Monthly Archives: September 2017

Our Yields

Here it comes.  Basket by basket, on the wagon or lugged in hand; here at Tangly Woods September means our hard-wanted, much-labored-for rewards are flowing in from the gardens.  It’s a busy time, no doubt, since fall crops (carrots, turnips), overwintered plants (spinach, garlic), and cover crops (barley, rye, radishes, clovers, etc.) are going in as the spent plants fade.  But the joy is real.  This time of year we live it, and with gratitude.

This year’s writing is made up of 12 ways of saying, in 12 months, that mutual ownership between place and people is the natural end and character of sustainable agriculture. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, this month’s installment will be dedicated to the concept of yields, because they are the telling elements of any agriculture, they comprise perhaps more than anything else the substance of the life a community comes to live and love in a place, and because—heck—it’s September and who can think about much else?

There is a certain tension I experience when I enter a patch to harvest.  This is especially true for plants that are cropped all in one swoop, such as dry corn, winter squashes, or root crops.  The tension derives from the resolution of some open questions:  How did they do?  Did they respond well to our preparation of soil and the tending we provided, or failed to?  What about this year’s weather cocktail or the disease and herbivore pressure?  For cash farmers, this translates financially.  For us it has significance in our home economy, but only indirectly has a cash implication.  The consequences for the success or failure of the plants to yield is more dietary in our case:  What will our meals look like and taste like this winter?  Will the ratio of one crop to another curtail our usual cuisine and/or inspire the creation of a new wave of recipes that utilize this year’s bumper crop?

For me particularly, there is also the identity question:  What does this feedback mean about how I, who seem to so cherish the notion of myself as a wise and skillful garden farmer, must or may adjust my view of my abilities?  Every year has its own portions of juicy delight for the self-concept and a few pieces of humble pie.

Here on our place, I believe we are at the beginning of crafting a stable system of sustenance from this specific land.  It’s an exciting time, as we acquire new seed and/or develop varieties to suit our conditions, then blend and knit them into a cohesive whole.  The yields tell us a lot about how that project is going!

In this age of commercialized agriculture, it is something of a default setting for most of us to think of yields as products to be consumed (or wasted, as the case too often is).  In my concept of sustainable agriculture, yields are better thought of as the raw materials that we receive from our environment and from which we craft our way of life.  You may think this hopelessly romantic and obviated by economic reality.  Not so fast.  I didn’t claim there was no economic significance.  Quite to the contrary, what I am claiming is that pursuit of sustainability leads us necessarily to deriving our way of life from what the earth can be made to yield without exhausting, ever.  I am arguing that the sustainable economy takes its cues and makes itself from some combination of yields thusly derived.  The land sets the limits, the economy is what we can make of what the land allows.

For the purposes of this discussion, then, a person (like myself) might be most fascinated by the question of what limits each place would set on those populating it, and how those folks might turn the bewildering strength of their human ingenuity to the task of orchestrating a full-service lifestyle out of what that place can be sustainably made to yield.  To me, of course, the most interesting place of all of them is ours, and I humbly wish to submit—in the service of stimulating your thinking—our own flawed, compromised, halting, and (I think) intriguing and charming attempt at the ingenious adaptation I propose as the historical—even prehistorical—human standard.

The easiest way to do this is by a celebration of yields.  What is it, exactly, that we find we can rely on harvesting each year at Tangly Woods?  And why bother…what do we make of it?  I will hazard a list organized by general chronology of the year.  Please, dear reader, do consider yourself most welcome to peruse this list at will, but feel under no obligation (in the end this endeavor became a 38 page single spaced document that is likely most interesting to us!).  Skip and skim and dig deep as you choose, and if you find yourself craving more detail…we live to fill you in!  Just ask.  Diving right in then:


Winter—when the sap is in the roots—is the time for us to cut trees.  So far this has only meant the taking of trees that are located inconveniently for competition with other plants or for the safety of our structures.  We burn wood for heat, but not much, since our home is designed to take advantage of heat from earth banking and sunlight infiltration.  We also burn a small amount of wood for recreation and outdoor cooking in our fire ring.  Oak and autumn olive wood logs we have sometimes used to grow mushrooms, and we have several times gotten some of the larger logs milled for lumber.  Acceptably straight Black Locust and Red Cedar poles we put aside for fence, trellis, and shed posts.  But by and large we cut wood to burn.  Eventually we will burn through the several-year stockpile of firewood we have on hand, then burn our way through the several more trees that need removal for the above mentioned reasons, and will finally be able to turn our attention to thinning our small woods.  We have about two acres of young woods in our six acres of land, plus another two or so of scrub land.  I have heard that the average house needs 7 acres of woodlot to supply firewood sustainably.  If the house is well designed and moderate in size, I take issue with that.  I think our supply will probably last indefinitely.

Wood ashes, of course, are the natural by-product (far from a waste product) of burning wood for heat.  Ashes are useful in managing garden soil or compost pH (they are strongly alkaline…only spread a thin dusting on soil!), we use them to nixtamalize corn (soaking with alkali releases the niacin in corn…an ancient practice), and whatever is extra beyond those uses gets dumped in a dry, dusty place for chickens to use for dust bathing…it reduces avian lice and mites nicely.

We use the brush that is generated by taking down trees, too.  Some of it gets chipped for path mulches, most gets stockpiled for converting to biochar.  We like for it to be seasoned for at least 8 months before the char burn at the winter solstice.  Perhaps better said, dormant wood collected in one winter can be charred in the next winter; anything cut after the leaves sprout out in spring I put it in the next pile to be charred the winter after next.  Some twig and leaf decomposition takes place over that time, leaving a nice layer of duff that we use half and half with compost for a potting and seed starting mix.  It is loaded with saprophytic fungal bodies, and seems to be a probiotic disease preventative for seedlings, as well as providing excellent drainage and aeration structure.

One other use of wood is for creating planting areas, especially for woody perennials, by digging a trench, filling it with decomposing wood of various ages and diameters and filling in the gaps as best you can with crumbled up rotten wood and duff, then topping the whole mess with the removed topsoil (we used the excavated subsoil to make a retaining bank for it all in our sloped location).  This is known as Hugelkultur, and if our raspberries are any indication, it WORKS!  Check back in in a few years for a report on its suitability for blueberries.

We also use locust poles for fence and shed posts, use various logs and branches for garden markers and stakes and retainers, and even pull aside a piece or two of wood from time to time for carving or crafting in the wood shop.


We don’t grow this, but we sure use it!  I am inclined to break down into effusive reverence here, and that would be fine.  The fact is water is how almost everything happens on a farm, and mostly we don’t have to think about it.

We have three main sources of water: rain, dew, and the well.  We try to think carefully about every place we have changed land shape such that the resulting forms will slow and spread runoff water in our productive areas, and keep it from turning into a troublemaker for buildings, lawns, and driveways.  Those areas mostly don’t need extra water, so we divert their supply to gardens whenever possible, or store it for later use.  Permaculturists can be heard saying that the cheapest place to store water is in the soil, and I agree.  Generally this means making sure the landscape is receptive to rainwater and the soil has good organic matter and pore space, but purposely stopping it or slowing it to allow infiltration can help build groundwater supplies and raise the water table on a farm.  We have a few of the classic swales one sees in Permaculture designs, and I think they help supply water to nearby trees pretty effectively.  In one case we’ve dug a pit and filled it with rocks in a location where runoff tends to accumulate.  This is near the main vegetable garden, so the hope is that water can soak in there and keep the soil water levels in the whole area a bit higher.  We divert some of our downspout water to a rain garden; an area that can fill with a few inches of water and sink it in a matter of a few hours.  This is the location of our outdoor fire pit, so the sand we placed on the bottom does double duty as fire prevention and infiltration medium.  We also have one cistern that stores roof runoff.  It is our main water source for animal drinking and is what we use to water the blueberry bushes and other plants that might not want or need the high-calcium water that comes from the well.  This is plumbed to a hydrant but not pressurized, so it doesn’t work to use it with a full-scale garden sprinkler or a soaker hose.  But I found that a “sprinkler hose” turned upside down in the blueberry row releases water just fine under low pressure and functions just about like a soaker hose.

Our well is not a strong one, which is one of several reasons our farm will probably never be a heavy-duty market vegetable business. 1.75 gallons per minute won’t take four acres of broccoli plants through a drought.  But it is enough to supply the house without a hiccup, and if we run the home sized (50 x 30 foot pattern) sprinkler less than 8 hours per day, we never notice disturbances in the water supply.  It is a deep well, so during times when it’s not being drawn from it has opportunity to build up a goodly amount.  Our well water is extremely “hard”, meaning it has a high dissolved alkaline mineral content, probably mostly calcium and magnesium.  I think I have noticed that our plants actually do a little better when we have enough dry periods that we have to water some.  I am guessing this is because of the liming effect of the water.  Rain is always slightly acidic, but we are sometimes downwind of some coal-burning power plants (acid rain) and the high CO2 levels on this planet are increasing the carbonic acid content of rain globally.  These combine with our soil’s natural high acidity and our leaf-based composts in ways that gardens don’t favor, I suspect, and a little calcium and magnesium go a long way to making life tolerable for our crop plants.

I don’t know how much difference dew makes, but sometimes it is surely heavy enough to drip into the soil a little.  If we could have two people hold two ends of a hose and drag it across the lawn every morning before the sun come up and evaporates it, I suspect the lawn would be much greener!  We currently employ no such strategies, but just have to accept whatever gifts the dew offers.


Admittedly, our farm only uses a small fraction of the solar energy that strikes us.  But, then, rainforests only use about 2 percent, so we don’t need to feel too badly.

Photosynthesis is obviously the most important yield here.  Trees are in the best position to use light thoroughly and from all angles, and trees that have gaps between them as opposed to a more solid canopy develop or keep side branches that gather light and produce organic matter, nuts, or fruit over a large vertical surface, plus allow herbaceous plants and grasses at the soil surface to thrive nearby.  The productive potential of these mixed systems is phenomenal, mostly because of light management.

Solar energy also functions in other ways for us: passive heating of our home spaces, water heating, and solar photovoltaic electrical generation.  It helps speed laundry drying and the drying of fruits and vegetables in the solar food dryer.  It sanitizes the incubator after a hatch.  It produces vitamin D in our own skin.  The list could go on, of course.

Perennial Spices

Rosemary, Winter Savory, Winter Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Sage; these stalwarts of the spice garden can flavor our food all winter, though in tough winters we have to avoid the damaged branches and we might have to reach under a frost cover for Rosemary.

Chicken Eggs

Due to centuries of selection of chickens, eggs are at least somewhat a year-round assumption.  But with the breeds I included in our breeding stock and without perfected lighting conditions, etc., there is often a slowing of production during winter, which is corrected as the light begins its return in earnest: long about February.  So I include it here.  What would we do without our eggs?  Almost every day for breakfast, and usually they end up in something else, too, throughout the day.  We probably use two dozen every three days most of the time.  With the pasturage our chickens get and with our feeding regimen encouraging foraging, the yolks of our eggs are so yellow they are almost red sometimes.  Eggs are the binder in countless versions of skillet patties, oven casseroles, and pan cakes, and they add structure to breading coatings.  Our cooking is so infused with the properties of eggs…is there any food we would miss more?

Duck Eggs

A few years ago Kali got interested in raising some ducks, and it has been an enduring interest.  Duck eggs are denser in protein and fat and with a proportionally larger yolk than chicken eggs.  Many chefs adore the density and viscosity of duck eggs for use in baked goods.  We don’t bake many cakes, etc., so for us they mostly just end up on the skillet like the chicken eggs.  Ducks fed mostly on purchased feed are probably a bit less efficient than laying chicken hens, but if allowed to forage for most of their feed, some breeds might be able to produce eggs with less purchased inputs than chickens, especially if they have access to bodies of water.  We want that pond!


This is really the first thing of any bulk we get to harvest in spring.  As soon as the weather warms a little in late February or early March, the fall-sown spinach plants (we’ve selected our strain for excellent wintering properties) shake off the frost and start growing.  There is no sweeter spinach to be had than that winter growth!  We love making the large, thick leaves our strain produces into spinach salads with boiled eggs and crunched up home-cured bacon, made lively by a dressing recipe Janelle has so modified (to avoid off-farm inputs or industrial food products) that it may as well be her own invention by now.  Freshly picked spinach is the best kind for a cheesy spinach dip recipe we all relish.  We also love adding spinach to soups and stews and such, putting substantial amounts in the freezer to use this way all year.

Welsh Onion

This is a perennial, clumping onion that doesn’t form bulbs as such.  The neck and green leaves are used.  This may be the original “Scallion,” though immature annual bulb onions are often sold as scallions and used the same way.  Though hard freezes damage the foliage a bit and make it harder to use in deep winter (though I know I’ve hacked off a frozen piece for the skillet in January), it is a delight as soon as it starts growing again, which is early.  We cut them an inch or so from the crown and let them get a head of steam again before re-cutting.  This way we enjoy nice, pungent onion stems, leaves, and scapes from the same plant maybe 4 times each growing season.

Garlic Chives

What an underappreciated perennial vegetable!  Just when you’re really craving something green and perky, here come the garlic chives.  They resemble daffodil leaves, though they come a bit later.  Don’t be fooled…daffodils are toxic!  If you have them planted together, use the smell test on clumps of leaves until you can reliably distinguish them.  I say they are underappreciated, but not so in China, a Chinese friend told us.  She was delighted to see them growing on our place.  We use them for giving a mild garlic flavor to lots of soups and egg dishes in spring and into summer.  Especially handy if you are concerned about how your bulb garlic supply is holding up!  We don’t use them in roasted applications or in place of bulb garlic in pestos or hummus, however.  Best used where the leafy component of their fine flavor is an asset.  They also are reported to discourage voles eating tree roots and bark when planted in the root zone or at the tree base, and they flower in late summer, attracting lots of insects.  These are examples of indirect yields.  We have a carpet of them in our blueberry beds.

Onion Chives

If you have any potatoes left and you know how to sour your own cream from whole, raw milk, might we commend the notion of baking a few of those spuds?  Time for more of that crunched-up bacon.  If you’re really good at storing potatoes, you might even be able to hold out for broccoli to come in.  This calls for a cheddar sauce, don’t you think?  Chives are nice added to lots of dips and dressings and sauces, and they couldn’t be easier to grow.


You know what to do with lettuce.  We like ours ruffly and crunchy.  How do people stab into those flat little salads they serve in expensive restaurants?  Maybe they sort of scoop them up with their forks and shlurp it, plus vinaigrette, right on in.  We prefer to eat it by the bowl with nuts, raisins, toasted seeds, ricotta cheese…whatever looks good at the moment!  Overwintering under cover makes for a slightly earlier harvest, but the recovery from the winter takes time, whereas seed sown in spring makes lively plants, and the thinnings from the row come about as early as the winter lettuce, but they can be annoying to process and they tend to make those swanky, limp salads I disparaged above.  We are tinkering with lettuce to get better wintering, but not much progress yet.  Also, we have had poor luck with Romaine, but we have a strain now that might hold some promise.  Stay tuned.


A.k.a. Yellow Rocket, this is a wild green that starts making edible leaves early, but we get excited about its broccoli-like flowers.  This hasn’t been selected for a long harvest window, so you have to patrol your weedy areas often if you want to get many of these.  Nice in stir fries.


Asparagus may be example number one of how we pay dues for trying to do things our own way.  Was I content to purchase asparagus crowns, manure, amend, and till the soil, dig a trench, plant the crowns, water well, keep weeded, refrain from harvest for a few years, then reap rewards for decades?  No, of course not.  I found wild asparagus growing on our land, dug up the crowns, divided them, hacked poor excuses for holes in our flinty ground, surrounded them with strawberries and rhubarb, and hoped for the best.  Which we did not get.  But amazingly they have come around by now with some better care over the years, and we are starting to get some handfuls each year.  We have also, by the way, purchased and installed some crowns a little more according to orthodoxy, and we anticipate some more customary results that way.  Asparagus ends up in the inevitable, tasty egg scramble, and we love it steamed and salted, or pan fried with garlic.


