. We are bringing about learning and recollection, and we are growing, not only ourselves but our gardens and the wonderful bounty that it provides us.

For more information on Horticultural Therapy visit the American Horticultural Therapy Association at:

For more information on products that help you and those with mobility issues garden, check out my products page at, and remember that proceeds from these products benefit our brave and loyal veterans through the Semper Fi Fund,  and is done so through the Square Foot Gardening Foundation,

“Keep Those Fingers Dirty!”

Brian L. Fuder is a certified Square-Foot Gardening Instructor who builds gardens that are wheelchair-accessible and mobility-issue friendly. His business, Square Foot Gardening for the Red River Valley, is an approved vendor of products for the Square Foot Gardening Foundation. Follow Brian’s activities on Facebook and at Semper Fi Fund. Read all of his 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.

Dealing with a Wet Spring in the Vegetable Garden


Organic mulches improve the soil organic matter. Photo by Luke Stovall 

Gardeners and farmers do not control the weather, and it's only going to get more chaotic as climate change bites. Heavy rain events can leave soil impossible to work, because the water can't drain away fast enough. What can we do when it's too wet? Here are some ideas drawing on the chapter Preparing for and Coping with Disasters in my book The Year-Round Hoophouse. 

We need to plan ahead and deal with the possibilities of too much (and also too little) water. We need to pay greater attention to the climate as a critical factor in our decision-making. We need to adapt, our responses when the rainfall doesn't meet our hopes. Here I'll be talking about too much rain.

Prepare Your Soil and Crops

Figure out which crops are already marginal in your climate, and decide whether they are worth keeping, and whether they are important enough to provide more protection for. See for easy-to-understand graphics showing the average weather in your locality. The International Cooperators’ Guide Grafting Tomatoes for Production in the Hot-Wet Season recommends using eggplant rootstocks for tomatoes when flooding is expected.

1. Use raised beds or ridge-planting to help excess water drain sooner.

2. Increase the organic matter content of the soil so it can absorb more water in a manageable way, without compacting and going anaerobic. Incorporate compost, cover crops, organic mulches, crop debris and weeds — all improve the soil structure, organic matter and humus. The effect of compost lasts longest. If you're no-till, lay all these materials on the surface and expect incorporation and the benefits to be slower to arrive.

3. Consider no-till cover crops which become mulch. Their roots will support microbial growth, form active organic matter, and rapidly release N to the plants.

4. Minimize tillage because tilling accelerates nutrient burn-up and hence the loss of organic matter.Avoid tilling or disking right before a forecast of heavy rain.

5. Maximize the volume of living roots (food crops and cover crops) in the soil (use both deep-rooted and shallow-rooted crops). Root channels improve the soil structure and drainage.

6. Keep roots (alive or dead) in the soil all the time, or as much of the time as possible, to also tie the soil together and prevent erosion.

7. Avoid "bare fallow" at times of year when you could get a lot of rain. That might mean not just hurricane season, but year-round. Low-growing non-invasive cover crops can be planted in pathways.

Covering some soil, either with a hoophouse or plastic on the soil, keeps some areas dry. Photo by Wren Vile

Cover the Soil in Key Locations

1. Hoophouses and caterpillar tunnels can help keep crops from deluges. Large structures do have the issue of runoff, but you can plan ahead for that and make a drainage system. When we built our hoophouse, we made a ditch around three sides of it, to channel runoff downhill. Some people who have roll-up or drop-down sidewalls install plastic guttering on the “hipwall” lumber that these structures need, and collect the rainwater for irrigation. See the NRCS Code 558 Roof Runoff Structure.

2. Before the storm moves in, cover the soil where you plan to plant: temporary caterpillar tunnels (field houses), low tunnels, plastic mulches and tarping (occultation) can keep some of the soil dry, at the expense of causing runoff that makes other areas wetter. This can help get crucial plantings done in a timely way, leaving the wider problem to resolve later.

Take Serious Action for Serious Problems

1. If water drainage is a big issue where you are, you may need to consider a “grassed waterway” See the NRCS publication Grassed Waterway and Vegetated Filter System, Conservation Practice Job Sheet 412. This is really a very large gradual swale with a grassed surface, which you can graze or mow (think home-grown mulch!).

2. Another option is a “drywell” or French drain, a big hole full of rock. This will probably need to be large and require a lot of rock (and money), and maintenance to keep it free of sediment and leaves.

