Tag Archives: eliot coleman

2013 Next Big Thing in Books

Jan. 28, 2013

2013 The Next Big Thing in Books

Thanks to Grace Walsh, a Boston author, whose new book is Divine Arrows. Check it out at www.earthenspirit.org – and her book blog: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Grace invited me to join a blog chain 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING – a series of self-interviews by/with authors about what they’ve been working on.
So, here are 10 questions concerning my newest book:

What is the title of your book?
Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My wife Annette and I own a small organic farm and I was out working in the fields one day and it really struck me how beautiful it was to be out there under the blues skies, the puffy white clouds, the gentle breezes. The plants were gently waving in the breeze and I was going about my chores, just thankful to be alive. Thankful in the moment, that Annette and I, essentially, were living a “walking prayer.” We were growing food for people — good, healthful food — and being a part of this great cycle of life. It was spiritual. It was sacred. It was holy. I was in bliss.

Then, I came inside the house and checked the messages on the computer and there was an alert that some food we had bought at a local grocery store might be contaminated, affecting people in six states. I looked in the news and there was a report that this generation could be the first in modern history that would have shorter lifespans than their parents due to the epidemic of obesity among children. And there was a report on “food deserts” — areas of cities where no fresh fruits and vegetables are available.

And I thought: How did we get like this? How did our food become unhealthy? Where did the sacredness of our food go? Or, was it ever sacred. I knew intuitively, and from my own experience, that it WAS sacred, and had to have been so. So, the question was, how did it get this way? That was the basis for the book.
What genre does your book fall under?
Inexplicably, on Amazon, it falls under organic cooking; I thought that odd until I saw the other offerings listed that way, including books by Eliot Coleman (one of the founders of the organic movement) and Michael Pollan (a journalist who writes about food and farming). So, I guess I’m in good company. I would say the book falls under: Food, Farming, Organic, Environment, Spirit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm. I would say the current hunk du jour to play me, of course. But that wouldn’t be very accurate. My wife would be any Marilyn Monroe lookalike.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Over the past 2,000 years, we have lost our spiritual connection with food in Western society; here’s how to get it back, and create healthy families, communities and a healthful world while we’re at it.

Who is the publisher?
Findhorn Press (Scotland); distributed in the United States by IPG.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About six months. A lot of it was already written through my newspaper columns on organics and my blog about food, farming and agriculture. And, of course, through notes scribbled to myself.
A little explanation: I always carry a small notepad with me and whenever I think of something I might want to write about, I make a note of it. As a consequence, I have these pocket-sized notebooks everywhere, as well as torn out scraps of paper with scribbling on them – on my desk, in the car, in the pockets of my clothes, by my bed. I also have three blogs:
On organics: Shooflyfarmblog – https://shooflyfarmblog.wordpress.com/
On philosophy, etc.: Postcards From A Green Planet – http://jimpathfinder.tumblr.com/
On daily life: http://coinkyinc.wordpress.com/

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It’s something of a personal journey, with a bit of explanation/how-tos on growing your own food, but with a message overall that we need to change ourselves and our planet. So, I guess, I’d say it’s closest to Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, but with a more spiritual aspect to it.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have greatly enjoyed the books of Michael Pollan, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Kingsolver. Oh, and “lunatic” farmer Joel Salatin, not so “lunatic” farmer Gene Logsdon, and, of course, Wendell Berry and Thomas Berry. Someone who may or may not be as well known but who writes thoughtfully about spiritual ecology, as what I write about is often called, is Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke Divinity School. And, of course, there’s the continuing example of eco-spirituality at Findhorn in Scotland, now recognized by the United Nations as an eco village.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’m a firm believer in the spiritual principle that when one heart is changed the world changes. That is why I point to the words of Buckminster Fuller in my book regarding the way atrophy can be reversed and new paradigms can be started by the simple acts of individuals. When done unconsciously, it’s evolution. When done consciously, it’s revolution. Now, as perhaps never before in human history, with the Internet, social networking, etc., we can accelerate consciousness and the place of humanity in history through what I call biocultural revolution. It starts with being conscious about our food.

