Archive for the ‘Restoring Ecosystem Health’ Category

Snakes on a Plane!? Try worms on a plane…

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

A friend of mine works half the year in Vermont as a State Park Ranger and the other half of the year (when VT is coldest) she lives in Cost Rica where she dedicates herself to the rescue and protection of dogs.  She has brought many homeless street dogs back to the US for a better life.

I get involved in animal protection in Costa Rica too, especially sea turtles and Howler monkeys.  We have plenty of snakes here as well but they are not quite so compelling.  In fact. the photo above is of a semi-poisonous (to mice and lizards more than humans) 6 ft Lyre snake that I interrupted while it was eating a two ft iguana that lived on our roof.  The iguana died and I relocated snake.

snake eating iguana compost story will raap in costa rica

The gardeners in the development in Costa Rica that I started and where I also live are compost green season leaves and trimmings from our 220 acres. There now is enough kitchen waste to start a separate food waste comporting operation.  So, I began looking for red wiggler worms as our food waste composting helpers.



Red wigglers are used in Costa Rica coffee processing operations to help digest the pulp (the skin surrounding the coffee bean) and make it into organic fertilizer and soil amendments,  But the coffee growing region is 5-6 hrs from us.  Plus, I knew of some red wigglers in VT that wanted a new home, far away from the most brutal winter temperatures in 100 years.

But how to get my new compost helpers to Costa Rica from VT?

I googled “red worms on a plane” and got some good advice: the TSA does no prohibit them.  So, I loaded the adventurous worms into a plastic container with moist coffee grounds and yesterday’s salad so it could pass as my lunch in case Costa Rica officials got curious.  The container went into my backpack so the worms would not freeze in the luggage compartment.  We took off to Costa Rica.

As we flew over Lake Nicaragua and began descending toward the Liberia airport in Costa Rica I noticed my backpack had turned over and worms had escaped through the air holes.  Some were exploring the floor and others were heading up the wall toward the airplane window.  The unsuspecting tourist next to me was still sleeping but the flight attendants were about to start the last collection of service items

I had minutes to collect the 2-3 dozen worms.  The immigration form was just thin enough and also stiff enough to scoop up and corral the slithering escapees.  Back into yesterday’s salad they went.

Now these ‘extranjero’ compost helpers are happily eating local mangos, bananas, star fruit, and melons, plus coffee grounds, tortillas and old rice and beans.  They will never need to worry about freezing again. 


NASA’s Amazing Video Makes You Appreciate Composting and Organic Growing!

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

I read a very interesting article last month - Nature Wants Her Carbon Back .  It made a strong case that slowing the ravages of climate change and indeed reversing the core problem of carbon dioxide (CO2) build up in the atmosphere is possible simply by doing what all good gardeners do.  We use organic matter to make compost and we enrich the soil with organic matter to grow better crops.

This process is possible through the 'magic' of photosynthesis by plants capturing CO2 in the air, and breaking down the molecules to release oxygen we all need and to feed the remaining carbon to the web of life above and below the soil.  The carbon is stored in healthier soil, roots, plants and trees.  We see the benefits of nature 'vacuuming' CO2 from the atmosphere every time we harvest an organic tomato or enrich a kitchen garden with compost.


Mycorrhiza Discovery: Can Healthy Soils Solve Climate Change?

Monday, February 24th, 2014

This diagram shows the movement of carbon between land, atmosphere, and oceans in billions of tons of carbon per year. Yellow numbers are natural fluxes and red are human contributions of carbon (both change CO2 in the atmosphere). White numbers indicate stored carbon. Climate change scientists focus on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere (800 Gt) and vegetation (550 Gt). But soil contains more carbon than air and plants combined (2,300 Gt). So, even a minor change in soil carbon could have major implications for the earth\'s atmosphere and climate.


Most gardeners know about the importance of working with nature to increase soil health and thus the success of our gardens. But many gardeners do not appreciate the central role mycorrhizal fungi play for healthy plants and healthy soil.


There is a sort of biological magic that happens between mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots called symbiosis where the plant provides the mycorrhiza with the sugars they need to keep growing, and the fungi provide the plants with more efficient access to soil nutrients.  Mycorrhiza develop fungal "roots" that merge with the cell walls of the plant roots and grow into them, creating structures that allow for the transfer of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from soil to the fungi to the plant.


Red and Blue States Can Find Common Ground in the Garden

Monday, January 27th, 2014

For 30 years Gardener’s Supply Company has been committed to “Improving the World Through Gardening”.  But what does that mean and how do we communicate this message most powerfully to both Blue States and Red States? 

