Tag: Texas

My Own Worm Herd!

red wigglers
A handful of composted wood mulch hosting red wigglers.

Yesterday I attended a two hour class at the Texas Worm Ranch (www.txwormranch.com) in Garland, Texas; and I am now the proud owner of my very own herd of red wiggler worms! They are in a bin with air holes, bedding, and cover. I fed them yesterday with the bits & bobs left over from my dinner salad; but I am resisting the urge to keep looking at them: worms dislike the light, so unlike a new puppy, they do not appreciate being played with!

What I will have after two weeks of feeding my herd every 3 to 4 days a handful of scraps (no meat, dairy, or grease!) will be lovely vermicompost. Vermicompost is the finished product made up of worm castings (poop), digested food scraps, and microbes. It should be a chocolate brown, fluffy, moist like a wrung out sponge, and smell like the deep forest…aaah!

finished vermicompost
Sifted finished vermicompost at the Texas Worm Ranch. Vermicompost at home can have more wood mulch in it.

The exciting part of this is not only that I will now be able to compost my kitchen scraps, but that the worms come with a complete ecosystem which makes the fertilizer that they create both healthy for the soil and the plants that grow in it, and nutritious for us who eat the plants and their fruits.

As Heather, owner & head worm whisperer, explained yesterday, the worms are part of a underground system of living microbes that “modern”, very mistaken, gardening information has both ignored and disparaged.

The denizens of this microbiota include fungi (responsible for feeding and watering plants’ roots and extending the reach of plants’ roots); bacteria which eats organic matter; assorted protozoa (amoebas, flagella, & ciliates) that eat bacteria and give off nitrogen (nutrient cycling); and nematodes, that also help keep the ecosystem in balance.

Unfortunately, almost all of these microscopic creatures do not do well in sunlight or in the presence of chemical fertilizers or herbicides. Which means, when traditional (the past couple of generations) advice urges tilling the soil in the Spring, or amending with commercial fertilizers, you will be killing the very microbes that would otherwise feed your plants and improve your soil!!

So best garden practices are:

  1. Keep your garden beds covered with mulch at all times. The mulch can be wood chips (except black walnut) or straw (not hay!). Do not dig the mulch into the soil. Layering should always remain: soil, compost, mulch (from bottom to top).
  2. Cover the walkways between the beds with mulch. This encourages fungi to extend its root system between beds and get even more nutrients to the plants in the beds.
  3. Move the mulch aside to add compost or vermicompost. (Never put red wiggler worms in the garden, even in their own compost. Red wigglers do not burrow so they can not escape heat or cold! Red wigglers are strictly indoor pets; they appreciate the same temperatures we do.) Then put the mulch back over the compost.
  4. Remove mulch where you plant seeds or put in transplants. Keep the seed rows and transplants free of mulch until they have sprouted and established themselves.

Like Permaculture, vermiculture uses the methods that are in place in Nature. The bins that the Texas Worm Ranch uses mimic the forest floor with composted wood chips as bedding and leaves as the top layer.

worm bins
Worm bins covered in leaves at the Texas Worm Ranch, Garland, Texas.

Treating the soil and the beings (microbes, worms, insects, etc.) who live in it with care and tenderness is, for me, an expression of gratitude for their support of our lives and of respect for them as living creatures.

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The Future of Food*

organic veggies 2-22-18 copy
Organic local carrots, winter radishes, & kohlrabi. Watercolor pencil & gouache on paper, 15″ x 11″ © J.Hart 2018

Instagram is filled with seductive photos of food from high end bloggers, chefs, and assorted foodies. Some of these creative food aficionados were even kind enough to respond to my recent posts. A thank you to all the bloggers who commented and responded!

Now, as a practicing foodie, I appreciate both the pleasure of food sensually and visually. However, our present huge interest in using food as a creative outlet gives me pause. It seems to me that it  rests upon a faith that the supplies that support it, the diversity of crops, both vegetable and animal, coming in from all over the planet, will continue to exist, certainly through our lifetime. I think that is very unlikely: what is more to be expected is that we will lose, in the very near future, many of the foods that we take for granted:

http://www.businessinsider.com/foods-that-may-go-extinct-2016-6?r=UK&IR=T/#chickpeas-2

In our present situation, it is heat that is, in the next couple of years, going to radically change the way we eat and drink. It is going to mean that the huge fields of corn, soy, and wheat-with which the mammoth industrial corporations support their empire of fast, processed, and cheap food-will be burned and destroyed by fire and drought. It also means that smaller crops like barley which supports the cheap beer that is the main alcoholic beverage in the States will also be affected.

https://thefern.org/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-montanas-barley-farmers-possibly-beer/

Very high temperatures during the growing months will make harvesting basic crops like strawberries by hand very dangerous.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/brand-connect/ucdavis/protecting-californias-farmworkers-as-temperatures-climb/

The short-term solution will probably be night harvesting, and, of course, the development of robotic harvesting:  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/07/437285894/4-labor-intensive-crops-farmers-wish-they-had-robots-to-harvest.

Not only heat, but lack of water or too much water at the wrong time, will affect basics like olive oil:

The systematic destruction of the soil and ecosystems will eventually eliminate crops like cocoa:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/13/chocolate-industry-drives-rainforest-disaster-in-ivory-coast

Finally, the change in the weather and the creation of what Elizabeth Kolbert calls the new Pangaea – the unimpeded spread of microbes, fungi, and insects carrying diseases throughout the globe – are leading to the destruction of crops and the disappearance of foods we have learned to take for granted like bananas and oranges.

This does not even begin to cover the destruction by industrial fishing of ocean habitats that support the seafood we are all encouraged to eat for better health. (Here in Dallas, the grocery stores sell a relatively inexpensive shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, I am hesitant, knowing what I do about the dead zones and massive pollution in the Gulf, to buy these shrimp!)

So one issue is that cooking as if the whole world is one’s grocery store is a reflection of a fossil fuel dependent mentality that refuses to imagine that this way of living will shortly end. Even health books promote, without being aware of it, a static delusional world view. Recipes, such as those I just found in  Dr. Mark Hyman’s Eat Fat, Get Lean cookbook (which advertises a combined paleo and vegan diet), depends heavily on foods, like coconut and avocados, which have a huge carbon footprint for North America.

The other more difficult problem is that cooking as a commodity for consumption by the wealthy (food as art!) normalizes habits that are destructive to the planet.  I can imagine in the not too distant future millions of poor people worldwide starving; the middle class here paying much of their income for food and being disappointed that the wide diversity of food they were used to is no longer available; and the superrich continuing to eat as if there is no tomorrow!

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/11/mass-starvation-humanity-flogging-land-death-earth-food

(This is probably the best opinion piece on the coming food catastrophe. It is not the first time that I have posted this, nor will it be the last!)

So my suggestion, as always, is to move away from the exotic and expensive in cooking as in life: to focus on your area’s food traditions and local crops; and grow some of your own food. Your recipes will become more wholesome if less photogenic and novel, but the planet will thank you!

*Warning: this post is what I call a Cassandra Report. As many of you may remember from Greek stories, Cassandra was a beautiful woman with whom the god Apollo fell in love. He gave her the gift of prophecy, but she rejected him. Enraged, he cursed her with the ability to tell truth about the future, but the inability to have anyone ever believe her!

So my modest guesses of what the future will hold for us are Cassandra Reports. As a disclaimer, I do not believe that I am clairvoyant. However, I do believe that anyone with a good imagination and the courage to accept change, can “foresee” the future: you do not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows! (Bob Dylan)

Grow for Flavor!

 

carrots for Grow for Flavor
My drawing from page 71 of James Wong’s book: ‘Grow for Flavor.’ Photos by Jason Ingram.

It is the beginning of the growing season here in Dallas, Texas. Be still my heart!! I have lived for the past 20 years in a place with a 10 week growing season, so this is pretty amazing! Having found a community garden where I can help with the gardening (more information to come on that in a future post), I have started to research what to plant here in the South (again, very different cultivars than what I am used to); and I found a terrific book at the library that I want to share.

It is James Wong’s Grow for Flavor, published by Firefly Books, 2016. I loved this book so much that I purchased it on Kindle. James Wong is a self-described botanical geek and serious foodie, and the information he supplies in this book is very different from what one usually finds in gardening books, even organic or sustainable ones.

The main focus, as the title tells us, is on flavor. Now, that seems like a given, especially for home gardens, but when James read the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2014 action plan for crop breeding, he found that not once was “flavor” or “taste” mentioned, and surprisingly, that the cultivars promoted for the home gardener are the same as those used in large farms! Happily, as James read through thousands of new studies, he found that there is a shift going on to, not only better flavor, but to better nutrition (and they are connected chemically!) in the new plants being developed.

So,  James Wong focusses on flavor and, its partner, nutrition as the goals for your garden, and dismisses advertisers’ hype promoting large sized photogenic fruits (usually bland) and huge yields (unnecessary in a personal garden) to which we have become habituated. Instead, think small but intensely flavored blueberries, cherries, strawberries; carrots of all colors from deepest purple through orange to cream; and salad greens from sweet to fiery including what we mistake for weeds. Wong provides great suggestions of the names of the best cultivars and descriptions of what they taste like as well as super suggestions on how to grow them.

Because the basis of this book is the latest trials, James also gives all sorts of neat tricks (scientifically tested!) for improving the health of the plants. Did you know that you can jump start your tricky-to-germinate seeds like parsley and corn by soaking them overnight in an aspirin and seaweed soak (pg.34)? Or that watering your tomatoes with a 2% solution of salt water twice a year will make your tomatoes taste better (pg.49)? Or that slowly and gently stroking seedlings once they are one inch high makes them stockier and more resilient (p.34)?! And finally, James suggests in his recipes (also included in this book!) that you can cook with tomato leaves (pg.52)?! I have been adding carrot greens to my soups for awhile now, but chefs are starting to add tomato leaves for that leafy smell!

One final note, before I send you out to get this book and I start researching where to get these great cultivars, Grow for Flavor has also a lot of information for us permaculture fans including how to plant trees, best ways to prune, and when to harvest. You can learn more about and from James Wong at http://www.jameswong.co.uk. Happy Gardening!

 

A Yankee travels Dallas

shadows at bus stop 2-18 watercolor web
At the bus stop: just me and the bus sign.

Some of the things I do here in Dallas, like walking, are seen as something only a Yankee would do, though I think that taking the bus is a very Southern tradition especially for working people-think of the Montgomery bus strike.

Certainly, my experience of using the bus system here in Dallas has been very different than using the bus and metro system in Montreal. One similarity (and a good one it is!) is that in both places I, as a senior (over sixty-five years old), can buy a monthly pass for $40 U.S. (49$ CAD, which is roughly the same price).

The big difference seems to be that the transit system in Dallas is not the first choice for getting around town. The buses are busy during the morning and evening rush hours, but are almost empty on the weekends. They also run on once an hour schedules during the weekends. Sometimes I have been the only person on the bus or the DART trains in the middle of a Saturday afternoon!

It is a peculiar sensation to wait for a bus or a train in a deserted station or all alone at a bus stop. In Montreal, there are always people in the trains, or getting out at my stop even if it is after midnight on a Friday or Saturday night! But here the preference for the young & hip is Uber.

The mass transit here is also, like the neighbourhoods, de facto segregated by income, race, and ethnicity. Almost all the passengers are people of color, either working folks or indigents. However, I have found the atmosphere on the buses very warm and welcoming, much of which is the result of engaged drivers and a Southern feeling for hospitality even to strangers.

The drivers too are, almost to a person, very considerate of their passengers. The buses have a ramp that can be let down to allow people in wheelchairs to roll up more easily into the bus. Then the drivers must get out of their seats to attach the wheelchairs to the bus. And when the disabled person needs to get off, the drivers have to disconnect the chairs again, and let down (and then take up) the ramps. This is a very important service that the Dallas transit offers their customers, but as there is no one on board to help the drivers with this job, the buses often run behind schedule!

So, once again, a better choice for transportation is in place, but the difficulty is getting people to opt for this choice, and by upping the ridership, create improvements to the service.