Again, thanks to Grace and her new book, Divine Arrows: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Thanks to Dale Neal, an Asheville, NC, author whose new book is The Half-Life of Home. Check it out at http://www.dalenealbooks.com

Thanks to Marjo Moore, an Asheville, NC, author, poet, whose new book is Bear Quotes. Check it out at http://marijomoore.blogspot.com

And to keep 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING going, here are some wonderful writers and their recent books:

Denise Low
Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the Middle Plains (Omaha: The Backwaters Press). This book is the first critical study of contemporary Mid-Plains literature. Denise Low, former Kansas poet laureate, shows how the region’s writers inherit a Frontier legacy from Indigenous and American settler communities. http://deniselow.blogspot.com http://www.deniselow.com

Trace DeMeyer
Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects, an anthology of first-person narratives by Native adoptees, edited by Trace A. DeMeyer and Patricia Busbee, ISBN: 978-1479318285 (Ebook and Paperback). An important contribution to Native American history! Read more: http://www.splitfeathers.blogpot.com/.
Published by Blue Hand Books (Create Space/Amazon), http://www.bluehandbooks.blogspot.com/

See also: Nan Cuba, author of Body and Bread: http://myfanwycollins.com/2012/12/24/the-next-big-thing-guest-post-by-nan-cuba/
Marjorie Hudson is the author of ACCIDENTAL BIRDS OF THE CAROLINAS, a fine collection of short stories that was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Michael Jarmer is the author of MONSTER LOVE, a contemporary twist on Mary Shelley Wollenstone’s classic “Frankenstein.”

Joe Schuster, whose book, THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a terrific baseball novel with a compelling human story.

Finally, see any of the fine authors at Findhorn Press: http://www.findhornpress.com/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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If you could choose only one organic gardening book…

Jan. 2, 2013

Best Organic Gardening Book – For the South?

If you could suggest to beginning to fairly advanced gardeners only one reference book about organic gardening, what would it be?

The first ones that come to my mind are Eliot Coleman’s books. The one that’s most timely is his “The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses” (2009, Chelsea Green Publishing, $29.95). It’s chock full of information about growing food in cold weather.

Or, for year round, try his “Four-Season Harvest: How to Harvest Fresh Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long,” by Eliot Coleman and Kathy Bary (1992, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). It’s the basis for his cold-weather book, going more in-depth about winter plants.

For the basics, check out “The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (A Gardener’s Supply Book),” by Eliot Coleman, Sheri Amsel and Molly Cook Field (1995, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). I think what Coleman has done at his Four Seasons Farm in Maine is simply fantastic and a model for any would-be market gardeners—that is, people with a limited amount of space like a backyard and turning it into cash.

To go deeper into the history of Coleman and organics, and its fundamentals, one could point to “The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living by Scott Nearing and Helen Nearing” (1990, Schocken Books, $16.95). It’s a homesteading bible.

The Nearings epitomized the “back to the land” movement, leaving the city in 1932 to live off of the land and their own backs and hands, and inspired a generation—including Eliot Coleman, who bought six acres of their land and helped establish something of an early organic commune.

OK, I agree, this is starting to sound a bit cultish, but between the Rodales, founders of Organic Gardening Magazine and the organic science Rodale Institute, and the Walters family, of ACRES USA fame—these are the recognized pioneers of the ecological and organic farming movement in America.

Which brings us to the missing piece: What about the South? All of the previous books, and most on organics, are written by and about people living in the Northeast. Well, I’m happy to say, there’s one southern book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf (no matter what region you live in).

“Organic Gardening Down South,” by Nellie Neal (2008, Mackey Books, $15.95) is written specifically for people who want to grow organically and live in the South—or, as Neal says, where the ground doesn’t freeze and the bugs never die! If you can grow organically in the Deep South, you can grow anywhere.

People who live in Maine, like Coleman, don’t have to contend with T-shirt weather and mosquitoes on New Year’s Day. People in California certainly have sunny weather, but not routine simultaneous triple digits in heat and humidity! Tropical and semi-tropical weather patterns—especially, as she notes, compounded with climate change warming temperatures—poses unique challenges to the Southern organic gardener.

Neal, who is popularly called The Garden Mama, is an authentic gardening expert of some 50 years, as she admits. Perhaps a prophet without honor (or enough of it, anyway) in her own land, Neal hosts a local radio show on gardening, writes a popular column, and lives in Fondren. (Visit her website: gardenmama.com.)

