Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why are we here?

I believe we are here to be creative beings. We are not here to follow rules that certain men have devised to keep the masses in order. We are not here to wear certain clothing to designate our beliefs nor to refrain from this activity or that, except for moral or ethical reasons. We are here to find ways to live in community with others and, maybe most importantly, find out who we are and how we can contribute to the creation, no matter how we think it was started.

If anything in the bible comes close to the truth, as I see it, it may be that we are created in God's image. That image is not, in my opinion, a literal visual image. We are created to follow in the natural creativity of the universe.

We are not here to consume as much as we can.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Musings and Quotations

"To haul away garbage is more virtuous than to manufacture it."

"The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power and wealth."

"Nearly everyone of us, nearly every day of his life, is contributing directly to the ruin of this planet."

These three quotes are all by Wendell Berry from his book "Art of The Commonplace" which is a collection of his Agrarian Essays. Published by Counterpoint, copywrite 2002.

I love his writing but it is sometimes painful too. I have to step gingerly between the pages and not be feeling the least bit blue before I start. However, I do think he is brilliant and gets to the heart of what I think and feel about the land, race issues, politics and power, farming, what constitutes a good, well-lived life. Here is what he says about gardening on Page 88:

"I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating. The food he grows will be fresher, more nutritious, less contaminated by poisons and preservatives and dyes than what he can buy at a store. He is reducing the trash problem; a garden is not a disposable container, and it will digest and reuse its own wastes."

This reflects what I try to teach and live but he says it so much more succinctly and eloquently than I can.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Neighbors Coming Together

"Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors", Wendell Berry.

With the help of neighbors and friends the earth oven was completed and we held a pizza celebration on Halloween afternoon to initiate the new, and very beautiful, earth oven.

Our good friend and artist, Larry Hunt, embellished the oven with a whimsical sculpture of an owl, my chosen totem. Stuart, master pizza maker, delighted us all with several delicious pizzas - caramelized onion and mushroom, roasted home-grown vegetables, pesto with veggie sausage. It was a great way to share in the delight of burning wood and cooking in a natural way, outside, with the leaves falling off the trees and the light of the low angle of the sun casting long shadows. We huddled around the oven and the fire in the adjacent stone fireplace to ward off the chill.

After the pizzas were finished and eaten, I put two home-made rye bread doughs into the still very warm oven, to bake. We didn't push the coals back far enough so the back sides of the breads got a little black from being too close to the flames. We realize, after checking our book on the subject, that one is supposed to remove the coals for bread and just close up the opening. The residual heat is sufficient to cook many loaves once the pizzas are done.

We are planning a community bread-baking session, about once a month. I usually bake bread once a week. Now I plan to make about 6 loaves once a month and anyone who wants to come over and bring their bread dough, is welcome to bake their loaves in our "fire-stove", or a casserole. Watch this space for dates.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Building The Earth Oven

A beautiful baking oven emerged out of mundane materials this past weekend. An enthusiastic group of workshop participants, guided by our teacher, Mark Krawcek, got their hands in the muck (literally) and learned first hand how to use simple materials to create the oven that is gorgeous to look at and functional too.

This type of construction is known as Cobb and can be used to build any kind of structure, including beautiful houses.

Materials included: native rock, stone, wine bottles (!), perlite, horse manure, straw and sand. Fire bricks and cement block were purchased too. I won't say it's easy to build one of these stoves. However, anyone can do it with very little prior training. It's a bit messy, at times, but if you don't mind getting mucky, it would be a lot of fun to do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Earth Oven Workshop

A great time was had by all who participated in the earth oven building workshop at our Center for Sustainable Living this past weekend. Here are just a few of the photos of the event, showing the early preparations for the final stages of the construction. More details later.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Why Permaculture?"

"Permaculture is one of the only ways home for humanity. If one believes in modernism, industrial agriculture and better living through chemistry, read no further. However, if you feel something is not right about the way we live, read on.

I have come to realize that it is because we have been taught from birth to be dependent on THE SYSTEM or CIVILIZATION that we have lost our connection to our home - the land, nature and its cultivars. Simply, because we have no connection to the land, we have no reason to take care of it or limit our numbers. The skills and relationships with even the most common plants is not given to us as children."

The above quote was part of an essay by Chuck Burr entitled "Why Learn Permaculture? For the Children and for Ourselves" which appears on the website www.sopermaculture.org where you can read the entire piece.

Mr. Burr's essay captures a lot of my own feelings and understandings. I would go even further than homestead Permaculture, however. We need COMMUNITY PERMACULTURE. We need it NOW!

What does that mean? Community Permaculture is a term I coined to reflect the use of Permaculture principles in designing and developing our communities to become resilient and thriving places from now on.

What we see where I live, in rural Connecticut, and I suspect all over the United States except in a few progressive-minded places that have already started transitioning to the new reality (more about that later)are bedroom-style rural towns. My town, Bethlehem,is generally considered to be a "nice rural town, lovely people, beautiful scenery" and all that sort of thing. In reality, it is those things but with a disappointing every-household-for-itself mentality. Yes, of course, there are charitable organizations and churches that look out for the unfortunate. I'm referring to the structure of the local economy, however. This local economy reflects the economy of the entire nation. It is linear not cyclical. There is barely a local economy at all. Everything is controlled from outside - the banks, the jobs, and most importantly, the food supply.

This situation is not unique to Bethlehem, as I've said - it is national, and more and more, it is global. Their is no resilience in Bethlehem for a stoppage in outside deliveries of food, fuel and fiber. We need to change this and through applying Permaculture principles - those of looking at nature and seeing how it works - we can change our communities to transition to resilient, healthy communities with healthy economies and healthy water and land.

When are we going to start? Some places have already. Check out the Transition Town Network and better yet, watch its movie on the Transition Town website. It is eye-opening, a little scary, but full of wonderful ideas.

