June 19, 2021

Wicking Pots

I'm always on the look-out for ideas to conserve water. I've been happy with my ollas, and here is another nifty idea, wicking pots. Container plants usually need a lot of watering, and I find them difficult to keep properly hydrated. The wicking pot solves those problems. The idea is to create a water reservoir in the bottom of a pot. This allows for watering from the bottom with no evaporation loss. An air space above the reservoir keeps the roots from growing into the water and drowning the plant.  Here's how I made ours.

Pots and perforated drainage pipe.

Anything with no drainage holes can be used as a pot. I chose something fairly decorative, since these are going on the front porch. 5-gallon buckets are common, as are 55-gallon drums cut in half to make two containers. It needs to hold water in the bottom, so anything without drainage holes will work. The perforated drainage pipe will create the water reservoir and air space. Any kind of pipe could be used, or plastic bottles. They just need a diameter of 4 to 6 inches. 

Each pot also needs...

Watering tube.

It should be long enough to stick out of the pot, and a diameter so that a garden hose can be used to fill the pot. 1.5 to 2 inch PVC works well, with the bottom cut at an angle.This will keep it from sitting flat on the bottom of the pot and preventing water from filling the reservoir. 

Pot with drainage pipe and watering tube.

The next step is to drill a drainage hole. It needs to be one inch below the top of the drainage pipe. This will create the necessary air space and keep water from flooding the pot. 

Drilling the drainage hole.

Next, is to add a barrier to keep the soil out of the water reservoir. Most people use some sort of landscape cloth, but cotton fabric or old cotton t-shirt fabric can be used.

I used landscape cloth.

Then the pots are filled with soil.

The fabric is fitted around the contour of the drainage pipe, so some of the soil is in contact with the water.

I placed these wicking pots on either side of the front porch steps. The slabs were from pillars on the original front porch, which were torn down. Dan added the trellises when he finished rebuilding it.

Ready to plant.

We want the pots to contain vining plants that will look pretty and help shade the front porch. 

Wicking pots containing transplanted Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes.

From what people say, wicking pots only need to be watered once a week. Sounds like an excellent kind of container gardening, doesn't it?

June 15, 2021

Landrace Gardening: Book Review and Giveaway

by Joseph Lofthouse

Last week, I mentioned reading a book that has completely inspired me. Here is the book review I promised, along with how to win a copy.

Landrace gardening will probably be a foreign concept to most gardeners, even those of us who have adopted organic and permaculture gardening techniques. Landrace gardening is a new paradigm in food production. Joseph Lofthouse does an excellent job of explaining this paradigm, and has the experience to back it up. The reader quickly understands that this isn't just theory, this is reality. 

The first chapter, "Survival of the Fittest," is an introduction to what landrace gardening is, how landrace seeds differ from commercially produced seed, and why it yields better results. 

Chapter 2, "Freelance vs. Industry," details the history and politics of food production and the shifting balance between small-scale versus centralized trends. The author beautifully illustrates the dichotomy we now find ourselves in as a result of these opposing philosophies.

Chapter 3 is titled "Continuous Improvement." This is where the author makes his case for genetic diversity through landracing: reliability, productivity, better tasting food, less stress—for both the garden and the gardener! The information in this chapter is framed in personal experience, and gives the reader an understanding of how doable landracing a garden is.

The next chapter, "Heirlooms, Hybrids, and Landraces," explores the meanings of these terms, and for me, challenged a number of assumptions I've had about heirlooms and especially hybrids. In this chapter Joseph explains the problems with heirlooms and how to use hybrids to increase genetic diversity, as well as what to watch out for. 

Chapter 5, "Creating Landraces," starts getting to the nitty-gritty of the book. The previous chapters equipped the reader with "why," now we start learning "how." We learn what kinds of seeds to use to get started, how to find them, and how to plant for desirable crossing. This chapter also explains which hybrids are useful for landracing and which are not.

The goal of landrace plant breeding is to create crops that thrive in our own gardens. Chapter 8, "New Methods and Crops," explores some of the techniques and possibilities of landracing garden seeds. It's filled with many, many examples, which further equip the reader for success.

Chapter 7 is titled "Promiscuous Pollination." Initially, I thought this was just a cutesy title, but promiscuous pollination is a real thing! Discusses the aspects of pollination, outcrossing, and mostly-selfing. Lots of examples clarify these subjects to the reader's advantage. 

Chapter 8 discusses food security. It stresses the importance of community, inbreeding vs. diversity, crop cloning, full season growing, multi-species diversity, and foraging. Again, the many examples from the author's observations and experience are treasured added value. 

Chapter 9, "Landrace Maintenance," explains how to maintain a large genetic base for healthy landrace crops. Discusses adding new genetics, keeping older genetics, the value of larger populations, selection, and crossing. 

Chapter 10 deals with "Pests and Diseases." If landrace varieties are more productive, then are they more resistant to pests and diseases? In this chapter, Joseph discusses how he deals with pests and diseases, and how he encourages and selects for resistance.

Chapter 11, "Saving Seeds." The goal here is to breed plants that become localized to the growing conditions in any particular garden. Saving seeds as a landrace gardener alleviates the isolation issues that are difficult for people who are trying to maintain purity in highly inbred cultivars. Discusses dry and wet harvesting, seed viability, and best storage conditions.

Chapters 12 through 16 take a detailed look at five common farm and garden crops: tomatoes, corn, legumes, squash, and grains. Each discusses advantages and problems of growing, breeding, and selecting seed for the many varieties existing within each group. Also contains tips on cooking and storing. The author's talent for plainly explaining technical information really shines in these chapters.

Chapter 17, "Landrace Everything," begins to extend the landrace concept beyond grain and vegetables: chickens, honeybees, mushrooms, and trees. Once again, this chapter contains good information and tips for extending a landrace program.

The appendix contains a quick, easy-reference summary of the book, and a very handy chart entitled "Ease of Developing Landrace Crops." It guides the reader as to the ease or difficulty of landracing various crops including which F1 hybrids to avoid. 

In his preface, the author says, "The take-away message from this book is a message of hope." And it absolutely is. So, if you are a discouraged gardener, frustrated with germination failure and poor performance, then this book is for you. If you are interested in food security and diversity, then this book is for you. If you are looking for a practical way to "do something" to address the world's many problems, then this book is for you. 

Joseph's book is available at Amazon.com, but between now and Friday, Permies.com is hosting a giveaway for 4 paperback copies of this book! This link will take you to more information about the giveaway and specifics for entering. 

June 12, 2021

Fried Halloumi

What's halloumi? It's one of our favorite homemade cheeses!

Halloumi is a traditional Mediterranean goat milk cheese. It requires a few extra steps compared to other cheeses (how-to here), but it tastes good and freezes well. It's one of our favorites, especially grilled or pan fried. I've experimented with various methods of frying it, and this is the way we like best.

Fried Halloumi Cheese

  • slabs of halloumi cheese (instructions to make here)
  • flour
  • egg, beaten
  • bread crumbs
  • oil or fat of choice
Heat a cast iron pan with just a bit of oil or fat. Meanwhile, dredge each piece of cheese in flour, dip in egg, then roll in bread crumbs to coat. Place in hot fat and brown each side until golden and crispy. Serve immediately. 

June 8, 2021

A New Paradigm for Gardening & Seed Saving

Paradigm - A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality.

Paradigm shift - A radical change in thinking from an accepted point of view to a new one.

I've always striven to be a good organic gardener: compost, mulch, and no chemicals. I've incorporated permaculture, natural farming, and regenerative agriculture techniques into my gardening, and tried to expand my understanding of soil chemistry and soil biology. Even so, there's been a subtle common theme throughout my gardening blog posts for the past several years: poor germination. I've wracked my brain trying to figure this out. What have I been doing wrong? Is it the soil? The growing conditions? Our southern heat? My compost? Not enough water? The cats using the garden beds as litter boxes? I haven't been able to figure it out and it's been discouraging.

The other day, I received a review copy of a new book and read this:

"When I plant seeds obtained from the industrialized seed system*, it is common for 75% to 95% of the varieties to fail."
Joseph Lofthouse, Landrace Gardening: Food Security 
through Biodiversity and Promiscuous Pollination

There it was—in stark black and white—the thing that I haven't even wanted to admit to myself, seed failure! What a relief to know I wasn't alone. And now, thanks to Joseph's new book, I'm beginning to understand. 

*First, I'd like to clarify something. By industrialized seed system, he's not just referring to commercially produced hybrid seed. He's referring to seed that has been selectively bred for genetic "purity" through the deliberate, now standard process of isolation and inbreeding. It can be hybrid seeds, but the same process is how heirloom and open-pollinated seeds are produced.

The result of this seed breeding system is the hundreds of beautiful garden seed varieties that we drool over in seed catalogues. But therein lies the problem. All those varieties come at the cost of an extremely narrow gene pool and loss of vigor and adaptability. I deeply appreciate the desire to preserve our heritage species and varieties, but by doing so we are losing life-saving biodiversity in our seed supply. The more gene specific the vegetable variety, the less it is able to adapt to a different growing region.

This is what I've been experiencing in my own garden. When I compare my early gardens to the germination rates of the past couple of years, it's obvious it's become a significant problem in only a few years.

This isn't just a problem for the home gardener. This is a commercial problem as well, and on a global scale. How many times have you heard that modern industrialized agriculture is the only answer for producing enough food to feed the world? That organic farming can't do the job? The reason why this is believed is found in this article from Independent Science News, "Stuffed or Starved? Evolutionary Plant Breeding Might Have the Answer." Here are some of the key points:

"Today, much of “institutional” plant breeding, . . . has as its objective industrial agriculture (the only one that according to some will be able to feed the world), . . . (and) is based on the selection . . . of uniform varieties."

"One of the reasons for the difference in productivity between conventional agriculture and organic farming is that, in the latter, lacking suitable varieties, the same varieties are grown that are selected for conventional agriculture; these varieties find themselves in a completely different situation from the one for which they were selected, and therefore produce less."

Industry's answer is genetic modification and more chemicals. Except that it isn't fixing the problem. The real answer? (from the same article).

"The method consists in creating plant populations by mixing seeds previously obtained by crossing different varieties, and letting them evolve . . . This offers the possibility of adapting the crop both to long-term and short-term climate change, but also to control weeds, diseases and insects without resorting to pesticides."

Joseph Lofthouse calls these landrace seeds. 

"Landrace: A locally-adapted, genetically-diverse, promiscuously-pollinating food crop. Landraces are intimately connected to the land, ecosystem, farmer, and community. Landraces offer food security through their ability to adapt to changing conditions."
Joseph Lofthouse, Landrace Gardening

What Joseph's book is offering, is a new gardening paradigm. In it, he provides a clear explanation and practical plan for the home gardener. I will have a full review next week, along with news about a giveaway at Permies.com. (Stay tuned for all of that). But if this information is exciting to you as it is to me, you might not want to wait that long. You can get Joseph's book now at Amazon.com.