Monthly Archives: January 2016

Rancho Gordo Founder Spills the Beans

I love Steve Sando.

Actually, I love his beans.  Sando created, owns and runs Rancho Gordo, which is in my view, the premier vendor of heirloom beans.

Rancho Gordo bean recipes

Heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo

My first brush with Rancho Gordo came through Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, O.  It was a profile on the company, probably almost a decade ago that kicked off my love affair and I have bought Sando’s beans ever since!

In this podcast, Steve Sando shares his background, his path and how he let serendipity into his life and changed it forever.

This is a fabulous interview by Lisa Gansky, a self-acclaimed entrepreneur, social instigator, international speaker, and author, with a man who I admire and whose products I buy for myself, my daughter and my friends.

BTW – Steve Sando doesn’t just sell beans, he share his recipes, expertise and enthusiasm for growing, sourcing and eating heirloom beans!



Metal Garden Beds! Woo Hoo!!

I know we are in a blizzard. I know only die-hard gardeners are thinking about how they are going to lay out their gardens this spring, what seeds they are going to start, what new crops they might take a chance at growing.

And now, I know what I want for my birthday! I asked for two metal garden beds from CorrBarr incorporated.

They are made from recyclable materials. They don’t rust. They help heat the soil but don’t burn  the roots of your plants!

Okay so the wind is howling, the snow is falling but I can look out my back window and just see the gleam of beautiful, metal garden beds…poking out from the drifts.

Happy Gardening!

Farmer Goes Organic: Shares His Thoughts

This isn’t a small scale farm.  This isn’t a new farmer.  He is 3rd generation and he owns and works 1400 acres of farmland. His name is Klaas Martens. His story is courtesy of EcoWatch.

Why would anyone want to change the only way they had ever known to farm, the way their fathers and grandfathers before them farmed?

Organic family farms

This is the organic family farm across from my house.

After spending an entire day spraying chemicals on his fields and despite his protective suit and mask, Martens lost the use of his right arm and had muscle spasms on his right side.

Eventually, he recovered the use of his arm and body but he just couldn’t bring himself to go back to growing with chemicals. “Going organic was the only decision we could morally make,” he said. “…it just would have been wrong to hire others to do work that I couldn’t do because it made me sick.

After chucking everything he knew about managing the land, Martens had to learn to farm all over again.  Without chemicals and herbicides, he didn’t really know how to grow and protect his crops.

So, how did he learn new methods to handle threats to his crops? The old-fashioned way; he did research.  One day, he read a quote by a German agricultural researcher that changed his way of thinking:

“Cultural practices form the basis of all weed control. Various other means should be regarded as auxiliary only,” wrote Bernard Rademacher, an early researcher in weed management.

Instead of trying to control the weeds, Martens realized he should be looking at why the weeds were there – what practice was he using that made his farm a good habitat for weeds?

Martens’ answer? Don’t fight the weeds; understand them. Completely and fully, within the context of everything else around them.

Converting his farm wasn’t easy for Martens but he and his wife learned a lot in the process and shared a lot in a two part article for Rodale Institute.  Part 2 of the Farms R Us article has a nice list of resources for anyone who would like to take a deeper dive into converting to organic farming.

It was risky and a bit scary to make the switch but the couple has enjoyed growing organically, finding markets for their crops and knowing that they no longer add poisons to the earth or the water.

If a man farming 1400 acres can go organic, every backyard gardener should be able to do the same.  If you are an organic gardener, you already know that weeds can tell you volumes about the health of your soil and your gardening practices.

Take a note from Martens, listen to your weeds. Once you get a handle on why they are happy to grow in your garden, you have two choices:

  1. Find out what organic methods you can use to get your soil back on track and move the weeds to your neighbors’ gardens.
  2. Grow and eat them! Dandelions, purslane and chickweed are free greens and I enjoy them as much as I do my kale, spinach and leaf lettuce!

Going organic isn’t hard; it;s just different.  And the conversion takes a bit of research and a bit of thought.  What better month than January to do both?

International Ag Conference Offers Fertile Topics

I was cruising the Biodynamics Association web site, contemplating attending Pennsylvania’s Sustainable Farming conference the week of January 18th when my imagination was fired by a testimonial and obituary for someone named Devon Strong.

Relationship between humans and animals.

Amazing articles on our relationship to and with animals.

Being curious, I clicked through the link and found an amazing publication by an equally amazing group. Entitled Accompanying Animals with Dignity Into the Future, this was the published report of Agriculture Conference at the Goetheanum (which it describes as the center of a global network of spiritually dedicated people focusing on both art and science).

The conference was held in November of 2015.

