How to Ensure a Sustainable Food Supply

Here’s how to grow tomatoes using plastic and hydroponic fertilizer. After harvest, this plastic goes to the landfill. Why, you may ask? To get a jump on the season, without having to resort to labour intensive methods. At the end of harvest, the soil is depleted.

P1350808Petrochemical Tomatoes

Here’s how to grow garlic by building up the soil with buckwheat, then planting the garlic, then laying down straw, in the fall. It should have decomposed by harvest, leaving the garlic ready to pick from the ground. This, by the way, is across the road from the farm above. At the end of harvest, here, the soil is enriched.


Organic Garlic

It’s as simple as that.


Peaches: the Wandering Fruit

When the five civilized tribes were driven out of their homelands and into Indian Country in Oklahoma from 1831-1838, they left seeds of exotic persian apples given to them by Spanish Jesuits along their trails of tears, so that something of the earth would be there to receive them when they came back. These fruits became the root of the reconstruction of the American South after the War Between the States (1861-1865), and of the settlement of the North West after the Yakima War (1855-1858), which continued the clearances of indigenous thinking from earth being reconstructed as property. The persian apples, which we know as peaches, continue their wandering, thank God. Here is a peach tree growing from a pit thrown away at the side of Highway 97, as it passes through the oaks of the Yakama Reservation, on the way south to the Columbia.P1280780It is doing well.

peach3 If you’re passing by that way in August, do stop at the shoe tree …

shoe… and eat a peach and carry its pit on down the road.

peach1… and keep the dream alive. Thanks.



The Trail to Nowhere

It started as a trail to the promised land. Here at the Whitman Mission in Walla Walla, in Oregon Territory (now in the State of Washington), it has led to a hill of cheatgrass, an invasive weed, and a monument to the dead, who got caught between worlds. This was the arrival point for thousands of new immigrants to the territory along the Oregon Trail in its early years.cheat

We live in the ruins.

Blood of the Earth

I live in the country of the Columbia River, above the lake that spills into one of its tributaries, the Okanogan River. In this country, there are many rivers like the Okanagan, such as the San Poil, the Kootenay, the Spokane, the Methow, the Wenatchee, the Snake, the John Day, the White Salmon, the Willamette, and the Young. That is just one small list of many rivers of energy pouring into one great stream that flows out to sea. Each draws the energy of a piece of land, some of them almost four billion years old, others countable in the tens of millions, together into one flow that pours straight into the Pacific, without a delta or a single shoal, only an underwater bar that brings the desert to the mouth of the sea. Today, I was in the John Day. It looks like this:


Heart of the Earth, John Day River Valley

And look what I found growing out of this old volcanic ash:

bitter2That’s right, bitter root, the most important foodstuff in this country. And she was blooming…

bitter3These are the blood of the land. Together, they flow into the water, and out of the water comes …

,,,our hearts, here in the Columbia Country, the red fish, in this case the Sockeye of N’kmp, that have gone home to Siberia and have come home to the Columbia. This is more than the maple trees of the East. This is everything.

The Non-Wage Economy and Creativity

I spoke about the non-wage economy yesterday, and how it operated by trading work for the opportunity to do more work, rather than cashing out on work produced. Such an economy draws a profit from human effort, rather than by transferring environmental energy into a social sphere. I think this image below makes that clear. Here is my garden, two weeks ago, with the resident dove. You can see rhubarb, raspberries, garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, lettuce (the quail got the spinach), a few rescued trees heeled in, a transparent apple tree (with a  mystery graft), and some grass grown for mulch. The stump is a mountain ash that up-and-died. To create this garden, I spent many, many hours carting away landscape cloth, gravel, sand, a child’s playhouse, which I sadly don’t need, and hauling in soil, manure and peat moss. The neighbours in behind, operating in the wage economy, have spent many hours to reduce their work load with the earth. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. They have stripped out the overgrown junipers and are replacing them with shade cloth and gravel. The productive capacity of the earth has been removed. You can see which yard the dove (behind the stump) prefers.P1250410Here’s another example. Here you can see my nectarine tree in flower, and my grapes budding out, as well as sugar snap peas, oregano, self-seeded radishes, perennial green onions, chives, and an apple tree I grafted a year ago. Note the blossoms. It takes two years for an apple tree to blossom, but I encouraged this one to blossom in one year, through a couple techniques of  mechanical summer-time manipulation of the flow of its naturally-produced hormones at bud differentiation time (soft-pinching and the weighting down of branches.)

P1250412I think “Work” is the wrong word for what is going on here. “Life” might be a better one, or “enrichment”. Through the giving of my life to this tree, it gives me more life back than it would have without my care. Its capacity to sustain me and my wife and our friends and family has been increased. I would call the reserve of productive capacity within the earth creativity. It is what has been given by human effort, and which can be drawn on without being exhausted, as long as that effort is still given.




The Non Wage Economy

I pruned the apple trees …

P1250367 … and the cherry trees …P1250353The work was joyous. I did it in between stints as writer in residence at the library. Morning: pruning; afternoon: editing. That kind of thing. As payment for the pruning, I was promised cherries, to make juice (so, many hours more work), and a piece of land for potatoes …P1260027

…and more work! I shovelled this plot by hand … P1260032

Finishing Up So I Can Rush to Town for a Discussion About Education

So, that was the potatoes in my basement, and $30 of seed potatoes from the garden centre in town, and 4 hours in the hot sun with a shovel. A guy stopped by and said, “You need to invest in a rototiller!” I answered: “That’s just the thing. I figured it out: the trip to town to rent it, the time to drive it back, the time to get gas, the time to till, and the time to get it back … I’m faster to shovel.” But, yeah, my payment for work was the opportunity to do more work. You know, that sounds good, doesn’t it.


It’s Good to Have Visitors

Large …P1260073 … and small.



I planted these flowers a year ago, to remember ones I had thirty years before that, and to keep that time alive, and the link, through it, to a woman who kept a garden better than I ever could. Look at the life my gesture brought!

detailbeetleLook at the view of the flower it led me to:


Is this not the art of time?


A Bad Spring for Ants

Here are some apple blossoms, sweet as can be.P1250569Here are some after the weaver ants got at them.


They eat out the core to get at the nectar. Bees are gentler about this. The ants, though, are hungry. Obviously. This small backyard orchard I was visiting is clear of bugs, because of thick layers of mulch, made from chipped trees. It’s a great non-chemical way to keep the asparagus beetles down…


The beetles have to go up and down through six inches of the stuff night and day. They can’t manage it. They don’t. It seems, though, that the desert it creates, as organic as can be, just isn’t good for the ants, so they turn to a starvation diet: apple blossoms. Who knew!


Complex environments have their advantages.



Gardening Without Digging

You just need pots. Here are my father’s early potatoes. Because they like heat. Because he’s not 20 years old anymore. Because he has figured out that planting potatoes in compost allows him to move the compost into the garden, to pick the potatoes by turning them upside down, and to spread the compost at the same time. When you’re in your 80s, smart’s the thing.

P1250502You could plant these pretty much anywhere. His compost recipe? Shavings, manure and sand. Because that’s what he’s got. The potatoes are happy with it all. That’s my Dad: something new every day.