Sorry to say we’re still getting the hang of these in our homegrown, home-supplied system, but I think we’re on to a method now, so we’ll see.  Anyway, when we have a lot of these, we love to make freezer and canned jam, but most of all they get popped in the freezer capped but otherwise unmodified to take out for fruit salads and smoothies all year (that is, those that are not first popped in someone’s mouth).  The first ripe one each year, of course, gets divide equally among all family members unless someone cheats (they better not tell!).


Ok, so we don’t have a milk animal…yet!  But we have dairy farming neighbors whose raw milk herdshare marketing scheme has the unfortunate property of not being able to use all the milk they want to produce.  They are desperate for people to make use of this excess so they don’t have to endure dumping so much in the manure pit each week.  We hope for them to one day find a more ideal balance between supply and demand, but in the meantime we are happy to help use this gorgeous waste product.  Here’s how:

We drink a bunch of it.

Real, whole, raw cream makes coffee pretty special.

We ferment chicken feed in whole milk to generate a gloppy soured wet mash.  This saves about 50% on feed costs (since the milk has been offered to us free of charge), and because it doesn’t seem as addicting as raw grain for chickens, they tend to forage more, whether pastured in pens or free-ranged.  Their health seems as good or better than on grain feeds, and they lay very well.  Egg flavor is excellent

We make cheese (cottage, farmers, buttermilk, ricotta, cheddar), yogurt, and butter.

The whey and some skin and buttermilk (as well as failed dairy experiments) goes to the pigs, being the probiotic and fermenting medium for their restaurant and T.W. kitchen scraps.  They are radiantly healthy, and we hear whey-reared hogs are superb (milk-fed was excellent last year).


This sprouts and begins growing as frost is dissipating, but it is a few weeks before it’s worth harvesting.  We usually have plenty of the ordinary stuff most people hate as a weed that spontaneously grows in any disturbed soil.  Our friend Adam gave us a variety that has magenta coloration to the growing tips, so harvesting is easy on the eyes.  These plants can be ten feet tall at maturity, and at six feet they are still covered in edible growing tips.  If you like the spinach-like flavor, this is an easy way to grow a lot of nutritious food.  We do weed out most of what sprouts in our beds, but often we pinch off the growing tips as we do and it becomes Indian spiced pureed greens, gets stir fried, or ends up pureed and in the freezer for later use as itself or as a way to make homemade bread or pasta more nutritionally complex.

Beet greens

By now the beets might be up enough to thin.  We use these stir fried or in that Indian greens dish.  Not a fave for us, but we don’t usually waste them.  If you like, you can just wash off the root and chuck the whole baby plant in the skillet.  That’s kind of fun.  Greens from mature beets are also usable, but ours are usually full of holes and scars from insect damage by then, and we don’t love them enough to overlook this, so they go in the pig slop bucket as a rule.


We have finally learned that if we start plants early indoors, we can get them rolling before the flea beetles and cabbage moths get too bad, and if the soil is rich enough the plants grow so fast you can pick off leaves at a rate (every few days) that prevents the cabbage moth eggs from ever hatching.  In weak soil, this doesn’t work; they get caught up with and overwhelmed.  So we are just now finding we can grow spring kale, though we have yet to develop a reliable system or strain that allows for summer and winter survival so we can save seed from the plants the second year.  Anyhow, we love kale steamed or oven-toasted (kale chips), or raw and massaged into crushed kale salad.


This is good in the aforementioned kale salad, and it starts out in spring.  That fresh flavor is very nice.  We trim it back a few times during the season to keep it producing tender shoots. We dry enough for pizza and sauces year round and when there is extra fresh, it makes a delicious unique pesto.


We never have enough dill!  The leaves are excellent with cucumbers in fresh yogurt-dressed salads, or in egg salad.  We also make a beet patty recipe with yogurt cucumber sauce that calls for a lot of dill.  Dill loves tilled soils, and we don’t do much tilling, so it’s not gotten very established for us.  But I think we are getting the hang of encouraging it and it’s starting to colonize more of our garden spaces now; building up its seed bank in the soil.  For some people this is a weed.  We can’t really understand that, but then we make a lot of egg salad and pickles, given the chance.  The immature seed heads (filled out but not dried) are the valuable part for our pickle recipes, both fermented and canned.  The dilly beans are particularly special.


This is a crop with major potential for any small farm with a woods.  But since I am the only one of the immediate family who enjoys them so far (Terah is still a wild card), the motivation to ramp up production is low.  We have done several batches of inoculation, with mixed results.  We’d have gotten better results by following all the instructions more carefully, I’m sure.  Still, I have carried many a handful of Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms into the kitchen over the years we’ve had mushroom logs, and have found a few wild ones in the woods of puff ball, lion’s mane, and oyster.  I was pleased to discover that oyster grows reasonably well on Autumn Olive logs.

Black Locust flowers

Sometime in spring, the Black Locust blooms.  Its pea-type flowers can be cooked or pickled, but we’ve only eaten them raw.  The girls say they taste half like a pawpaw, half like a green bean.  Not a major crop, but fun.

Redbud flowers

Also not a major crop, but much more of a focus than the locust.  These are gobbled by the girls and snacked on by everyone.  They make their way into as many salads as possible during their short season.  Sweet and tangy.


What’s not to love about this plant with the valentine leaves and purple and white, edible flowers?  They pick up garnishing salads where the Redbuds leave off.  The leaves are reported to be edible, too, though we haven’t really tried them.  And how much time have we saved on weeding and mulching in garden paths and perennial beds where we’ve allowed the violets to fill in as ground cover?  Thank you, little plant.


We hear that fennel can become a problem in the garden, but since our kids stuff handfuls of the leaves in their mouths many times when they walk by, we actually have to encourage it a little.  The leaves are the key partner to sage in our sausage making, and if I eat a leaf, then eat a red raspberry I enjoy a lingering pleasure.  This year the plants got heavy in the rain and fell across a walking path.  I cut them at the base and hung them in the garage to dry (lovely scent in the garage for weeks!)  When dry I trimmed the immature seed heads and have been steeping them with my green and black teas.  Especially nice with the green.  Mature seed can be skillet toasted or just ground (coffee grinder works) and added to meat dishes, teas, and more.  Ours does not produce bulbs.  You’re on your own there.


We make use of Peppermint (Chocolate Mint?  What’s the difference?), Lemon Balm, and the fuzzy-leafed Apple Mint.  We also have patches of Spearmint, but so far the flavor has been too weedy to use.  I suspect that is a pH problem or a poor soil problem, but I am not sure.  Anyway, we drink unsweetened mint tea all spring, summer, and into fall, then dry some for winter, also.  Throw a few Anise Hyssop or Holy Basil leaves or flowers in for an extra treat.  Also, you should know about Peppermint Pesto:  Honey, Nuts, Coconut Oil, Mint.  Mill it together.  Freeze in patties and coat it in chocolate if you dare.  I will never be the same.


Crisps, and Peach/Rhubarb or even better Blueberry/Rhubarb jam.  Yum.  Also, Janelle has discovered that it makes a good replacement for lemon juice in most recipes. We harvest in spring when the oxalic acid is said to be lower and Janelle cooks some down, purees it and freezes in ice cube trays to have easily accessible for popping into a recipe here and there.

Red Currant

Maybe it’s my Swedish roots, but I love this tart little fruit.  Mostly we know it as a jam berry, but I think we have a lot to learn about this one.

Amaranth (veggie)

We grow a red-leaved, black-seeded amaranth my Mom used to grow at home in PA.  It volunteers readily, so there are always lots of young plants to weed out as we harvest the growing tip for greens.  Also very nutritious, and used much like Lambsquarters but with a different, earthy flavor.  We tried to use the leaves of our Golden Giant grain amaranth once, I think, and found them courser and less yummy.  This produces enough seed and grows quickly enough to be handy to use as a fill-in cover crop that you can eat before terminating if you want, or if you leave it to maturity you can easily harvest the seed for grain (see below).  Usually we just eat around the edges a little on this one, veggie wise, but at home Mom used to stir-fry it with onions, I think, and add soy sauce and cheese.  Highly edible, and we ate it regularly.

Sour Cherries

Man, I wish we could speak from more experience on this one.  We have one old tree that I barely saved from smothering by multiflora rose a number of years back.  This year we finally got a quart or two before the birds did.  That pie was memorable (sour cherry is my favorite pie).


Unfortunately, I’ve never seen these growing wild here, though I am sure they once occupied their role in the ecosystem of this hillside, as the few intact mountaintop forests in the area demonstrate.  The only one we have growing here at the moment is a low-growing, shrubby type that sends out runners to form a patch.  The few berries we’ve plucked so far are tantalizing, and the time frame of the patch formation process is not something my monkey mind is taking to very well.  Nevertheless, one runner has now sprouted up in the path, allowing me to think about dividing it off to start a new patch.  Once we’ve got a few spots started, the mathematics of the situation will take over and we’ll be where we want to be, able to generate a nice row from our own divisions if desired.  And I think it will be desired!


Our own plants are still putting on their initial growth after transplant; not ready to bear their own crop.  But we live next door to a top-class blueberry patch, and have unlimited pick-your-own opportunities, so we pick and purchase a LOT of blueberries each season.  Mostly they go in the freezer, too, for kid snacks and fruit salads, but jam (with rhubarb for a special treat) and pure blueberry syrup (just blueberries pureed and reduced on the stove to a glossy syrup) are also popular. We tried drying once but it was too much of a production to blanch first and they are so good fresh/frozen.

Stinging Nettle

This is a high-protein plant.  Unless you know the proper folding technique, do not attempt to eat these raw!  Harvested and chopped with gloves firmly in place, once these are steamed or fried or dried their stingers are disabled.  We enjoy their distinctive flavor a few select ways: cooked in one of the infinite variations of skillet eggs, pureed into a soup, and chopped with garlic and mixed into batter for a savory biscuit.  We like the tender growing tips best, so when the plants grow long and start to flower or get woody stems, we scythe them back to start over.  This happens maybe four times each year.  If we could learn to love nettles more deeply, we could probably shrink our footprint substantially.  What a productive plant!  I have just begun using the dried, pulverized plants in my fermented chicken feed.  The chickens readily eat the leaves, but tend to leave the portions of stem that make it through the shredder intact.

Shelling Peas

Like hordes of gardeners everywhere, we use Green Arrow for our shelled pea crop.  We like them raw in salads or for snacking, we love them freshly steamed, and sometimes we even put a few bags in the freezer!  2017 was a paltry crop of peas.  A neighbor suggested it may be a pH problem.  Peas are always a labor of love and a special food for us.  We could enjoy lots more of them than we have yet produced, but it seems unwise to dedicate more space to them before we have found a system that allows a better yield for our labor!  Maybe best to let them be a delicacy.

Sugar Snap Peas

Maybe there is a better variety out there, but we use good old Sugar Snap for our snap pea crop.  Almost all of these are savored fresh, and then a few get sautéed and in a good year the freezer holds a few.  This year was NOT that year.

Snow Peas

Again, 2017 was a poor year for these.  We’ll add wood ashes in 2018 and see if correcting pH helps.  In any case, some of these get eaten fresh, but these are excellent in stir fries whether fresh picked or from the freezer.

Perennial Leek

We’ve only intermittently managed to squeeze regular, annually grown leeks into our garden plan.  However, when we moved here there was already a perennial variety of leek in residence.  It took me a bit to figure out what it was, but now we’re cool.  We harvest the perennial leeks mostly in spring, a little in fall.  In the heat of summer they die back and in the dead of winter they don’t look too appetizing, if they are up at all.  Traditionally leeks are valued for their long, white, blanched shanks.  But if the plant is not too old and tough, the whole thing is edible.  With the perennials, you’d have to hill them up to get blanching, and you don’t want to remove the base or you’ve destroyed the plant.  So our practice is to cut them about an inch from the base and let them regrow.  So the only white part is the interior of the shank.  That’s fine.

Leeks are a nice mild onion flavor that we’ve still got a lot to learn about, but leeks paired with potatoes in a creamy soup are magical.


We can’t eat grass (frowny face).  But chickens and pigs can (smiley face)!  And we can eat them and their products (contented sigh).  The Omega-3 and other healthy components of fresh growing grass thusly accumulate to us, and we are grateful.  But grass is also useful as a fertility-boosting, pest-preventing, moisture-conserving mulch for garlic, beans,potatoes, onions…I could go on.  Grass comprises the soil-holding living carpet that allows places to play and travel around our place.


This is a broad term which includes species whose growth habits and life cycles differ from each other.  What they have in common is a capability to host nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nodes on their roots, which helps them eliminate one of the biggest limiting factors in all of plant growth.  This results in high protein content in their tissues, which is a boon for anybody that can digest them.  Humans can eat some of them in some forms in a limited way, but they are wonderful for stock.  Ruminants cannot survive on an exclusive clover diet, though, as digesting them produces too much gas and the beasts bloat dangerously.

Clovers also leave excess nitrogen I the soil when they slough tissue or when they die, which is grabbed by other plants.  Human use of this property of clovers is as old as history.  We use it here, too, though I would not say we’ve mastered it or learned all the potential.

For us, White Dutch clover is sown in any pasture or lawn seed mixture, and is helpful as a direct animal food and for aiding the growth of the pasture or lawn grasses.  Honeybees love the flowers, but we have no hives.  We’ve also tried White Dutch as a ground cover, and it’s nice under woody perennials but in the vegetable garden paths it promotes slugs and spreads quickly, so while I am easier on it at weeding time in the hopes of gaining a little more benefit before eliminating it, we don’t usually let it survive in the annual gardens long-term.

Crimson Clover is an annual clover with lovely red flowers that we (like nearly every other organic gardener and many conventional farmers and gardeners) like to sow with barley as a cover crop combination.  Now if only I could find an easy way to gather and process the seed on a home scale, I would be even more pleased.

Red Clover is a perennial that is a much taller plant than White clover, and spreads more slowly, without forming such a dense mat.  Mostly it spreads by seed.  We allow it to grow with tall woody perennials, often harvesting the tops for pig food, mulch, and even herbal tea (the flowers and tender leaves near them).

Other various clovers whose names I don’t know help themselves to their niches all over, and I am trying to learn where they might be purposely left in planting areas to good effect.  In a weeding frenzy, I try to pause a moment and consider before popping out any clover.

Creeping Thyme

Years back I had read about how some folks use Creeping Thyme as a ground cover, even for paths, and of at least one person who had replaced their lawn with it.  This seeming too good to be true, I hankered to try it out, but never got around to it until two years ago when I sought a solution to retaining a fairly dramatically sloped raised bed edge that adjoined a walking and barrow path in the vegetable garden.

Well, I’ll be durned.  It works! It mostly outcompetes other plants it encounters as it spreads, and those it doesn’t you can usually terminate easily with one or two careful extractions from the mat of thyme.  It is tolerant of some foot traffic, and its semi-woody, interwoven stems give excellent traction.  It grows low, never casting too much shade on adjacent plants.  It flowers, attracting beneficial insects.  Soil can’t erode from under it, so far as I can see.  Nearby plants haven’t seemed stunted or outcompeted at all, so long as the thyme was removed to a suitable margin prior to planting or sowing, and it is easily removed by humans with tools.  It seems to tolerate poor soil and dry conditions, though I think it is thicker and spreads quicker in nicer soil.  I haven’t noticed that it harbors slugs or that voles especially like making burrows in it.  Sizable pieces of it transplant well to new locations if watered at first.  The only thing we haven’t done with it is spice our food!  For that we seem to be drawn to the standard Winter Thyme, and Lemon Thyme.

I am now cheering this plant on, eager for it to colonize all my garden paths and some bed edges, thereby reducing my weeding time and making all my garden footsteps fragrant.