Last year The Nature Conservancy commissioned a national survey of voters to understand the best ways to communicate about land conservation and protecting nature. Here are three key conclusions from that research (and their connection to gardening):

1.    Talk about water first and foremost. Nothing is more important to voters than having abundant and clean water to drink.  Americans care deeply about water pollution and The Nature Conservancy believes that “protecting land around rivers, lakes, and streams, will keep pollution from flowing into these waters and prevent it from eventually contaminating our drinking water.”

How does concern over water apply to gardening and Gardener’s Supply?  We have promoted ‘waterwise’ gardening and landscaping from day one, promoting organic soil management to retain water, HydroGro hose for drip irrigation, rainbarrels, and now Snip’N’Drip.  We lead the US in efficient self-watering container gardening.  But there’s more we can do including leading the shift to organic lawn care thus reducing lawn chemicals, a main source of surface water pollution. (more...)

What do AL, ID, IL, KY, MN, TX, WV, and VT all have in common?

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

For each of these states the spectacular monarch is the official state butterfly or insect.  But there is concern this beloved butterfly may be going extinct.  In 2013 there was over a 90% decline in this iconic and beautiful migrating butterfly.  The alarms went off in gardens all over America last year as we waited to see the flashes of orange alight on our milkweed plants, feed on the nectar and lay their eggs.  The monarch caterpillar eats only milkweed plants and gardeners aware of this often grow them as beacons of life and feeding stations for the millions of monarchs summering in North America so the next generation has the energy to fly back to Mexico to over-winter. 

My wife Lynette allows hundreds of perennial milkweed plants (common milkweed: Asclepias syriaca) to grow every year and dominate our front garden.  This year we waited and waited, but not one of the regal butterflies appeared.  We wondered what was going on?

Then we read this article in November and our worst fears were confirmed.  The count of monarchs migrating to the forests of central Mexico for the winter was down by 95%.  Rather than millions arriving in early November announcing the time to harvest corn the butterflies were late and in never-before-seen small numbers. (more...)

“Buddy (Amigo), Can You Spare Some Garden Seed?”

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

                     New raised bed CEN gardens

For over a decade I have been helping Restoring Our Watershed ( in Costa Rica to restore the environmental health and economic vitality of a 30,000 acre watershed on the Pacifica coast of Costa Rica.  More local food production, including home and community gardens, is one of our programs.  If we can help small land owners increase productivity of their land, using organic growing and permaculture principles we are also improving the watershed with better land use while improving livelihoods.
One of our local food system programs works with the Centro de Educacion y Nutricion to provide organic vegetables to young mothers and their children:  Above is a photo of one CEN raised bed garden students installed this year. Mothers and their kids tend the gardens.
Unfortunately, the refrigerator where we store our seed failed during the rainy season and we lost all our saved seed two months ago.   Planting for the ‘summer’ season begins Nov-Dec and we need to replace our seed stock.
We need lettuce that grows well in the heat (85-90 degrees most days).  Kale. chard, collards, arugula and basil also work for us. We also need disease resistant medium and cherry tomatoes you can recommend, plus tomatillos and peppers.  Tomatoes and peppers that are good for processing are also needed.  Larger cucumbers that thrive in the heat are needed plus large snap beans (like “Provider”).  “Ticos’ also like pear-shaped chayote-type squash as well as watermelon.  And, we need root crops (carrots, beets, radish), especially cultivars that perform in warm soil. (more…)

“Gardening Pain? The Right Tools Can Keep You Growing”

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Over 30 years ago we started Gardener’s Supply believing there was a need for gardening tools and equipment designed for the new approaches to gardening taking root in the US.  Then, big gardens in the “back 40” employed rototillers as the main tool to prepare soil for long rows of vegetables.  Sprayers and dusters were needed to apply chemical pest controls.  Overhead sprinklers with long, heavy hoses were the main form of watering.

Since 1983 Gardener’s Supply helped lead the transformation of American gardening.  English gardens inspired the interest in perennial flowers with borders and edging, plant supports and trellises. Intensive gardens inter-planted flowers with vegetables emerged as yards got smaller.  More decks, patios and sunrooms created a boom in container gardening.  Environmentally aware gardeners wanted healthier landscapes stimulating interest in new “earth-friendly” solutions including organic pest controls, root zone drip irrigation and efficient composting.  (more…)

“Monsanto Protection Act”: Do You Know It’s Impact on What You Might Eat (and Grow)?

