In the early 1980s, when I first began serious vegetable gardening, on an allotment in London, England, my father-in-law in Wisconsin sent me information about this group, who were into saving and distributing seed for heirloom varieties. Being something of a garden history geek, I was enchanted, and asked Pa to obtain some of their rarities and send them along. I recall there were corn, beans, and maybe a tomato variety. But it was all really exciting and a perfect complement to the membership I had with the UK’s Henry Doubleday Research Association, who had a similar program, and also promoted organic, raised bed gardening. That was my introduction to Seed Savers Exchange.
Over time, and our return to the USA, I found myself drawn ever deeper into the SSE web. Events at Heritage Farm, the group’s HQ in Decorah, Iowa; the people I have met and the staggering amount I have learned from them, have been a source of inspiration and encouragement in my life — gardening and generally.
Like so many endeavors, SSE began with a passion, and a mission, undertaken by founders, Diane Ott Whealy and her ex-husband, Kent, and then shared freely with people all over the world. SSE has truly created a gardening community to which all are welcome. And I am just as pleased as I can be that Diane and SSE will now be regular guest bloggers for Organic Gardening, and say “Welcome to our party.”
An amusing story from Atlantic magazine, titled “Rebirth of the Guinea Hens” describing the writer’s attempts to get his guinea hens home to roost, reminded me of my early experience with fancy chickens and white fantail doves. The Girls arrived in pairs at our place, Sycamore Barn, on a spring day. I’d never had chickens before, so this was a steep learning curve. We let them out of the their cardboard boxes and stood admiring their feathered loveliness while they stood in stunned silence. And then took off like the sky was falling.
Our village was small, so we had regular reports of their whereabouts: the favorite spot being a neighbor’s old apple orchard. My mother, a former farmgirl from rural Ireland, urged my Midwest-born husband to go after them, implying that by not doing so he was failing in his marital duties (but even the things that he did do were signal of that). So, off he went with a cardboard box, a forked twig and a length of string. All very Huck Finn, and the thought being that when the errant hen would wander into the box, he’d yank the string, the twig would collapse and the bird would be trapped. He got very cold, and ate too many apples while waiting for this scenario to unfold. I don’t have to describe what the result of that exploit was.
It took about a week to round The Girls up, by which point I had learned what I should have done (so much of learning is dependant on hindsight), which was to keep them penned up for a week, THEN let them loose. If they’re given a chance to bond with their roost, they’ll always come home.
Same with the doves. When I finally removed the netting that swaddled the dovecote, they emerged from their nests, blinked at the light, and stood there. Until one took off. It was stunning to watch her circle the fields on either side of our property in turn, and then do a few loops above our garden acre before alighting on the ridgebeam of the barn. Then the other eleven doves took off in groups — it was like the planes taking off on D-Day. They followed the same pattern as the solo flyer, setting their internal birdy compasses, before joining the leader on the roof. And there they stayed for three days. Scoping out the scene, making recce flights before returning to base. Eventually, when the urge to lay an egg was too great to resist they returned to the dovecote and got down to business.
In the meantime, The Girls had got into their groove, eggs were being laid, and the compost heap was nearly ablaze with the collected quano. So, all came right in the fullness of time, and ever since then I’ve learned to at least try to get my bearings and get settled before charging off on the next mission.
Yesterday, while reading the WSJ over my morning cuppa, I came across an item that stopped me mid-sip. The US government agency — USDA, FDA, NOWAY, whatever, I have so completely lost track in their hall of smoke and mirrors — that Americans, one of the fattest national groups in the known universe — would be healthier and lighter of foot if we would drink water instead of sugary sodas, consume smaller portions, eat more fish (which is now given its own nutritional category instead of being lumped with hamburger and pepperoni) and choose fresh fruit and veg instead of processed food-like substances covered in melted “cheese”.
Really? How much midnite-oil-burning did it take for them to figure that one out? And haven’t we heard that song before?
And if the answer is yes, and we KNOW what is good for us, why are we not paying attention? We hate paying health insurance premiums and copays because they get more expensive every year, but could that not be in part because we get unhealthier every year? Better we should get smarter every year.
My old Mum used to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And, she might add, a pound of belly fat….
Isn’t there a Rodale book about that?
Grocery shopping is a plastic-intensive undertaking. But it doesn’t have to be. Bring along your own brown paper sacks for containing loose veggies, wrap green bunch veggies in paper towels and don’t put heads and bunches in bags, leave ‘em loose. Gather the print-out price labels as you go and stick them back to back for the cashier to scan. Works a treat, though it takes a moment to get used to doing it this way.
Join the Rodale.com campaign with me to make your February plastic free. I am starting with my medicine bottles. I take daily med. IT is is the size of half a pea. I received my latest mail delivery (in a huge plastic bag) in a plastic bottle the size of my fist. Now, the 1/2 pea-sized tablets were like a dust sprinkled across the bottom of the bottle: they rattled around inside it like, well, peas.
In Europe I used to get my meds in small paper envelopes. Finish the pills, compost the packet. Not here, by jiminy. Those old bottles can’t be recycled. At least not by CVS, and I believe even Target has limits to it recycle program.
Seems to me life was easier and cleaner before plastic.