Peaceful people, I’m telling you what: By the time you get to the point in “Turn Here Sweet Corn” where Atina Diffley is fighting to defend her Eagan, Minnesota, farm against Koch Industries’ attempts to run a crude-oil pipeline through it, you’re going to want to get yourself a pitchfork and help her and her husband Martin stand their ground.
Published by the University of Minnesota Press earlier this year, Diffley’s memoir is often billed as a David vs. Goliath tale, an inside look at organic farming and a love story combined. That’s an apt description, but readers will likely gravitate to the thread that draws them in. What kept me turning pages was the love. Love between Atina and Martin, love of growing healthy food organically, love of the land and other loves more difficult to define.
“Turn Here Sweet Corn” may have been the words Diffley read on a roadside sign when first visiting Martin’s Gardens of Eagan farm. But those words could just as easily be read as a term of endearment coined by a farmer for his/her love. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Diffley thinks that too as this is no ordinary memoir, and it’s no farming primer either. Warm and lyrical, Diffley’s writing is enviably good by any standard.Read More»
I’ve written about my worm bin a few times over the past several months, so some of you probably know that I started vermicomposting back in February. I’ve wanted to try composting with worms ever since I read Amy Stewart’s book, The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, a few years back.
I opted to start simply with one of those inexpensive plastic storage tub bins that don’t have stackable trays like the more high-tech worm bins do. With the tub, you just layer some shredded newspaper and other things worms like for bedding in the bottom, add red wigglers and then keep them fat and happy with kitchen scraps so they’ll eat, poo and reproduce until you have a bin filled with nutrient-rich worm compost to use on your plants.
After three months, I can definitely say that the tub system worked just fine. It didn’t smell, the worms seemed healthy and food was definitely being turned into vermicompost (poo). But I have to say that I got tired of digging around in a big bin full of decomposing food scraps to see the worms in action. Amy Stewart wrote a lot about how much she enjoyed sipping her morning coffee while watching her worms enjoy eating things like banana peels, and I wanted to do things like that too.Read More»
Years ago, when I was a news reporter at a weekly paper, an editor yelled in my face that I wasn’t fit to be a journalist because I was too easily “spun.” It wasn’t the first time this guy had wigged out at my inability to see the world in the same black and white way that he did. But it was the last. Maybe I am easily spun. I didn’t deny it. I prefer to think, that I can usually tell the difference between someone who is selling something and someone who is offering their informed opinion—whether I agree with them or not.
Sure, it does mess with a well-defined story idea when research and sources don’t take you in the direction you thought you were going to go. But that happens sometimes. In fact it happened with this story I’m posting here, which is a longer version of a recent article I wrote for Norther Gardener magazine about using weeds as soil indicators.
I have read and heard for years that weeds can be good soil indicators, and gardeners who understand what their weeds are saying can remedy soil problems accordingly. “Read your weeds,” people often say. I never paid the idea much mind. But last summer, after hearing that advice for what felt like the zillionth time, I decided to look into it.Read More»
As a master gardener, one of the things I’m supposed to advise people to do is get a soil test before they start plopping plants in the ground. I admit that I’ve chafed against having to say this forever because, honestly, I’ve had a garden for 15 years and I’ve never tested my soil.
Also, I once asked a big group of master gardeners if any of them had tested their soil and not one of them had done it either. Instead, we all admitted to relying on the lazy gardener strategy of putting plants wherever we wanted to and just moving them someplace else if they didn’t do so well. Second time’s not a charm? Move that plant again, we say. After three strikes, hey, give the poor thing away to a new home where it might luck out and get more doting parents.Read More»
Touting new plants always makes me a little nervous because, honestly, nobody really knows for sure how they’re going to do in their first few seasons. Still, I can’t resist trying a few each year, and most do pretty well as long as I mostly stick to plants that can survive in my hardiness zone (4).
Oh, I’ve tried pushing that zone with mixed success. Several different types of lavender have done surprisingly well in different spots in my yard over the years. But butterfly bush—dead, always dead, dead as a dead thing can be.
Oh, well. I remain undaunted. This season I plan to tempt fate with a pretty, carpeting pincushion flower (Pterocephalus depressus). This new introduction is native to Morocco and it’s low growing enough to be used as a groundcover or in between stones on a path. But it would also look good as a border or in the front of beds.
Foliage is gray-green and described as having a bit of a “crinkled” look, which doesn’t sound so hot but looks good in photos. Blooms are pink and mauve and they last from late spring through mid-summer. Gardeners are advised to let the flowers dry so we can enjoy the silver-tinged seed heads. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Zones 5 – 9.Read More»