I am still trying to wrap my head around who or what was behind the conference — most likely the International Biodynamic Association  but the articles coming out of the conference are astonishing in their insight into our relationship to animals, our interactions with them, what we think we know about animals and what we really should know — what animals can teach us.

Curiously accessible for such an august group, the information validates some of my fundamental beliefs in the lives and souls of the animals we share this planet with.  It also shakes up some of my ideas about raising and killing animals for food.  And it confirms the concept that we share this planet Earth with some fascinating and wise spirits.

While the November conference focused on our relationship to animals, the upcoming conference in February (also at the Goetheanum)  focuses on seeing the Earth as a global garden and asks such questions as:

  1. How can we establish a new relationship to nature?
  2. How can farmers, gardeners, foresters, landscape gardeners and horticulturalists transform their “gardening” of the Earth in search a way did physical and spiritual nourishment can be provided for all?
  3. How can farm enterprises and gardens be opened up for the integration of people looking for Therapeutic Support for a meaningful activity or simply places to go, to see ?

I stumbled into this remarkable site but stayed because the information, the articles and the people ring true for me, because these are people who love our planet and respect all life.

Open Apology to Modern Farmer Magazine

Did you ever make a decision, feel pretty righteous about it then realize you were wrong?  Totally wrong??  Could not be more wrong???

Modern Farmer Magazine

Modern Farmer is an amazing magazine!

That’s just what I did when I cancelled my newly acquired subscription to Modern Farmer.

I was feeling churlish; I subscribed weeks earlier but hadn’t received a copy yet.  And it’s just quarterly so, in hindsight, I thought it wasn’t worth the cost.  Wrong, dead wrong, could not be more completely wrong.

I got my first issue – #10 – Winter 2015-2016 and knew just how big a dolt I had been.

This magazine is worth every penny and then some.  I read it from cover to cover in a day and a half, tabbed up some things I wanted to research more and am rereading it right now (well not while I’m typing but rereading, yes).

I am not a farmer but I am an avid organic gardener. I raise all my own fruit (blueberries, blackberries, figs, cherries and the stray pear, apple and pluot). I grow my own vegetables and herbs and am building my own meadow in the back of our 2.3 acres.

So I loved reading the article on Seed Matters – some of the most amazing organic seed breeders and growers — and getting some recipes from their benefit dinner.

And I own a horse – have always loved horses – so I immediately read the cover article on harnessing the power of draft horses.

I enjoyed the article on growing hops and loved meeting “The Modern Farmers” through their profiles of small operations that are making a big difference in their neighborhoods.

So, with huge apologies to Modern Farmer, I went back to its site today and subscribed for 2 years.  (A formal, written letter of apology will be mailed to the Editor, tomorrow.)

I will be sharing this beautifully produced, beautifully written and heartfelt magazine with stunning photography, too, with my niece who has just bought 14 acres in upstate Pennsylvania with her guy. They plan on growing their food, raising animals for meat and sale, raising fish and living on their farm.

This magazine will just be one more tool they can use and enjoy.

BTW-my subscription also gives me access to the web site and all the articles, online.  A bargain….a beautiful bargain.

Pest Control in the Dead of Winter

January is this gardener’s season of doldrums. It’s too early to start seeds indoors. It’s too cold to go out and work the soil and start garden prep. Most of the time, mornings and late afternoons are too dark to do anything outside.

So, when I discovered Eartheasy’s post about where bugs go in winter, I had to

Pests & beneficials sleep through the winter.

Sleeping garden and sleeping bugs!

read it and share it because it gave me some insight into my repeat offenders — Colorado Potato Beetles, Mexican Bean Beetles and Asparagus Beetles to name a few.

All 3 of these marauders are in my dreaded Top Ten most wanted bugs list. I came up with some interesting “weapons of mass destruction” to handle my top 10 (including grandsons and rocks) but I really hadn’t thought about just how many habitats I provided for these green raiders.

All 3 come back every summer to visit along with relatives and friends.  My fault, I fear.  I provide the best winter habitat these renegades can think of.

Eartheasy offers some tips for insect control – I do most of them already.  But it also points out that beneficials overwinter near our gardens, too, so even though it’s 22 degrees out, even though Japanese beetles ate all of my Chinese cabbage,

Japanese Beetles in garden

Japanese beetles turned this cabbage into a skeleton.

green beans, blackberries and apples last summer, I can’t go on a killing spree without killing the good guys too.

All is not lost, though.  There are some helpful and easy tips to encourage the good bugs and discourage the bad, so, on this cold January morning, I give my organic gardening friends something to consider when considering pest control.

Happy New Year!