People in my town are starting to take control of their basic needs by getting together to make things more resilient. A new community garden completed its first year of hugely successful food growing with a terrific harvest pot-luck meal at the garden last weekend. Seniors, children and middle-year adults all came together to make this garden happen.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Few Quotes

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything left to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
Antoine de Saint Exupery

One day of sunlight on the earth would power everything globally for 27 years.
Dr. John Nelson

The early vision of permaculture reclaiming the delusional ornamental landscapes of suburbia to create an abundant support base for its inhabitants has not eventuated to any great extent. However, that vision can also be taken as a meta-model for a larger and deeper process of change: from dependent and demanding consumers to interdependent and responsilbe producers. A global consensus about the reality of energy transition and descent necessary for constructive top-down change could emerge remarkably quickly in an electronically networked world. Permaculture is for those who already understand or sense the reality of transition and descent and want to give practical and integrated expression to that reality, whether the rest of society is ready or not to do so.
David Holmgren, "Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability"

Pollution from coal-fired power plants (sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulates)is linked to thousands of premature deaths each year through heart and lung disease. The EPA estimates that proposed emissions limits on these plants would save between 14,000 and 36,000 lives in 2014 ALONE (my caps).
Union of Concerned Scientists, Earthwise, Vol 12 No 4 Fall 2010.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Response to Op-Ed in New York Times about Local Food

“Math Lessons For Locavores”, (Stephen Budiansky, NYTimes 8/20/10) I believe misses the mark on eating locally.

Using facts and figures, which, frankly, just snow us with unverifiable information, Mr. Budiansky tries to refute the claim that eating locally is beneficial. But, by limiting his observations to only one issue, that of carbon emissions, he conveniently ignores other critical aspects of sustainability. There are many issues at stake for the health of our planet, society and our economy.

Food security could be at the top of the list. When we depend on food shipped long distances, we are vulnerable to forces beyond our control such as weather and natural disasters in far flung places, labor strikes, oil embargoes, oil pricing, food contamination such as the recent egg recall due to a salmonella outbreak in one of the massive egg factories that supplies many parts of the country. Nobody doubts that salmonella can occur on small farms, too, but that event would not jeopardize the availability of such a basic and valuable food staple, nor have the potential to affect as many people with disease.

The short-term supply of food in urban areas is another issue, as evidenced by reports of depletion of supermarket supplies in the DC area during last winter’s severe snowstorms. Reports were that those markets stocked only a 3-day supply of food.

When we choose to eat mostly locally-produced food, we choose to promote food security in our own regions by supporting the local food producers – i.e. the farms. Everyone has seen the bumper stickers “NO FARMS, NO FOOD”. This is not just an empty slogan but an aphorism that has true meaning. Supporting local farms also supports our local economy.
A viable farm provides jobs for local people, spends money in local businesses and helps to keep money flowing in the local economy.

A local farm provides food that is demonstrably more nutritious, possibly because of the way it is grown, and at least that it is harvested in a more mature state than food which has to travel thousands of miles.

My daughter’s college roommate from rural western New York state (a very smart young woman now in the US State Department) observed that the economy of her region is not as volatile as others because it is has always been a farming economy where goods and services are mostly moving locally. Perhaps that region has not seen the highs of a Fairfield County, CT or a Silicon Valley, CA, but may also not have seen the lows of other areas hard hit by the loss of a county’s sole corporate employer.

Producing out-of-season food in oil or gas-heated greenhouses is something I know about. I closed down my oil-heated commercial greenhouse operation after fifteen years, partly because of escalating oil costs and personal anguish over the pollution the oil furnaces were causing. Solar greenhouse technology is now advanced and very successful. Anna Edey of Martha’s Vineyard, MA, for example, publishes her brilliant and practical designs for anyone to use. These designs have been tested and verified by scientists from several institutions and are marketed under the name SOLVIVA.

Mr. Budiansky also fails to discuss the negative affects of industrial, large-scale farming on our soil and water. As a professional soil scientist for 30 years, I can attest to how vital soil is to life on this planet. This is not an over-dramatized statement. However, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides has led to an almost complete breakdown of the soil-food-web in some places. In turn, this breakdown has led to severe soil erosion and the inability of formerly rich, valuable soils to produce quality, nutritious food. It has also led to severe damage to oceans. For example, there is an expanding dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (recent oil spill notwithstanding) where soil, eroded from the agricultural lands of the Mississippi River watershed, carries nutrients and pollutants into the sea, killing the biological life in those waters.

Wherever industrial agriculture is practiced in the world, we see the breakdown of soil structure, loss of fertility and increased dependence on chemicals, like a drug addiction.

Since the end of World War 2, chemical farming has ruled worldwide, despite the evidence brought forward by numerous agricultural scientists. As a former USDA Agricultural Extension Agent, I saw firsthand how the government persuaded farmers to give up traditional organic farming methods in favor of chemical farming which favors only the corporations that manufacture the products and, temporarily, while the chemicals are still available, the corporate farms. Independent-minded scientists called the warning alarms on this system. Interested readers could look up and read the works of Masanobu Fukuoka, Rudolph Steiner, Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale, and David Holmgren, as a start.

Vandana Shiva told the Soil Association in 2007:

“The future of the world in farming is to produce more food in diversity, locally. And that can’t be done without substituting fossil fuels for renewable energy, including human energy.”

When oil runs out or becomes too expensive, how will industrial farming continue? In a recent NPR report about oil production in Canadian tar sands, which provide most of the oil the US imports, Cenovus Oil Company Vice President, David Goldie, stated that “the era of cheap oil is over”. All the big oil companies acknowledge this. It is no longer a fringe sentiment held by a few prescient academics. Since this is true, why are we not facing up to this impending catastrophe and making plans to meet our human needs in other ways?

Actually some of us are making such plans, locally, at a community wide level. The Transition Town Movement, the organic farming movement, the community gardening movement and the worldwide network of Permaculture practitioners, are facing these issues head on to move our communities towards local food and clean energy production.

It is imperative that we make plans now to transition to organic farming with an emphasis on local resilience and stability.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Workshops Offered

Two new workshops are offered by our Center for Sustainable Living.