3. Field tile drainage

4. Keyline plowing (along contours).

5. Swales (also called “infiltration trenches”) allow water to gradually seep into the soil, while sending sudden large volumes downhill to an area which can absorb more water.A swale 18" (45 cm) wide by 8" (20 cm) deep in averagely draining soil can infiltrate approximately 1.6" (4 cm) rain per hour per 20 ft2 (1.86 m2) of contributing area.

First Aid if you can't plant when you want to

1. Consider transplanting instead of direct seeding. We did this one year with our winter squash, when the plot was hopelessly too wet. We were able to transplant the squash fairly young, and did not have a big harvest delay.

2. Consider a different, faster, variety that you can sow later and catch up. Some leaf lettuces only need 46 days (Salad Bowl, Bronze Arrowhead, Tom Thumb), while Romaines can take a lot longer (Crisp Mint, Winter Wonderland 70 days, Webb's Wonderful 72 days). Baby lettuce mix can be ready in as little as 21 days from mid-spring to mid-fall.

3. Consider a different, faster, crop that you can sow or transplant later. Keep your crop rotation in mind, as well as the next crop you intended to plant in that spot. Here are some fast-growing crops:

4. Ready in 30–35 days are some Brassicas such as kale, arugula, radishes (both the fast small ones and the larger winter ones); many Asian greens (Chinese Napa cabbage, Komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, pak choy, Senposai (40 days) tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy), spinach, chard, peashoots, many salad crops(lettuce, endives, chicories). One summer we sowed Tokyo Bekana as a lettuce substitute. 20 days to baby size, 45 days to a (large) full size.

5. Ready in 35–45 days are corn salad, land cress, sorrel, parsley and chervil.

6. Ready in 60 days are beets, collards, kohlrabi, turnips and small fast cabbages (Farao or Early Jersey Wakefield).

First Aid if you can't till

1. Could you mow? This will prevent weeds seeding, and prevent the cover crop or previous food crop from getting any bigger. It will be easier to till once that does become possible.

2. If you can't get a mower across the beds, can you use a weed whip (string trimmer) or a manual weed whacker or a scythe?

3. Could you use a broadfork? This will open up the soil, allowing it to dry faster.

4. Could you lay tarps over the whole mess, and wait for the cover crop or weeds to die?

5. Could you use a flame weeder to kill the existing vegetation? Flamers are intended to kill small weeds, not big ones, but we successfully used our wand-type flamer to kill weeds in the potato patch one spring when it was too wet to hill the potatoes.

Raised beds can help channel rain away. Photo by Wren Vile

Dealing with Floods

1. Drain flooded soil promptly, or you may end up with drowned plants (insufficient air) and with a high salt level caused by evaporation. Dig shallow trenches to let the flood water flow away.

2. See How to Rehab Your Soil after a Flood on the Hobby Farms website for five steps to repairing the damage: Clean Up, Remove Water, Beware of Contamination, Level the Land, Rebuild the Soil with Cover Crops. See also the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Expert Tip: How to Handle Flooded Fields for information about food safety.

3. Consult your local Extension service before selling any produce that has been in standing water, as the water may have become contaminated. See the US Food and Drug Administration Guidance for Industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-Affected Food Crops for Human Consumption

4. If you have a suitable source of nitrogen, apply some, after the flood recedes. You could lose yield from loss of soluble nutrients. The soil may have become anaerobic, reducing available nitrogen. You may also get a flush of weeds, competing with your slow-to-recover crop.

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs, as well as sustainable agriculture conferences. Pam also writes for Growing for Market and other magazines. Her books, Sustainable Market Farming, and The Year-Round Hoophouse are available at Her blog is on her website and also on



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.

Book Review: "Building a Better World in Your Backyard" by Paul Wheaton & Shawn Klassen-Koop

Building a Better World Book Paul Wheaton

Time Sensitive Note to Readers: Paul and Shawn are running a Kickstarter campaign to get their book published and they need your help to do so! If you donate $1 to their campaign in the first 48 hours , you will receive a literal boatload of over 30 high quality e-books and videos about permaculture and related topics! Make sure not to miss out on this fantastic deal! This offer starts officially Tuesday, April 9th 2019 at 2pm Mountain Time and ends Friday, April 12th 2019 at 2pm Mountain Time.

What Is This Book About?

