About me...

Because this journey is intensely personal, there will be times when my posts will be about more than just rebuilding the physical aspects of my life. They may be random and sometimes I think they may not even make sense to some. But whatever I post here will be as honest as I can make it, no punches pulled, telling it like it it. I hope that I can share some insight with others who might be going through a similar transitory period in their own lives. With luck and perseverence I know I will eventually successful in my new life. I have very high hopes for all of this but then I had those when Dave was alive, too. I am naturally a pretty optomistic person, I think.

Heirloom Gardening Part 2

Herb gardens may be purely functional, or they may include a blend of functional and ornamental plants. The herbs are usually used to flavour food in cooking, though they may also be used in other ways, such as discouraging pests, providing pleasant scents, or serving medicinal purposes (e.g., a physic garden), among others.

A kitchen garden can be created by planting different herbs in pots or containers, with the added benefit of mobility. Although not all herbs thrive in pots or containers, some herbs do better than others. Mint, is an example of herb that is advisable to keep in a container or it will take over the whole garden.

The culinary use of herbs may result in positive medical side-effects. In addition, plants grown within the garden are sometimes specifically targeted to cure common illnesses or maladies such as colds, headaches, or anxiety. During the medieval period, monks and nuns developed specialist medical knowledge and grew the necessary herbs in specialist gardens. Now, especially due to the increase in popularity of alternative medicine, this usage is heavily increasing. Making a medicinal garden however, requires a great number of plants, one for each malady. Herbs grown in herb gardens are also sometimes used to make herbal teas.

Some popular culinary herbs in temperate climates are to a large extent still the same as in the medieval period.
Examples of herbs used for specific purposes (lists are examples only, and not intended to be complete):
Annual culinary herbs: basil, dill, summer savory
Borage is commonly grown in herb gardens; its flowers can be used as a garnish.
Perennial culinary herbs: mint, rosemary, thyme, tarragon
Herbs used for potpourri: lavender, lemon verbena
Herbs used for tea: mint, lemon verbena, chamomile, bergamot, Hibiscus sabdariffa (for making karkade).
Herbs used for other purposes: stevia for sweetening, feverfew for pest control in the garden.
However, herbs often have multiple purposes. For example, mint may be used for cooking, tea, and pest control.

The cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries, but their reinvention in stylized versions grew in 1870s England, in reaction to the more structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs and mass plantings of brilliant greenhouse annuals.

The earliest cottage gardens were more practical than their modern descendants — with an emphasis on vegetables and herbs, along with some fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and even livestock. Flowers were used to fill any spaces in between. Over time, flowers became more dominant.

The traditional cottage garden was usually enclosed, perhaps with a rose-bowered gateway. Flowers common to early cottage gardens included hollyhocks, pansies and delphinium, all three essentially nineteenth-century flowers. Others were the old-fashioned roses that bloomed once a year with rich scents, simple flowers like daisies, and flowering herbs.

A well-tended topiary of traditional form, perhaps a cone-shape in tiers, or a conventionalised peacock, would be part of the repertory, to which the leisured creators of "cottage gardens" would add a sun-dial, crazy paving on paths with thyme in the interstices, and a rustic seat, generally missing in the earlier cottage gardens. Over time, even large estate gardens had sections they called "cottage gardens".

Modern-day cottage gardens include countless regional and personal variations of the more traditional English cottage garden, and embrace plant materials, such as ornamental grasses or native plants, that were never seen in the rural gardens of cottagers. Traditional roses, with their full fragrance and lush foliage, continue to be a cottage garden mainstay — along with modern disease-resistant varieties that keep the traditional attributes. Informal climbing plants, whether traditional or modern hybrids, are also a common cottage garden plant. Self-sowing annuals and freely spreading perennials continue to find a place in the modern cottage garden, just as they did in the traditional cottager's garden.

Heirloom Gardening Part 1

One of the things I am the most enthralled about when it comes to growing food plants is the historical significance of those plants.   I try to mostly grow heirloom varieties and love the idea that I am eating the same things that the generations that preceeded me ate.  It is living history at its purest.  The following is from a handout I created for a lecture I gave on heirlooms.  

Before the industrialization of agriculture, a much wider variety of plant foods was grown for human consumption. In modern agriculture in the industrialized world, most food crops are now grown in large, monocultural plots. In order to maximize consistency, few varieties of each type of crop are grown. These varieties are often selected for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides. Heirloom gardening is a reaction against this trend. In the Global South, heirloom plants are still widely grown, for example in the home gardens of South and Southeast Asia, although their future is uncertain.