Coming for October 9 and 10, 2010, is Mark Krawczyk who is returning to teach a class on Building an Outdoor Oven. This workshop will demonstrate how to create a very efficient oven from locally sourced or recycled materials. You will come expecting to participate in the construction and get your hands into the project.

Mark is a Permaculture teacher and design consultant who owns Rivenwood Crafts in Burlington, VT.

On October 30 and 31, 2010, Giovanni Ciarlo will be coming to teach about waterless toilets and water conservation. The current flush toilets waste potable water and also contaminate our ponds, streams, and rivers through the loading of nitrogen which is not removed by septic systems or sewage treatment plants. The waterless toilet prevents the nitrogen in human waste from entering the hydrologic cycle in a detriment way. Also, this program will teach you skills you may need if the electricity goes out or your well runs dry. You will learn how to deal with every human's little dirty secret in a healthy, easy, non-polluting way.

Giovanni Ciarlo earned an MA in Sustainable Communities and Businesses from Goddard College, was a founder of HueHue Coyotle ecovillage in Tepotzlan, Mexico where he has spent several months of each year for 29 years, and has been Chairman of the Global Ecovillage Network Board of Directors since 2003. Giovanni resides part of the year in Watertown, CT and with his wife, Kathleen, performs with their musical ensemble, Serius Coyote.

The charge for each of the 2-day workshops is $125 which includes lunch and snacks each day. Camping is available at a nominal charge for those who wish to stay the night.

Contact me at cynthia@hgconnsoil.com for more information or to register. Pre-registration is required for both classes.
My husband, Stuart, and I decided years ago to change our lives to get closer to the goal of doing no harm. Some things are difficult, like driving cars and flying on planes, both of which contribute to climate change and ordinary noxious air pollution.

Other things have not been so hard.

In 2001 we made the decision to close down our commercial greenhouse operation because, among other things, the oil needed to heat the greenhouses was unacceptable from an economic and environmental standpoint.

Now, we are moving slowly toward a much healthier life that is more in harmony with nature. However, for as long as we have family spread around the globe, we will probably continue to fly to different places. My hope, in this regard, is that technology will, in fact, find a solution to the problem of flying on fossil fuel. Similarly, driving a car, will, I believe, become more environmentally friendly in the not too distant future.

At home, we have made changes. We changed to compact florescent light bulbs. We changed to energy efficient appliances whenever we could. Our freezer and washing machine, for example, are energy efficient. We have installed solar photovoltaic panels with the help of a grant and lease program from the State of Connecticut. Now we feel terrific that we are selling electricity back to the utility company.

We have removed most of our old 10,000 square feet of greenhouse space, retaining some square footage for our own personal use. this has freed up a large area of land that has now been covered with raised beds, fruit trees, composting areas and firewood processing and storage. There is also room for a woodworking shop in a portion of one of the old greenhouses we kept, and a bright classroom in a converted section of a garage building.

Because we live on a piece of land that has very little arable soil, we are continuing our, now 30 year-long, endeavor to build soil every way we can. Eradicating lawn by spreading cardboard covered with leaves and manure, or spreading out sheets of black plastic and then moving them when the grass underneath is dead, is a way we have used to create more food growing space. By spreading copious amounts of fallen leaves (we live surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest, by the way) with light layers of horse manure, we have created beautiful soil and lush gardens where forests of tomatoes, beans, garlic, zucchini, sweet potato, sunflowers, potatoes, onions,root crops, herbs and flowers, all thrive.

The soil is the key to all this productivity. In fact, soil is the key to life on the planet, although we do not treat it as such. Organic matter is the key to all that may ail the soil. Believe me, as a soil scientist, I can tell you, the soil is ailing in most of the country, and possibly the world from what I've heard, too.

We have so much free organic matter going to waste that could be used to increase soil health and create better productivity for nutrient rich food crops.

Let me tell you, the food you buy in the supermarket is not healthy and not nutrient rich, unless you shop in organic markets. Why do we have an epidemic of asthma, allergies, autism, cancers etc? My intuition tells me what the answer is and I believe others know it too, but as a society we refuse to take the steps we need to, to clean up our place. We are the only animal I know of that fouls its bed.

Here are some thoughts for today:

"A teaspoon of living earth contains some five million bacteria, twenty million fungi, one million protozoa, and two hundred thousand algae. No human can predict what vital miracles are locked in this dot of life, this stupendous reservoir of genetic materials that have evolved continuously since the dawn of life on Earth. One pound of topsoil has as much surface areas as the whole state of Connecticut."
From "Septic Tank Practices by Peter Warshall.

"One gram of living compost can contain 10 billion bacteria belonging to several thousand species, almost all of which are still unknown to science." E.O. Wilson

Step lightly as you go.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Annual NOFA Summer Conference

I'm just back from the NOFA conference held at the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst, MA. I am REALLY FIRED UP! What a great event! I could only attend one day out of the three but even that was worth it.

Arriving on the last day of the conference, I walked up from the parking area into the center of the campus and there below me, like a gigantic Bedouin city, was a tent encampment around the central campus pond. The huge registration tent and exhibitor area was centrally located with colorful one-man to family size tents by the scores set up all over the lawns surrounding the pond (really a detention basin - but who else but me would know that?!). Happy hippies with dredlocks sauntered around arm in arm while older back-to-the-landers reconnected with old friends or rushed off to workshops to hear the latest developments on vermiculture, permaculture and lots of other kinds of culture! A high point for me was an intriguing workshop on Financial Permaculture. More on this later when I sort out all my workshop notes.

Connecting with old friends, some of whom I haven't seen in years and some recent ones, is always a bonus, but it is the energy and excitement of the conference that gets me going. It's so energizing to see the younger generation so enthused about organic farming, community building and local grass-roots efforts to overcome the serious issues we face as a species. It reminds me of where I was in the 80's, but then all of my old friends from back then are still in the movement. I'm on a high and need to come back to earth so I can report factually on some very interesting developments going on in the organic movement.