It’s purpose is to help the average person transform the world, one truly ecological act at a time. That means that instead of writing angry letters to politicians and protesting, you can do things in your everyday life to help the Earth. Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop offer easy-to-implement, simple solutions for anyone looking to reduce your energy/petroleum usage and clear toxins from your life. They briefly cover how to save money and make passive income so that you don’t have to participate in the rat race and commute to work (thereby polluting the environment). The theme of luxurious living is in the forefront of the book throughout reading it. So it is not a book about sacrifice in the name of environmentalism. The main goal of the book is to direct your current anger at how messed up we’ve made the world and put it towards doing simple practical things to lessen your carbon footprint and give yourself a better more fulfilled life.  

Kickstarter Image

Paul & Shawn’s Eco-Poser Test

Do you spend less than $83/month on energy (electricity & heat)? They say that even if you have five kids, you still have to spend less than that to be a real environmentalist. Not a poser.

It’s a very interesting, thought-provoking argument. Heating and electricity account for a large amount of fossil fuels that we use. However, transportation takes the cake for the highest fossil fuel use : 33% in 2017. Electricity & heating use was 28% of total fossil fuel consumption. So, together, all three total over 60% of overall fossil fuel use in the United States. Next time you book a flight to Mexico or order something Next Day from Amazon, give that a thought!

Back to the book. I love the anecdote about the protester driving to protest fracking and he’s driving his car 1500 miles to do so, thereby using lots of petroleum! Most people don’t think about their iPad use (plus the mining to make the iPad), driving in their car, and taking yearly vacations on cruises or airplanes. The majority of us use either coal, natural gas, or hydroelectric power (still not always environmentally friendly) for our daily addiction to electricity. These are big problems but Wheaton has some good answers  that we can all do in our daily lives. In the subsequent chapters, he makes some great points for how to do this without giving up a lot of “luxury”.

Paul points out that using a energy-efficient dryer in your home is not being an environmentalist! You need to go further, and use a clothesline. If you hand-wash, extra points for you! What my family and I have discovered is that drying clothes in winter on a rack can be done easily indoors. And if you have too much moisture building up, using a dehumidifier is far less energy consuming than using a dryer (which also spits heat outside in winter...whhaaat?). I hand wash my clothes on our homestead with a “breathing” plunger. Now I just need a clothes wringer since my hands get pretty sore after wringing them out by hand.

Reducing Petroleum Usage

In Chapter 5 we move on to petroleum usage on a per person scale, and different ways of reducing it in small ways or BIG ways! This information is great to know. My conclusions out of this chapter: live communally (or rent out part of your home), work from home to reduce or eliminate commutes, and do as big a garden as you can manage while hopefully producing food for people outside of your home as well. This is great advice and I think more people need to explore being happy and at peace at home rather than always eating out, doing gym workouts, and traveling lots. This involves really looking at your life and assessing how you can cut down on your driving around. He says aim for driving once per month, which is a really genius way of combating the whole debate about using electric cars vs. hydrogen vs. ethanol vs. bio-diesel, etc. etc. Just use your current vehicle very very minimally. My family and I practice this in real life and find that you can be really creative with fun stuff to do at home. Play boardgames! Read books together, recite poetry, make things! Have a dance party or a tea party!

Radically Deviant Financial Strategies

One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 10: Radically Deviant Financial Strategies. In this chapter, Wheaton covers some very smart strategies for saving up money to get your own land, or own your own tiny house/shack that you build onto. These practices are critical for anyone who is drowning in debt and wanting to escape the rat race. Wheaton has a great list of passive income stream ideas, which will likely get the creative juices flowing for most readers.

What if many of us could find a way to live free from debt and the “slavery” of working in a big city with long commutes? I know there are many people out there hoping to figure out this puzzle. For a lot of Millenials, it can be easy to save money while living at home with Mom and Dad, with the goal of renting or buying land. It will require a person to give up eating out as well as exercising at home instead of driving to the gym and paying monthly fees.

Wheaton and Koop mention Early Retirement Extreme, a blog and book that helps people save over 75% of their income in order to retire young. From this point on in this day and age of low interest rates, anyone trying to save money for land and a simpler life, will have an uphill battle financially. I believe the best way to do this is investing in living systems (food plants and trees) that are guaranteed to give returns (in food) no matter what the financial interest rates are. Another important part of the Early Retirement Extreme program is about developing “Renaissance Skills” as a way of investing in yourself. This means gaining skills that can be used in your daily life to save you money, such as learning to fix plumbing problems or building furniture. These skills can never be taken away from you, whereas money can.