Neal is a true organic pioneer—in the South as much as Coleman, at least.

So, if I could suggest only one organic gardening book? As much as I am a fan of Coleman, if you live in the South, for good practical advice, especially for the new grower or newcomer, read “Organic Gardening Down South.” Then, read Coleman’s books!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Four-Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Sept. 26, 2012
Four Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Now that you are either tending or contemplating a fall garden for freshly grown, organic crops, you might consider four-season farming for year-round food. If the weather cooperates, it can be fairly easy—and can be done even in the urban setting of a small yard or next to a patio.

Today, because of industrial agriculture, we think that farming is all done out in rural areas and large tracts of land, but that actually is counter to historical fact.

In America’s cities across the land prior to the mechanization of farming following World War II, small plots of land were located throughout population centers—complete with chickens and livestock! This was common in most urban areas globally. For example, Paris at one time devoted 6 percent of land to food production and produced 100 percent of its fresh vegetables.

One of the more popular methods of growing during winter was to heap horse manure and then build an enclosed structure on top of it for growing. Called a “hot house,” the removable top kept vegetables protected from the elements while the decaying manure provided heat from below.

Today, horse manure in cities is no longer an abundant, cheap source of soil fertility. Moreover, for health reasons regarding soil and plant contamination, I wouldn’t recommend trying to recreate such methods using uncomposted manure as a heat source without thorough study of safe designs. However, modern urban farmers—as well as homesteaders, suburbanites and rural folks wanting easy access to homegrown food—can nearly match that production by using cold frames.

Simply stated, a cold frame is a box similar to a 4-foot by 8-foot “Jim’s plot” but has a removable, clear glass or plastic top. Consider it a mini-greenhouse. Just make sure to vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

Cold frames can be simple DIY projects, such as planting between a few square bales of hay and recycling old windows or shower doors as the removable tops. You can also purchase pre-made kits from local garden stores or online.

You can build a cold frame anywhere; just make sure it has southern sun exposure. Even a small frame can produce a lot of leafy vegetables if you correctly prune them: Pick old leaves first, in effect pruning the plant so that its energy goes into new leaves.

If you have more space, here’s another option using the same principle that can contain more crops. Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, work by using layers of plastic to trap warmer daytime air inside and minimize heat loss from the system at night. They don’t have to be big or towering affairs. You can bend plastic pipes over metal rebar spikes pounded into the ground and cover them with plastic.

Hoop houses can range from small tunnels—perhaps 3 feet tall and any length you prefer—to large edifices that you can make portable with wheels. You can even pull them with a tractor to rotate crops.

For more information on hoop houses, visit msucares.com/crops/hightunnels/index.html.

Growers in Mississippi who use high tunnels will be meeting to share tips at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association conference in Jackson Nov. 28-29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. For more info, visit msfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.com. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.msstate.edu

For winter growing info, read “Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long” by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, 1992, $24.95).