Heirloom growers have different motivations. Some people grow heirlooms for historical interest, while others want to increase the available gene pool for a particular plant for future generations. Some select heirloom plants due to an interest in traditional organic gardening. Many simply want to taste the different varieties of vegetables, or see whether they can grow a rare variety of plant.

What Makes It An Heirloom?
The definition of the use of the word heirloom to describe plants is highly debated.
One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945 which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies or industrial agriculture. Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant can have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties. It was in the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade. Some heirloom plants are much older, some being apparently pre-historic.
Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word "heirloom" in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.

Additionally, there is another category of cultivars that could be classified as "commercial heirlooms," cultivars that were introduced many generations ago and were of such merit that they have been saved, maintained and handed down - even if the seed company has gone out of business or otherwise dropped the line. Additionally, many old commercial releases have actually been family heirlooms that a seed company obtained and introduced.

Regardless of a person's specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution. Most, if not all, hybrid plants, if regrown, will not be the same as the original hybrid plant, thus insuring the dependency on seed distributors for future crops.

The history of gardening extends across at least 4,000 years of human civilization. Egyptian tomb paintings of the 1500s BC are some of the earliest physical evidence of ornamental horticulture and landscape design; they depict lotus ponds surrounded by symmetrical rows of acacias and palms. Another ancient gardening tradition is of Persia: Darius the Great was said to have had a "paradise garden" and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were renowned as a Wonder of the World. Persian gardens were also organized symmetrically, along a center line known as an axis.
Monasteries carried on a tradition of garden design and intense horticultural techniques during the medieval period in Europe. Rather than any one particular horticultural technique employed, it is the variety of different purposes the monasteries had for their gardens that serves as testament to their sophistication. As for gardening practices, records are limited, and there are no extant monastic gardens that are entirely true to original form. There are, however, records and plans that indicate the types of garden a monastery might have had, such as those for St. Gall in Switzerland.

Generally, monastic garden types consisted of kitchen gardens, infirmary gardens, cemetery orchards, cloister garths and vineyards. Individual monasteries might also have had a "green court," a plot of grass and trees where horses could graze, as well as a cellarer's garden or private gardens for obedientiaries, monks who held specific posts within the monastery.

From a utilitarian standpoint, vegetable and herb gardens helped provide both alimentary and medicinal crops, which could be used to feed or treat the monks and, in some cases, the outside community. As detailed in the plans for St. Gall, these gardens were laid out in rectangular plots, with narrow paths between them to facilitate collection of yields. Often these beds were surrounded with wattle fencing to prevent animals from entry. In the kitchen gardens, fennel, cabbage, onion, garlic, leeks, radishes, and parnips might be grown, as well as peas, lentils and beans if space allowed for them. The infirmary gardens could contain savory, costmary, fenugreek, rosemary, peppermint, rue, iris, sage, bergamot, mint, lovage, fennel and cumin, amongst other herbs.

The herb and vegetable gardens served a purpose beyond that of production, and that was that their installation and maintenance allowed the monks to fulfill the manual labor component of the religious way of life prescribed by Rule of St. Benedict.

Orchards also served as sites for food production and as arenas for manual labor, and cemetery orchards, such as that detailed in the plan for St. Gall, showed yet more versatility. The cemetery orchard not only produced fruit, but manifested as a natural symbol of the garden of Paradise. This bi-fold concept of the garden as a space that met both physical and spiritual needs was carried over to the cloister garth.

The cloister garth, a claustrum consisting of the viridarium, a rectangular plot of grass surrounded by peristyle arcades, was barred to the laity, and served primarily as a place of retreat, a locus of the ‘vita contempliva’ . The viridarium was often bisected or quartered by paths, and often featured a roofed fountain at the center or side of the garth that served as a primary source for wash water and for irrigation, meeting yet more physical needs. Some cloister gardens contained small fish ponds as well, another source of food for the community. The arcades were used for teaching, sitting and meditating, or for exercise in inclement weather.

There is much conjecture as to ways in which the garth served as a spiritual aid. Umberto Eco describes the green swath as a sort of balm on which a monk might rest weary eyes, so as to return to reading with renewed vigor . Some scholars suggest that, though sparsely planted, plant materials found in the cloister grth might have inspired various religious visions [3]. This tendency to imbue the garden with symbolic values was not inherent to the religious orders alone, but was a feature of medieval culture in general. The square closter garth was meant to represent the four points of the compass, and so the universe as a whole. As Turner puts it,
"Augustine inspired medieval garden makers to abjure earthliness and look upward for divine inspiration. A perfect square with a round pool and a pentagonal fountain became a microcosm, illuminating the mathematical order and divine grace of the macrocosm (the universe)."