Living Communally - Smart Idea With Some Challenges

Given that Paul has a lot of experience living in a community on his land, I was hoping for a much more in-depth chapter on how to effectively tone down the drama while living communally. I know for myself, this is THE main reason why I don’t want to live with others. It makes a lot of sense financially to live with a large group of people, and if we can create some good boundaries and rules with that, perhaps it is a good solution for lots of people. I would be very interested in a detailed discussion (or future book?) of these points.

Permaculture to Grow Your Own Food

The most important part of the book is about permaculture. Paul Wheaton has been lovingly dubbed “The Duke of Permaculture” by Geoff Lawton, (arguably the most “famous” permaculture teacher in the world, trained by the founder, Bill Mollison) for his contributions in spreading the ideas of permaculture. So it makes sense that Wheaton would give this as a solution to a lot of the world’s problems. Like he points out, petroleum is used to prepare the ground for growing food, to grow food (fertilizer), to transport food to the store, and the customer uses petroleum to go buy it. Growing your own food is a very critical part of environmentalism. Wheaton gives a good overview of some basic permaculture concepts, and tantilizes the reader to learn more outside of the book. Permaculture is a symbiotic way to live with Nature, and it also includes surrounding yourself with perennial plants and trees with lots of diversity throughout.

This year we are planting a long list of perennials in hopes that I and my grandchildren can benefit from the bountiful harvests in the future. We will be planting hazelnuts, nitrogen-fixing trees (called Princess Trees), paw paws, persimmons, walnuts, buartnuts, oak trees, grape vines, and lots more herbs and perennial greens. I hope that Paul’s chapter on permaculture, berms, tree-planting, and lazy gardening will inspire readers to dive into growing their own food.

I overheard a conversation at a home improvement store involving a man who came to get some poison to kill a tree stump because he wanted to have a flat yard of grass. The employee offered an herbicide poison and the man went on his way.  Just think about this for a minute: This tree stump that could turn into rich, black composted dirt in 5-10 years and fertilize the plants all around it, feed the mushroom mycelium, which in turn would exchange plant sugars with all surrounding plants, thereby feeding them valuable “plant poop”, is the enemy. I think it’s time to bring back the trees, people. Cover that stump with a berm or make it into a Hugelkultur, chop and drop lots of green stuff (leaves, spoiled hay, branches, etc) on top, and let nature do it’s magic. We just need to get out of the way! Paul discusses this in different parts of his book as well.

Building a Better World in Your Backyard book picture

Paul and Shawn’s book has a lot of chapters and the reader will need to take time to go down a few rabbit-holes of juicy information before finishing the book! They have provided lots of links to Paul’s online forum as there are in-depth discussions about all the topics in the book. So, while reading you can join in discussions about related topics.

Overall, this book is simply a brilliant way of looking at the problems that our world faces in 2019. Although some may not want to try the more extreme ideas out, it can get readers thinking about ways they can dig deeper to help combat climate change and widespread pollution. It goes far beyond simply recycling, and places the responsibility on our everyday actions and choices.

About the Authors of Building a Better World

Paul Wheaton: As a certified master gardener and a certified permaculture designer, Paul Wheaton gardens, farms and lives what he preaches. He founded, and a few other gems (ahem, Paul’s podcasts and videocasts take in-depth looks at everything from organic gardening to lesser-known methods of permaculture.

Shawn Klassen-Koop’s passion for building a better world grew from many years of working at a summer camp. This time inspired awe and wonder for the natural world through many hours camping in the woods, paddling on a lake, or sleeping under the stars. Seeking to solve world problems with clever thinking, Shawn decided to pursue computer engineering as a career, where he learned the importance of good design and strong critical thinking. In time he felt like modern technology was causing more problems than it was solving and started looking for a better way. It was then that he stumbled upon and fell in love with permaculture as a way to use his design skills to work with nature rather than against nature.

Don’t forget to donate at least $1 (or more!) to Paul’s Kickstarter in the first 48 hours to get all of those amazing Ebooks and videos!

Rosemary does not get any commissions or gifts for doing this review. She has been provided with a free copy of the book, but with absolutely no request to make this review positive. This is Rosemary's unbiased view of Paul and Shawn’s book. She does not receive any commissions for money donated to their kickstarter campaign either.