More later.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Summer is a special time for me. This is when all my thoughts turn to provisioning my household for the rest of the year. I guess this is "putting food by" as they used to say. Not only food though, we are thinking also about our fuel, which is wood, and takes all year to acquire, cut, split, and stack so we have what we need to be cosy in the colder seasons.

When others are taking summer vacations and going to the beach, I'm drawn to my garden and orchard to pick, dig and care for the cornucopia of food growing there. Also, foraging is a fun activity too. In our neighborhood, there's a lot of free food for the taking. Yesterday I picked a few PINTS of blackberries from the edge of a field just a half a mile from my house. We have our own wild blackberries too. The brambles are mixed in among the woodland edge plants surrounding one of our vegetable gardens. I can't resist going to pick down the street as well. That way I know I will have enough for eating now and preserving for later. Jam and fruit sauces are a lovely way of keeping a little summer in reserve for winter. I also freeze our fruits to mix into smoothies or to make pies. Frozen berries are scrumptious sprinkled over ice cream, cereal, yogurt or popped right into your mouth like little icy jewels.

The season starts for me with our early rhubarb and strawberries. Then, in rapid-fire succession, come blueberries, currants, gooseberries,and blackberries. Nature arranges it so well and conveniently. These berries progress in a methodical fashion so harvesting is manageable. Occasionally, a bit of traffic jam happens when the berries overlap. That is happening now because my everbearing strawberries are having their second flush of producing fruit and I have to go between the blackberries and the strawberries to get them harvested.

Coming along now, too, are the tree fruits. We've picked the peaches. There weren't many this year as the trees are too young. Apples are ripening and the harvest looks to be good. We've surrounded our best trees with wire fencing to keep the deer away. Last year one tree was stripped of apples overnight. That can be a heartbreaker.

I do love going to the beach, or hiking, biking and other summer activities with friends or solo. I look forward to Tanglewood with enthusiasm every year. It just isn't summer if I don't get there for the music a few times. But I do not want to go away much - especially for overnights. My garden is my place. I go to the garden to find food. I go to the garden to find peace.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Disaster Strikes - Again!

OK - so I can't always be upbeat but I'm turning lemons into lemonade by learning - every failure is a chance for education, right?!

This time my garden has been hit by Bacterial Soft Rot. This disease attacks many different types of vegetables and has shown up in a large bed of garlic. The first indication that something was wrong appeared in mid-June when I noticed that a lot of the stalks were turning yellow and brown and flopping over. Garlic will do that later in the season and that's when you know the bulbs are ready to pull up. This was much too early.

I tugged on those affected stems and the bulbs came right out of the ground with no resistance whatsoever. The bulbs had no roots and were soft, mushy and very stinky! A sure sign of a bacterial disease.

This disease is caused by an organism called Erwinia carotovora and may occur where soils are wet. My soil is very well-drained, bordering on droughty so I was surprised to see this problem. I have gardened here for 30 years and haven't had any problems before last year - remember the late blight on the tomatoes?

I quickly pulled up all the garlic, separating the unaffected bulbs from the diseased ones. The latter went in plastic bags and into the trash. I did not want to put them in the compost pile for fear of spreading the disease around, in case the compost does not get hot enough to kill off the bacteria. It's not worth taking a chance.

The salvageable bulbs were cleaned off and left to dry spread out on a wire mesh bench in a hot greenhouse for about a week. Then I brushed off any remaining soil on the bulbs and put them in mesh onion bags to keep.

Because the garlic is not mature, I don't think the bulbs will store through the winter so I plan on making lots of pesto, sauces, and chopping and freezing the raw garlic for later use.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In the interests of staying positive and being part of the solution to the problems of the world, and as an antidote to my despair in the last post, I offer the following little piece about how to grow vegetables in containers. Growing your own vegetables is among the healthiest of activities - nutritious food, physical output of energy (i.e. exercise), reduce household bills.

Recently, I taught a workshop at Westmoor Park in West Hartford, CT, on container gardening. The City of West Hartford was giving away an excess of recycling bins (the typical blue rectangular bins used by cities for this purpose) that could be used for growing vegetables.

Here is the gist of what I taught the workshop attendees.

Almost anyone can grow vegetables of some kind even living in an urban apartment. If you have a balcony, a window box, a fire escape, a roof top, a front stoop, you can have a container garden.

TYPES OF CONTAINERS: Boxes, bushel baskets, plastic bags, clay pots, half-barrels, wire cages and plastic pails, are just some of the useful objects that can be turned into gardens. Regardless of the type, all containers must have holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. Punch or drill holes into containers that do not already have them. At least three holes approximately 1/2 inch in diameter are needed in a container the size of a 5-gallon pail. More if the container is bigger.

Containers no bigger than 6 inches across are fine for chives and most other small herbs. A 12 inch pot (diameter) will grow lettuce, radishes, onions, miniature tomatoes and even carrots, depending on the variety. A large tub, 18-24 inches in diameter is adequate for tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes or even sweet corn. It may be possible to grow 2 or more types of vegetables in a tub that size.

Hanging baskets are easily used for vining plants such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, squash etc. In this case, the plants hang down instead of climbing up.

SOIL: Successful container growing requires soil with certain characteristics. The soil must be lightweight, well-drained and well-aerated - i.e. able to retain moisture and nutrients, and be free from diseases, weed seeds, and insect pests. Ordinary soil from the garden is too heavy and tends to get compacted in a pot causing poor root growth and stunted plants.

An easy option is to purchase a soilless mix from a garden center or hardware store. There are several brands available. Or, you can mix your own potting mixture by using 1/3 garden soil that has been pasteurized (see below), 1/3 clean sand - like sand box sand, not road sand that may have salt included, and 1/3 well-rotted compost - purchased or home-made.

To pasteurize garden soil, spread the soil 2-3 inches deep in a roasting pan and heat in an oven at 180 degrees for 1 hour.

Mix the soil ingredients together with 2 tablespoons of ground limestone per batch of soil for a 5 gallon tub size.