Walking around the cloister while meditating was a way of devoting oneself to the "path of life" ; indeed, each of the monastic gardens was imbued with symbolic as well as palpable value, testifying to the ingenuity of its creators.

(Reference taken from an article on gardening, WikiPedia, 2010.  To read more on this subject, use key words "History of Heirlooms" ;"History of Gardening")

The Shape of What's to Come

Just a quick rundown of what I have already up in flats so far:

Aunt Ruby's German Green
Dave's Big Wave
German Johnson
Big Zebra
Brown Berry
Snow White Cherry
Green GRape
Sun Gold
Black Cherry
Black Zebra
Black Ethiopian
True Tommy Toe
Suddeth's Brandywine
Black Brandywine
True Black Brandywine
Tall Vine Brandywine
And I have a whole flat of mystery heirlooms coming up.  A couple of years ago, I participated in an heirloom seed swap online and there was a door prize contest and I won one of the prizes. It was 1000 heirloom seeds, 65 different varieties, guaranteed. I thought that was a great prize....until I received it.  It was 1000 seeds alright.  All in the same hermetically sealed envelope, with a list of what was in the pkg. attached.  Just 1000 seeds, all mixed together...and the list. I have no idea what is what so I randomly selected some seeds, planted and we'll see what happens.  Could be some interesting tomatoes coming along later in the season....

Corno Di Toro (red and yellow)
Jimmy Nardello
Nocero Giallo
Red Marconi
Sweet Bananas
Rams Horn
Sweet Cayenne
Trinidad Perfume
Mixed Colored Bells (red, yellow, purple, orange, chocolate)

Fine Verde
Purple Opal
Purple Osmin

Other herbs are starting to pop up but I am keeping those under wraps or now.  I also have quite a few more tomatoes, peppers, herbs, etc. planted but just now starting to germinate.  More on those later.

Many of the items listed above are going to be sold as plants at the DFM.  I will be planting a number of my favorites but haven't decided what is going where as yet.  Stay tuned.

How things are going with new beds, etc.

(This is the link to the pictures.)

I took some pictures of what was going on in the garden a couple of weeks ago and posted them to the farm Facebook page.  I am too lazy to redo all that, so if you are interested you can go visit the link above and read the commentary with the pictures. Next time, I will post them here first and refer the Facebook page here.  I got a little backward twisty this time.

Missing in Action ~~~ Now I'm Back

If you follow this blog, the you probably discovered that the owner of this blog is incompetent when it comes to using the Blogger system.   I tried to set this up with my own URL and it backfired. Sorry. It took me about a month to figure out what was wrong.  (Go ahead and say it, I am.) What a  BONEHEAD!
Anyway, I am back now....look for some new posts in the next few days as I get caught back up.

There now seems to be a lot of confusion floating around my circle concerning the deal on seeds. With all the Genetically Engineered seeds out there these days, it seems that everybody is running scared about what to plant in their gardens. Because we grew so many different things at New Moon Farm and because part of our certification obligation was to use certified organic seed, I have become quite familiar with the sourcing of this type of seeds.

While using organic seed (whenever possible) is a very important component of organic growing, the NOP was not put in place to keep growers from growing what they feel their markets demand. It is ridiculous to even entertain the idea that everything someone might want to grow is going to be available as organically grown seed. Not realistic. And many times, even when the seed is organically grown, it is produced in such a small quantity (compared to conventionally grown seed) that the expense is 2-5 times that of other seed and supplies run out quickly. (I am not referring to things that big commercial organic growers would be growing. I am talking about things a small farm or home gardener might grow. We grew over 100 different varieties at our farm, over a 10 month period, so we were not usually growing fields and acres of one thing. )

So, there is a caveat in the certification requirements that states that if you are unable to find a certain variety of seed organically produced you can use conventionally produced non-GMO, non-treated seed, provided you supply the certifier with documentation that you have contacted at least 3 suppliers (I always contacted at least 5) in you attempts to find the variety organically grown. In cases where a variety might not be available and providing you can document that the variety was NOT genetically engineered, then you can use conventionally grown seed. Sound like a lot of trouble just to grow 3-4 rows of beans, huh? But, nevertheless, that is exactly what we have done year after year, for anything that we wanted to grow that I could not find an organic source for.

