Friday, April 16, 2010

Books on Gardening (and More)

For the past few months I have been checking out a number of books on gardening from the library. Firstly, I will share with you two books on herbs that have fast become my favorites. Keep in mind that I am fairly new to growing and using herbs, and there are many books on this topic that I have not yet read. These are just my favorites thus far, and I feel as though the journey has only just begun for me.

The Northwest Herb Lover’s Handbook is a handy source of information on growing herbs in general, but I also find it helpful that the author Mary Preus focuses on the needs of the Pacific Northwest (where I live). Each time I am about to plant an herb, I make sure I first consult with the sections in the book called “Planting information and cultural directions.” Additionally, at the end of each section on an herb, interesting tidbits of information are divided into sections such as “Garden uses,” “Craft and home uses,” “Culinary uses,” and “Medicinal uses.” Located toward the back of the book is a monthly checklist of to-do reminders.

Another book I have been referring to on a regular basis is Herbs for Pets. Since I’m not just growing herbs for myself, but for my furred buddies as well, it’s nice to have an all-in-one guide for growing herbs and using them medicinally for my dog and cat. The first chapter is a good primer for the beginner herbalist such as myself. And besides being an attractive book, it is also organized well. The section for each herb is easy to find due to alphabetized “tabs” on the edge of the pages. A large section in the back of the book is devoted to holistic care of pets and herbal remedies.

Another reference guide I sometimes use is Herb Gardening for Washington and Oregon. This book is very light on information and heavy on beautiful color photos (though the photos are actually useful in identifying herbs).

The Bountiful Container is a book on container gardening. I have been using it for supplemental information on herbs (and since I’m planting herbs in containers as well as in the garden, it serves a dual purpose).

As I delve more into using herbs, I have a feeling I’ll eventually find more detailed books on the subject. I’m also interested in the medicinal qualities and uses of native plants/herbs. Last week while browsing online, I found a book called Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore (not "thee" Michael Moore; this Michael Moore is an expert herbalist) that provides more comprehensive information on how to collect plants that grow in the wild and how to prepare them medicinally. Who knew that Devil's Club, Trillium, and Skunk Cabbage could be used to heal? Not me...not until now anyway.

There is a belief among many gardeners that some plants grow better when planted adjacent to certain other plants. This method is called “companion gardening.” As a new gardener, I’m not sure how effective this is in reality, but I have been willing to give it a try. The book Carrots Love Tomatoes is a gardening classic, and I loosely refer to it when deciding where to plant my herbs (as well as other plants). Besides being a general guide for companion gardening, the author also throws in interesting bits of information about various plants that I have found helpful (I learned I can use all those crazy horsetails growing out of control in my backyard to make a spray that wards off mildew/fungus on other plants. Pretty cool!). This week I checked out a book called Great Garden Companions, also on the subject of companion gardening. I haven’t read much of this book yet, so I can’t vouch for it, but the color photos of the author’s garden are simply gorgeous. She obviously goes in for a decorative look, and she’ll closely mix together companion plants such as marigolds, basil, calendula, dinosaur kale, lettuce, and basil and somehow make them look like they all belong together in a magnificent splash of colors. That’s an end result that I could live with!

In terms of vegetable gardening, I have been religiously using two indispensable books that I have mentioned before on this blog: Growing Green and Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades.

I own (and know of) only two books specifically about veganic gardening. One is a book no longer in print called Veganic Gardening by Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien. To be honest, I don’t find myself referring to that book much (so far anyway). Instead, I use Growing Green when I have a question about veganics. I have found that the chapters on soil fertility and propagation have been the most helpful.

Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades gives tips on organic gardening for folks who live (yep, you guessed it) west of the Cascade mountains. Though the author Steve Solomon is not a veganic farmer, he does offer great information on organic methods and stuff specific to the Pacific Northwest, such as soil fertility and planting dates. I have learned a great deal about gardening from reading this book and highly recommend it (even to those folks who do not live in the PNW).

