February 25th, 2011
Seed Savers Exchange: The Story

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.”

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February 15th, 2011
The Chickens’ Return

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.

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February 3rd, 2011
Surprising food and nutrition report. Again

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?

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February 2nd, 2011
More Plastic Free February

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.

February 2nd, 2011
Plastic Free February

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.

January 19th, 2011
Cabin Fever at Rodale

Here at Organic Gardening Central, the natives are getting distinctly peeved with winter. Senior Managing Editor Chris Krogermeier was looking … how shall I put this … frosty at our recent book planning meeting.
“I’m tired of this weather.”
General agreement; nods all round.
“I’m going home and fill my basement with dirt, get some grow lights and just start gardening.”
Raised eyebrows…has our Girl lost her edge? With that someone offered the novel idea that she could, in that case, dispense with the compost heap, and just toss her veggie waste etc, down the steps. Instant compost.
“Right. Our next book: The Basement Garden!”
Chris’s gaze swiveled around the room, taking in our grinning faces…
“You know, it would work. The basement has water in it, so I wouldn’t need to irrigate.”
Now that’s what I call putting a pragmatic face on things. The house is a new build.

Chris K putting a brave face on winter in Emmaus.

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January 18th, 2011
Better Get a Bone Scan!

Everyone should get a bone scan, and Rainbow Light, makers of organic nutritional supplements, have made it easy to get a heads up on the state of your superstructure. They are visiting locations all over the USA with their mobile scanner; it looks like a foot massager, but instead of giving your tootsies a soothing soak, it sends an ultra sound through your ankle bones. The reading will inform you whether or not a full scale bone scan is necessary.

Visit the Bone I.Q. website to find the interactive map, plus all kinds of information on keeping bones healthy and yourself happy.

Thank you Rainbow Light!

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December 29th, 2010
A row of my own

The east coast was slammed with a blizzard the day after Christmas. The ground in my soon-to-be garden is frozen solid. C’mon spring, thaw that compost. This girl needs to garden.
How important it is in day-to-day living not to become disconnected from what pushes your buzzer. Some need to cook to enjoy good food, others need a linen table cloth. I need well-dug soil and a plant or handful of seeds to give my life meaning, and since arriving in PA to take up my job with Rodale I have been offline in garden terms. It was becoming rather a trial to read about other people’s garden joys, to go to the test garden and watch Doug and Therese work (they did a grand job! Most inspiring.) But I need my own row to hoe. And isn’t that just like life anyhow? We make it hard, we make it easy, but as long as we make it our own, we’re good to go. So I anticipate with happiness NOT leaning on someone else’s garden fence, kibbutzing. But doing my own thing in my garden, sun on my back, seed in my hand. At last. It’s been too long.

My post-modern formal garden

My post-modern formal garden

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December 22nd, 2010
Christmas Three Cheers

Being the editor in chief of Organic Gardening gets me into all sorts of places. And on Monday I was included in a group from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society on a visit to the White House to view the Christmas décor.

The First Lady’s theme this year is Simple Gifts. In her introduction the little guide book describing the decorative elements, she writes, “…we invite you to find joy in the everyday gifts that surround us, and to take pleasure in the simple ways we can enrich the lives of others.”


“From our unending gratitude for American’s service members to the abiding love we share with our family and friends, each of us can brighten the holiday season for others in the little ways that really do make all the difference.”

The tree decorated for the Armed Services was especially thought-provoking, not least because my son is in the Army. He is not deployed, and will be with us for Christmas. So, as I wrote a note to be sent to a service member who will remain on duty in some distant place far from loved ones and home comforts and safety, I thought how their sacrifice made my holiday possible.

And as I moved with the crowd through the rooms, spotting Senators and young White House staffers clasping clipboards and action ready, and admiring the wealth of American art and furnishings while enjoying the carol singing of the New Amsterdam Singers, I recalled what I knew of the history — good, bad and indifferent — that has been made in that building, and the ways in which those actions had impacted the lives of others, at home and around the world. And not always for the better, either.

But that is realpolitik. Me, I’m a believer in feeling-in-the-head politics, and the notion that one random act of kindness can make the most significant difference. So today, two days before Christmas, when thoughts of gifts and sharing are absorbing my attention, I was gripped by news of Sally Goodrich’s death. In 2004, she established a school for Afghan girls in the midst of Taliban controlled country, doing so to commemorate the loss of her son Peter, who died when UA 175 was flown by terrorists into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. She later said, “Anyone who’s in pain should have the experience of being plunked down in a place where everyone is heartbroken.”

I believe that knowledge is power, so my gift to my family, my friends, my colleagues at work and to all I care about most deeply, is a donation to the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation. Changing the world, one woman at a time.


April 17th, 2010
Thinking of Italy
Windowsill greenhouse

Windowsill greenhouse.

I’ve been known to say — repeatedly– if you have a windowsill, you have a garden. And here is mine, but since it’s on the indoor windowsill, it not so much a garden, more a makeshift greenhouse. Tucked inside a Ziploc is a a 6 x 4 inch recycled fiber seed tray filled with organic potting mix (without peat moss), over which I scattered a sprinkle of giant-leaved Italian basil seed and some for an Italian herb my friend Alessandro calls “nipotella,” which is a kind of nepeta used in Tuscany to flavor porcini mushrooms. Perhaps the winner of the Lundberg Family Farm sweepstakes will learn about it at Poggio Alloro. The seeds have germinated and are just poking through the soil surface. It’s almost as exciting as winning the contest!

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