LIGHT: Take a good look at the place where your container garden will be located. Is it a patio where the sun shines most of the day? Or, is it a balcony receiving only a few hours of full sun? Vegetables can be grouped according to their light needs:

Shade Tolerant - lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, Swiss chard, cabbage, Chinese greens, etc.
Partial Shade - 2-3 hours of sun per day - carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, onions etc.
Full Sun - 6 or more hours of sun per day - tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, squash
(all fruiting crops).

Where space is limited, it is fun to grow a shade tolerant plant in the same pot with a sun-thirsty one. Choose a tall, sun-loving plant like tomatoes that can be staked in the center of the pot. Around the edge, plant a circle of leafy greens. Also, a vining, sun-lover such as cucumber could be grown under the tomato since the plant will drape over the side of the pot and away from the shade cast by the upright, staked tomato.

WATERING: All plants need water to live and grow and container plants have special needs in this regard. Potted plants have only the volume of the container from which to draw water. Moisture in the pot is used quickly by rapidly growing plants, especially in full sun and in the heat of summer. High temperature, wind and bright light accelerates the plants' use of water.

Water as often as necessary to keep the soil moist and the plants from wilting. A rule of thumb is to water whenever the soil is dry a finger-length down from the top. Containers may have to be watered every day or sometimes twice a day if the weather is very hot and the plant very large.

Water slowly and use enough to soak the pot - water should run out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. Stop watering and allow the pot to drain freely. Do not let the water collect in a tray under the pot as this will cause the soil in the pot to become waterlogged and poorly aerated. It is important that air circulates through the soil to provide oxygen for the roots.

Use a watering can or small spray nozzle on a hose to water your pots. Put the spout or nozzle over the top of the pot at the soil surface so as not to wet the foliage. This conserves water and puts the water into the root zone where it is needed.


As with watering, potted plants have only a small reservoir of soil from which to draw essential nutrients. Also, watering washes (leaches) nutrients out of the soil. Rapidly growing plants have a constant need for nutrients. On the other hand, container grown vegetables are sensitive to excess ferilizer or salt build-up.

To provide the nutrients your plants need, follow these guidelines:

Fertilize regularly with soluble fertilizer such as a chemical product (the blue stuff that comes in little boxes!) or a natural product such as seaweed or fish emulsion. I recommend mixing the fertilizer at half the dose stated on the packet and using that mixture 4-5 times a week. Once each week water with clear water and make sure to use plenty of water to flush out excess nutrients that might create a salt build-up in the soil.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What is the solution to the wholesale attack on our environment? I don't mean only this one oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I mean THE WHOLE ENVIRONMENT! All over the world are environmental catastrophes at least as gigantic as the Gulf oil spill.

I am complicit in the oil spill. We all are. If we drive a car, get on airplanes, eat supermarket food, and turn on electricity, we are complicit. We have created the demand that the oil and power companies fill. Our demand gives license for the corporations to press Congress to allow our economy to muddle along without necessary changes. Our elected representatives can't make the difficult decision to move us towards a different model.Why?

Because we are too complacent.

I can't describe the pain I feel when looking at the pictures of the damage from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. So I won't try. I've stopped looking at them. I can't stop the insult to wildlife and wetlands and people's lives. Looking at the pictures won't help me to feel more angry or help me to figure out a solution. I'm not there. I can't be there. And, there are people there, more qualified and skilled than I, who are trying to intervene and save ecosystems. If a general call goes out for volunteers, then I may go and lend my efforts. In the meantime, anguishing over photographs of oil coated mammals and birds and oil-slicked coastlines is making me ill and not helping anything.

Are we at a tipping point, at least, where enough people and governments will wake up and start to say, Enough? I think we are close, at any rate. I have to be optimistic that it is not too late to save our planet in a recognizable form. Probably too late for climate change deaths to keep happening. We already saw thousands die in France a few summers ago from unusually high summer temperatures, New Orleans almost wiped out from unusually severe Hurricane Katrina, severe droughts in several tropical countries, etc. These things are not coincidental.

I get discouraged when friends and relatives continue to live in a way that seems oblivious to the problems. Mired in personal struggles for economic security, or hanging on to privileged lives, people don't want to face up to the fact that the oil era is coming to an end. What will that mean? If I bring the subject up, I get blank stares or pat answers. Science and technology will find a solution, they say. I hope that happens but perhaps we cannot wait around for that to happen.

Similarly the subject of toxins in our water, food chain and households has not caused an outcry from the masses, for new standards. Most people must have read that we are literally living in a chemical soup - with industrial and agricultural chemicals, synthetic medicines, antibiotics and hormones all around us in what we eat, drink and breathe. But people carry on as usual.

I speak to relatives and find out too often that someone else has cancer or has died from cancer, at younger and younger ages. Alzheimers disease (possibly connected to our food and chemicals such as aluminum), childhood autism and asthma, food allergies, attention deficit disorder, etc. have increased so much as to be almost epidemic. Young girls reaching puberty at younger and younger ages because of reproductive hormones in our food supply. Young boys with enlarged breasts, for the same reason. You can see these things if you look around.

Many people I know don't want to talk about it or face up to it. Instead, lulled into a false sense of plenty by the shiny, artificially ripened and pumped up fruits and vegetables in supermarkets, we go on and pretend everything is alright.

It is not alright..

We have to make a change.

We need leadership and help to figure out how to live without the oil. How to make a living without oil. How to eat without oil.

It won't change until we each take the responsibility to look this 4-eyed monster in the face and change ourselves.

I know that the change we need starts with me. Right here inside me I must change my own dependency on oil and all the products that come from the oil-dependent industrial model we currently have. And I must find a way to pass this change on to other people in a way that helps them see what we all need to do. Not in an ego way. Not telling people. That doesn't work.

We all have to come to know for ourselves that we all can make change happen if we take the time to look inside ourselves and ask honestly, How am I responsible for what is happening? How can I take responsibility, me, myself, not someone else.

