Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hugelkultur: How to Build Rich Soil Using ALL Your Yard Waste

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

raised garden bed hugelkultur after one month, a realistic rendering


I garden and farm (really market garden) in 3 locations.  My yard is about 1 acre of gardens and several acres of woods that I manage for cord wood and to support wildlife.  Problem: I have too many limbs and softwood thinnings and I need a good way to recycle this organic material. 

Six years ago I started Farm at South Village, a small CSA on 4 acres of heavy clay soil with 70 members.  Problem: we need to expand the farmable area for pick-your-own berries and fruits but the available land is poorly drained clay. 

Eight years ago I started Tierra Pacific Organic Farm in Costa Rica.  Problem: The soil is very depleted due to years of chemical use and compaction from cattle and it’s tough to add and retain sufficient organic matter in the intense tropical climate (heat, wind, wet/dry weather).

My solution: hugelkultur; pronounced hoo-gul-culture, means hill culture or mound culture.  It’s a way to make very productive raised growing beds by recycling organic waste.  Hugelkultur accelerates the process forests use to break down organic matter and build topsoil using large raised beds with pieces of waste wood forming the base. Then layered on top is composting materials rich in nitrogen (manure, green matter, food waste) and carbon (leaves, dry cuttings).  The beds are topped with cardboard, topsoil, mulch, etc.


Legalized home marijuana gardening: What’s your opinion?

Monday, June 30th, 2014

What is by many accounts the hottest crop in home gardening today?

Hint #1:               It is not tomatoes.

Hint #2:               It is neither flower nor vegetable.  It is an herb.

Hint #3:               It is not a weed, but is often referred to as “weed.”

OK all you baby boomers, if you haven’t gotten it by now, you lose your AARP-BSC card (AARP But Still Cool).  If the marijuana legalization trend continues the hottest home gardening crop in the U.S. (both for indoor cultivation and outdoor growing) may quickly become marijuana.

At last count 22 States and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes, with most of those allowing homegrown plants with proper legal approval. Home gardening of marijuana for recreational purposes has been approved in two states – Colorado and Washington, and more are likely.

While there have always been companies selling lots of equipment to help gardeners grow crops “indoors,” not surprisingly this recent legalization has led to an explosion of interest in serving this “growing” market.  But individual views on the medical and recreational legalization of marijuana are still highly divided.  Among the many arguments for and against marijuana legalization, some believe legalized marijuana will provide needed medicine to many and boost tax coffers and the economy overall (as Colorado seems to be proving), while unburdening law enforcement, our court systems and our prisons. Others believe that marijuana is immoral, a danger to users, children and others, and a “gateway” to harder drug use.

But what do home gardeners think about this issue as we are interested in your perspective?  As a company, Gardener’s Supply takes pride in helping our customers become better gardeners and grow their best gardens ever. We help gardeners grow everything from astibles to zinnias, from Roma tomatoes to Jerusalem artichokes.  So, should we help our customers be successful at growing marijuana as we are getting more interest in our Vermont garden centers and from catalog and web customers across the US?  We’d like your opinion.  Would you please take this quick and anonymous survey?

Thank you!

Please also feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Send for your FREE SEED and begin your Milkweed Sanctuary (and food garden!) TODAY

Monday, June 2nd, 2014


Our First Steamed Milkweed Greens of the Year (like Spinach and Green Beans)

 What "weed" feeds Monarchs, bees and you? 

What is a weed?  When I was living in Scotland years ago a very savvy gardener told me weeds are simply good plants growing in the wrong place.  Of course the “wrong place” tends to be defined according to our goals, like food production, landscape beauty and pristine lawns.

Over time I have had to change my understanding of what’s a weed.  One chore I had growing up was plucking Dandelions from our lawn (my father would not use herbicides).  After marrying a wild foods forager I needed to reassess Dandelions as they are now our first steamed greens in spring, plus Lynette uses Dandelion root as one of 20 wild-crafted ingredients to make the most effective anti-cold and anti-flu remedy I know.