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The “Farmer Assurance Provision” is part of a larger bill and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 26, 2013.  The law is referred to as the “Monsanto Protection Act” by its critics.  

The affect of this provision is to protect growers of genetically modified (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds from legal challenges to the safety of crops already planted.  Proponents say the law was a response to frivolous lawsuits against the USDA which were attempting to disrupt the use of new agricultural biotechnology.

Opponents of the provision call it the “Monsanto Protection Act”, because it "effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial GMO or GE seeds, regardless of health and safety issues that may be discovered in the future”.  National news reported that Monsanto lobbyists drafted the provision and maneuvered around Washington lawmakers to add the provision in the larger bill avoiding oversight and review by Congress' Agricultural or Judiciary committees.

Before the provision was passed by the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley proposed, unsuccessfully, to delete it.  He believed it "allows the unrestricted sale and planting of genetically modified seeds that could be harmful to farmers, the environment and human health". (more…)

Why You Should Be “Berry” Concerned About Climate Change

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Adam’s Berry Farm has been an anchor business for over a decade in the innovative community farming program developed by the Intervale Center.  Most of the farms in Burlington’s Intervale grow vegetables.  So, the early spring flooding that often affected this floodplain in the middle of Vermont’s largest city were just before planting season.  But in the past 10 years there have been surprising super rain storms in the middle of the growing season.  This hurts the harvest of farmers who produce annual vegetable crops.  But for growers of perennial crops like Adam Hausmann he not only can lose his crop but the floods can also kill many of his berry bushes.  These floods also can stress remaining plants making them more vulnerable to disease and pests.  Such is the challenge of climate change for farmers and gardeners.

I asked Adam about his decision to move thousands of mature berry plants to a new farm 10 miles away on higher ground.  Here’s his email back to me:

“The move is bittersweet. I love the Intervale's mission and community but my business cannot sustain staying in such a vulnerable area. In 2004, 2006 and 2011 I lost large portions of my farm due to flooding and seasonal high water table (30 to 40 percent). As a perennial grower this is too risky. A crop that takes 3 plus years to become established cannot be wiped out every three years. It is simply not profitable. On top of this, disease has become worse due to these events. As a vegetable grower I can understand taking these risks and perhaps even building them into one's business plan, but they have the option to replant and harvest in relatively short periods. This is not the reality of a perennial farmer. As you know the flooding used to be a regular springtime event that coincided with snow melt. What has changed in the 11 years that I have been at the Intervale is the irregularity of the floods. We have now had flooding in every month of the growing season from spring to fall. This seems to be related to the intensity and severity of the summer rains we have been receiving as of late. Farming is already an annual gamble. I decided that I need to eliminate some of the risk by moving to higher ground to protect my crop, livelihood, employees and markets.”


Wild Bee. I think I love you…*

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Honey bees AND wild pollinators need your help.  Join the movement for some sweet rewards.

Gardeners know that good pollination makes for better crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and raspberries.  European honey bees come to mind as the most important pollinator.  And that is especially true for certain commercial crops like almonds that need to have 1 million honey bee hives brought to California’s Central Valley to provide pollination for 60 million trees (supporting 80% of the world’s almond production).  But wild bees, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, birds and bats also are critical in moving pollen from the male to the female parts of flowers for fruit and seed setting.

This point was affirmed last month in a massive international study of 600 sites in 20 countries involving 41 crops published in Science. It found that wild insects are more important than we may have thought for crop pollination and that honey bees cannot replace the value and importance of wild pollinators.  Science reported, “wild insects pollinated crops more effectively, because an increase in their visitation enhanced fruit set by twice as much as an equivalent increase in honey bee visitation. Further, visitation by wild insects and honey bees promoted fruit set independently, so high abundance of managed honey bees supplemented, rather than substituted for, pollination by wild insects.”

So our gardens and farms need BOTH wild insect and honey bee pollinators.

Nearly 20 years ago I read that Albert Einstein (the physicist, rather than the entomologist, but still a deep thinker about global issues) said to the National Union of French Apiculture, "if the bee disappears off the surface of the earth, man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."  I don’t know if he was thinking about wild bees or cultivated honey bee or both.  This new research indicates the answer is both. The study reported in Science shows the pollinator services provided by wild insects can add to the pollinating power of honey bees.  In fact, both wild insects and honey bees are needed to maximize crop production, and the ongoing decline of wild insects due to habitat loss, whether from land conversion to farms or suburbs, will reduce harvests as Einstein warned. (more…)