Rosemary Hansen is an author, homesteading Mama, and a chef. She has spent the last 10 years “homesteading” in the city. She and her family have just started their off-grid homestead in rural British Columbia, Canada. Her books, Grow a Salad In Your City Apartment and Rosemary’s Natural Cosmetic Guide are a great way to ease into a healthy, pure lifestyle. You can connect with Rosemary at her website: or on her YouTube channel. Read all of Rosemary's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Fossil fuel energy primary consumption in the U.S. from 1990 to 2018, by sector (in trillion British thermal units)

US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Flow Chart: World Resources Institute. 2003 Data.

Brazil's Balbina Dam: Environment versus the legacy of the Pharaohs in Amazonia

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Taking on EWG's 'Dirty Dozen' List: Considerations For Kale and Pesticide Safety

Kale in our greenhouse

It’s been all over social media this week—Kale (that wonderful super food) has been added to the “Dirty Dozen” list.  Laden with insecticides, the word out now is forgo this healthful green.  It’s just not good for your body anymore with all those neuro-toxins. 

For some of you, this may be a real downer.  “What?  Not kale!  I just got to liking kale!”  And for some of you, it may secretly be a pleasure that you no longer have to keep pretending to like kale (not that I can blame you, if you’ve only had access to the limp, tough, ashen material that hasn’t seen a field in a while).

But should we really throw out all kale because of this finding?  Is the issue really kale’s fault?

The short answer is no.  For the longer, more nuanced answer, read on.

Pesticides don’t naturally grow in kale.  They arrive on the kale in the grocery store because the crop was sprayed in the field (likely multiple times).  Nobody likes to knowingly share their meal with insects, and kale is a crop that doesn’t offer a way to hide any nibbling evidence.  You buy the whole leaf, and any chew-holes would be noticeable.

In our current fetish for perfect looking fruits and vegetables, such blemishes as bug chews here or there are unacceptable.  But not all bugs only take a nibble—some can wipe out an entire crop at alarming speeds.  This is most likely to happen when growing only one crop on large acreage.

Imagine, kale hits the boom as the new super food because of all its innate goodness by being a member of the broccoli family.  Suddenly, there is a larger market for kale.  Growers respond by planting large fields of kale…and nothing but kale.  It makes harvesting and mechanical tilling easier.  All is well until a pest finds out that now there’s this big festival of kale growing next door, which is that particular bug’s favorite thing to eat.

It eats voraciously, multiplying at numbers that put rabbits to shame, and soon the field is so infested that the crop is lost.  Only gnawed-on stems remain of once flourishing plants.  Or…at least they looked like they were flourishing on the outside.  Insects are particularly adept at noticing which plants are struggling (reading the UV light they emit) and attacking weak plants first.  Plants living in a mono-cropped system (which is the name for growing just one type of plant) are much more likely to give off these distress signals.

So what’s the solution to this munching bug invasion?  Chemicals, and plenty of them because more eggs will be hatching soon and the war continues in a never-ending cycle of band-aid fixes to epic management problems.

A Quick Fix?

But does this have to be the story for kale?  Absolutely not.  While chemical solutions may be a quick-fix (albeit a toxic one), the real long-term solution is a biodynamic one.

If you look anywhere in nature, nothing is mono-cropped.  Within a single square foot of prairie or forest floor, dozens of plant species may be found, if not more.  They are living together in a symbiotic relationship, along with the bugs and worms and birds and wildlife.  That’s asking for problems.

When utilizing biodiversity, even if a pest enters the garden, it can’t eat everything.  Most insects are species-specific eaters.  It’s very fortunate that the potato beetles on our farm have no interest in our winter squash or green beans.  If you mix the plants around, moving their location every year, it’s much tougher for the nasty bugs to find their favorite plant, slowing their spread.  In smaller-scale operations, where tending is by hand rather than giant machine, the farmer can spot an invasion when it starts and act quickly before there is a disaster. 

In our aquaponics greenhouse, biodynamic practices flourish as well.  While many production aquaponics systems focus on one to three crops, we typically have 50-60 species and varieties growing at the same time—from tomatoes to fresh herbs, greens to members of the broccoli family, beets to micro-greens.  Here, too, it’s hard for an insect pest to take over completely because of the variety and spotty nature of the plantings.  

Just the other day, I discovered some spider mites on an older stand of swiss chard.  Instead of getting out a pesticide spray (which the tilapia fish in the system cannot tolerate), I bagged and removed the infested plants, duly feeding them to the happy Kunekune pigs.  Nothing was wasted, the surrounding crop was saved (including the other stands of swiss chard), and there were no chemicals involved.  At other times, we have purchased beneficial insects that eat the pests—waging their own natural bug-on-bug competition.

Basically, the issue is learning to work with a problem rather than battling against it.  Just has warfare has turned increasingly chemical over the years, so has the mentality against insects (and even weeds) in agribusiness practices.  Because of this systemic issue, Round-Up is now found in California wines and kale has been added to the “Dirty Dozen” list. 

This is all the more reason to know who is growing your food and how.  This means bringing relationship and integrity back into our food systems.  What better way is there to do this than to know your local growers?  Visit their farms, learn about their practices, and support their commitment to a biodynamic solution for growing what ends up on your plate.  You just might discover that the biodynamic, local, fresh kale tastes leagues better than what you used to buy! 

Time to go pick some more spray-free aquaponics kale.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Happy, spray-free kale growing in our aquaponics greenhouse.  Photo by Kara Berlage.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

Five Garden Questions To Ask Before You Plant

basket of veggies

So many garden options. Photo by Carole Coates

Is it possible to have too much garden space? Not for me. So I have to think about how to pare down my garden wish list. I’ve come up five questions to help me decide what to grow and what to bypass. 

How Productive Is It?

What gives me the most volume for the space it requires? Peas and green beans, especially grown vertically, are big on volume. They keep producing as long as I harvest frequently. Zucchini is a famous heavy producer. (I grate some of the excess and freeze it for fall bread-baking.) Potatoes get a yes on this measure, too. As do cut-and-come-again crops like kale, Swiss chard, salad greens.  

garden bean arch

Growing on a garden arch makes productive plants like beans so much easier to harvest. Photo by Carole Coates

On the other hand, melons and winter squash demand a huge amount of space for a precious few fruits. Likewise, one stalk of corn typically produces only one or two ears. A single meal for a family of four requires at least two stalks. Then the plant’s done for. Corn eats up space, too. I comes in all at once, and I definitely don’t have room to succession plant it.

How Nutritious Is It?

If I look at the garden from a purely nutritional standpoint, I’ll choose dark leafy greens over starchy potatoes. Kale, chard, and spinach pack a real nutritional punch. They’re mainstays for healthy smoothies, too, so they can be eaten morning, noon, and night.

How Well Does It Grow For Me?

As much as I hate to admit it, tomatoes do not do well in the short, cool, wet, summers here. I’ll save space, time, money, and tears by passing on this crop. Besides, I can enjoy far more variety by shopping the farmers’ market stalls than I could produce myself. On the other hand, carrots love my garden, so I plant plenty. 

carrot crop variety

Carrots: easy, delicious, nutritious, and space-saving–a perfect planting choice for me. Photo by Carole Coates

How Easy Is It?

What a treat to plant once and receive bounty for years to come? Asparagus, sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes), and rhubarb are prime examples of easy. And as good as rhubarb is as pie, it can be used for so much more, including quick breads, savory dishes, and ketchup. Check out this site for rhubarb recipe ideas. Garlic and sweet potatoes are other easy-to-grow crops. After planting, I can pretty much forget about them until harvest time. Then there are the re-seeders, such as ground cherries.  

easy grow rhubarb

What could be easier than planting a perennial that will serve you for years to come? Photo by Carole Coates

Is It Cost Effective?

Perennials fit in this category, too. Conversely, some seed packets include shamefully few seeds for the cost and aren’t big producers, either. A cauliflower plant will get me one head, whereas one pepper plant produces a number of peppers in the same or even less space.

One Last Question

And it’s an important one—how much do I love it? The most productive, nutritious, easy, inexpensive vegetable is a waste if I won’t to eat it. Frankly, I’ve never met a vegetable I don’t like, but I like some more than others. A few, such as radishes, I prefer in small doses—growing them at all produces more than I care to eat. I never tire of lima beans, though—and I can freeze excess for winter.  

The Bottom Line

Some plants tick all of my boxes, others only one or two. It’s no surprise that for me, the losers include corn and tomatoes, much as I love both. I’m better off growing what will produce, give my family more nutrition, and save space and money. Leafy greens and root crops will earn the biggest share of my garden space. When I crave radishes, tomatoes, or corn, a trip to the farmers’ market is an easy cure.

What Are Your Big Questions?

You may have different criteria. Whatever your overarching goals, developing a plan for seed and plant selection before you start your garden will net you a better all-around result.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, 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.

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