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Four-seasons gardening

Nov. 4, 2011
Hoop houses extend organic garden to 4 seasons
Some hardy growers, no doubt, are wondering how to extend their production into the winter.
Four-season gardening is a pastime that’s growing nationally, and you don’t have to live in a tropical area to do it.
Locally, the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service has been experimenting with hoop houses, and Bill Evans has produced some great results.
That includes producing succulent, red tomatoes when there’s frost outside. This is not from a “hot house,” or heated greenhouse, but from plastic hoop houses outdoors.
Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, work by using layers of plastic to trap warmer daytime air inside and minimize heat loss from the system at night. They don’t have to be big or towering affairs. You can bend plastic pipes over metal rebar spikes pounded into the ground and covered by plastic.
For details, visithttp://www.dafvm.msstate.edu/landmarks/09/spring/25.pdf. Or, Google high tunnels and frames and look at the photos.
The key to winter growing is recognizing which plants will grow in different conditions.
For example, my wife Annette planted carrots in our cold frames, which are glass or plastic boxes outdoors that use sunlight during the winter to stay warm. Just make sure and vent the glass during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed and they’ll retain heat.
Carrots are slow growers when the days are short (the hours of daylight makes a bigger difference than temperature for some plants); so we’ll – hopefully – have lots of carrots this spring.
Withstanding a freeze: Some plants will grow quite well even in bitterly cold conditions.
For example, last year, I was digging turnips through January and harvesting mustard greens. Some days, the plants would be bowed over and covered with a glaze of ice. Surely they were dead, I thought. But no, once the sun came over the trees, the ice would melt, and steaming in the sunlight, they would straighten up.
Kale for example, can survive cold down to about 20 degrees. Brussel sprouts, cabbages, radishes and beets – along with mustards and collards – can survive cold temps because they actually have antifreeze proteins that allow them to survive below freezing. But they have to get roots established and develop hardiness first.
Winter growing is limited by this fact: Greens require 28 degrees to grow. So, if you’ve got 10 weeks or so above 28 degrees, you can grow greens. (See: http://msucares.com/crops/comhort/greens.html.)
Beyond that, if you have a hoop house, high tunnel or cold frame, you can extend the season.
One trick we learned with our unheated greenhouse is to plant the greens, then when temps go down, cover them in Agribon. That way, they get the benefit of the trapped greenhouse heat, as well as protection from frost within the greenhouse.
This way, you can continue to grow down to about 22 degrees. Below that, you have to provide heating.
A good book on the subject is The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, 2009, $29.95).
High tunnels: Mississippi State University sponsors workshops on building high tunnels. For details, visit http://msucares.com/crops/hightunnels/news.html or contact Dr. Mengmeng Gu at (662) 325-1682 or mgu@pss. msstate.edu.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Organic flowers, fruit

March 25, 2011

Flowers, fruit can be grown organically, not just veggies

This weather has me all messed up plantwise. Everything I know about weather is topsy-turvey with temperatures now averaging 14 degrees above normal.

Usually, here in central Mississippi, we have a few warm days in March that get everyone excited about planting gardens, then a hard frost comes, and some folks have to start all over again.

But this year, it’s been hot in March. Our spinach, collards and other cool weather fall-planted crops are going to seed, yet I just can’t get myself to risk planting so early (before Good Friday).

Annette’s been busy in the garden, planting cool weather plants such as onions, garlic, herbs, peas, arugula, kale, chard, red salad greens, Asian stir fry mix, carrots and snow peas, and in the greenhouse getting tomatoes, squash, peppers, melons and other warm weather plants started.

We’ll probably set them out in the next couple of weeks (going by weather rather than calendar and hoping for the best. Remember, we have had ice storms before at the end of March!).

We have Wall ‘o Waters for the tomatoes (plastic rings that you fill with water to hold heat at night) and Agribon covers for rows if there’s a chance of frost.

Right now, if you’re going to gamble on the weather, treat it like the stock market: Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

Tips and reminders:

•Use certified organic seeds;

•Use OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute, approved garden or potting soil (Miracle Gro makes one called Organic Choice that’s sold locally, even at Walmart);

•Use ecologically sound containers, such as those from recycled paper (Peaceful Valley -www.groworganic.com – even sells a kit to make your own pots from old newspapers);

•Or, use reusable containers such as smart pots and grow bags (from recycled materials);

•Or, use pots that can be planted, such as “cow pots,” made from composted cow manure, or Coir (coconut fiber) that can be used instead of sphagnum peat moss, which is being depleted from the Earth (large-scale peat harvesting is not sustainable as it takes thousands of years to form the peat “bricks” that are harvested in just a week; look for companies with sustainable harvesting methods).

•Think: Sustainable!

Fruits, berries, roses … As stated previously, it was my honor earlier this year to be elected to the board of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, but I’ve found that quite a few of my colleagues are unaware they can easily “grow organic,” just as gardeners can.

One prominent grower in Mississippi told me that he would love to be organic, but “you can’t do it without fungicides.”

I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to say, and just stood there with my mouth open.

Obviously, there has not been enough information promulgated about organics in general or fungicides in particular.

Not only commercial fruit, berry and vegetable growers, but even folks who grow such temperamental flowers as roses can grow organically without damaging the environment, spreading or breathing toxic waste or poisoning the air, soil and water.

Now, Annette and I are what’s called “deep organic” (in Eliot Coleman’s terms) or purists, maybe: that is, we don’t use any chemicals, period. It takes a little bit more thought and effort (and occasional setbacks), to be sure.