I know I am making the change. It is hard. It is very hard when people you love, scoff, make jokes, or roll their eyes and change the subject. But I can't take this personally. All movements in history were unpopular in their time before they took on an energy of their own. I think we are close to this energy taking off. We who are involved in trying to change from the inside-out must keep on quietly showing the way, teaching and demonstrating a new way and speaking out, asking for help from those who do have answers and asking for government to help us do this.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Saving Species an Economic Priority" from The Guardian

In the weekly British newspaper, "The Guardian" of 28 May 2010, there is a story about a major UN report scheduled to be released soon by that august body.

The report is a "biodiversity report" and The Guardian states that the value of saving natural goods and services - things like pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water, will be so worthwhile as to exceed the actual cost of saving the habitats and species which provide these "services" by a factor of between 10 and 100 times.

The report's author, Pavan Sukhdev, states "We need a sea-change in human thinking and attitudes towards nature: not as something to be vanquished, conquered, but rather something to be cherished and lived within". This would be a completely new idea for humans, wouldn't it? Since the industrial revolution which started in Britain, the world has increasingly and continuously treated nature as something to use up, destroy and from which to move on, in a never-ending search for greener undepleted resources.

The report will be recommending "massive" changes in the global economy to factor in the natural world.

Let's face it, environmental collapse has started all over the world. We need radical, local and immediate changes in the way we live, work and play. Changes are needed in what we value in our lives, in what we buy and what we eat.

On the same page in The Guardian is an impressive photograph by Fred Dufour showing the "Greening of Paris". In Paris last week, the entire Champs Elysees, "one of the busiest, traffic-friendly avenues in Paris, became a grass-covered landscape" thanks to farmers who brought in 8,000 plots of earth (literally!) and 150,000 plants with sheep and cattle. This was done along a one kilometer stretch of the famous avenue in an effort to make "French consumers reflect on what they have on their plates and how it got there. Among the agricultural products trucked in were "wheat, mustard, grapevines, Limousin pigs, and an array of flowers and 650 fully grown trees".

How about it American farmers - greening Times Square or Washington Mall? Go for it!

Did we hear about the UN report or the French farmers' demonstration from the New York Times or any other national US media? If so, I missed it. Wake up America!

What I'm seeing every day in our media is oil industry executives making every excuse under the sun for why they haven't been able to stop a gigantic oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and lying about their company's responsibility for it. Also, politicians doing the typical double-speak about why this doesn't mean we have to stop all further off-shore drilling. What is the matter with us for allowing this to continue?

I wonder if BP's pledge to cover "all legitimate claims" will extend to compensation for trauma to the population who are watching the destruction of their beautiful coastal wetlands and all the nature along the coast. What about the loss of livelihood and way of life for untold numbers of people?

Thanks for reading and I welcome feedback.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth! I know it seems as if I have, but I'm back in gear and totally alive and well with lots of good things to share.

The past few months have flown since our Permaculture Design Certification course ended and yours truly earned that certification and shifted into high gear to put my new credentials into action. More about that later.

Then, garden season hit really early this year and that's where I've been, when not working. My apologies to any of you who are, in fact, reading my musings! Between an expanded garden, assessing wetlands (my day job!), teaching and the other commitments of life - well, I didn't think about my blog! Shame!

Here's a little preview of what my garden is expected to do this year - strawberry season is off to a magnificent start. I picked about 3 pints today. Some will go in the freezer and some right in our tummies. Yum!

Salad greens have been in full swing for months but with temperatures hitting nearly 90 degrees F today, I'm not sure how lettuce and spinach will hold up. I'll let you know. Also, I see a little problem developing with root maggots in my radishes. That does not bode well for all the root crops I have planted - beets, carrots, turnips, and tons of onions of all different varieties. I'm removing all affected plants and destroying them and their little beastie guests.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Courses Offered

I will be teaching the following courses at Gateway Community College, North Haven, CT:

Soils and Land Care:
Practical Applications for Sustainable Development
What is soil and what is it composed of? Understand the soil food web ecosystem and its ability to sustain life on earth. This intensive session shows how soils influence non-toxic edible food and human nutrition. Learn about soil minerals, organic matter and chemical characteristics.

Learn how soil is classified using soil survey information and topographic maps to assess soil on a particular piece of land. Understand what soil composition and analysis mean on a practical level in relation to landscaping, gardening, and building construction. Learn what steps we can take to improve soil in home gardens to enhance nutrition plus measures we can take in our communities to reduce environmental pollution. Understand how “vermi-composting” – indoor small-scale worm composting – can be used to improve soil.

CRN: 2732 1 Session: 5/22
Day: Saturday
Time: 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
Location: North Haven – TBD
Course Fee: $35
Instructor: Rabinowitz
Contact for More Information:Cynthia

Landscaping to Protect the Environment
Protect the environment when landscaping by employing time-honored practices. Learn to consider the communal environment, as well as your personal needs and wants, when landscaping your home grounds.Learn about aquifer protection, water quality protection, biodiversity and waste management by designing rain gardens, dense, multi-purpose plantings, reducing lawns, creating peaceful outdoor seating areas and front entry gardens. Increase habitat for birds and butterflies. Plan gardens to grow beautiful ornamental and edible plants for your own consumption.

This class will cover site assessment and site design and the use of maps and simple diagrams to develop landscape plans. Learn about absorbing the essence of a place by developing your intuition and observational skills. This three-hour class includes lecture and practicum. Participants are encouraged to bring a map or drawing of their home property.

CRN: 2734 1 Session: 6/5
Day: Saturday
Time: 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
Location: North Haven – TBD
Course Fee: $35
Instructor: Rabinowitz
Contact for More Information:Cynthia Rabinowitz: cynthia@hgconnsoil.com, www.connsoil.com,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Educational Programs Coming Up

I will be speaking at the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition public educational event on Saturday, March 20, 2010. My talk is entitled "Landscape Design to Protect the Environment". Please check PRWC's website for location details. The program is free to the public.

Stuart and I will be speaking on May 1, 2010 at the EcoCreative Collaborative event at the Litchfield Community Center, Litchfield, CT. We will be talking about what we learnt in the Permaculture Design Certification Program we are just completing. We also will have a table display during the entire event. I will give more details here as I get them.