I made my living off my farm and had fierce competition in the market place, so it was vital that I keep my offering to the public interesting and in demand. For that reason, and because I have always been fascinated with old time food plants (my interest in this started when I was a child and my grandmother would only grow certain "old timey" varieties in her gardens). When we got into growing vegetables for a living, we decided that we wanted to go "old school" on everything possible and that included what we were growing, so from the beginning, we were into "heirlooms" and open pollinated seeds (so we could save the seeds). (We grew very few modern hybrids, unless it was just such a superior variety we felt it was in the best of everybody's interest. Many of those modern hybrids were more readily available as organically grown than the old time varieties. Also, we tried to get hybrids that were the offspring of heirloom varieties...not that hard to find if you know where to look.)

When we started out 11 years ago, there were very few seed companies offering heirlooms, organic seed, etc. so it was laborious to ferret out many of these seeds. Over the course of time, I amassed a huge collection of seed suppliers and now can just about put my finger on any variety I might want to grow with a couple of mouse clicks. Now there are seed sellers at every turn because with the explosion in local foods, home growing, etc. there was demand. Now there are so many seed purveyors around that the waters on seeds are becoming muddied like everything else in the organic world. Toss in the whole GMO thing and it is a stew of confusion.

So, I am going to take a stab at clearing up some of the confusion, best I can. I am going to keep it as simple as possible. Here goes:

While there is on concrete definition of what makes a plant an heirloom, there are several schools of thought. I use the rule of thumb that the plant must have either been in production for at least 50 years, but preferrable between 75-100 years or older. All heirlooms are open pollinated. http://www.halcyon.com/tmend/define.htm This website echoes some of my own beliefs and reasons for planting heirlooms.

Here is a brief definitition of "heirloom plant" taken from Wikipedia:

"1)An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Before the industrialization of agriculture, a much wider variety of plant foods was grown for human consumption. In modern agriculture in the industrialized world, most food crops are now grown in large, monocultural plots. In order to maximize consistency, few varieties of each type of crop are grown. These varieties are often selected for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides. Heirloom gardening is a reaction against this trend. In the Global South, heirloom plants are still widely grown, for example in the home gardens of South and Southeast Asia.

Most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution. Most, if not all, hybrid plants, if regrown, will not be the same as the original hybrid plant, thus ensuring the dependency on seed distributors for future crops.
2)An open-pollinated plant grown from seed over many generations; often passed down through families.

Open pollination is pollination by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms, and contrasts with cleistogamy, closed pollination, which is one of the many types of self pollination. Open pollination also contrasts with controlled pollination, which is controlled so that all seeds of a crop are descended from parents with known traits, and are therefore more likely to have the desired traits.
The seeds of open-pollinated plants will produce new generations of those plants; however, because breeding is uncontrolled and the pollen (male parent) source is unknown, open pollination may result in plants that vary widely in genetic traits. Open pollination may increase biodiversity.
Some plants (such as many crops) are primarily self pollenizing and also breed true, so that even under open pollination conditions the next generation will be (almost) the same. Even among true breeding organisms, some variation due to genetic recombination or to mutation can produce a few "off types".
All heirlooms are open pollinated. Visit the link in the previous paragraph for more info on open pollinated plants.

Hybrid pollination, a type of controlled pollination in which the pollen comes from a different strain (or species), can be used to increase suitability, especially through heterosis. The resulting hybrid strain can sometimes be inbred and selected for desired traits until a strain that breeds true by open pollination can be developed. The result may be referred to as a hybrid inbred or inbred hybrid strain. To add some confusion, the term "hybrid inbred" also applies to hybrids that are made from selected inbred lines that have certain desired characteristics (see inbreeding). Such hybrids are sometimes designated F1 hybrid, i.e. the first hybrid (filial) generation whose parents were (different) inbred plants. These seeds (F1)will never produce a second (F2) true generation so it is useless to save the seeds. F1 hybrids may be grown organically however from conventional, non-GMO seeds. (Interesting aside: A hybrid in not an unnatural state. F1 hybrids can also occur naturally, a prime example being peppermint, which is not a species evolved by cladogenesis or gradual change from a single ancestor, but a sterile stereotyped hybrid of watermint and spearmint. Unable to produce seeds, it propagates through the vining spread of its own root system. If you ever bought seeds for peppermint, you were had.)

"A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species.

Transgenic plants have been engineered to possess several desirable traits, including resistance to pests, herbicides, or harsh environmental conditions; improved product shelf life, and increased nutritional value. Since the first commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants in 1996, they have been modified to be tolerant to the herbicides glufosinate and glyphosate, to be resistant to virus damage as in Ringspot virus resistant GM papaya, grown in Hawaii, and to produce the Bt toxin, an insecticide that is non-toxic to mammals.