But there are a number of weed, disease and pest control applications that are certified organic by OMRI that meet all National Organic Standards. They are easy to use, safe, widely available and affordable for hobbyists as well as commercial growers.

A sampling from just one catalog lists:

•Cease – a bacterium that eradicates powdery mildew, several leaf spot and soil diseases;

•OxiDate – a broad spectrum bactericide/fungicide that uses rapid oxidation to kill unwanted bacteria and fungi;

•Liquid Copper Fungicide – targeting diseases on grapes, vegetables, fruit, berries, roses, pine and cedar trees and more;

•Safer Brand Garden Fungicide – for fruit, vegetables, flowering plants and ornamentals;

•Plantshield – Fungicide protects roots, can be used for seeds, cuttings, transplants, and can be used as a drench or spot dressed directly for foliar-infecting fungi.

Mind you, these are just fungicides (addressing my friend’s concerns). You can find whole sections of natural, biodegradable, non-toxic products for a range of issues specifically for fruit trees, berries, vegetables, flowers and what have you.

These examples are from: Arbico, Box 8910, Tucson AZ, 85738-0910. Phone: 1-800-827-2847. (It even offers natural, plant-based, non-toxic bedbug killers).

So, it’s not as if the resources aren’t out there; they just aren’t being advertised or promoted by the agri-biz conglomerates.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Fertility leaks and edible yards

January 14, 2011

Organic growers can find hidden, fertile spaces in the edible yards.

Last week, we explored the idea of expanding our 4×8-foot “Jim’s plot” this new year into a more intensive organic garden, but there are other ways to produce more with less, as well.

Even if someone doesn’t want to turn one’s backyard into 30-inch-wide rows of produce the length of it, with plants carefully placed 2.5 inches apart (as some “intensive” plans go), there are ways to look at gardening with greater efficiency.

Three concepts come to mind:

Fertility Leaks

The Hidden Garden

The Edible Yard

Fertility Leaks is a concept popularized by self-described “lunatic” farmer Joel Salatin, who practices some rather innovative farming practices on his cattle ranch in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

He writes that he constantly is looking for ways to better harness energy or resources that most “normal” people ignore. For example, instead of buying a new pickup truck or tractor when he gets ahead financially, he says, he uses the money to build more ponds, even if they are only 20 feet wide.

That way, in drought, he can just tap the water wherever it’s needed, instead of selling off his cattle, taking out government disaster loans, etc. Also, he keeps his pastures from being eroded that way, adding topsoil year after year. He makes “sustainability” more than a catchy buzzword. He lives it. (For more, see his book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, Polyface, $25. He also has choice words about Big Ag and government subsidies!).

Fertility Leaks are everywhere. For example, most people around where we live burn their leaves every year. We compost it. Why not? It’s free soil-building material. If you look around your place, you might find lots more efficiencies, as well.

The Hidden Garden is a concept advanced by intensive organic market garden pioneer Eliot Coleman. His entire operation, Four Season Farm in Maine, which is internationally known for its quality of greens grown throughout the year, is only six acres. (He actually has more, but it’s hilly, rocky or otherwise unsuitable for cultivation.)

He says that over the years he has taught himself to look at unlikely or rejected spaces for growing. For example:

He plants parsley on the corners of this plots because it grows prolifically and nothing else can be easily harvested in those spots. Every inch of his available space is utilized for growing.

He put his 90-foot-long greenhouses on sled runners so that by moving them after each season, he can rotate his soil with rejuvenating cover crops and still provide produce year round.

He says that some of the practices he employs derive from what’s called “The French Method” from the 19th century, when all of Paris was fed by 2-acre market gardens.

Any space that can be but is not used, he calls “The Hidden Garden,” just waiting to be discovered by someone who has the creativity or vision to see it.

Finally, there is The Edible Yard, or swapping your lawn for an edible landscape. Pioneered by Rosalind Creasy, with The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques (Sierra Club Books, 1982, and several other books since then), and boosted by other such popular books as The Edible Landscape by Tom MacCubbin (1998), shifting yards to make them into foodscapes has become a national movement.

Why not make your yard provide more than grass clippings?

If, on one of these cold, winter nights, you find you have nothing to do, any of these books can provide plenty of ideas for the coming year!