Also, I will be teaching a soils course at Gateway Community College on May 22, 2010. It is a half day class and the charge is $35. As I get more information about registration, I will post it here.

Thank you to all the people following my postings. I love to get the feedback! Thank you!

Peak Oil and Climate Change

When I think about PEAK OIL and CLIMATE CHANGE, there are obvious concerns that are worrying, but there are also opportunities too.

A lot of people are concerned about the ramifications of oil running out. Even economists working for oil companies recognize that this is going to happen, or is already happening.

To quote Asia Newspaper, 4 May 2005, "Fifty years ago, the world was consuming 4 billion barrels of oil per year and the average discovery was around 30 billion. Today we consume 30 billion barrels per year and the discovery rate is approaching 4 billion barrels of crude per year."

Fox News, of 28 April 2006 stated "Energy experts no longer debate about whether Hubbert's peak will occur, but when." M. King Hubbert, geologist, predicted in 1956 that the US would peak in production in 1970, was ridiculed but then proved correct. (The Transition Handbook, Hopkins, P22.)

In the Sunday Times of 9 September 2007, Zac Goldsmith says "Peak oil informs everything. People ought to know about that, but they don't. When it's going to peak or if it's happened already I don't know, but if oil ran out tomorrow we would be stuffed. We depend on it for everything."

If you haven't read about this issue for yourself, by now you are probably thinking I've lost my marbles or that I'm one of those people who believe in doomsday - that the end of the world is coming and all that kind of stuff. But that would be wrong. I am an optimistic person and I believe we have a chance to sort ourselves out before it is too late.

Nevertheless, I do have worries. How will my family travel to see each other when getting to other countries or parts of this country will become like getting to the moon?

How will people feed, clothe, and house themselves when we are dependent on oil to bring EVERYTHING to our locales? If you don't believe this, check the products around your house to see where they are made. How many are made in your town? Your state? Even your country? Think about the products you depend on every day and how they are made. Most need oil as part of their material and all need it for transportation. How about the medication you rely on? How about the latex gloves you protect your hands with? Your household cleaners? Cosmetics? Clothing fabric? Insulation? Fertilizer? Pesticide? Food? Grocery bags? CD's, DVD's? No point in going on, you get the picture.

At our house, we have taken steps over the past 30 years to become more self-sufficient and could, with adaptations live here with little or no electricity or petroleum. We know how to do it even though it will feel like deprivation after our easy life of oil dependency.

But what about the community or world at large? People are not preparing. I worry about war and chaos resulting from the coming lack of oil. Our government is arguing over distractions that keep them busy from addressing the real problems we are facing. They are certainly not telling the public what even the big oil companies know and have acknowledged in industry-wide publications or forums.

My POSITIVE vision for the future is everyone pulling together. We do not need to wait for the government to tell us what to do. We need to draw together as bioregional communities to grow and distribute food, building materials, clothing fiber, fuel, and, of course, water.

I believe we CAN do this if enough people start waking up and working together to plan for the transition into cooperative communities instead of the consumptive "every household for itself" mode of living we are seeing now.

I highly recommend the book "The Transition Handbook:From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience" by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement, published by Chelsea Green.

It is normal to dismiss this kind of thing as alarmist nonsense and continue on in denial. That would be a mistake.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Our Permaculture Design Certification course kicked off over February 12, 13 and 14. Eleven students jumped in at the deep end for a rollicking, packed three-days that left our head spinning with new information and ideas for making change.

Over the three days, Andrew Faust, our teacher, presented a marathon class that started with the history of the world from the beginning of time! Yes, he covered several million years in a few hours to bring us up to the present time. A rush through prehistoric eras and the ascent of man combined with geological, climatological and anthropological sciences gave us a background to where we are as a human species and a planet today. That sets the stage for the rest of the course - now we move into applying scientific principles from all disciplines as we learn how to design sustainable human living environments and, most importantly, provide ourselves with food, fiber and shelter.

Permaculture presents a new way of seeing the world - using passive and biological work to provide human needs on a local scale. A bioregional scale. A culture of bioregionalism is what we need to overcome the problems that the global corporate culture has inflicted on the planet. Permaculture is not opposed to business or entrepreneurial activity, but not the out-of-control type we have witnessed.

We spent a lot of time discussing ways that a Permaculture approach can turn problems into solutions - designing new business models to use wastes from one industry as resources for other businesses.

After the general background information we switched gears and got into the specifics of designing with Permaculture practices in mind. First off, we covered site analysis, which in itself is a huge topic that includes water, trees, topography, geology and soil, and climates - both macro and micro.

We watched slides of agricultural practices around the world throughout history and discussed ancient civilizations that knew how to conserve their soil and water for sustainable agriculture and societies, and those civilizations that didn't. The latter resulting in complete loss of soil followed by climate change and societal failure. We then compared this to modern day events such as the Dust Bowl in the US which contributed to the suffering of the depression years in the early 20th century.

We went outside and looked at the site here at the Center for Sustainable Living and compared the different microenvironments, the trees, analyzed past uses of the land and the succession of forest and plant growth and what the impacts have been.

Exhausted and exhilerated, we parted company on Sunday afternoon with our heads buzzing and a reading list as long as our arms. We're ready for this weekend coming up for more training and learning with Andrew Faust and guest speakers, including yours truly for a session on soils.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Planning for our Descendants

Planning for the health and prosperity of our descendants is not something Western Civilization has been very good at. To say the least! We haven't listened to our native American fellow citizens who say actions should benefit at least the next seven generations. We won't be leaving much of benefit for even the next generation unless we make serious changes.

The Brundtland Commission of Norway puts it succinctly:

"Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

I've given a lot of thought to this subject for many years. I have tried, in my life, to make changes in how I live so as "to be the change I want to see". I am far from perfect yet. It is hard to watch friends, family and neighbors carrying on as if there were no tomorrow. Perhaps this is where that aphorism comes from - it looks as if there might not be a tomorrow that looks like anything what we've known in our privileged lives.