Most GM crops grown today have been modified with "input traits", which provide benefits mainly to farmers. The GM oilseed crops on the market today offer improved oil profiles for processing or healthier edible oils. The GM crops in development offer a wider array of environmental and consumer benefits such as nutritional enhancement, drought and stress tolerance. GM plants are being developed by both private companies and public research institutions such as CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre. Other examples include a genetically modified sweet potato, enhanced with protein and other nutrients, while golden rice, developed by the International Rice Research Institute, has been discussed as a possible cure for Vitamin A deficiency.

The coexistence of GM plants with conventional and organic crops has raised significant concern in many European countries. Due to relatively high demand from European consumers for the freedom of choice between GM and non-GM foods, EU regulations require measures to avoid mixing of foods and feed produced from GM crops and conventional or organic crops. European research programs such as Co-Extra, Transcontainer, and SIGMEA are investigating appropriate tools and rules. At the field level, biological containment methods include isolation distances and pollen barriers. Such measures are generally not used in North America because they are very costly and there are no safety-related reasons to employ them."

The only good news about GE seeds is that they are not generally being produced for the small home gardening market at this time. It is simply not economically feasible to introduce these seeds into the market...yet.  I am sure it is only a matter of time. Many smaller seed houses are being bought up by other companies and that is leading to some confusion about whether the seeds being sold are genetically enhanced, etc. That doesn't automatically mean that they are not still legitimate seed houses.

 I recently saw a post condemning these smaller companies without even so much as a caveat that they were still selling legitimate non-gmo, heirloom and other perfectly good seeds. It is irresponsible information like that that causes all the confusion surrounding exactly what is going on with organics, gmo's, etc. I abhor the "chicken little" mentality and while I am one of the most outspoken and adamant opponents of anything genetically engineered, I always try to encourage people to educate themselves about these issues before they jump to a conclusion.

Knowledge is power. Don't be powerless.

Tiny Dog versus The Evil 18 Wheeler

It is very early and I take two of my dogs out in the snow. There is no sound for the world is still sleeping under its cold blanket, the one woven in shares of blue and gray.  It is beautiful and oddly comforting to me this morning, even though my feet are freezing in my less than adequate shoes. 

I do not leash the dogs because going out at this very early hour is the only chance that they will have to run free today.  The weather will keep us inside and they will have to be quiet for the sake of others in the house. After being in their nice warm beds, they are cold but it has been a long night and they have been indoors longer than usual. They are eager for relief.  

Both of my dogs are mostly white, with only a little color splashed here and there, so they disappear into the drifts, immediately reappearing, like they are blinking in and out of reality. Diva is the young, impulsive one and she bounds along in the snow like she has springs for legs, occasionally stopping to push her nose down into the snow and coming up snorting, blowing the cold from her black, button nose. The other is my sweet, serious Maggie. She is Diva's mother and she is an intense little dog, always on alert, watching out for something that might need her attention. Diva has run to investigate something interesting on the other side of the yard but Maggie ignores her.  No time for play now.  She has a job to do and trots purposefully ahead of me.

As we walk, we round the side of the house and there is an 18-wheeler parked there. The driver is talking on his cell phone, back lit by the street lamp behind him so I can only see his silhouette. He is smoking a cigarette and I see the red tip of it brighten as he inhales. The rumbling vibration of the truck's engine makes the ground shudder under the snow and Maggie,  who weighs all of 10 lbs on a good day, runs over to confront this "monster" that might be threatening her people. She was raised a farm dog and knows what she needs to do. 

A monstrous mountain of steel, puffing and belching and growling and she confronts it without hesitation. It is a thousand times her size but I can read her intent from her posture. She does not bark. She stands like a statue for moment and then lifts her head to sniff the air. She will attack The Monster if it makes just....one...wrong...move.  I call her back to me. I have to tell her twice to come before she breaks her concentration and obeys the command. Threat forgotten, she bounds away after Diva and the spell is broken. 

There was no real danger here but she doesn't know that. She knows no fear, only what she perceives her duty to be...to protect us, even if it costs her life. She is willing to sacrifice herself for me and that humbles me.  The love I feel for this tiny creature suddenly overwhelms me and nearly brings me to my knees. I have lost so much in the last year but I still have her. She is my friend, my companion on this bleak journey I did not ask to take.   She is my last living link to my former life and it is hard to explain how much that means to me. She is the only one left, besides me, who still remembers. 

I am glad tears don't freeze.