Annette and I are at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers trade show in Natchez today (Jan. 14). Stop by. We’ll be manning the Gaining Ground: Sustainability Institute of Mississippi booth.

<a href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/110084553581698391906?rel=author”>Jim PathFinder Ewing</a> is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and  blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Four Season Farming

Dec. 17, 2010

Four-seasons organic farming provides some chilly lessons

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

I was hoping that we would have a mild December, so that those readers who are growing their own leafy vegetables in their 4×8-foot “Jim’s plot” would be successful into the new year.

But, alas, it’s been a hard early winter. Temps in the teens hit our patches last week and this week.

So it goes. You can never tell what the weather is going to do.

While not all of our plants have survived, many are hanging on.

Beyond low temperatures, those who practice four-seasons gardening say that it’s the average that’s more important than the high/low for winter hardy greens; and it’s the amount of light that’s more important for production.

A pioneer in the field, Eliot Coleman, writes in his book, The Winter Harvest Handbook (Chelsea Green, 2009; $29.95 – an excellent book by the way, and a great Christmas present!), that the greatest challenge to cold-weather gardeners is shorter days, not temperature.

He should know, as he and his wife grow year round at their Four Season Farm in Maine. (So, you think growing in Mississippi in winter is a challenge?)

He says, a plant that normally takes 90 days to grow to maturity in May-June will take 120 days in the cold months. Hence, the need to plant cold-hardy plants in fall, so they have good root systems. They may slow down when there’s less than 10 hours of sunlight a day, but will continue to produce down to 26 degrees uncovered and even lower under Agribon, and/or in an unheated greenhouse.

We’re in the process of equipping/planting a “cold” or “cool” greenhouse at ShooFly Farm, employing some of the methods Coleman advocates. We’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, frozen greens, anyone?

For eating your organic greens, here’s a wonderful recipe from my beautiful wife Annette:

Saag Paneer (curried greens with cheese)

Paneer (Simple Cheese)

6 cups milk

1 cup water

Half cup vinegar

Heat milk gently to simmer, not boil.

Add water and vinegar, then slowly pour it into the milk. when milk curdles (separates) completely, stop pouring.

Strain the curds in a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.

Let it dry for 15-20 minutes.

Curried Greens

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium sweet onion

2-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon fresh grated turmeric (optional, can use 1/4 teaspoon dried)

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon chili power or curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

A mess of mustard, turnip, spinach or other greens, chopped

Directions:

Gently fry spices and nuts in a few tablespoons of olive oil, add greens cover and cook until tender.

The paneer can be crumbled into the cooked greens before serving as is, or it can be browned in an oiled non-stick pan first.

We eat it over mixed whole grain rice, with a carrot or apple salad as a side dish.

Red honey?

A recent article in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/fI3HpX) confirms what I noted in a previous column about the difficulty in “certifiying” bees’ honey as organic. A woman in Brooklyn, N.Y., along with others, reported her urban farm’s honey in the hives mysteriously turning bright red. A state ag inspector determined that the color was from Red Dye No. 40, presumably from the bees feeding on syrupy runoff from a local maraschino cherry factory. It goes to show: Bees will go wherever they want. The honey, by the way, was reported to taste “metallic.”

Response to Readers:

I don’t think the November elections will have much impact on U.S. farm policy; the major committees reflect commodities and regions, regardless of political party. But ag leaders are missing a growing trend of American life: Agriculture doesn’t “belong” to farmers or farm states anymore. Consumers are seeing food not as buying a commodity but as a personal, even intimate, act.

Our leaders must understand there’s a sea change of a food movement in this country demanding safety and accountability. More people are interested in where their food comes from, how it’s grown, prepared, shipped and handled, so it’s safe.

Rather than paying big farmers not to plant, the government should be paying small, local, sustainable farms to grow nutritious foods and subsidizing the price as an investment in health care. That would level the playing field with the big farms while also promoting local economies.

If we want cheap food, it must be subsidized. But we should have a greater say in how subsidies are handed out and, as a priority, promote local micro-farms and garden marketers. That’s especially true in Mississippi, where we have abundant land to devote to it, if local farms and markets were encouraged.

For those professing to support small businesses and free enterprise, this would be a healthy, sustainable way to go.

Contact Jim Ewing on Twitter @OrganicWriter or @EdiblePrayers, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc.