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Very Hungry Caterpillars

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Posted 24 March 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Books, Gardening, Growing Food, Vegetables | Comments

very hungry caterpillars

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric CarleThis week marks the anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one of my favorite books as a child. But one glance at the protagonist’s varied diet (food diary lovingly compiled by the Shrinking Sisters) reveals that it is not Pieris rapae rapae (aka cabbage white butterfly, small white butterfly or just white butterfly), Seagarden’s frequent diner.

These soft green consumers grow up and become white butterflies, who then lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars hatch and begin to feast on a menu of organic tatsoi, kale, bok choy, broccoli and brussels sprouts, i.e. the brassicaceae — in the case of the tatsoi (below), until it’s entirely devoured.

In the organic garden, the main options for stopping this cycle are physical (removing the caterpillars and eggs), chemical (garlic spray as a preventative), and biological (Bacillus thuringiensis aka BT, dipel and thuricide which is a bacterial stomach poison for all caterpillars).

I regularly apply garlic spray, which I suspect the caterpillars enjoy as a tasty marinade, and my strategic companion plantings of hyssop, nasturtium, calendula and cosmos have been interpreted as gifts of affectionate bouquets. A box of BT (in the form of Organic NO Caterpillars) sits on the shelf, but after buying it I found I really don’t have a strong desire to poison the little beings. I guess I value biodiversity more than a perfect crop. (See Dan Barber’s inspiring TED talk featuring systems-thinking measurements of success, such as the the health of the predators and water purified through the farming process.)

I handpick them in the mornings. And sometimes in the evenings. They rotate their fuzzy faces towards mine and channel Mary Oliver, mouthing “Don’t bother me.
I’ve just been born.”
Once I’ve gathered a handful or so, I fling them gently over the fence, into the puka (or beyond). I won’t be replanting tatsoi. How do you deal with very hungry caterpillars?

Learning from Gardens, Books and Art

Learning from Gardens, Books and Art

Posted 31 January 2010 | By | Categories: Art, Books, Gardening | Comments Off on Learning from Gardens, Books and Art

 Collocation No. 14 (NATURE) Left Panel by Mickey Smith

I’m charmed by this “Collocation No. 14 (NATURE) Left Panel” print by Mickey Smith (and its fraternal twin) from 20×200.com (which is having a ridonkulous sale on their prints through the weekend), and it made me think of Cultivating Failure, Caitlin Flanagan’s attack in the current Atlantic on school gardens for taking away from book learning. To which Kurt Michael Friese at Civil Eats replied best summing up my own thoughts:

Ms. Flanagan has chosen to ignore the core purposes of these gardens, only one of which happens to be cultivating a respect for hard work, and only one other of which is a healthy respect for real food. While she notes that the work of the garden has migrated into each of the classrooms, she ignores the obvious point that this demonstrates: There is nothing taught in schools that cannot be learned in a garden. Math and science to be sure, but also history, civics, logic, art, literature, music, and the birds and the bees both literally and figuratively. Beyond that though, in a garden a student learns responsibility, teamwork, citizenship, sustainability, and respect for nature, for others, and for themselves.

Here in New Zealand, I was touched by Maggie Barry’s story of Seeding for Success showing how a school garden program led by Kataraina Nock at the Edmund Hillary School in South Auckland not only engaged students but families and the community beyond. I’m also excited to see The Garden to Table Trust’s initiative for New Zealand Primary Schools where children aged 7-10 will learn to grow, harvest, prepare and share food. The Garden To Table program was inspired by the Kitchen Garden Foundation in Australia, founded by Stephanie Alexander, whose Kitchen Garden Cookbook and Cook’s Companion are two of the books I’ve been enjoying learning from this week.)

Last week I was reunited with the things I saved while dematerializing and moving to New Zealand. I was excited and nervous to uncrate the art I had loved in New York — would I still find it beautiful or have any emotional connection? Would it even arrive intact? On that front, I am so pleased with the packing and crating by WelPak. They lived up to their name completely.

My father noted how uncanny it was that Marc Quinn’s Garden II series of prints (pictured above in part in New York) fit in so well to the new enviornment. But I wasn’t surprised at all… I remember falling in love and wanting to move in and surround myself with the intense blues and greens, the profusion of wild and vibrant flora, the juxtaposition of species you wouldn’t find together anywhere else. Which would not be an incorrect way to describe where I am now in New Zealand. Perhaps the art in part led me here? What yearnings are revealed in the art that speaks to you?

Lazy veggies: Perennial Vegetables

Posted 07 August 2009 | By | Categories: Books | Comments Off on Lazy veggies: Perennial Vegetables

perennialvegetablesExcited to read Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier after reading Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools review. This is how I want to be growing:

In the gardens of paradise, all the vegetables would be perennial. No endless replanting. Just keep picking year after year. Like fruits and nuts. On earth there are more of these heavenly plants than you might think. This book rounds ’em up, with terrifically informative summaries, clear photos, and useful hints. A few of these recurring veggies are familiar — asparagus, rhubarb, artichokes — but most are exotics, so eating/cooking suggestions are given as well. I am a lazy gardener who favors perennials in our landscape garden, so I am inclined to be lazy in the food garden as well. But besides laziness, this is a great culinary adventure — all kinds of Andean root crops I’ve never hear of, and bean trees, and bush spinach — oh my! One hundred new friends. As a bonus the author takes the long-view and makes suggestions about promising varieties that amateurs could breed into better perennials. This is a fabulous book.

A Food Revolution in the Making

Posted 28 April 2009 | By | Categories: Books, Food, Gardening | Comments Off on A Food Revolution in the Making

Great ideas on relocalizing food production from Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of food, in The Huffington Post:

Today, home gardening is on the rise, but most Americans still know very little about where their food comes from, and even less about how the changes in temperature and precipitation associated with global warming may alter national food production. If you break down the fossil fuel consumption of the American economy by sector, agriculture consumes 19 percent of the total, second only to transportation. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a concentrated effort to mitigate its impact on the climate. If we want to make significant progress in reducing global warming we will need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary solar energy.

Resolarizing the food economy can support diversified farming and shorten the distance from farm to fork, shrinking the amount of fossil fuel in the American diet. A decentralized food system offers many other significant benefits: Food eaten closer to where it is grown is fresher and requires less processing, making it more nutritious, and whatever may be lost in efficiency by localizing food production is gained in resilience; regional food systems can better withstand all kinds of shocks.

Here are few examples of how we could start:

  • Provide grants to towns and cities to build year-round indoor farmers’ markets.

  • Make food-safety regulations sensitive to scale and marketplace, so that small producers selling direct off the farm or at a farmers’ market are not regulated as onerously as a multinational food manufacturer.

  • Urge The U.S.D.A. to establish a Local Meat-Inspectors Corps to serve and support the local food processors that remain.

  • Establish a Strategic Grain Reserve to prevent huge swings in commodity prices.

  • Create incentives for hospitals and universities receiving federal funds to buy fresh local produce which would vastly expand regional agriculture and improve the diet of the millions of people these institutions feed.

This isn’t just about government reform. Organizations, businesses, and even individuals like you can help advance these key initiatives and support both the revival of food local food economies and the health of our nation.