One thing you have to keep in mind while reading his book, however, is that Solomon is not a fan of biointensive gardening, and he will direct you to plant seeds in a very controlled and sparse fashion (he is the anti-John Jeavons so to speak). So far, I have gone along with his proposed method of spacing plants farther apart. However, biointensive methods are looking more and more appealing to me, especially since I have only so much space to work with in my backyard. So I might just be looking more into John Jeavons’ methods, and I have recently checked out his very popular book called How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I’ll hold off on recommending it until I’ve read it. I'm also interested in learning more about permaculture techniques, and plan on checking out some books by the two Grahams (Graham Bell and Graham Burnett). I did read Food Not Lawns last year, and am thinking I could go for a second reading.

There are other books that I am currently reading that are not directly connected to gardening, but I think I’ll mention them anyway. I started reading Seeds of Destruction a few weeks ago and after getting through about two-thirds of it, I literally had to put the book down and walk away from it for a while. It was just too depressing to learn of yet more ways in which the corporate elite are attempting to control our lives (this time through control of our seeds, and therefore our food supply). At the same time, I got it into my head to look into who was behind the Doomsday Vault (a seed bank where seeds from around the world are stored for “free”) – well, the same people managing this giant “seed bank” are the same people trying to control the seed supply (e.g., Dupont and Syngenta and the creepy people [CGIAR and the Rockefeller Foundation] who started the failed Green Revolution and have a long shady history that dips into eugenics – read Seeds of Destruction and you’ll know what I am talking about). Equally depressing is how every day the alternative news informs us of how Monsanto is pushing GM seeds/food on various developing countries and indigenous peoples, as if the company hasn’t ruined enough land, soil, communities, and farmers’ lives. And apparently, industry is not stopping at GM foods; they are now pushing boundaries by developing nano-food – and like GM food, don’t expect nano-food to be labeled or tested properly anytime soon either. It’s gotten to a point where I really can’t keep up with the aggressive self-serving agenda of the corporatocracy; their multitudinous moneygrubbing tentacles are reaching everywhere in a world that is dying from greed. But I suppose this topic/rant can be saved for another blog entry on another day.

In the meantime, I have turned to reading another book called Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution by Caroline Fraser. I’m only about thirty or so pages into it, but so far it’s a very interesting read. Among other things, the author talks about the technique of creating corridors between wild areas that allows animals to migrate when necessary. This is a subject in which I have become very interested, since it seems like a necessary solution to some of the problems that free-living animals are facing due to climate change. There is some speciesist language in the book, but I’ve tried to ignore it in order to receive the pertinent knowledge that Fraser has to offer. I previously thought this idea of creating corridors for animal migration was something that had developed in recent years, but as it turns out some conservationists have been doing it for many years now (and in fact, a project is already planned for creating bridges and culverts in the Cascades that will allow wildlife to cross over Interstate 90, a major barrier for migrating animals). As the climate changes and warms up, the ability for animals (and plants) to migrate to locations with more suitable conditions will become ever more important. In a world where animals and plants are going extinct faster than they are evolving (!) and where biodiversity is rapidly decreasing to the point in which it is becoming harmful even to humans, helping the remaining animals to survive and adjust to the vast changes in their habitats is becoming the responsibility of us humans who have put them into this mess in the first place.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Walk in the Cascades

Here are some photos I took during a short walk in the Cascades a couple of weeks ago. The photos were taken from my phone. I'm a horrible photographer, but hopefully I've done the Cascades some justice.

One of the first plants to pop up in early spring is the skunk cabbage. I always look forward to finding the first skunk cabbage, because it means spring is around the corner!

The beginning foliage of wildflowers is starting to crop up along the trail paths.

This is actually a bleeding heart that seems to be droopy from the rain. Some bleeding hearts are just beginning to form their little heart-shaped flowers.

Edit: Whoops. I went back on this trail this week and realized what I rather started to suspect, that this is not bleeding heart, but another plant of the same family (corydalis), called western corydalis. I should have known better, since bleeding heart doesn't normally grow this tall at the outset. I guess without the flowers fully formed I had a temporary mind fart in identifying it. Western Corydalis grows in the back of my house, as does bleeding heart. They are both currently blooming. A better photo of western corydalis is shown at the end of this post.

One of the things I love about the Cascades is the crazy amount of moss and lichen that grows on everything alive and dead. The moss is a brilliant emerald green right now. One of these days I'm going to take it upon myself to identify different types of moss.

Here the moss is growing on a nurse log. Western red cedar nurse logs and stumps are amazing - everything and anything seems to grow out of them. I don't know why, but it never ceases to fascinate me. This is probably a very boring photo to most people, but I love checking out all the crazy stuff that grows from dead cedar - trees, bushes, ferns, flowers, moss.

Licorice fern growing on a tree...this is very common.

More lovely moss on an old-growth.

And more moss...

A fallen tree showing her roots.

I'm not knowledgeable in mycology, so I have no idea what kind of mushrooms these are...but I thought they were pretty enough to take a picture.

Here's my doggie. She's the best hiking/running companion in the world! That's the Snoqualmie River. The river is so clear one can see the the copper-colored stones on the bottom.

Western Corydalis:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Walt's Organic Fertilizer Co. and Steve Solomon's Veganized Fertilizer Recipe

For those of you living in the greater Seattle area and in need of vegan fertilizer, Walt’s Organic Fertilizer Co. sells a vegan mix called Organic Garden Blend 6-2-5. The mix has a good balance of NPK. Note that you might want to add some lime to the mix. Pacific Northwest soil is very acidic; the rain leaches away much of the calcium. This problem can be corrected by feeding it some lime.

For a year now I have been mixing my own vegan fertilizer using a recipe that I derived from Steve Solomon's Complete Organic Fertilizer for the Pacific Northwest. The following ingredients are totally vegan:

4 parts organic cottonseed meal (or organic soya bean meal)

½ part dolomite lime (or a 50/50 mix of dolomite lime and agricultural lime)

½ part kelp meal

½ part rock phosphate

I was really unsure about using this fertilizer on my garden last year, but I was assured by the great (and very helpful!) folks on the Veganic Agriculture Network that the modified recipe I was using was indeed vegan and balanced. Then, a few weeks ago, I was walking my dog in the Lake Hills Park in Bellevue and came upon a large community garden that was open to the public called the Urban Demonstration Garden. As I walked around reading the informational placards placed in front of the various plants and garden beds, I came upon one placard that explained the type of fertilizer they use. Lo and behold, they use the same exact recipe (also derived from Steve Solomon’s formula) that I thought I had “made up.” I was surprised, and yet very relieved, to know I’m not the only one using it. The only minor difference with their recipe is that they sometimes use fish meal as a substitute for one of the ingredients, which I would never use.

I just started using organic soya bean (soybean) meal instead of cottonseed meal this week. Cottonseed meal seems to have some controversy surrounding it regarding whether or not it is really organic (and GM free), even though it may be labeled “organic,” and this is something I want to look into more. (On page 36 of Steve Solomon’s book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, he gives a short explanation on how the final product of cottonseed meal has been stripped of its oil – the part that retains any pesticides/herbicides. Solomon recommends using cottonseed, but being the vegan skeptic that I am, I plan on researching the situation further.) Regardless, I decided to try the soybean meal more for a change of pace. Linseed meal is also an acceptable substitute for cottonseed or soybean meal. I sometimes throw in some alfalafa meal with my fertilizer as well, though it’s not necessarily needed, it seems.

All of the ingredients I’ve written about thus far are available at Walt’s Fertilizer Co. If you live farther east toward the mountains, The Grange in Issaquah sells some of these ingredients as well. I'm sure there are many more sources out there for vegan fertilizer products that I don't know about because I am new to veganics, but I have been keeping my eye out for new companies and sources, and will list them on my blog as I encounter them.

If you are wondering whether or not an ingredient you want to use for fertilizer is vegan, Growing Green (a book on veganic techniques) devotes a chapter to the guidelines (chapter 3: Soil Fertility). Also there is a very helpful information sheet presented (in PDF format) by the Vegan-Organic Network called Propagation and Fertilizers, which I often have been referring to lately.

There are many different types of vegan fertilizers that one can use, some less expensive than others (e.g., wood ash, comfrey liquid, compost tea, stinging nettle liquid, weed tea). Some really creative ways have been proposed in various garden blogs and forums on how to fertilize plants without using animal products. I am trying to keep a list of the ones I encounter so that one day I can post them all.