As if it isn't bad enough that the environment is changing so quickly and that every day brings news of scientific findings of looming disaster,such as the chemistry of the oceans changing, our government has become so ineffectual that they cannot mobilize on any action that could help. See Paul Krugman's column in the February 7, 2010, edition of the NY Times entitled "America is not yet lost" for what is happening in Washington, DC, and why the government is in a sort of logjam caused by procedural stalemate.

But, I'm an optimist. Along with all the doom and gloom we get bombarded with every day, there's a shift happening. Malcolm Gladwell calls it "The Tipping Point", the title of his fascinating book. I really do see a lot going on that seems the groundswell of a sea change. I'm hopeful that Paul Hawken is right that our country's (and world's) salvation will not come from our government but from ourselves. From people just like you and me taking matters into our own hands and making the change that is needed without directives from the top. The top is becoming irrelevant.

Exciting efforts that don't make it into the network news include community garden efforts and farmers' markets all around Connecticut, that connect people with fresh, organic, local food; groups like the Inter-Religious Eco-Justice network that work here in Connecticut and nationwide to connect religious communities of all faiths and creeds in efforts to reduce institutional carbon footprints, provide food for homeless people and the working poor; school gardens that teach children about nutrition and gardening and get them outside and working their bodies; business efforts like Pedal Pushers, in Massachusetts, that use local resources such as household food waste to create commercial compost that can be sold back to gardeners in the community; communities buying and saving farmland to protect it from development, like the Swendsen Farm here in Bethlehem where a group of volunteers steward the farm and also lease it to a local mixed produce and fruit farmer giving the farmer access to critical land vital for the successful operation of his farm; organizations like NOFA - the Northeast Organic Farming Association - that is teaching people how to care for land in a sustainable - forever - kind of way.

This weekend will see the start of the Permaculture Design Certification course that I have brought to Connecticut. Andrew Faust and guest lecturers, (including myself) will present this course to nine students coming from all over Connecticut and New Jersey over four three-day weekends during February and March. Permaculture addresses how we develop our homes, communities, and businesses in ways that are sustainable and cyclical rather than linear. By linear, I mean systems that take resources that are finite and create waste that has to be dealt with. By cyclical, I mean systems that use waste as resources within closed circuits so that the systems are sustainable and never-ending, like natural systems.

Permaculture was designed by an Australian, Bill Mollison who was a scientist with CSIRO Wildlife Survey Section and with the Tasmanian Inland Fisheries Department. He saw how man's actions were killing nature and withdrew from society. He developed a system of sustainable agriculture that did not pollute the waters or waste the soil. By combining all scientific and creative disciplines he, with his colleague David Holmgren, developed Permaculture as a system of looking at ecology, wherever you are in the world, and using ecological principles to develop human systems. This is what we will be studying over the 76 hour course.

This small group of students will become trained to consult and practice Permaculture. It is my hope that we will form a nucleus of trained consultants which will go on to teach others, consult with every level of government from towns to state level and work in collaboration with professionals from all disciplines to increase the speed at which positive, helpful changes in our human organizations occur.

I used to dream about being one of those people who change the world but I've realized that "thinking globally and working locally" is really the only way. I'm excited for the course to begin and will keep you posted - watch this space.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

last minute winter pot-luck meal

So, asked 2 days before a big community gardening event to bring a large pot of something to share, I quickly did an inventory of my pantry and freezer to see what I could rustle up that would meet the criteria - seasonal, locally grown, vegan and gluten-free! Hmm...

Because I have several large heads of cabbage frozen whole from my fall garden, I decided to build the dish around that ingredient. Freezing the cabbage this way is simple, I just clean off any unsavory-looking outer leaves and check for insects, then wrap in wax paper and put each head into a plastic grocery bag and twist tightly. That's all you have to do. When it's time to use the cabbage, just unwrap and leave the cabbage in a bowl on the counter. A lot of water comes out of the cabbage and you can use that in cooking various things such as rice, beans or soup stock. The defrosted cabbage leaves are limp and can easily be used for stuffed cabbage without the fuss of blanching the whole head in boiling water and trying to peel off the leaves without tearing.

I decided not to make stuffed cabbage this time because it is a bit fiddly and would take longer to prepare in the quantity I needed. So I simply chopped the cabbage up and made a Cabbage and Chick Pea Stew. Here is the recipe:

1 1/2 lbs dried chick peas (you can substitute canned cooked chickpeas)
1 1/2 large heads of cabbage, chopped (use fresh or frozen)
2 large onions, chopped
Olive oil or Canola oil.
32 oz tomato juice
8 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Put the chick peas into a large pot and cover with boiling water. Let soak for at least 6 hours. Drain the chick peas and put back in the pot and cover generously with cold water. There should be at least one inch of water above the chick peas. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the chick peas are tender but not too soft. This will take about 15 minutes. Drain the cooking water and retain it for cooking something else.

Chop the onions roughly and mince the garlic. Using a large skillet, pour in a circle of oil about 3 inches in diameter and heat until the oil spreads over the bottom of the pan thinly. When hot, add the chopped onions and garlic and saute until golden.

Then add the chopped cabbage in batches and toss each batch with two large spoons until coated with the onion, garlic and oil mixture. Saute the whole mixture for 5 - 10 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a crock pot, add the chick peas and the tomato juice and mix together well. Cook on high for one hour. Turn the control to low and continue cooking for a few more hours. The longer you cook this dish the better it is.

I used two separate crock pots for this size recipe.

If you don't have time to cook it in a crock pot slowly, then cook it in a 350 degree oven, uncovered, for at least one hour. The ingredients should all be well-cooked, the cabbage tender, and the juice bubbling around the edges and just starting to stick to the pot.

Taste for doneness and add sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

I hope you like this dish. It is not 100% locally grown since the chick peas and tomato juice are not. But it is seasonally appropriate and partially local. Not bad with no advance warning. I did not have to go out and buy any of the ingredients for this meal, they were all on hand. Another plus, it is a very economical meal for serving a crowd.

Please let me know if you try this and how it works out for you.

Happy Cooking this winter.