In the past decade I also learned to view common Milkweed differently.  Lynette loves Milkweed and it is allowed to thrive in our front garden amidst perennial ornamentals like lilies, peonies, grasses, balloon flowers and shrubs.  Unlike these cultivated garden plants our Milkweed is a “weed” in that it grows and reproduces aggressively, and can dominate a planted area.  It has become 10-20% of our garden plants. 


Grow ‘Green Cuisine’ Spinach All Year

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Three years ago my wife, Lynette, was touring an innovative display garden in the cool rainforest of Costa Rica. She noticed a medium green plant with lots of shiny and crinkly round leaves connected to center stems.


Lynette asked our guide about it and he said it grew all year long and can be harvested continually for fresh salad greens and plus be cooked like spinach. He said it is a perennial called Sambu lettuce or Sissoo spinach. We later discovered it is native to Brazil and is also called Brazilian spinach (Alternanthera sisso).

Being a very adventuresome gardener, Lynette cut a few sprigs, stripped the leaves and popped them in her mouth, and then pocketed the stems. The next day she planted the stems in a pot on our patio (see photo). This wonderful little plant thrived in our hot Guanacaste climate, and with regular watering, it grew equally well in sun and partial shade.

Brazilian spinach has become our favorite tropical green because it grows vigorously and is easily propagated from stem cuttings. During our winters in Costa Rica, we add the leaves to green drinks almost every morning, plus use them in salads and sauté them with other vegetables. 


Our Winter ‘Super Foods’ Garden in Costa Rica…

Monday, August 27th, 2012

We do most of our gardening in Vermont from April through November. But now, Lynette and I are also gardening in Costa Rica from December through March. There, in addition to the usual vegetables, we also harvest pineapples, coconuts, mangoes and some amazing wild edibles. In this photo I’m in our yard holding the amazing fruit cluster of the pinuela (pineapple family). In recent years, Lynette has become the Euell Gibbons of our communities in both Vermont and Costa Rica, discovering “super foods” provided every day by nature.  I asked Lynette to tell her tropical super foods story:

“For 35 years, Will and I have called Vermont home and have accepted the seasonality of gardening under northern climate conditions. Five years ago, we became official “snowbirds” and began to also sink roots in the country of my maternal ancestors: Costa Rica. With this change came new joys, opportunities and challenges of gardening in the tropics. Even though the ambient temperature seems hospitable to year round gardening, there are many other factors in play that dictate a seasonal aspect to gardening there as well! With drip irrigation, shade structures (natural shade from high trees and constructed from durable shade cloth), and some wind protection, it is possible to enjoy many of the veggies that thrive in Vermont, such as tomatoes, peppers (of every color and heat), eggplants, cucumbers, summer and winter squash and some herbs.

Agro-Forestry Belts Benefit Both the Economy and Ecology of Costa Rica

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

In recent decades, the watershed of the Nandamojo River, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, has undergone radical environmental change. Seasonal flooding has intensified, and riverbeds that used to flow year-round are now dry for several months each year. Plus, with climate change, intense rain events are projected to increase while total rainfall in the 6-month wet season is expected to decrease by 25%.

The primary reason for these changes has been a dramatic shift in land use. During the 1950s and 60s, much of the dry tropical forest that once covered most of the Nandamojo valley, was cleared to make room for cattle ranching, monoculture agricultural crops and non-native trees. Since then, the growing population, combined with changing land ownership, has lead to additional tree clearing, especially on local hillsides. Clearing the land of trees has reduced the valley’s ability to absorb and hold water during Guanacaste’s rainy season so it can be released slowly in the dry season. The result has been erosion, loss of top soil, depleted aquifers and compromised estuaries, wetlands and beaches. The Valley’s productivity and its ability to support both wildlife and human activity has rapidly declined.

In response, Restoring Our Watershed (ROW), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the river valley, is piloting an innovative new program to establish “agroforestry belts” on local farms. These 15 ft. x 300 ft. plantings of mixed, indigenous tree and shrub species, will benefit both landowners and the Nandamojo ecosystem. The forestry belts will produce valuable lumber species, fruits, nuts and forage crops. They will also help protect field crops from wind and water erosion. Whenever possible, the agroforestry belts will be connected to existing forests in order to create biological corridors across farms. Plantings will follow contour lines to maximize their effectiveness for infiltrating rainfall and reducing erosion and runoff.

Initial agroforestry belts will be planted in the Nandamojo valley during the 2012 rainy season (June-December). After installation, ROW will monitor and evaluate the effects on soil erosion, surface runoff, and biodiversity. ROW will also provide outreach and educational support to help landowners and other local residents understand the multiple benefits of these reforestation belts.

Read the Agroforestry Belt Concept Paper

Based on the project’s success, ROW intends to scale-up the program and roll it out to other Nandamojo farms, giving priority to land that has already been identified as strategically important for protecting local water resources and restoring the historic flow of the Nandamojo river. The cost to implement this initial project is less than $30,000. Already half of that money has been raised. To learn more about this project or to help support the work, please visit the Restoring Our Watershed website: or email executive director Matt Rosensteele:

Can Local and Online Networking Lead Us Out of the ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’ Wilderness?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Last year I read the oft-discussed book, Hot, Flat and Crowded. Author Thomas Friedman expounds on previous observations and concludes that climate change, increasing living standards and population growth are combining in painful ways:

“The world also has a problem: It is getting hot, flat and crowded. That is global warming, the stunning rise of the middle classes all over the world, and rapid population growth have converged in a way that could make our planet dangerously unstable…tightening energy supplies, intensifying the extinction of plants and animals, deepening energy poverty, and strengthening petro-dictatorship, and accelerating climate change. How we address these interwoven global trends will determine a lot about the quality of life on earth in the twenty-first century.”

He believes we are entering a new “Energy-Climate Era”: America’s fortunes can be reversed, and our role in the world renewed, if we embrace a comprehensive new “Green Revolution” combining energy conservation and efficiency with renewable energy sources. Friedman compares “fuels from hell”—coal, oil and natural gas—with “fuels from heaven”—wind, hydro-electric, tidal, biomass and solar power—“that are endlessly renewable, and produce no harmful emissions.”

Friedman sees government as the force leading this revolution. However, I think that even as he challenges our global predicaments, the author remains too cozy with multinational corporations.

Government and business together must lead the fight to reverse the world’s environmental challenges. The richest, most innovative corporations can continue to prosper while leading us into the Energy-Climate Era. Though the right U.S. President and Congress can supply green leadership, Facebook can motivate millions overnight, and Google and WalMart have the money, technological capacity and reach to transform international perspectives on greenhouse gas emissions. In today’s interconnected world, we must expect corporations to partner with governments, and even to lead the way.

But will the prevailing government and corporate leadership of the Petroleum Age allow change? This week, I’m in Costa Rica attending a program that includes John Perkins (author of Confessions of An Economic Hit Man). Perkins makes a strong case for the controlling role the “corporatocracy”—his term for western governments, international banks and multinational corporations conspiring to protect and promote business opportunities—plays in maintaining power over the global economic system and resisting meaningful transformation of our petroleum-based economy.

Perkins’s discouraging, experience-based conclusions are sobering. However, I believe the internet-linked world can awaken local responses that will demand a transition to a new human ecology: one that can achieve a positive future on a sustainable resource base. This awakening will come from human networking, necessitating government action and corporate accountability.

Vermont-birthed has been able to accomplish this sort of awakening in recent years, increasing awareness of damaging fossil fuel emissions in thousands of communities. The Slow Food movement has successfully challenged the petroleum-dependent industrial food system by stimulating interest in regional food systems. By transforming sectors of our economy that we rely on for life’s necessities—including food and energy systems—we can break the corporatocracy’s economic and political shackles.
For 35 years, I’ve focused my interest and attention on harnessing the potential in our food system: how to shift from industrial to smaller-scale production through home gardens and local farms; how to move from generating waste to converting waste into resources through ubiquitous composting; and how to reclaim and restore once-fertile lands so they can again be vital community assets. More recently, realizing the food system contributes up to one third of greenhouses gas emissions, I’ve been inspired to impact climate change…through working to develop a more sustainable, decentralized energy system.

It’s now clear to me that the path to the most resilient local economies—economies that are less fossil fuel dependent and create less greenhouse gas emissions— will be achieved by pioneering new sustainable food and energy solutions. These solutions will result from millions of inspired actions and enterprises taking root in neighborhoods, communities and regions across America.