Anise Hyssop

This is a licorice-scented native perennial from the mint family.  The tender young leaves are scrumptious, as are the young flowers.  It blooms beautifully over a long season, attracting lots of beneficial insects the whole time.  It does not spread vegetatively like other mints, but rather by seed, or perhaps clump divisions, though I have not tried this.


This is a yield?  Well, until we get so good at cover cropping that the soil can be supported exclusively though plants that we intend, I am grateful for the contribution of weeds.  After they have fueled the soil process through their photosynthesis and root exudates, we pull them and compost them in situ or in the compost pile and they fuel it further through decomposition.  And now that we have pigs, pulling smartweed, lambsquarters, dandelion, chickweed, poison ivy, and sow thistle have taken on a new pleasure as I watch them chewing and smacking over them with deep contentment.


Yes, it is true we have eaten our share of groundhog.  Truth be known, an acceptable sausage can be made from the ground meat and maybe even with liver added if it’s a young individual.  But once freezer-burnt it’s not as palatable, so don’t let it languish in the freezer.  We’ve even eaten one in the crock pot with apples.  It was not bad, but I won’t say I loved it.  I could get used to it.

Now that we have started with raising pigs each year, the new solution is to cook the rodents whole and outdoors in an old pot I keep in the shed.  Once thoroughly cooked and cooled, I heave it to the obviously appreciative porcine units.  They eat it so eagerly it scares the baby.


While I’m discussing making use of vermin (see above), I’ll mention how we use mice.  Mostly they yield annoyance and worry about loss of good seed, etc.  But when I trap them in the composting chicken coop, they get dumped on the floor as is, and if the chickens are in the mood it becomes to all appearances their rugby ball until they’ve managed to eat it.  I’ve seen a chicken swallow a small one whole, and if they find a nest of pinkies or if I disturb one and it seems the right move at the time to eliminate it (feeding them to chickens is the most convenient and humane demise I can think of in short order), they eat them “like bonbons”, as I once heard someone describe their chickens’ way of consuming squash bugs.  Lest we forget chickens are really small dinosaurs…


Humble pie again.  We never have great cilantro.  I think our spice garden might be too hot and dry for it, but soil pH might be the bigger issue.  In any case it almost always bolts before we happen to need it, so we typically eat cilantro out of friends’ gardens.  However, the one thing it does consistently yield for us is its seed, in which form the plant is known as Coriander.  When not overapplied, it can be magic for chicken dishes.  And that’s about all I know to use it for, though occasionally when the seed is fresh I crack open the jar just to get a whiff of Froot Loops.  Bizarre, but true.


These were growing on our place when we bought it, planted by someone with a knowledge of obscure but tasty fruit.  They require little care.  Picking can be annoying if you lack patience for avoiding thorns, but once in the hand or in a dish on the table, the mauve little orbs are very nice.  Much like a table grape, but with a firmer skin.  Also good for jam, and I hear they are appreciated in pie.


This is ready just about the end of spring for us.  This year we ended up with around two bushels, all told, and, yes, we will probably use all of that!  What don’t we use garlic in?  If it calls for onions, we often use garlic, too, and when it calls for one or two cloves, we sometimes use a bulb instead.  Favorite uses include flavoring in fermented and canned pickles, mincing for adding to the spice rub for roasted chickens, mixing with oil on the skillet when frying our heritage-type chicken breast fillets (squabbles have erupted over the crispy little chunks), tossing with potato wedges and plenty of homegrown paprika for roasting, and milling into pestos and hummus. We grow all hard neck garlic which means two harvests – first before we pull the garlic we get to snap off and enjoy the garlic scapes (flower stalks), which we make pesto with, use hand over fist for garlic flavoring in cooking in season, give away as many as we can and sometimes freeze some (double bagged).

Wild Black Raspberry

At the woods edges at our place can be found in late spring one of North America’s most delicate flavor sensations: ripe Black Raspberries.  They are also among the most health-promoting of foods.  We are so fortunate to have access to them, and we try not to waste this resource, though not every day affords the chance to go looking.  If the weather has been dry or disease has caught up to the patch, the berries may be small and dry.  This year they were so nice.  We made some time to bring a few quarts in.

Japanese Wine Raspberry (Wineberries)

We pick the fruit of this exotic plant gladly, even as we wonder whether it is best to encourage it to grow around our place.  Native plant proponents at times disparage the Wineberry and its rapid spread on this continent.  I am no expert here, but since it seems nearly impossible to be rid of it, we see little harm in allowing it to live in a few places and enjoying the fruit.  We also are glad for access to a friend’s parents’ woods, which is habitat for a prolific population of these slightly sticky, fuzzy plants.  An evening of picking there in the season’s peak usually nets us a few gallons, and reacquaints us with the ancient pattern of an intergenerational group of humans earnestly seeking out berries where they freely grow.  The flavor of these berries is tart and sweet and otherwise subtle.  When they are juicy they are very good.  For us they are a source of jam, fruit salad, and annual ritual.


We grow barley (with Crimson Clover) primarily as a winter cover crop, but lacking tillage equipment and wanting to abstain from its use in our soils anyway influences us to let it mature and die on its own rather than forcibly terminating the plants while green.  Bonus: Grain!  Yes, it takes time and work, but I have made myself a one-handed flail that I can use to thresh out the dried sheaves on a plank laid across two sawhorses, which saves wear and tear on the back.  This year we ended up with over 70 pounds of barley.  We’ve never met a beer we really liked, and so far it seems silly to feed hand-threshed grain to chickens, so we will have to learn to eat barley in earnest! In the past, we’ve ground and sifted it to remove the tough hull, and the resulting flour is quite good.  But it amounts to a refined and unfortified carbohydrate food, since the bran and germ is probably mostly removed, so I don’t want to stuff ourselves on it.

Spring-bearing Red Raspberry

This is actually more of an early summer crop for us, but who’s splitting hairs?  In any case, when these are doing well (ours did at first, now we are slowly learning how to maintain a healthy patch over the longer term), they can put out a lot of good and healthy fruit.  Jams and freezer for fruit salads or snacking again.  They pair beautifully with peaches, which don’t make the list here for us since we have no trees this early and none that produce reliably.

Spring crop of Everbearing White (Yellow) Raspberry

This plant bears better in late summer and early fall, but if you leave the new canes from the last year instead of pruning to the ground in winter, those canes will produce an early summer crop (this is also true of everbearing reds, of which the whites are a derivative variety). In truth, the best overall results might be obtained by concentrating the plant’s energy into the fall crop by complete pruning, but we love these too much to do that to all of them…we want some to taste at each time!  The flavor is more delicate and smooth than the reds, and a few yellows in a bowl of reds on a walnut wood table is a sight to see.


Basil has a prominent place in our spice garden; we use a lot of it in pasta sauces (canned and otherwise), pesto, dips, and of course with tomatoes and homemade mozzarella.


Crunch!  When the cucumbers come in, they are so welcome!  I eat piles of them fresh…they must contain something my body wants.  By the end of the harvest, my craving has dissipated a bit.  One of our favorite salads involves fresh cucumber, yogurt, dill, and salt.  Fermented dill pickles are hard to beat, but for winter use we also can whatever cucumbers we, um, can.

Green beans (bush and pole)

For bush beans, we use the old standby variety “Provider”, having tried out a few others.  We have found they are very dependable for producing a lot of straight, clean, delicious beans.  Steamed and gobbled is typically the year’s first use for these, but then they end up in all kinds of dishes, from green bean/barley cakes to roasted veggies with garlic to skillet stir fries.  They are very nice fermented with garlic and dill, or canned thusly.  A few of our French Gold pole beans mixed in with the dilly bean or fermented jars sets them off nicely.  We also grow a purple pole bean that tends to provide us with an ongoing supply of steamed beans for the supper table a few times a week long after the bush beans are done.  We also eat some green beans raw, especially the late season Rattlesnake beans, which can be really rather sweet for a raw green bean.


This shrub that shares a genus with the established, opportunistic exotic Autumn Olive comes ripe in early summer for us, and has fruits that are far bigger, and with a smoother and sweeter flavor.  Like Autumn Olive they are Asian in origin and contribute nitrogen to the soil.  Our one bush just produced enough berries to be worth noticing this year.  I hear established planting fairly drip fruit from the twigs, and I look forward to that.  If we notice them cropping up around the farm, we may find that is a yield we don’t want, but on the other hand Autumn Olive is already firmly established here and it seems they would compete for the same niche, so this seemed a likely location to give it a shot.


This tallish, perennial clover has plenty of uses for soil improvement and animal fodder and forage, but we only have one small patch started, so although the animals eat some and I am sure the soil appreciates the help where it grows, it doesn’t figure prominently.

Our most noticeable use for alfalfa so far is the use of the growing tips as part of a tea mix that an herbalist friend recommended to Janelle for general tonic purposes (alongside stinging nettle, raspberry leaf and mint).  We’ve got enough for that!

Raspberry leaf

The growing tips of raspberry canes are also in the tonic tea mix mentioned above.  Now that the hugelkultur raspberries look like they want to take over the world and will require restraining, we have a supply of this resource that we could never exhaust.  Pigs love raspberry leaves, too, especially in spring.  They made it look so good this year that I tried a mouthful…I’ll stick with tea, thanks.


These may have been crucial to the diets of medieval Europeans; for us they are a more marginal crop.  But we do use them as a simple cooked vegetable, grated into a chickpea oven patty with dill, fermented, and pickled (vinegar and some sweetener, canned).  The canned pickled beets are in turn used to soak boiled eggs for a flavorful and colorful food.  If we can get good at saving seed from our favorite Cylindra variety (we’ve achieved it only once so far), we might have motivation to get more into this crop.


Assuming the squash vine borer hasn’t killed all the plants before they could even set fruit (which is a common experience for us), we might get some zucchini like normal gardeners.  We like the Costata Romanesca variety because it is finer-grained than the standard issue and is nicer for drying slices as a tortilla chip substitute.  This year we were brave enough to try it again and were rewarded with a few nice flushes and one fruit than hung on long enough to bear a nice pile of good seed, so we’ll probably do it again.

Trombone squash (Tromboncino) – see also winter section to be extra impressed with this vegetable!

We can’t claim anymore that our version of Tromboncino is true to the original Italian heirloom.  Too many years growing near other Moschata varieties has had its effect, so we are constantly selecting out the off types.  Anyhow, these plants have tremendous potential to produce summer squash of fine texture and warmer flavor than zucchini if the squash bugs, green plant bugs and brown-marmonated stink bugs will kindly quit sucking all the life out of the vines and baby fruits, causing fruit abortion.  Last year was bad for this, this year was fair, though now that the bugs’ life cycles are more complete, the vines are starting to put out some fine fruit again.  Very nice with egg scrambles with basil or savory.

Rabbiteye Blueberry

This species of blueberry (at least the one plant we happen to have…thanks to someone who came before us here) produces at the end of the highbush blueberry season, and its own season lasts many weeks.  If I nibble all the ripe ones each time I walk by (always a good idea) the birds don’t get to it too badly.  The fruit is less intensely flavored than highbush types, having a lighter and more citrusy flavor.  We have not attempted anything other than nibbling with regard to using the fruit.


A friend got us started on shallots a number of years ago, informing us that they were onions you grow like garlic (plant vegetative starts in fall, harvest the following summer).  Sounded interesting.  We tried it once for the experience, and we kept them for the flavor.  Since then we have learned why chefs treasure shallots for sauces and braised dishes (though not searing or hard sautéing like onions, or they will be bitter).  Their warm and bright oniony flavor exceeds what you can achieve with any other allium that we know of.  Our favorite way to use them is to stew them with tomatoes (reducing overnight concentrates the flavor excellently) as an all-purpose savory topping for egg dishes, mac and cheese, etc.  They dry down and store very well, and have the ability to set seed and not exhaust the bulbs, which grow in clumps.  Our population is diverse, yielding bulb clumps of tremendous variability in shape, size, productivity, and color.  We favor the traditional gray/purple color, though, so we are embarking on the long-term project of narrowing the genetics to favor that color and to exhibit ideal usable form and storage characteristics, with good disease and pest resistance.

Monarch caterpillars

Should I open a can of worms by talking about a yield we don’t in any way consume?  I mention these little guys because of how important they feel to me.  Monarchs, in case you didn’t know, have been in serious decline.  Those of us with land need to be letting milkweed flourish where possible to allow more forage and habitat for them.  What a joy to see so many more this year!  May the counts of hibernating butterflies in Mexico this winter be way, way up!

Potato onions

These are sterile (non-seed-producing) clump-forming onions that are planted in fall and harvested in summer, like shallots.  The flavor is more true onion, though.  We have found them to be only moderately useful in the kitchen, since the dryness of the outer skin sometimes penetrates too far into the bulb, such that you either have to tolerate bits of tough skin in your recipes, waste lots of onion, or spend a long time trimming them as you process.  Where they could shine is if you were making a bone broth and wanted onion to flavor that broth as it cooks for a day or so, but where you don’t want or need actual onion matter to make it into the final product.  This species may or may not be grown by us over the long term, but it’s too interesting to let lapse just yet.


This is a tantalizing crop, and there is something gratifying and ancient about winnowing out the chaff and seeing the naked wheat berries lying there in a pile waiting only for grinding and mixing and rising and baking to become BREAD!  Trouble is, wheat may be much harder on soil and on our bodies than we knew, so I view my good feelings in the harvest askance.  But for now that which we continue to grow in excess of the seed needed for next year’s cover crop we will consume with gratitude and pleasure.

Winter Pea

We just now have a large enough supply of this seed to try growing it with the wheat or barley.  I am unsure: Can this product be consumed by humans?  Is it possible, for example, to make split pea soup from the dry seeds?  I ate a few fresh this past year and they were good…like small shelling peas.  So more exploration to do here.


Finally!  We’ve been waiting for nine months or more for a taste of fresh tomato from the garden.  The cherry tomatoes come in first, then the rest start in.  We have two of our own varieties of cherry tomato, one that we are now growing in pots that is a dwarf variety—“Sweet Norita”—descended from an ordinary red hybrid cherry, named in honor of our daughter Nora who had a genetic disorder and died at 7 months’ age.  The other is descended from another hybrid “Sun Gold.”  This one is elongated with a pointed end, yellow in color, rich and mellow in flavor.  We call it “Sun Drop.”  It’s perfect for the kitchen garden, since it produces early, consistently, and long, with nice flavor all the way through, though admittedly, like most tomatoes, the best flavor is in early August when the plants have good vigor, the sun is high, and the temperatures warm.  By mid-September, things have faded a bit.

For table-use slicer tomatoes, we are currently using four varieties:  Black Krim (Brown and purple tones), Kellogg’s Breakfast (Yellow), Mortgage Lifter (Pink/Red), and an unknown green variety.  Kellogg’s Breakfast wins the flavor competition here and has vigorous growth and good productivity, but on all of these we get a little frustrated with the deep cores and some have enough shoulder cracking that spoilage is an issue at times, so we are by no means settled on all these varieties.  This year a friend gave us a new red variety to try that looks very promising!

For sauce, salsa, and dicing, we use Mariana (so we call it…may or may not be like most Mariana types), one of our own we call Sandwich Buddy, Hungarian Paste, and Amish Paste.

Mariana is the star performer when it comes to dicing and salsa.  It is a determinate tomato, and so it bears its crop in a short window, then the plants are exhausted.  This is very handy for efficient processing.  But the best thing about it is the firm texture of the fruits.  Combined with the low moisture and small amount of seeds and goo, I know of no better tomato for adding up to lots of diced tomato product that holds shape and texture through processing.

The Hungarian Paste is our workhorse for sweet-flavored sauce and paste production.  It is early and is still bearing in September.  Given its low moisture content, large fruit size, and the way the pleated fruits sag away from the stem end (permitting the knife-wielder to zip the minimal core off quickly and with minimal loss of fruit), there is no quicker way we know of to process large amounts of tomato matter in a hurry.

Amish Paste.  If you can grow only one tomato, make this the one.  It is dense, yet juicy enough for fresh eating and with classic flavor.  It starts a little later than Hungarian Paste, but is productive and with a long season.  Its slightly elongate and heart-shaped form makes for lots of nice tomato slices from each fruit.  We use this tomato for anything.  I think it would even juice nicely, but would yield a dense juice with rich, intense flavor.

The Sandwich Buddies are still trying to figure out their purpose in life.  They are so called because they are firm and dryish (when you bite down on the sandwich seedy goo doesn’t squirt out the sides), with only a modest core, a pleasantly garbled mix of dry flesh and seed cavity around the edges and a large seed-free middle, and a nice, sweet flavor that wouldn’t overwhelm the other flavors in a sandwich.  But given our lack of confidence in the wheat system and wheat as a crop and food in general, sandwiches haven’t figured too prominently in our diet.  Not ready to let it go yet, we included it with the cooking tomatoes, which it is more like.  But we grew it in low cages and it grew much more vigorously than usual this year, such that it flopped onto the ground and much of what ripened rotted or was attacked by hungry chickens.  Better luck next year.

For generating lots of sun-dried tomatoes with an ideal flavor balance, we can’t beat Principe Borghese.  This year we also ate a stunning quantity of them out of the ever-present (in season) bowl in the middle of the table, but honestly as a fresh tomato they are a little bland.  When dried the flavor is concentrated, though, and comes out just right, whereas standard cherry tomatoes can be a little too intense when dried.

Matt’s Wild Cherry, by the way, has also made itself at home in a few places around, and it is welcome as a weed, but we don’t try anymore to bring many of them in the house.  The harvesting method that makes the most sense for these little guys is to clip the whole raceme when ripe and stack them in a bowl for casual plucking as desired.  Often they didn’t get used before spoiling, so mostly we have ignored them.  But sometimes when you are working outside in the heat and you come across some ripe little tomatoes, they are just the thing.

Despite the chickens having helped themselves to nearly every cooking tomato within reach (and a few they had to jump for), we canned diced tomatoes, salsa, pasta sauce, pureed/reduced tomatoes to use as paste, and tomato/shallot sauce, and this was the first year I don’t think we used any supplemental tomatoes from market gardening friends.  If we put that fence in this winter, the tomatoes will keep us hopping next summer!


We are several years into the development of our own storage bulb onion variety, so this yield is of particular interest to us.  Some other folks have had chances to try this strain now, and the feedback is positive, one friend reporting a new bed, 3 feet by 30 feet yielding about a hundred pounds.  There are always a few conversations around the time the onions are starting to look ready as to when the optimum time for harvest will be and how close we can get to it given our schedule.  This year we went a little earlier, just after a small dry spell, just before a rainy stretch was due, and while only about 20 to 30 percent of the tops had spontaneously fallen.  My hunch was that some of the pesky storage trouble we see every year was encouraged by onions with dead tissue sitting around too long in moist soil conditions.  My concern, on the other hand, was that if we took them in with greener tops they might dry weirdly.  The jury is still out on that last question since we haven’t gotten into the winter supply yet, but so far so good on the storage question.  I haven’t pulled any rotten onions off the braids yet.

We use bulb onions almost every day in winter if we have them.  We would use more than we can currently produce, I think, but they are more labor intensive on weeding and watering than some other crops, so we have found it impractical to grow a larger planting.  We’ve tried a few seasons of that, and it always gets away from us so the yield is not more than a smaller, better tended planting.  As such, we think of the onion crop as precious, and I fuss over the drying, then the braiding of the bulbs.


There is little more beautiful than the blue-green leaves and stems of rye, laced with the purple flowers of the vetch that is its growing partner, waving in the summer breeze.  Its yield is mostly in the soil, as each plant develops miles of root fiber that decomposes as soil organic matter.  This is a traditional practice among organic farmers for soil regeneration, though there is some question about whether the net result is as beneficial as was thought, as cereal grains other than oats may also promote oxidation of existing organic matter.  That question unresolved, we nonetheless have, for several years, enjoyed some fresh rye flour as a byproduct of the cover crop.  My Scandinavian heritage is pleased.

Hairy Vetch

Rye’s cover crop partner, the presence of this plant in the mix may buffer the possible oxidative effects of the cereal grass, and certainly leaves more nitrogen in the soil by living there.  We don’t know if we can eat these seeds, but we are grateful for not having to buy them each year.


I didn’t like peppers much growing up.  Then I ate a ripe bell pepper, which changed everything.  Why did we only know about the green ones?  Weird.  Anyway Janelle and I always tried to grow nice bell peppers and always had a hard time.  Then we tasted Carmen peppers, and life changed again.  Amazingly, these long, slim, fruity treats were easier to produce!  However, Carmen being usually a hybrid, we had a challenge saving our own seeds.  By now, however, we have worked a few bugs out of our growing system and are beginning to isolate a nice strain, so this year’s harvest was very satisfying and is ongoing.  Liberal consumption of fresh slices—with or without dips—is the crucial point, but what would we do without peppers in our pasta sauces and salsa?  Any fruits not consumed fresh, in daily cooking, or by the summer recipes for winter use get diced and frozen in bags.  A person could also freeze strips for fajitas, but we’ve decided to keep it simple for now.

Not quite content with only red peppers, we have acquired a strain of yellow bell pepper that does a little better for us called Corona.  It seems to have crossed with some of our others, though, so we have another re-selection to do, which is great because that is the way we get a tailored strain for our own conditions!  Ideally we’d love a non-hybrid yellow strain of Carmen-type…maybe one will emerge.  There is a yellow Carmen commercially available, but I believe it’s a hybrid.


Apples occupy such a long season it is hard to know where to place them in this rough chronology.  We get precious few apples from our young and/or pest-beleaguered trees, but we have a few sources for apples from trees that friends don’t use much fruit from.  Often these are the summer sauce apples such as Lodi or Green Transparent, which is why I placed them here just after the peppers.  These opportunities tend to come on all of a sudden, and it’s not everyone who is ready to dive into a huge picking and processing project on short notice.  So it falls to us, and we are grateful.  It wouldn’t be summer without at least one long day of chopping, cooking, cranking, and canning a few bushels of apples!  Excess sauce can be cooked down on the stove, in the crockpot (lid off), or what have you for apple butter.  We had two great opportunities this year, so there are probably a hundred or more quarts on the shelf!

Sweet corn

We don’t grow any of our own sweet corn yet, though we just made plans for a cooperative patch at a neighbor’s place where they have a stout deer fence.  Still, we have our names in with locals who know about gleaning opportunities, and we are willing to sort through a bedraggled, picked-over corn patch to find the good corn, so we’ve managed that way.  We always save out a few ears for eating off the cob, but most of it gets done up in one or two big days, and gets socked away in the freezer.  This enters soups, becomes a side vegetable, becomes a component of a squash-based summer gravy over potatoes or maybe gets added to salsa.  Worms in the ears are a good sign…we prefer to use corn from a patch that was not sprayed.


Grown here primarily as a cover crop (it is probably the most beneficial for soil of all the cereal grains due to its promotion of non-oxidative soil conditions), oats show strong potential as a feed crop to grow for chickens.  With its tough outer covering, unhulled oats don’t appeal as irresistibly to chickens as, say, wheat or corn.  So they are less likely to gorge on it, and will choose foraging as a greater percentage of their diet.  If they get hungry, the oats are there for them.

We harvest enough oats despite the attention the chickens and cardinals give them to keep a strain going for cover cropping purposes, but it is too complicated to harvest and process by hand to have seemed worthwhile to grow for person food, despite the fact that we use commercially produced oats in our kitchen with regularity.  Maybe one day we’ll get serious about them, or figure out how to grow the hulless kind without the birds getting them all.  Not yet.


We are late comers to including flowers in our garden plan.  We’ve been focused on feeding our bodies, possibly to the neglect of our spirits!  But this year we gave Janelle’s Mom—who loves flowers—the birthday gift of us preparing space and raising plants to fill it of several varieties of flowers of her choosing.  The zinnias and African marigolds, indoors and out, have been turning my head all season.  A splash of color in the field of vision does something to a person.  Thanks, Mom!

Paprika Peppers

How could it possibly be worth growing, deseeding, slicing, drying, and grinding one’s own paprika, you ask?  Well, have you ever tasted the home-grown version?  I’ll wager not.  It’s worth it.  Also, my Hungarian genes are rooting for it.


Starting with Cajun Jewel and Clemson Spineless, we now have a strain of Okra that seems to be relatively reliable for us, though our patches still don’t wow us.  Still, we get enough for some with okra out of the freezer in winter, and we always bread and fry a little a time or two along with eggplant each summer.  We are eyeing plans to expand.  Okra is a tropical African crop that is not especially well suited here; we know we’re pushing it!  But we’re sort of in the pushing it business, in many ways. It’s very easy to freeze – we just keep a quart bag in the freezer and chop into it until full and start over again.


Our oldest daughter is the one who wanted to try pioneering this one this year.  We’ve tried it before, but flea beetles have got our number with eggplant, so it’s been a no-go.  She took pains, though, to cover the plants when young, so she brought in enough to fry a few tasty fruits and save seed from the best.  So maybe it’s launched.  We’ll see.


We grow Crimson Sweet Virginia Select.  What we love about it is that it doesn’t seem to matter what size they are or how well they got pollinated, they are always pretty good, and some of them are exceptionally sweet with rich watermelon flavor.  We feel our variety is getting better by us keeping a high standard and only keeping seed from the best performers.  It’s always fun to run the taste tests together, everyone spitting the seeds, if the melon is good, into the same dish.


After trying four or five varieties, our soil seemed best able to support Caravelle, at least well enough to produce consistently yummy melons, and that has held true for several years now.  Even I, who have accused cantaloupe of tasting a bit like dirty socks, like this melon.


One version of paradise is a place where you get to eat all the peaches you want, ripe off the tree, for free.  In this world, successful organic methods are just now being understood, and not by us yet, so our harvests are slim.  We enjoy every one we get.  If we had all we wanted of peaches, we would freeze a bunch for fruit salads and smoothies, and can a bunch for off-season use as a special treat with cottage cheese atop a bed of lettuce, the basis for peach kuchen, and just plain slurping down.  Someday maybe!


Here, too, successful organic methods have not gotten as far as us yet.  But unlike with tree fruits, backyard growers can often get a crop from their vines that might not be retail-worthy but is certainly usable.  This year we got two decent dishpans full of bunches from our young vines, which was more than we could eat fresh, so we froze a few grape pie fillings (which Janelle is crafting into pies for my birthday party later this week!).  Our neighbors have a small market vineyard that provides us gleaning opportunities, so we usually get to juice a bushel or so, which is most welcome.  This year untimely rains compromised much of the Concord crop, so several of us neighbors gathered together at our place and got two juicers going, ending up with over seventy quarts of juice.  The yield was excellent, and the juice was nice, too!  We live for neighborhood events like that.

Thornless Blackberry

We don’t know all our variety names, but we’re glad for the few plants we have, dug from friends’ and neighbors’ plantings, that produce a long, lingering season of berries, the flavor of which does not usually knock our socks off, and the timing of the picking of which can be a little touchy (a day too early and they are too tart – though our Kurdish neighbor friend loved snacking on them green.  A day too late and they are too soft), but which liven our yogurt snacks for a month or two.  The season is almost over as of this writing.  We’re getting the hang of growing them now, so we hope the long row we’ve planted has good flavor, and if not we’ll consider finding one with excellent flavor and learning to grow it.  The health benefits are wonderful, and when blackberries are good they are really good and can be rewardingly productive.

Medicinal Herbs

Yarrow, Pokeweed, Elder, St. John’s Wort, Ground Ivy, Sumac, Wormwood, Chamomile, Valerian, Calendula, Artemisia, Meadowsweet, Milkweed…the list could go on, but in truth I am writing in ignorance.  All I really know about this is that herbalist friends have liked what they have found here, and these are some of what they have come after.  The only thing I have done in the herbal remedy department is failed to cure my warts with milkweed sap and attempted a worming regimen for the hogs, after I saw a nice specimen of parasitic worm hanging from the afterwards end of one of their digestive systems.  I can’t say whether my mixture of garlic, rosemary, and wormwood added to their slop buckets for seven days straight two different times a month apart (and with diatomaceous earth added to every day’s bucket as general practice now) has helped or not.  I haven’t seen one since, but I had never seen one before, either.


The Elder plant is one of those that just keeps giving.  The fruit tastes good and when cooked and sweetened a bit, it’s loaded with health-promoting phytochemicals, the flowers draw hordes of beneficial insects, the plant grows so vigorously it is considered an over-producer of carbon (that it sucks out of the atmosphere) by those who study such things, it is inspiringly beautiful, and herbalists love the whole plant, calling it the “poor man’s apothecary.”  I will say that the syrup of this plant made with honey is undeniably soothing, but beyond that I am uneducated on these matters.  In any case, I am always amazed how much is happening in one little spot when that spot is occupied by Elder.

Wild Black Cherry fruits and pits

The chickens and ducks eat these a little, as we found when butchering recently, since there were some pits in the gizzards.  We sampled a few for the first time and found that when fully ripe they were better than we thought, but plenty small.  They might make good juice.  But the real customers are the hogs, which search for them diligently on or just under the soil beneath the trees, and seem to really enjoy crunching the pits to get at the nut in the center, which might be pretty good, being related to almonds.  We have no way of gauging the value of this yield to us, but judging by how much the pigs think of it, it may well not be incidental.


This plant supposedly releases phosphorous bound in the soil, and grows so quickly it can outcompete most weeds in tilled ground, then is easy to till in when it’s time for the new sowing.  We don’t till really, so my way is generally to cut the green plants with a sickle and knock the seeds off by slapping the plants against the sloped front edge of a wheelbarrow tray.  Most of the seeds end up in the wheelbarrow that way, and we dry them for the next year’s cover crop, which for us follows onions in rotation.  One year the chickens didn’t eat much of it, so we had enough to eat a little, and it was good.

Red and White Raspberries-fall crop from everbearing plants

September is the thick of the season for these berries, and this year is a good one.  Currently we are picking a generous handful of white raspberries every other day, and close to 2 quarts of reds.  They are starting to accumulate in the freezer!  That means good fruit salads all winter.  Red raspberries are hard to beat for jam, and now that our hugelkultur bed is cranking, it looks promising that we might get to branch out into pies and tarts.  If my Swedish great-grandfather could know that, he would like it.

Black-seeded Amaranth

The same plant that produces the edible, nutritious leaves mentioned above, when allowed to fulfill its life cycle, bears small, black, hulless seed that is an ancient grain.  At first I found it hard to process the seed.  Drying the seed heads usually resulted in mildew, so I went to beating the heads to loosen seed when freshly cut, then drying the seed independently.  This year I have found that allowing the heads to wilt for two days or so before crunching them in the hands and then beating them with a stick inside a large plastic tub.  The seed falls out much more cleanly, what chaff is there is less humid, and the heads don’t have time to get moldy.  After drying the grain for a week or so in a thin layer, it can be winnowed in front of a fan, then sloshed around in a mixing bowl such that any remaining chaff surfaces and collects on the top and can be removed in pinches.  Then it will be clean enough to use.  In any case we like to soak a bit of this overnight with our rice before cooking.  It speckles the rice beautifully with black and complexifies the nutritional profile.  For us, this plant fills the gap between shallots and the following fall’s cover crop of rye.  This year, we are going to have a much bigger harvest, so maybe the rice will have to be the decoration!

Spaghetti squash

Shying away from cereal grains as we do, but loving tomato sauce as we do, spaghetti squash is coming to occupy a more important niche in our diet.  Here again the plants have crossed liberally with other squash types, with some visually inspiring results!  We just hope the flavor is ok on these oddballs and that they show good spaghetti-string character.  If so, we’ll let them be whatever shape and color they want!  If not, we will happily consume the seeds with the squash.  This is another Tangly Woods strain in the making.

Delicata/Sweet Dumpling squashes

These are one of the prime culprits for corrupting our Spaghetti squash strain.  But we forgive them, because when deseeded, sliced, and boiled for 7 minutes, they are a shockingly good quick lunch solution, and when split lengthwise and baked, with a little melted butter applied, it is hard to believe it took me to my adulthood to find out about this food.  Taste testing these squashes is a favorite fall family activity around the dinner table, and the results after just two generations of this have been encouraging.  These are ready to eat about two weeks after harvest, and should be used by Thanksgiving or Christmas at the latest for good flavor.  The seeds are also very nice skillet toasted in lard or butter and salt.  Sprinkle them on a bisque soup for savory crunch.


A good crop of figs is not something we expect with our growing season which is plenty short for them, but each year we get to enjoy a few nice handfuls from our three plants, amounting to maybe 50 total.  They give us a burst of tropical luxury just as cool weather is starting in, and the season is too short for the flavor to become ho-hum.

Pennsylvania Dutch squash

This is like a butternut on steroids.  The vines can grow to 30 or more feet, and each plant can produce a few long-necked, tan fruits weighing 8 or so pounds (or more) and with a sizable bulb at the end.  The texture of the flesh is juicier and with a more fragrant, fruity flavor than butternut, especially when you wait until after Thanksgiving to eat it, which is traditional.  We love that you can slice off the amount you need from the neck and it will heal over with dried sap.  If you take your next slice within a few days, no deterioration usually occurs.  We bring in usually a few hundred pounds of these squashes, baking them for taste tests, then scooping out the flesh for mixing with breakfast or snack yogurt, freezing in the ice cream maker and eating with berries atop, converting to bisque soups, or any other application of pureed squash or pumpkin, including delicious pies.  It replaces butternut very well in any recipe cubed also.  The seeds, if they are not from an exemplary individual, get skillet toasted and are usually very plump and nutty.  The flesh of the bulbs is a bit stringier, but purees fine and has good flavor.  The fruits will last in storage until early summer of the next year, or maybe longer in idea conditions, but in our experience they are best before about April.

Trombone squash, winter

And this is like a PA Dutch squash on steroids!  The vines are similar, but the necks are often twice as long.  This year we have another 50 incher, and the biggest one hit 17 pounds.  Having been bred as a summer squash, the flavor of these Moschata (same species as PA Dutch, Butternut, and Cheese Squash) winter squashes is not as developed as the others, typically, though we have found it to be perfectly acceptable and better than you expect from most grocery store butternuts.  Storage is simple if you grow them on a trellis as we do:  Just stand them in a corner!


We have three chestnut trees of nut-bearing age.  They were planted over two decades ago by the woman we bought this place from in 2005.  There was some suggestion they are American chestnut, but I feel sure they are the more common Chinese.  In any case, as summer comes to a close they start dropping mast (two of the trees are earlier than any others in the neighborhood), and this year was a large crop.  We probably ate 3 or 4 gallons and gave away about 7.  Now the squirrels are catching on, so the season has ground to a halt.  We always had bad luck with them in the toaster oven in the past, not knowing what we were doing, and had taken to scoring the nuts with an X shaped cut and boiling them ten minutes or so, then peeling and eating.  A fine food, but laborious.  Then recently around an outdoor fire Kali suggested with try roasting some that way.  I sent her for the campfire popcorn popper and we tried it.  WOW!  Much better.  Half dried, a little singed, a little smoky, and they almost tumbled out of their shells.  Since then we have skillet-toasted them, used the stovetop popcorn popper, roasted them in the oven, and even did a batch in an outdoor pizza oven, but have boiled very few.

Once out of their shells, they pair nicely with Brussels Sprouts, or they can be further enhanced by spending some time in bacon grease on a hot skillet, sprinkled with salt, and devoured without shame.

Hot Pepper

Two varieties, Serrano and what we think of as Thai Dragon make up our hot pepper crop.  This year it was four plants of each, which might have exceeded all previous harvest records for hot pepper except that the acidity trend in our soils or some other factor may have hindered the Serranos, which make up the bulk of our take in most years.  The Thai Dragon we now grow in pots, and they are tiny buggers on a little bushy plant; boy, do they pack a wallop for their size!  The Serranos are plenty hot themselves, but much bigger, juicier and fruitier, so they form the background for our four-ingredient, very satisfying hot sauce (smoked salt, garlic, apple cider vinegar, hot peppers).

Golden Giant Amaranth

We sow this after we harvest our garlic in June.  Harvested just like the black-seeded variety, this kind produces a seed that is not only hulless, but lacking a seed coat.  As such it is even more amenable to eating in bulk than the black-seeded.  We soak it overnight before cooking as a breakfast porridge.  Without soaking the flavor is a bit rougher and more earthy, and our daughter gets a stomachache from it.  With soaking, we all like it with oatmeal-style toppings like nuts, dried fruit, and a touch of maple syrup.  This is the same kind of high-protein grain you can buy the flour of in health food sections, and I think it’s the easiest grain for home growers to grow, process, and utilize with minimal effort and no specialized tools.  We expanded our garlic planting this year, so naturally the Golden Giant crop will also be larger.  Looks like lots of amaranth porridge this winter at Tangly Woods!  Maybe we’ll even branch out and grind some for flour.

Ragi Millet

I think this is also known as African millet.  Anyway it was another of Kali’s ideas that we decided to keep.  It is drought tolerant, produces in marginal soils, and seems to me to add a lot of organic matter to the soil it grows in.  We have grown it alone, as a companion to black beans (worked), and as a ground cover in the P.A. Dutch squash patch, which tends to ramble far and leave gaps that we prefer to see filled with crops than weeds.  Where the squash wants to grow, it seems able to grow over and through the millet.  Would the squash fill in more completely and produce better without the millet?  I can’t say.

We thresh the heads by scuffing them on a rough surface with our shod feet (a flail doesn’t do much to it), during which process the most wonderful grainy smell is released!  The resulting tiny grain has a sweet flavor, adding something special to breads and muffins.  We liked it pretty well as a stand-alone porridge, too.


I don’t know how to grow sesame, and I really don’t know how to thresh it or use it.  But somehow I’ve got a handful of plants out there full of pods and headed for harvest, so I guess I had better learn!  This is our first season, so the primary yield thus far is fascination.  Why, I ask myself, are all the plants fuzzy except that one?


I have yet to successfully grow chia to maturity.  It seems it likes a long season, which we don’t have, and being an experimental crop, it always has to wait for last in the priority list, so I’ve never really given it a fair shot.  However, the unintended learning from that has been that Chia is a vigorous plant from a tiny seed that critters don’t seem to eat which puts on a lot of growth in a hurry, and if you plant it any time after May in our location it’s too late for it to set viable seed.  Eureka!  The ideal cover crop, because the small seed makes distribution a snap and you can let frost kill it without risk of it dropping a lot of seed to become a weed.

When we eventually master the growing of Chia as a crop plant, I suspect we’ll find the tiny, high-omega-3 seeds a valuable addition to our cuisine.  I believe this is a North American native plant adopted by some pre-Columbian cultures as a staple crop.  It is supposed to be tolerant of poor soils and drought.  I believe it, based on what I’ve seen.  I am keen to welcome it into our mix.


I have never grown Quinoa.  I have never even sown it.  But in my mind’s eye the tall plants with the scent of the Andes give up their grain under my flail, and I triumphantly carry a bowl full of clean, winnowed grain in to the house to show my dutifully impressed family.  It is so far, then, a yield of the imagination.


We’ve sown these as a companion to oats.  I still think that’s a promising idea, but thus far the variety or our soils or our growing style haven’t been quite right.  I have seen sweet little plants and sweet little pods on those plants.  I’ve even opened the pods and seen perfectly formed, tantalizing lentils inside.  But we have yet to harvest any beyond that.  By the time we’re ready, they are overwhelmed by weeds or laying in the dirt or eaten by animals.  We would eat a lot of home-grown lentils if we could.  I know this because we eat a fair amount of bulk lentils from the mail order co-op as it is!

Sweet potatoes

The ground around the vine bases has heaved, and there is a forty degree night on the weather forecasting horizon.  In our view, it is soon time to dig the sweet potatoes!  We usually go through a few hundred pounds of these each year.  We grow Beauregard and have started with Mahon Yam (not botanically a yam, but a true sweet potato).  Both of these are similar: bright orange flesh with moderate dry matter.  The Mahon Yam is a little smoother in texture, and a tad less sweet, than our old standby Beauregard.  Both store well under dry, cool (not cold) conditions until the following summer or maybe longer if needed.  Sweet potatoes pair nicely with chicken and spinach in one of our favorite winter soups, oven-roasted chunks tossed with garlic and olive oil are a staple, they are nice baked and topped with sausage gravy, and the girls love to snack on boiled pieces of them…another good quick lunch option.  A family favorite is to bake pieces of them with apple pieces and sausage or made into nutty sweet potato waffles.  One way we don’t eat them: pureed, sweetened, and baked with a layer of marshmallows on top!  This traditional Thanksgiving dish is the reason I always thought I didn’t like sweet potatoes as a kid.  A well-cured sweet potato is so fragrant and sweet on its own…must we drown it in sugar?

Black Walnut

This continent’s most distinctively flavored nut, and a producer of fine lumber, the black walnut is high in omega-3s and probably all kinds of other health-promoting substances (even though the plant bears its share of toxicity as well for many plants and animals).

Alas, we don’t care for them too much, though we are keen to be converted, given the harvest potential on all sides at Tangly Woods.

However, we recently took our first foray into using the shell husks as a fabric dye.  This successful experiment turned our poor, dingy futon cover (word to the wise…never buy a creamy white furniture fabric just before embarking on the childbearing years) a dignified gray-brown, almost stainproof color.  In our excitement, a few pairs of socks and underwear, plus a pair of my shorts and two of my shirts ended up the in the pot, too.  Fun.

Dry beans

Currently our dry bean regime is limited to what pinto beans we can grow in our potato patch, though we have a start of black beans and a few others.  We still buy more than we grow.  But having learned a bit of the knack of hand threshing is whetting my appetite for more such crops!  I have to reign myself in so as not to overwhelm our growing capacities.  I wish I could say we notice a huge difference in flavor, and in truth there may be some such benefit from naturally dried beans (no propane necessary), but mostly they taste like regular beans.  The real benefits to us are ecological (beans add nitrogen to the soil and make a good growing partner with potatoes), economical (a tiny bit less participation in the waste and destruction of industrial agricultural systems), and psychological (we grew our own beans!).  They become soups and refried beans in our kitchen.  A particular fave is refried beans topped onto Navajo Fry Bread for an open-faced oven taco.

Ground Cherry

These little annual fruits in paper husks on sticky-stemmed plants are in the category of weeds that don’t always get pulled.  We leave some grow in marginal spaces.  None of us adore them, but they are interesting and it’s good to know you can eat them in a pinch.  I nibble them while I work, and the classic use is pie.  I hope to pick a few quarts soon for a relative who craves just one good ground cherry pie per year, and hasn’t gotten one yet for 2017.

White (Irish) Potatoes

We don’t know what our main variety is, since we got them from a friend originally.  They are just an ordinary white spud.  Yukon Gold makes up a quarter of our crop.  As soon as the pinto beans are done and out of the patch, it’s time to dig the potatoes, too.  Our soil has not so far yielded as many of these as we might like to see, but I am hopeful that this year’s soil preparation (including laying biochar in the trenches before planting) has helped…we shall see.  Regardless, the crop we do get, be it large or small, will be used baked and topped, roasted in the pan with chickens or other meats, roasted as oil-tossed wedges in the oven with hope-grown paprika and garlic, mashed for a side dish for a meat/gravy meal or used as the main layer in Shepherd’s pie, and boiled in chunks for topping with summer gravy or sausage gravy.  For a special, once-a-year treat, drop some pieces in the hot lard kettle as it’s rendering over the fire at hog butchering time, fish them back out, salt them a smidge while they cool a few minutes (please! Be safe) and then devour with great relish and fine bonhomie. And following that hog butchering, some potato donuts fried in lard are nothing short of amazing!


This would fall in the “humble pie” category mentioned above.  We’ve hardly ever had as much parsley as we could want.  I think the trouble is that the roots of the parsley plant are affected by a pest that also prevents us growing spring carrots, but spring planting for parsley is most desirable since you want the spice throughout the growing season and it doesn’t overwinter reliably for us.  So the plants look great at first, then they decline and by the end of the summer we often go to the spice garden for parsley and return with a sprig or two instead of the fistful we went after.  This year we tried a fall sowing, which is what has been our carrot key…we’ll see. We have been grateful to friends who have taken our extra parsley plants, planted them, had great yields and shared some with us!


We love the flavor of homegrown peanuts (peanut butter made with coconut oil, skillet-toasted peanuts!), and they are a fun plant to be sure.  But we learned our lesson a few years ago when we sowed four one hundred foot rows of them…weeding was laborious in that unrefined soil, the yield was not astounding due to shortish growing season, and picking the pods off of the dried plants, not to mention shelling the seeds out was tedious and long and yielded less product than justified all that time.  Still, we keep tinkering with small amounts, having sown a 16-foot double row this year interplanted with some sweet potatoes; since they both need to be dug and are ready at the same moment of the year, it seemed at least one step could be minimized and maybe having more jobs available at tuber-digging time could reduce squabbling among young’uns over who gets to retrieve sweet potatoes, when, for how long, etc.  If the sweet potato yield is not too reduced in those areas and if the ages of children prove amenable to completing the processing without too much ardor for the busy parents…it sure would be nice to tick “eliminate purchase of peanut butter” off our mental ‘to-accomplish’ list of homesteading successes.


Ours is the American native species.  The first ones at our place come ripe in September, but the heart of the season is probably October.  Some years fruits will freeze-dry on the tree and we can snack on them into January.  Otherwise, picking the persimmons directly is usually a bad idea.  They are too astringent when underripe to be edible, and it is rare to find a fully ripe one still on the tree.  Typically these are picked by collecting any that aren’t too smashed off of the ground, then slurping down the jelly-like flesh and spitting out the large, bean-shaped seeds.  If a person finds enough of them that way or takes it to the next level by holding out a sheet and shaking the tree to dislodge ripe fruits, the flesh can be milled off the seeds in a Foley mill or with a spoon and a sieve.  Our favorite way to use quantities thusly gathered is in a chocolate persimmon muffin recipe we came across.  It is one of those magic combinations you might not have predicted.

Black Oil Sunflower

No, we don’t have an oil press, sorry to disappoint.  Therefore, we can’t really make direct use of this lovely plant.  For us it is a cover crop, carbon generator (chipped dried stalks make good chicken bedding), insect attractor, bouquet contributor, and bird magnet.  We don’t thresh out enough to cover Janelle’s dad’s feeders’ winter demand (not by a long shot), but goldfinches, chickadees, and titmice home in on it before I would even call it ready to shell out.  To get enough for next year’s sowing, I have to cut the tops while the stems are still green, when I judge the seed is far enough along to mature off the plant.  I hang the tops in bunches in the garage (out of reach of mice), then smash the seeds out and winnow them when the whole mess is dry.  We may give a try to large, snackable sunflower seed varieties soon, now that we know how to grow them reasonably well.

Autumn Olive

Late September through November sees lots of tiny red high-lycopene fruits appear over the acre or two of resurgent scrubland that is a near monoculture of Autumn Olive on our homestead.  We snack on them regularly, the free range chickens gorge on them, the pigs pick them up when they fall in their paddock.  If the migrating robins don’t get them all before the leaves fall, it becomes efficient to strip the clusters of fruit from the twigs and process them into jam, which is uniquely and enjoyably flavored, though it forms an odd white pasty layer at the tops of the jars.  A friend made juice one year, which had the startling property of smelling exactly like tomato juice when the jars were cracked open, then tasting nothing like it.  Must be the lycopene?  Unusual fruit.

Box Turtles

Fear not.  We do not eat the box turtles!  They yield to us the pleasure of benign interaction with a wild and mysterious species.  It is always fun to come across one as long as we haven’t done anything to hurt them.  Once I hit one with a scythe, but only nicked the shell, I think.  Box turtles are sensitive to habitat disturbance, so seeing them (especially the babies) always reassures me that we may be doing something right.  Also, they live a very long time, so they are a reminder of all the changes to this land that they may have seen in their lives.  I hope we are making their world a better place.

Chicken meat

Breeders like us raise a lot of excess chickens, and sink a lot of resources into it, too.  It’s so nice to finally reap the reward back out of that investment, and butchering days are the mechanism for that harvest.  One is coming up this coming weekend, and I am looking forward to more chicken in the freezer (we’ve got to eat some chicken, y’all!) and less feed disappearing from the shed every morning at chore time.

Chickens—how do we use them?  Let me count the ways: Slow-roasted whole is probably our perennial favorite, but works best with birds of sixteen weeks’ age or less, generally.  My prep regime is typically something like minced garlic sautéed in ample butter, drizzled over thawed birds, then a spice mix of ground green and red paprika, cumin, coriander, salt, and black pepper is sprinkled or rubbed onto the skin of the fowl, and a little tucked into the cavity.  We usually roast two or three birds for 2.5-3 or 3.5-4 hours, respectively, at 300 degrees.  Removing the lid for the last 30 minutes renders a crispy skin, then resting the birds in a warm spot with lid on for 20 minutes or so before carving works great to keep the meat from drying out too much.  This means I can usually prep the birds right after lunch and they can go in the oven by 2 or 3 to be ready at 6.  This is a fall-off-the-bone country roasting recipe, and might make a meat connoisseur cringe.  Of course, most chefs would probably turn up their noses at our rangy, forage-fed birds (not 100% wild fed, but truly free ranged as much as possible), but I am fond of referring to the popular offering as “marshmallow chicken”, and don’t enjoy how flavorless and mushy it is.  So we’ll agree to disagree, I guess.

Other popular chicken dishes from the Tangly Woods kitchen include thin breast fillets pan-fried with oil and garlic; chicken sausage made from meat from whole older birds, leg meat from parted-up younger birds, giblets, and some extra fat from butchering; tenders breaded and fried with eggplant and okra; pulled chicken barbecue made from what we sort out from the stock strainings; and broth—with or without meat bits—made from roasted chicken leftovers or bones, skin, necks and [scalded, peeled] feet accumulated during the butchering and parting processes.  The broth—canned or fresh—enriches rice dishes and is the basis for soup and stew all winter.

Duck Meat

I think the potential for meat yield from commonly available forage on a small place might be highest with ducks of any of the non-ruminants we’ve tried.  They are omnivorous, but eat a whole lot of plants of many types, and they grow quickly.

Duck is choice meat.  Their waterfowl heritage gives them strong flying muscles (breast meat), and minimal walking muscles (legs).  All the meat is dark, in contrast to chicken.  The large breast fillets can be a little dry if cooked without the skin on, which is high in fat and helps impart flavor and texture benefits to the breast meat.  Whole roasting of birds is rewarding, but we found the legs less impressive, so what we have begun doing with duck is breaking down the carcass into the breast section, the legs, and everything else.  The shield-shaped breast sections with skin on and bone in we freeze in packs of two or three for roasting.  Three can usually be roasted side by side in a 9 x 13 pan.  Legs get the meat cut off and ground with giblets for sausage meat.  Everything else gets cooked down for stock.  Any extra fat can be rendered (pieces heated gently to release the pure oil) to yield a cooking fat that can replace lard in most uses.  This supposedly figures prominently in historic Jewish cooking.  It is delicious!


Is there anything that kids love to collect more than acorns?  Humans have consumed them for far longer than they have wheat, and if they had gotten enough sign-ups to hold the thing, Kali and I were heading for a nut and mast workshop this Sunday that would have caught them up to speed on what our ancient ancestors knew about how to make use of the buggers.

If the relationship between humans and acorns is old, then that between pigs and acorns goes back to time immemorial.  Ground corn makes hogs who don’t get it often go berserk for it.  With acorns, ours find the pile and settle in for a meal.  Eventually, it would be great to have pastures lined with mast-producing trees so each year’s hogs can put on a good bit of their winter weight in acorns, chestnuts, hickories, and the like.  For this year, though, we’ll have to be content with the few trees they will be able to eat from and the random handfuls we and maybe the new neighbor kids bring to them.  We hear that acorn-fattened pork brings top dollar at pricey food joints in New York.  We look forward to the flavor of the pork we will harvest that will have acorns as at least part of their diet.


The sounds of several species of cricket streams through the open windows as I write; listen to all that chicken food!  The pigs also eat grubs and insects they find in the soil, and there is nothing like them for building the bodies of growing chicks and ducklings.  Chick starter feed is but a poor substitute.  And don’t even get me started on pollination, soil aeration, and nutrient cycling!

Native Hazelnut

Unknown to me until I started working for our neighbors, this shrub produces hard-shelled, smallish, yet tasty and nutritious hazels.  I have not bought any of these, but have found them sprouted here and there in the scrubby areas and have transplanted them to favorable locations.  Given its growth habits it seemed a good choice for between our driveway and the neighbors’, since utility wires are stretched overhead there.  One of these is now fruiting nicely, as are two I put in near the garden, partly for nuts, partly for interest, partly for the long, straight rods the plant tends to grow and which are useful for various temporary staking needs in the garden.  Alida has gotten interested in these this year…shelling them out of their frilly husks can calm and distract her nicely.  If she ever gets to cracking the nuts and we get to eat some meats…bonus!


When the husks and plants have mostly dried and the kernels are hard, it’s time to take in the popcorn.  Each of the two older daughters have their own strain going that is color-driven, and we have a family strain of red popcorn that is flavor- and texture-driven.  Even so, we have to admit that the flavor nod usually goes to Alida’s pink popcorn, which has sweet, almost fruity overtones.  The red is hearty and beautiful and crunchy, but less delicate.  We love both; we love the differences; we love the process of testing and selecting.  This year we’ll do less of it, though, since the timing of the neighbor’s GMO field corn crop’s flowering was too close to the popcorn’s, so most of it will have to be eaten instead of kept in a careful attempt to prevent the genetic contamination which would be undesirable to us but which is also—should we try to sell contaminated seed—illegal!  How it has come to pass that contamination of our corn by seed breeding companies is legally our fault is a long, incredible, unjust story, and beyond the scope of this writing, but if you don’t know it or don’t believe me please educate yourself and be prepared to be offended by the truth.

Be that as it may, every year “our” popcorn gets better suited to our soils and our palates, and everyone loves filling up the baskets at the corn patches with all those beautiful ears—intended colors and off-types alike!

Flour Corn

Corn seeds contain two types of carbohydrate-based endosperm (the starchy part of the kernel): Floury and Flinty.  Flour corns are those strains selected for a high percentage of floury endosperm, which renders the seeds softer, lighter, and easier to grind or chew raw.  We’ve selected a variegated and a red strain that shell easily, and are trying to increase the kernel size and yield of the strains by crossing with larger dent corns and gourdseed corn, preferably the flourier sports of these varieties as they emerge.  Fun to watch the progress!  The ground kernels easily collapse into a fine powder, with flakes of seed coat and bits of germ and flinty endosperm mixed in.  Grinding again yields a fine, soft whole cornmeal, and sifting divides the ground corn into a fine flour and a more gritty meal.  The flour or fine meal make wonderful biscuits, cornbread and other baked goods (the high temperatures of baking seem to bring out the best in floury endosperm), the grittier meal is good for dusting a pizza stone or bread-baking sheet, or can be baked into a courser-textured cornbread or pone.  Having gotten this far in the process, there is a dazzling array of possibilities for using this crop.

Flint corn

This is flour corn’s opposite, being selected for a preponderance of the harder, denser, flinty endosperm.  Popcorn is one variant of flint corn, if that gives you an idea of the texture and weight.  Flint corn is harder to shell and grind, though we select for easy shelling properties.  Truly flinty corns achieve nice flavor without needing to bake them, according to Carol Deppe, one of my favorite garden writers and a plant breeding guru of the sustainable agriculture set.  It seems to be true, and we find that we can make delicious polenta from simply grinding the flint corn (or popcorn, if that makes sense) coarsely and boiling it until soft enough to enjoy.  Whatever is left over can be poured into loaf pans and fridged, where it will gel so firmly that it can be sliced with a bread knife.  We then like to fry slices in the skillet and eat them with eggs for breakfast.  A little salsa or chili to the side completes the picture.  Some like fried polenta with butter and syrup.  We often cook ours with a little sifted wood ash, which helps render the niacin available and creates a new, earthy flavor.  We have settled on a strain of flint corn for our use that has a bronze color, the pigments of which seem to impart a user-friendly flavor that is just one shade more interesting than neutral, which is what you get out of a white corn.  Grinding it finer than polenta style makes it possible to use for cornbread, and the flavor is nice enough, but the texture is less homogenous (the bits swell and gel but do not disintegrate) and may surprise anyone used to cornbread from a box.

Dent Corn

A genetic combination of flint and flour corns, and mostly not used by Native Americans, who tended to grow either flint or flour corns, dent corns are usually more productive than either of the other types, as if they get the full amount of each type in the kernels.  This is great for bulk yield (almost all feed corns are dent corns for this reason), but can be inconvenient in the careful cook’s pantry, since boiling and baking processes are usually both required to get the full flavor benefits from dent corn.  Nevertheless, it is the traditional euro-American hominy corn, and nixtamalization (soaking or cooking with alkali) seems to render its flavors well enough even when only boiled, as in whole kernel hominy and hominy grits, a southern breakfast staple.  We’ve done a little bit of this with the corns we grow for mixing desirable traits into our flour corn, and it’s good.  But we’ll likely not keep trying to grow dent corns beyond perhaps finding a place for Texas Gourdseed corn, which is so unusual in shape and type it suggests its own uses.  Meal ground from yellow dent corn is almost all you probably have ever known as corn meal.  If you can find meal made from the deep-red Bloody Butcher heirloom dent corn, the flavor difference there will likely get you started on your own culinary odyssey with this continent’s own ancient grain.


This is a new phenomenon around here.  Thanks to a neighbor that grows cane sorghum for syrup production (she’d like to supply a craft distiller of rum), last year we got to collect unwanted seed heads from her crop of “Dale” sorghum, shock them up to dry, then thresh out all we wanted.  I stopped threshing at about a bushel of grain, I think, and then shredded the rest of the heads up whole for chicken feed and bedding in one handy product!

Sorghum is a multi-functional plant.  The cane type can be used for grain, syrup/molasses, fodder (the leaves are stripped at harvest), and soil improvement, as the roots are extensive.  It handles tough conditions well.  Cutting the plant back during the growing season supposedly invigorates the plant and causes even more root growth and biomass production.  We used some of the copious seed this year for soil improvement in locations where we intend to plant berries, as well as for a follow-up crop to pigs using a paddock.  The pigs just returned to that paddock and it was fun to see them chewing up and sucking on the sweet canes, and gobbling up the seed heads.  The ground is now littered with shredded sorghum biomass.

We are using the ground grain in many recipes.  Basically anything that calls for flour seems to accept sorghum o.k. except for yeast breads.  This variety is not perhaps the most refined, and maybe that’s why we have trouble milling it fine enough to get rid of that last bit of gritty texture, but we love it anyway and Janelle is drawn to the texture in many products.  She likes food with substance!  Our favorite use, though, has to be 100% Sorghum “Cornbread.”  We were shocked to discover that we liked the sorghum a bit better than the corn in that recipe.  Even tastier with a drizzle of sorghum syrup!


Remember that humble pie?  Kali got a taste of that a few years back when she bought rice seed and sowed some in flats and some in the soil, and neither produced much of anything.  But they didn’t produce precisely nothing, because we have a little container in the seed collection of her harvest, which awaits further interest and the development of a better system and attention span.  Once we figure out how to grow it, we can deal with the question of how to extract it from the hulls.  In China, of course, every country kitchen contains a rice dehuller/polisher.  Maybe the best yield from any successful rice growing here would be that it might push us over the hump to figuring out dehulling, which would be applicable also to oats and barley.  Now that would be a win!  Of course, we could just read Ben Fulk’s book and learn how he gets away with it in Vermont.


With gourds, it would appear the money is in the decorative kind, or at least that’s what the cash croppers seem to go for first to diversify the farm stand.  Lacking that particular kind of entrepreneurial gene, we of course have only grown gourds we can imagine a function for.  Bushel, Gooseneck, and Dipper gourds have come out of our patches, as well as Luffa.  But we have enough shells and extra luffas built up by now that we felt no need to complicate things this season; no gourds in 2017.  Last winter I cleaned up all the old shells and spiffied up a few to experiment with.  The most fun I had was crafting a (very) rough flute from one with a long, thin neck.  But there isn’t much time for such things, so for now they live in a box and take up space in the garage.  We use the luffas, though, for occasional cleaning tasks.  Nothing like it for scrubbing poison ivy oil off of the skin (with soap, and not too hard lest you get contact dermatitis), and it cleans the shower nicely.  Ok for dishes, but don’t bother trying to clean a floor or table top with it.  It is not absorbent enough to carry just the right amount of water with it without leaving too much on the surface, says me.


Radishes could be a spring crop for us, but it seems the more convenient hole in the rotation schedule falls in…um…fall.  I and sort of Kali like them, so there isn’t a whole lot of motivation to get good at them or develop a strain for us.  However one variety, Daikon, is taking the agronomic world by storm with its ability to punch holes in tight soil with its huge taproot, then die in the cold time of winter, leaving a channel for aeration.  We also use it thusly, and I tried fermenting a few of them cut into sticks.  It’s pretty sulfury…not a taste everyone wants to acquire, but some of us kind of like them!


These occupy more or less the same season as radishes, but they get a slightly better score on utility and palatability around here, especially steamed with a little butter and salt.  A few of us like them sliced, raw, too.  Broadcasting turnip seed in the garden when the summer has wound down is customary soil care and one last crop in this area.  Brassicas in general are said to have soil “purifying” abilities (does that indicate a biological or chemical effect?), so maybe that custom serves several purposes.  I have a growing sense that they may be antifungal, but I don’t think I’ve read that anywhere.  I have more in the ground than ever this fall, so we’ll see if they turn out and if we come to use them more than usual.  I do hope so!


Our first apartment had a tree growing outside the front door that I had never seen before.  In fall it dropped its leaves with fruits attached all over the sidewalk.  They were spongy and sweet and looked like dates, even having a similarly shaped seed inside.  Eventually we learned the name “Chinese Date” for the tree, which we later learned was the same as “Jujube.”  We transplanted one seedling or root shoot of that plant to our first purchased home in honor of Kali’s birth, then brought it with us here and planted it again.  Then moved it again.  Poor thing!  Somehow it made it through all that and now grows by our front walk.  It is finally big enough to fruit; we hope it gets to dropping fruits in our path!  This is not a developed variety.  There are several that make larger, crispy fruits that remind one of apple.  Someday.


New to us last year, we are quite sure this is going to continue as a Tangly Woods tradition.  There may be no other single yield that beats the body of a hog for return of nourishing food, sheer utility, wonderful flavor, and neighborly good will.  Hog butchering is not something most people take on alone if they can help it, and doing it well entails equipment and requires knowhow we don’t have yet.  Last year we asked the help of skilled and equipped neighbors who came through in spades…it is among the year’s treasured memories.  The one drawback to last year’s hog butchering was the “feedback” we received in the way of the condition of the carcasses:  we had obviously overfed them!  Now, we use lard happily, but seven gallons from two smallish hogs (we used a small homestead breed known as American Guinea hog) was more than we needed!  This year we’ve focused on fermenting their buckets of restaurant kitchen trimmings in whey rather than whole milk, split the restaurant waste “contract” with another hog raiser, and increased the number of hogs by one to three.  The slop buckets alone might be a little spare for them, so we give them lots of fresh, organic weeds and try to keep them in paddocks that contain some forage.  So far it looks like the balance is going to be much more favorable.

Products we have used from last year’s hog slaughter:  Lard in abundance, cracklings, ground pork (usually spiced to sausage), salt-cured bacon, bacon grease, salt-cured ham, ham hocks and bones for soup starter, ham lard rendered after cooking ham, ribs, backstrap roasts, tenderloin, backbone for stewing, ham bone broth converted to pon hoss, and a little bacon rind I want to try to use for fish bait sometime.

To include all the recipes these products have spawned and enhanced would be overmuch.  Suffice it to say that lard-fried donuts are delicious and don’t make me sick like oil-fried ones, homegrown sausage spiced with sage and fennel and converted to a milky gravy and spread on baked sweet potatoes can almost make a person weep, the bacon quiche was a phenomenon, and nothing can make an egg slide around on a skillet like lard.


True enough, I have not harvested a deer myself for over two decades now.  I have sat in the tree stand and watched the sun rise or set, though, and that’s nice.  But neighbors are more successful, and they are also generous.  Sometimes we get the ribcage or other bones for stock, sometimes a meatier piece, sometimes a carcass minus choice cuts, sometimes a whole deer.  We usually accept any offer if we can.  Plus motor vehicles accidentally harvest quite a number on the roadways.  If you can change your plans for a day to accommodate a sudden deer butchering, you can have 50 or 60 pounds of red meat for your trouble.  Just make sure it’s fresh!

Venison is one food whose flavor is often improved by pressure canning.  In my view, canned big old buck is just about the best venison there is.  Sometimes a young deer is far better as choice cuts or ground, since the flavor is mild, and older does are the ground venison mainstay.  But both can be made a little blander by pressure canning.  With the old buck, the flavor settles out just right.  We like the flavor best when the meat is cubed and packed in the cans raw with no extra water, but one teaspoon of salt poured in the top.  The meat releases its own juice in the processing.

Ground venison goes in any recipe calling for ground beef (and a few that don’t call for it!).  Venison bone broth, whether pressure-canned or used immediately upon making it, is an excellent starter for bean and lentil soups.  Potatoes are a plus, too.  And remember that carrot top stew I mentioned in the carrot section?

Venison tallow is its own product.  Hard, white, and waxy at room temperature and liquid, clarified golden, and greasy when heated, the rendered fat from deer can be used in soap making, and we’ve filtered it through knit cotton cloth, then poured and dipped candles from it.  Despite the poor reviews such candles get in some literature, we found that when filtered well and with all water/broth excluded, they burned cleanly and without odor.  The tallow can probably be used as a crude wood finish for tool handles, etc., might be good for waterproofing leather, and I have used it mixed with olive oil (to loosen the consistency) as a grafting sealer, though I can’t claim it works as well as the classic recipes, since I have never tried those.  It didn’t seem to harm the apple grafts…they all took this year.


Uh…leaves?  Yes, for those of us living on eroded soils, the organic matter and high available mineral content of tree leaves are welcome amendments whether used as mulches or compost ingredients.  Every late fall sees us puttering around to neighbors’ yards, cheerily raking their unwanted treasure and hauling it home, where we stockpile it and dole it out over the following year.  We seem to be erring on the side of too much acid this way, however, so we are keen to learn the use wood ashes and other strategies to keep our garden soils balanced, allowing us to continue to use leaves liberally.  Also, there is the memory-making value of leaping through the crisp air and plunging into a five foot deep heap of leaves and nearly disappearing.  That’s worth a lot.


This is the kind of thing that the land yields once, so one must exercise caution regarding one’s clay extraction habits.  Not that we use a whole bunch of it.  I use it occasionally to change the shape of the ground when I want to alter the way surface water runs on our land and don’t need to have a fertile planting location, I have used it leveled and compacted while slightly damp as the permanent floor of our woodshed (recommended!), I use it to toss with seeds to pelletize them before sowing in places where chickens might eat the seed and/or I need a layer of soil around the seed to help with germination on the soil surface when broadcast spreading without tillage (works if rain or watering are spaced ok), kids enjoy molding it and leaving it out to dry, and it fuels fond fantasies of one day giving a little more space and time to the making of pots (still working on that perfect mug!).


Like clay, this is a one-time yield, though it often doesn’t seem like it.  Phew!  The size of the farmers’ chert piles found in the woods when we moved here bore witness to the condition of the soil when they arrived, and we still haul rock every time we disturb even the top few inches of soil.  For agricultural soil, these omnipresent rocks render it marginally useful at best, according to the U.S. Geological Survey analysis.  So you would think the only yield here would be toil and travail.

Take heart!  We use the buggers a lot.  They have formed the backbone of many landform changes, especially in travel paths and driveways.  We used them as the bulkiest part of a chicken coop foundation, and we have built two parking terraces with them.  The nicer chunks of sandstone have been useful for borders and even seating in landscaped areas.


Sown in September rather than spring to avoid the root-boring insect that plagues every spring-sown carrot we’ve ever produced, our Danvers (half-long) type carrots usually sneak in enough development by the time the truly cold weather hits to be well worth digging.  When it looks like they are big enough and the cold is almost upon us (December sometime), we cover them with a deep layer of leaves (straw might be better if we had enough), then pull back the mulch to dig carrots nearly all winter, if the voles don’t get too happy under there.  Toward March the roots have lost much of their December sweetness, so it’s not worth extending the harvest too much beyond February.  Again, breeding for our own patterns seems to be succeeding here.

By the way, the carrot tops are not totally a waste product.  We have enjoyed them very much as an ingredient in venison stew, if not overdone.  No, we probably can’t use all our carrot tops, and they are no good once they’ve had mulch laying on top of them for a while, but when fresh and green they are fine, and the tender thinnings from the row are especially usable.

Chicken compost

One of our sources of compost is an A-framed, stone-founded, dirt-floored chicken coop we built a few years back for the purpose of housing our woods flock of Massanutten chickens.  By keeping it properly hydrated and adding carbon sources as necessary (we have come to like straw the best now that we are generating some), we are able to provide the chickens a sanitary and even nourishing coop floor (the composting action overwhelms pathogens and generates a modest amount of forage), and are in return provided with a bulk quantity of compost for the gardens.  Given the fresh manure percentage here, we don’t use this on plants we are planning to eat fresh from for at least a few weeks after application, but it has been excellent on overwintered plants like garlic.

Humanure compost

And, finally, our other source of compost is a sedentary composting system (we don’t turn the pile) which we use for all kitchen scraps and processing refuse that can’t be fed, as well as some weeds, inedible animal carcasses, rotten eggs from under broody hens, and some manure and litter from coops.  This is also where we compost our own waste.  After we’ve added the last “honey bucket” around the turn of the year, we allow the pile to age for a full year and a half before breaking into it for garden use.  We feel confident in its safety on all crops when treated thusly and certainly have noticed no problems.  We prefer the in-the-moment functionality of the indoor bucket collection system to the customary water toilet (narry a clog, folks, narry a clog), and there are psychological rewards knowing our waste is not going to waste.  I have no definitive proof of this, but it seems to me this element of our system is a key component of building a soil environment that can sustain us over the long term without external inputs (eventually), but that is too big a topic for this paragraph.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this list.  Or if you skipped most or all of it, then I hope you enjoyed that, too.  I had no idea it would turn out to be so long!  I can’t figure out if I am exhausted by it or energized, but then that is the central conundrum of our life, so there you have it.  Despite the exhaustion associated with it (hopefully not on the part of the reader…oh, dear!), it is not exhaustive, and if we start to get into the less clearly defined yields such as fulfillment, personal growth, a background for children’s education, sharing of our lessons with others who might need them, and so on, this essay could by itself turn into a book.  I’m not saying it won’t maybe someday do that.  But it won’t happen in September!  If you notice any omissions, please feel free to let us know.  This may turn into a working document for our homestead.

I hope the reader can remember while perusing this list that it is not intended as a prescription for all the things a person or family must grow or do or care about.  It is just representing one family’s interaction with one particular place, and we hope it can be helpful in showing just how vivaciously and completely one place can nourish, and the complexity and startling diversity that exists here if we use our lives to attend to what it has to give.  We give this place our attention and labor, it yields to us the stuff of our very lives.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Our Innovations

(Lest anyone think Jason is not meeting his “one post per month” in 2017, this is his writing from May that has been sitting in My Documents when it should have been shared for you all to read! Imagine May in the woods as you read it! Janelle)

I write this month from another getaway…the reader might be tempted to think all we ever do is take breaks.  Not so, I am afraid.  Rather, the only chance I tend to find to write is when we pry open a stoppage in the normal schedule and chink in some fun!  So here I am, tippety-tapping away in the living room of a rustic cabin built by the CCC in the thirties on the grounds of WV’s Lost River State Park.  Cozy rooms, idyllic weather, blooming mountain laurel on the ample hiking paths…it’s working its magic, and my mind starts thinking of things beyond the everyday; I wake up with new songs in my head.  It’s a good time to write.

Last evening we cooked supper over the fire in pie irons, which, weather permitting, we plan to do each of our three evenings here.  How else to try all the possible combinations of ingredients and still save room for peanut butter s’mores?  There seemed to be a minor memory epidemic (or a glitch in the ingredient buffet arrangement) among us, since several different people forgot to add home-dried oregano, which we all prize, to his or her pizza pocket.  Our oldest daughter missed it on her first round, then on her second round, announced that this time she was going to leave it out on purpose, just to see what it was like that way.  “Forgetting it the first time”, I commented, “was a mistake.  Leaving it out on purpose…that’s innovation!”

I was trying to make Janelle and Kali laugh.  They may have obliged, I don’t remember.  But in truth I was right, and many innovations have begun just that way.  Take for example the recent finds that Chimpologists (my word, maybe) have made, wherein they observed chimps knocking rocks together to break off flakes, then licking the freshly broken surfaces…presumably for the minerals.  One can easily imagine some early human taking a blithe lick, then screaming in pain as his or her tongue accidently ran along the sharp edge and bled.  Was it they or their neighbor whose eyes widened as they encountered that very human moment of stillness and realization…Now there is something I could USE!  One way or another, the creation and modification of rock flakes for cutting animal flesh and plant tissues became big business for us, and fundamentally changed our way of relating to the world and each other.

The ability to innovate is among the set of traits that we humans have emphasized far beyond what any other species has.  It is one of our defining features.  I would argue that humans in our natural state do this almost instinctually, which is what has enabled us to adapt, in astonishingly short periods of time, to almost every climate this planet proffers.  I love seeing how the indigenous peoples of the far north rigged up sunglasses, kept warm and safe in ice houses, and inflated sealskins to attach to their whale harpoons.  Some pacific island nations figured out how to increase their genetic base without using more resources, so I hear, by learning to keep their men strung out on a mind-altering plant, in which circumstance they consume very little food.  These men did scant work, their main usefulness being in supplying fertility to the women as needed!  And who doesn’t love the conical sun hats of the Chinese peasants?  Some of these strategies are surely intentionally developed, some are probably stumbled across in the course of events and kept because they worked.  Either way it’s a new thing under the sun, and that’s the process our species depends on utterly.

It seems to me that there are two situations that lead to surges in innovation.  One is a circumstance of plenty, wherein folks have the luxury to goof around with the details of their environment and every now and again come up with something that makes life a little easier, or funnier, or exciting, or advantageous or what have you.  The other is difficult times, wherein people are pushed beyond the comfort of their customs and made to try something new.  If just one person in a group of desperate humans comes up with some workable method or solution, everyone else notices and before you know it it has become an institution.

For the purposes of this writing series, I am interested in how the innovation process contributes to the localization of economy and culture within a given context.  The sum and interaction of all the little nuances and innovations are what give a place and its people their “character.”  The modern economy has reputedly rendered these distinctives irrelevant, and if we accept the assumptions underpinning that economy (fossil fuels, stable world order, dependable climate, resource availability, etc.), it is hard to argue against that point.  If, however, like me, you doubt the sustainability of those assumptions, you might feel that as the prevalence of the modern economy continues and the economic, ecological, and cultural distinctives of our places erode, we have something to grieve there.

Coming to terms with the implications of this dynamic will naturally lead, I think, to a desire to recover the old strategies, tools, and solutions still present in our communities in whatever amounts, and to learn to use them.  I am not talking about nostalgia here, though I am beginning to think of nostalgia as a grief process of its own.  But whereas nostalgia has a tendency to value times and things gone by because of how they contributed to who we are today, I am referring to a state of mind that recognizes that our ancestors were grappling with their own present circumstances and that their ingenious solutions may again be useful to us, should similar circumstances again prevail.

Taking this a step further, I would suggest that one of the greatest honors we can do our ancestors is to continue their work of adaptation in our present and into our descendants’ future.  Computer enthusiasts will surely now try to make the point that the most meaningful interpretation of that is to adapt ourselves to the electronically mediated life so many of us now find ourselves in.  I do not object to using high-tech tools in the service of the human project, but we ought to consider the mode and degree of our use such that it doesn’t become, or remain, abject dependence.

I refer to continuing our ancestors’ work, but I don’t mean that uncritically.  Some of our ancestors worked pretty hard to take what some others of our ancestors had and needed.  Let’s grieve that well, too.  I mean that in their flawed way, our ancestors were trying to engage their ancestral or stolen places as nourishing and beautiful homes, and just because we have unprecedented distractions available to us now doesn’t get us off the hook for the same duty.  There is no app for this, my friends, except the one hardwired into your brain.

So why am I characterizing this subject matter as “innovation?”  Because that’s what the old solutions were in their time, and that’s our greatest need today.  We are in new circumstances as a species, and in most cases even our regional climates are set to change dramatically if they haven’t started already.  I, for one, want to be in a position to recognize these changes as they progress, and to engage the challenging and exciting work of crafting adapted and connected ways of living as we go.

I declared two situations ripe for the development of innovation: surfeit and famine.  Implied is a third, less ripe state of being: ordinary life, which is a messy but overall stable amalgam of the first two.  In ordinary life, innovation doesn’t stop, it just slows dramatically.  Cultures tend to develop revered and inviolable traditions, which are largely sets of solutions to their circumstances.  So which of the three states of being do we find ourselves in today?  Well, that depends where you live and to whom you are connected.  But the chances are if you are reading this you are among the most privileged beings to ever enjoy the comforts of earth.  Predators don’t bother you, hunger is not a thing really…your greatest challenges relate to status, relationships, finances, and the stress of being divorced nutritionally and psychologically from a healthy ecosystem.  So we must face that as a society we are in the first category, though with the gaps opening between the incomes of the wealthiest and the rest of us, that is less secure for many of us than it used to be.  And with the distortions of industrialism having flooded the economy, you may experience resource-access stresses of novel kinds, such as: Why can’t I find GOOD food in my neighborhood?, and How long can I keep the landlord off my back?  I am not downplaying these challenges.

Myself, I am the child of what our society would consider moderate privilege.  Some of my great-grandparents struggled to keep food on the table, my grandparents were far from wealthy, my mother was a doctor so we usually wanted for nothing and growing up I didn’t worry about resources.  Becoming more politically aware in college and beyond, I have felt a responsibility attached to my inherited privilege.  Yes, it is a responsibility to share what must surely look like excess to most of the world, but I have also come to think of it as a responsibility to innovate.  As mentioned, situations of excess allow for playful trying, and that is a critical function.  If I waste my opportunity on TV, I won’t think much of myself, I must say.  Partly that is because my personality is drawn to crafting new ways in the world, so I am naturally driven to the role of innovator.  But a big piece of it is the sense I have of how precarious this contemporary industrial way of life is when measured by the ancient standards of life on earth.  I live with the thought every day that this is a precious time for humans: a chance to take a few steps forward in ease before our steps become labored again.  Maybe even a chance to set some things right we’ve long done poorly.  Here I am thinking of our regard for sexual minorities, ethnic relations, gender equality, agricultural practices, and more.  I do not mean to imply that indigenous groups haven’t at times achieved high standards in all these areas…they most certainly have.  I mean rather that as a species, especially in the context of civilization, we have been wrestling these demons for millennia with mixed results.  Let’s take our chance to understand this history.

One of the things that seems unusual about our current situation is that with the advent of climate change and our measurement of what’s left of the critical resources of the earth, we find ourselves having a chance to goof off a little, but with the knowledge that it can’t last.  I’d like to challenge us to transform this odd scenario into a fruitful time of preparation.  I’ll divide what I have in mind into a few steps to help order our thinking and give you something to react to:

  • Doubt the prevailing model. Train your mind, preferably in concert with a group, in recognizing the ways in which heedless energy use and profiteering have distorted our culture and economy and distanced us from our contexts.  Do your best to avoid getting caught up in the values and striving of the industrial economy, thus limiting its stranglehold on your autonomy.  Learn to master money’s pollution of your mind and its grip on your choices.
  • Cultivate local awareness. This comes in two parts.  First, we should familiarize ourselves with the particular constraints and bounty of the places in which we find ourselves, and learn what strategies our forebears and precursors employed to thrive here prior to the interference of fossil fuels.  Pursue knowledge of what challenges your home area will face with the advent of climate change.
  • Cultivate awareness of self. Diversity is the absolute linchpin in this process, and there is no one like you.  What are you interested in?  What do you have to contribute?  Notice which topics and elements of your landscape draw your attention.
  • Declare some limits. Combine what you’ve learned about your self and your context to establish a framework within which you will work.  This will require discipline over time, as the conventional economy and culture will not understand your choices, making you feel like a fool at times, but I think you will find it a productive approach.
  • Find your network. Yes, I think it’s important to be well rooted in spots and in circles that include conventional thinking.  Also yes you will need some folks to be in touch with who get it.  What a relief when you don’t have to explain everything (even though it’s important to have to a lot of the time)!
  • Start trying stuff. Maybe this means buying land and learning to live from its fruits, as we are trying.  Maybe it means community organizing for self-determination.  Maybe it’s art in the streets.  Maybe it’s meditation and intention.  Fashion design.  Culinary pursuits.    Circus acts.  Accounting.  You tell me.
  • Reflect and Reset. Periodically you will want to give time to analysis of various kinds, as well as remaining open to feedback and further awareness.  You may also find it necessary to take moments for reiterating your chosen values and limits and rearticulating why you chose them.  Be open also to endings and change.  Surely you will take wrong turns, or life won’t turn out the way you thought.
  • When you finally achieve that fully homegrown raspberry tart or one of your students takes on their first massage client or whatever it is you are into that blends well in your context, it pays to rejoice!  I’m not saying rest on your laurels, I’m saying a few high fives and hugs and wiping of moist eyes goes a long way towards healing the negative messages you will get from the larger, more dominant, doomed culture.

Notice there was no heading labeled, “Innovate.”  That is because innovation is what happens along the way when we are presented with challenges to our conventions, or when we reach for new levels of achievement in something we were already doing.  Any time, I will say, that we go beyond wishing and bend our minds and bodies to the weekday work of reconciling the difference between the way things are and the way we want them to be.  To this work we bring our whole selves, warts and all, and not every innovation makes the world a better place.  Burning petroleum for personal transportation, for example, was a significant innovation.  So was fast food.  And mustard gas.  You see why the limits we set matter?

A few examples from Tangly Woods, I hear you requesting?  Alright, I will oblige.  A year or so ago, while grinding her teeth over our use of imported lemon juice in recipes, Janelle finally tried something she’d been thinking about:  substituting rhubarb!  Folks, it works very well, going especially nicely with lentil stew.  Score!  Another win:  I have been long dissatisfied with the available tomato/pepper cage options.  Either they are topply and hard to install in our stony soil or they are bulky and hard to store.  The twine options I have seen fail too often for our closely calculated plantings.  I don’t have time for staking as many as we need, and determinate tomatoes don’t like pruning anyway.  Finally I dreamed a solution (literally), and spent a few hours designing, then building a prototype from concrete reinforcing wire.  It works!  I have now built over thirty of them.  They stack for storage, don’t topple easily, are easy to pick through, and support growing pepper plants and determinate tomatoes with no pruning or guidance.  Now I just need to learn to make them from tree branches or basket willow!  In a third example, we wanted a round table for social interaction reasons, but couldn’t fit one in our space.  We also wanted the ability to expand, but are both a little irked by needing to store table “leaves” in a closet to be brought out only when the table needs to get bigger, not to mention wrestling with cantankerous table expansion hardware.  After much sketching and staring at the ceiling in the dark, I came up with our football shaped table: two freestanding three-legged tables that butt up against each other, plus two auxiliary rectangular tables of matching dimensions that get used in other parts of the house but can be commandeered as needed for dining table expansion.  Hah!  Works.  That table gets lots of use and attention when guests are around.  I could think of more examples, and so will you once you start taking notice of these issues, but I think you get the idea.

One of the upshots of all this is that when a critical mass (maybe less folks than you might think) have been at this work for some time in our various niches with our various motivations, there begins to be an accumulation of strategies, tools, and solutions that have proven dependable, pleasing, and productive, and have been picked up by others of like (or like enough) mind and inclination.  The accumulation begins to assemble itself into a workable pattern, and you have the emergence of a local culture.  If we have done our work well, then the limits we have chosen will reflect the nature of the earth we inhabit instead of violating it.  That, to me, is the place towards which the long arc of sustainability must bend.  I will work for it, I will talk about it, I will raise my children to live in it.  I invite you to your place in it, and to help me know mine.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Our Predecessors

Jared Diamond, in his fascinating book on humans, The Third Chimpanzee, proposes the following:  Geographical variation in many aesthetic characteristics of the human form derive from selective pressure based on sexual preference as opposed to functional considerations (if significant survival function remains associated with a feature then that takes precedence).  In some cases, he goes so far as to say that these preferences for certain aesthetic characteristics may be essentially randomly generated at the outset and almost entirely arbitrary, such that whatever combination of the many possibilities prevails in a given population, and for however many centuries the group members all have borne the same stamp, it is quite possible that it has its origins quite simply in whatever happened to be the preferences that emerged as the style among the first inhabitants of that area, or within that culture if more than one culture inhabits an area.  As his starkest example he offers the Solomon Islands (pg. 110), where the islands are not far enough apart to have been settled by people of strikingly different origins, and which were settled more or less at the same time, quite a long time ago, but between the populations of which dramatic and distinctive variations in appearance exist.  Climactic conditions are nearly identical.  He dares us to account for it any other way.

This year’s writing is about the necessity and nature of mutual ownership between people and places over time in a sustainable version of human habitation.  Why am I rattling on about sexual selection?  Because one thing we should recognize about this process of habitation is that it is not something that is done by one generation any more than a truly sustainable agriculture can be practiced by individuals acting alone, and Diamond’s hypothesis about racial variation strikes me as analogous to some of the social and aesthetic features one notices in rooted cultures.  Hats in France, for example.  I remember a National Geographic article that highlighted a phenomenon where in times past each village or region in France maintained a fierce, serious pride and differentiation in the style of the hats worn by the women.  To my eye, of course, each looked sillier than the last, and I could not imagine how in the hang anyone had managed to come up with and successfully promote each non-functional pattern.  In the end, the function seemed to be to have something (anything!) to rally around and claim as a key part to the distinctiveness of one’s group identity.  Such things do offer a richness, bordering on whimsy though it may, that the fashion runway barons of Paris and New York and their hordes of followers seem to at once disregard and crave.  I would wager that each village having its own hat style would alarm these folks, since maquiladoras cannot be efficiently utilized in making only enough hats for one village at a time.  Their money is made by teaching people the pleasure of a new desire instead of an old identity, by getting as many people as possible to fall for the latest item so they can sell lots of them, then repeat the process by making their own creations from the year before seem dowdy.

This is to say, I think we might find that in the establishment of sustainable agri-cultures, distinctive regional characteristics are certain to appear and be cherished, and not all of those will have any logic behind them whatsoever, but will merely be reflections of the preferences of whoever got there first!  This cracks me up.  It is entirely possible that if a viable culture emerges in this valley someday, every person will, say, pierce the top of their left ear with Honey Locust thorns at the age of 15 for no reason.  If Jane Doe did it and was beloved and successful in the ways that culture deems, then it might become part of the stamp.  One of the functions of predecessors is to give us something to rally around, which is to say something to build on.

But of course this is not the only function.  It is important to recognize, especially in this these decades of extreme cultural upheaval, that those individuals regarded as predecessors are the ones that made it through the tough times; through a combination of luck and wits they managed to learn lifecraft in a place and pass the painful lessons learned on to the next generation, whose pain was thus lessened, and whose chances of thriving were thus increased.  So before you get excited about being one of the ancestors, be forewarned: you are going to have to earn at least part of your veneration.

Am I the only person who is fascinated by ancestor worship?  Not that I, myself, worship my ancestors!  Some of them were pretty great, don’t get me wrong.  The ancestor of mine that I tend to gravitate towards when looking for a role model is Leo Nelson, my great-grandfather, who applied his care and skill to generating a fruitful farm and raising a lovely family against steep odds in withering times and conditions in Bayfield, Wisconsin in the first half of the 20th century.

But I don’t worship him.  Why not?  I suspect it is because, a) I was raised Christian, and Christians of my family’s ilk typically don’t engage in such, and b) my sense of dependence on him and gratitude to him haven’t been dominant themes in my life.

Maybe in some parallel universe, I was born and raised in the Bayfield area, with the Great Depression having finished its work so thoroughly that the outside world was never seen or heard from again, and it was up to the imported Swedes and the members of the Red Cliff tribe to work out some kind of life in proximity or even together there on the shores of Lake Superior [Kitchi-Gami in Ojibway]  (This reminds me of the mysterious Melungeon communities in the mountains of the Sountheast).  In such a case, my very survival and that of my whole community would be utterly dependent on our brightest ingenuity, but perhaps even more on the memories and accumulated skills represented and carried by our elders.  Then my sense of gratitude to and dependence on Leo and his wife Anna would likely cross over into a form of reverence, which after their deaths would be coupled with a longing and a beseeching that could be called nothing more accurately than worship.

It seems to me this is roughly the function of ancestor worship in the indigenous context, be it an agricultural or hunter/gatherer society.  The way of living that a community’s progenitors managed to craft could never be perfect, but by golly it WORKED, because here we are!  In the long reach of human history, most people most of the time have had a keen awareness of the thin margin that separated them from disaster; the ways of the ancestors were an indispensable guide, an indescribable gift.  Their blessings and satisfaction while alive were key ingredients in the perpetuation of a successful way of living in a place…it is not hard to imagine the beseeching, deferential habits extending beyond the moment of death for those left living, striving, doing their best.  Those in the group who treated their progenitors with indifference or contempt were likely trimmed out of the population (through their ignorance) by predators, the elements, failed crops, hunger, disease, rejection by potential mates, etc.  Those who made it were mostly those who adored and emulated their predecessors.

Here in Virginia in 2017, this is not how it is done.  I’ll speak plainly: success in this madhouse economy mostly doesn’t come by emulating elders.  In order to “succeed” now, you have to keep up with the changes more than you have to memorize the golden way (or what have you).  But what if we find ourselves siding, as I do, with William James (1842-1910), who in a letter to H.G. Wells sent September 11, 1906, complained about “The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS.  That—with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success—is our national disease.”  Hmm.  I judge that the patient is as sick as ever it was in 1906.  If we accept that the “cash interpretation” of success is a disease, I warrant we’ll find ourselves seeking, as humans always have done, the wisdom of our elders in the pursuit of healthier versions of success.  But folks, we are out of the habit, and between mass entertainment, the education system, and Wikipedia, we are not going to relearn it until we see one kind of wolf or another at one or more of our doors (for the record: I see them coming).  One of the greatest tragedies of our time is the plethora of retirement facilities full of people who are living longer than any previous generation, who are loaded with wisdom, experience, and stories, and who are also often desperately lonely and nearly entirely ignored.  Frankly, in this cash economy their wisdom is irrelevant.

Here in our neighborhood, there is a side economy going on to some extent…I think William James might approve.  Among several of us, there is the concept—lived out in varying ways—that that cash interpretation of success is a deception.  We are haltingly trying to make choices and establish patterns that depend on the flow of needful resources and needful relationships; to attend and respond to the flows of natural forces; to live as if love mattered.  Yes, we need money to make it work, and we all compromise when we must to make that happen.  But money doesn’t dictate to us what our needs are, or where our interests are going to fall.  I won’t claim that we’ve got a functioning village here, or that what we are doing amounts to a full-blown alternative model.  I am just saying that there are enough of us like this here that I am willing to claim it as an opening in the fog, and I am starting to get curious about what is going to emerge.

In a way I feel as if there is an inkling of the indigenous process of inhabitation (my phrase) at work.  By that I mean that here and again I feel like we are coalescing into a band, a group loosely assembled from many places and trying to make their way in a new place somewhat together.  But whereas the general human pattern would be literally learning to inhabit a previously uninhabited place, this time the new ground is learning how to live as if cash is, in the end, a lie when it comes to success and how to live in a way (partly within, partly removed from the cash-diseased economy) that prioritizes—in the ways we spend and direct our time and attention—those things that make for health, thriving, and reconnection to the life of this planet in real time, in this real place.  I put forward this assertion tentatively, and I know there are no associated guarantees.  People move.  People change.  The world changes around them.  I am just saying there seems to be a little fire to gather around, and I see people sidling up out of the shadows to its warmth.  Goodness knows it’s where I want to be!

To what (besides the geography of our little side valley that seems to have made us a side thought throughout the past two centuries, conveniently placing us outside the mainstream) can we credit this?  Well, I think that—like I suspect it might be for many a band just starting out—tough, new circumstances bring out the innovative, pioneering sides of people, and also bring the innovative pioneers out of the woodwork, and this happened here.  The environmental and political crises of the 60s and 70s were, as circumstances go, pretty tough and new in their ways.  The Counterculture of that time can be seen, I think, as an attempt by some to follow the arrow William James and many others (like, say, Jesus of Nazareth) drew for them; an arrow that pointed away from the rushing mob.  The Hippies and other folks expressing their disillusionment sought a way forward that lived the truth.  They had to try some things, and trial and error being what it is, not everything worked, and even those things that did work didn’t always last.  But there were a few folks who persisted, who saw fruits of their efforts—at least enough to modify their plan and keep on.

Those environmental and political crises have not really abated to the present day.  To our consternation, the same counterproductive forces keep rearing up in different forms.  A person who finds their self disillusioned today is disillusioned in much the same way as John Lennon or, for that matter, William James.

We happen, in our neighborhood, to have had several individuals that tried stuff in the late 70s with cooperative land ownership, etc., who, even though the forms changed around them and some hard, hard lessons were learned, persisted in some way in their pursuit of truthful lives that saw through the lie of cash success.  They have tried to treat their land accordingly and have raised their families on these notions, too.  I believe that to the extent there is a fire to gather around now, it was kindled by these courageous and creative predecessors.

This past Sunday many of us gathered to memorialize one of these predecessors who had passed away a week and a half earlier.  Samuel Johnson, my dear friend, neighbor, and mentor in so many ways succumbed to metastatic prostate cancer.  It was hard to accurately convey to the gathered group the debt of gratitude I feel to him, and I know many others felt the same.  Over time, as we try to carry on with our lives according to the values we shared with him—maybe even learned from him—we know we bear his indelible stamp.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized