The Strawberry Moon

Tonight is a full moon, but not just any full moon. In the Algonquian language, the language spoken by all the original inhabitants of Johnson County (the Miami, Lenape, Kiikaapoi, and Kaskaskia nations), the full moon of June is called Strawberry Moon. This moon is celebrated because it coincides with the strawberry harvest, and the beginning of the local fruit season. People often think that this farm is named after strawberries, but it’s actually named for this moon, this time of year. The beginning of the fruit harvest. Today I’m celebrating the Strawberry Moon more fully than ever before, because we finally have native wild strawberries growing on our land!

I started these strawberry plants from seed over the winter, and they have grown really prolifically. Strawberry seeds require a process called cold stratification in order to germinate. This is a fancy way to say that the seeds need to go through winter before they will sprout. That makes a lot of sense if you think about the life cycle of a strawberry. The seeds are in the fruit, and if they sprouted as soon as they hit the ground in June or July, the plants wouldn’t have time to get big and strong enough to survive winter before it comes. So the seeds are patient. Gardeners can place moistened seeds in the refrigerator for a couple of months to convince the plants that winter has passed, and then give them an early start under lights. The plants are incredibly tiny and fragile at first, so they must be watered from the bottom or with a very fine mister until they gain some size.

Since these plants are so young, they don’t have fruit on them yet. But they do have flowers! And flowers are the promise of fruit. Notice how the flowers shown are white, not yellow. You may have seen another plant that looks very similar. Mock Strawberry (Duchesnea indica) looks very similar and even bears little red fruits. But the fruits of the mock strawberry have very little flavor. The Mock Strawberry has yellow flowers, and the fruits are round with little bumps on them. If you look really closely at the fruits, you may be able to tell that they don’t really look like strawberries, but they have duped even some experienced foragers. Admittedly, I’ve never actually tasted a native wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), but I’m told that the flavor is phenomenal. I look forward to acquiring some first hand experience on this subject soon. 😋

Unlike Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca), our native strawberries send out runners. Runners are like long stems that sprout baby plants along them. This is one way that the plants reproduce themselves. Some gardeners prune the runners back, but I am not doing that this year. I’m excited for the plants to spread and reproduce themselves. I don’t think it’s possible to have too many strawberries.

This image shows the mock strawberry, Duchesnea indica. This is not a strawberry. It’s not even related to strawberries. It’s not native here, but it is very common. You can see that the leaves look very similar. The fruit is red and round with bumps on it. The fruit is white inside, not red inside like a strawberry.

Although I’m still currently strawberry-less, you need not feel sorry for me. I’m writing this article powered by a full belly of black raspberries. Black raspberries are another amazing native fruit plant!

Sage Abundance

Last summer, I wrote an article about two different cultivars of garden sage growing in my garden. It has been fascinating to watch these plants grow side-by-side. Their differences go beyond those of leaf shape and flavor. Both are the same species, Salvia officinalis. For me, growing a diverse assortment of plant varieties is one of the great joys of gardening. I love to taste all the different flavors, delight in all the colors and shapes, and enjoy extending the harvest season by growing some varieties that yield early, some that yield in great abundance, and others that can be stored well through winter.

Before I built an herb spiral and raised beds, I never had any luck growing sage. It didn’t thrive in my moist clay soil, because it’s a plant that loves heat and good drainage. The plants didn’t survive the spring rainy season, so I never even got to find out if they survived winter. This spring for the first time in my life, I have sage plants that are over a year old! They’ve grown from tiny seedlings into shrubby bushes, and even crowded out some of their plant neighbors. I’ve been photographing these plants all year and taking notes comparing the two varieties, so you can join me in observing them through the seasons.

May 2020

Here’s the herb spiral, brand new and just planted in May of 2020. You can see both sages at the very top of the spiral. The large, rounded leaf variety on the left is a German cultivar called “Berggarten”, and the narrow leaf variety on the right is not a named variety, it was simply sold as “sage”. At this stage both plants are tiny, and about the same size.

July 2020

In July 2020, both plants have put on some impressive growth in their first two months. At the time, I felt like the Berggarten plant was growing faster, but they look about the same in this photo.

Berggarten Sage and Garden Sage Growing Together
August 2020

By August, both plants had reached a large enough size for me to begin carefully harvesting small quantities of individual leaves from each plant. This is the only kind of harvesting recommended for sage plants in their first year. I am told that a sage plant needs to conserve its energy to have a good chance of surviving winter, so it is not advised to harvest much from a sage plant in its first year.

February 2021

In February, Berggarten sage still looks pretty good! The garden variety sage is not very attractive this time of year, and looks near death.

March 2021

In March, Berggarten sage is much greener and more lush than the “regular” sage. It has already begun growing again!

April 2021

By April, both sage plants are totally green and growing. And already, the garden variety sage plant is passing up Berggarten in size and vigor.

May 2021

By May, the regular garden sage plant is in full bloom. It put on a beautiful display of lavender colored flowers, the delight of bumble bees and gardeners alike. Both plants are vigorous, lush, and healthy.

I still haven’t harvested large quantities of sage from these plants, because I don’t want to impede their growth. I’ve been using up most of my sage harvests for tea. The tea can be made with 1-2 tsp of dried sage leaves per cup of boiling water, steeped for about 10 minutes1. If you brew the tea too long or too strong, it can be unpleasantly bitter and astringent, but I find the lightly brewed tea to be very delicious and soothing. Sage is beloved by herbalists for its many health-boosting properties, and by chefs for its warm savory flavor.

If you’re interested in learning more about sage’s uses in herbal medicine, I recommend the following books:

  • “The New Healing Herbs” by Michael Castleman
  • “Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs” by Rosemary Gladstar
  • “The Herbal Apothecary” by JJ Pursell
  1. Tea recipe comes from “The New Healing Herbs” by Michael Castleman

A Multipurpose Garden

Last summer I had four raised bed gardens and one herb spiral. It was the humble beginning of what will eventually become a 3/4 acre market garden. I suppose I could rent some expensive heavy machinery and purchase a huge quantity of compost and seeds and hire some help and take over the entire 3/4 acre space at once, but I don’t prefer to work that way. I prefer to minimize my costs and my fossil fuel consumption, I like doing this work by myself and by hand, and I choose to grow my planting areas slowly so that when I make a mistake, I can correct it before it becomes a giant mistake. I worked all winter long expanding the garden, and it now consists of 13 raised beds, two herb spirals, a 20×30 in-ground vegetable patch, a large herb border, and mulched pathways. It’s my home garden, it’s a mini-sized market garden, and it’s also a seed garden. Next year I hope to make it twice as big.

I’ve filled every garden I’ve ever planted with heirloom seeds (open pollinated seeds that have been & can be saved and passed down through the generations). I choose heirlooms partly because I appreciate the colors, textures, rich flavors, history, and diversity, but also because I believe in them. An heirloom seed is a renewable resource. If you learn how to steward it, you never have to buy it again, and you can share it with whomever you please. And if you select seeds only from your best and healthiest plants, every year your seeds will become better adapted to your needs and local conditions.

One way to support heirloom seeds and keep them available for all is to purchase them from independently-owned seed companies with good ethical practices. I’ve done my share of that over the years, but lately I’ve been working towards becoming a seed keeper myself. Last year, I successfully saved seeds from my Provider Bush Beans, several kinds of herbs, and a particularly vigorous and tasty butternut squash from my friend’s garden. I also saved enough Carola seed potatoes to double my potato planting from last year, and I have previous experience saving garlic cloves to replant year after year. It is extremely satisfying work. This year I planted the seeds that I saved, and now I’m watching them thrive with an extra layer of pride and connection. I remember your parents, little plants. Let’s make them proud together.

I structured my whole garden this year with seed stewardship in mind. Plants that can be isolated by distance have been given that isolation space to prevent cross pollination. For some other plants that can’t be isolated by space, I planted only one variety of each species so that no cross pollination can occur.

Corn is a special case, because it can be cross pollinated by wind up to 1/2 mile away. Although I’m only growing one variety of corn, my neighbors grow another. Since I can’t isolate my corn by distance, I am attempting to isolate it by time. I started my corn seeds extra early (indoors under lights, then transplanted at the proper time), and I chose a variety that is supposed to mature much faster than the kind my neighbors grow. With luck, my corn will be completely done before the surrounding field corn tassels. It’s really important not to let your garden corn cross pollinate with field corn, especially if you plan to save seeds, because the patented genetically modified genes from the industrial corn can get into your seeds. Even if your mother plant is an heirloom, if the father pollen is a GMO, you aren’t legally allowed to plant those baby seeds. Seed Savers Exchange does sell some special bags that can be used to protect the silks from stray pollen, and I am planning to use those too as an extra measure of protection.

I’ve even planted a few varieties that are rare and/or expensive, so I’m growing them just to make more seeds! One of these is a special bean from the Potawatami Nation called Potawatomi Pole Lima that I sourced from Truelove Seeds. The seeds are rare and they sell out quickly, so I only got one packet. I may not even eat any of the harvest this year, because that would reduce the number of seeds I can save to grow a larger planting next year. Another is Mandan Parching Lavender corn, a beautiful pink colored flour corn that is one of the traditional native corns from North Dakota. I’m also growing French Grey Shallots, Santé Shallots, Inchelium Red Garlic, and Tree Onions. These are not grown from seeds, but from bulbs. Bulbs are expensive compared to seeds, and $100 bought barely enough bulbs to fill two 4×8 beds. Will I get my money’s worth from that planting? Probably not, if I simply eat the harvest. But if I re-plant all or most of it, I’ll be able to increase my planting next year to many times that size for no additional money!

Before too long, I should have a market-sized planting of gourmet garlic, shallots, onions, lima beans, and much much more, and plenty enough to save seed AND eat my fill AND take to the market. With certain fruits like tomatoes and ripe peppers, you can save the seed and still eat the fruit the seed came out of. Win-win. Year after year, for as long as I continue the work, I’ll always be able to have these plants in my garden.

If you’re interested in saving seeds from your own garden, there are wonderful free resources available from Seed Savers Exchange. I also recommend the book “Seed To Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth. Perhaps it’s available for free at your local library! It’s a very rewarding, economical, and accessible skill.

Brood X and The Knifelike Ovipositors

Cool band name, right? Brood X is indeed musical, and their infrequent performances are loud and memorable. They are 17 year periodic cicadas. They are due to emerge any day now.

During the last cicada summer, 17 years ago, I was a student of Computer Science, and I subleased an apartment in Bloomington while I worked a local internship and took summer classes at Indiana University. The campus there is natural and semi-wooded, and when the cicadas emerged, they did so in force. I didn’t have a garden at that time, but I didn’t notice any obvious damage to the plant life on campus. For the most part, all I noticed was the deafening sound they produced. I had to wear ear plugs to go outside, because my ears physically ached from the collective volume of cicada mating songs.

Now I find myself in another natural, wooded setting. And this time, I’m responsible for the care of a young orchard. I’ve tried to read and prepare as much as possible for the upcoming cicada emergence, and I hope I have done well enough. I have learned that cicadas are native insects, that they play an important role in our ecosystem, that they’re fascinating and unique, and that they should be revered and protected rather than feared. I have read that the cicadas do not eat anything from the garden, nor do they feed on the foliage of trees or shrubs, nor do they harm humans, livestock, or pets. Insecticide sprays are neither needed nor effective against them.

Cicadas do, however, lay their eggs in trees. To do this, they slice open pencil-width twigs with their saw-shaped ovipositors and lay their eggs inside. This shouldn’t cause any long term problems for established trees, where all the pencil-width twigs are located near the extremities of the tree. But it could spell big trouble for young trees like mine where the main trunk falls within the cicada’s preferred size range. The official recommendation to prevent damage is to wrap the whole tree lollipop-style to keep the cicadas out. But with nearly a thousand trees to wrap, the amount of fabric I would need to accomplish this could break my annual budget.

Young trees wrapped for cicada protection

Instead, I am attempting a compromise. I cut long strips of floating row cover fabric, about 3″ wide. I am wrapping multiple layers of these fabric strips around the main trunks and any branches that are within 3/8″-7/8″, the cicada’s preferred size range. Maybe the cicadas will be able to slice through the fabric and do their damage anyway, but I think it’ll be difficult for them. Row cover fabric is stretchy and a little clingy, and I can’t slice through it very easily with my pocket knife. I think it’s likely that the serrated ovipositors will get stuck in these fabric layers, and that they’ll quickly become frustrated and move on to a bigger tree. There’s a whole forest nearby, after all.

I think it unlikely that many cicadas will emerge in the field where the young trees are planted. Since that field had no trees last time the cicadas emerged, it’s unlikely that any eggs were laid there. Perhaps some cicadas will travel from the woods to the field of young trees, or maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll all stay in the woods. I’ll be monitoring the situation closely and taking copious notes so I can be prepared the next time they return, 17 years from now.

For more information:
“Emergence of the 17-Year Cicada” by Purdue University
“Brood X is almost here. Billions of cicadas to emerge in eastern US” by CNN

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider showing us some love! You can help us and our cause of Earth-positive agriculture by sharing this article with your friends, following us on social media, and interacting with our posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss us a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi. It’s easy to use and processes through PayPal so you don’t have to create a new account.

Can You Beat an Energy Star Dishwasher?

A few months ago, my dishwasher stopped working. I had a lot going on in my life at the time, and since I had never fixed a dishwasher before, I knew it would take me considerable effort to learn how to take it apart and fix it. So I delayed that repair and instead tried life without a dishwasher.

Much to my amazement, I found that I actually like washing my dishes by hand! Back in my college days, I had such a negative experience washing my dishes in the dormitory bathroom sink that I never tried again in a full kitchen. It turns out, the process is very fast and easy in the double kitchen sink I now have, and I feel like I am actually spending less time washing dishes than I did when I used the dishwasher. I eventually repaired my dishwasher, but didn’t go right back to using it.

Intuitively, it feels like hand washing is more eco-friendly than using a dishwasher. Especially when I consider the whole picture, including the environmental cost of manufacturing, shipping, maintaining, running, and eventually disposing of the actual machine, plus other factors like pre-rinsing the dishes before loading them to prevent clogs like the one that inspired this whole inquiry. And while many people seem to agree, there are also numerous claims touting the opposite conclusion. Convictions run high on both sides of this argument, but the science runs low.

I zeroed in on an often-cited claim from the Energy Star web site: washing dishes by hand costs about $1300 more in water and energy vs washing with an Energy Star certified dishwasher over the 12 year expected lifetime of the dishwasher. This claim seemed surprising, specific, and credible given the source. I was curious how they came to that number, and I wanted to learn more. So I contacted EnergyStar to request more information about the scientific studies they conducted or referenced in order to reach that number. They were gracious enough to respond. This is an excerpt from the email they sent me:

“On average [study participants] used 42.3 gallons when hand-washing that test load…. The energy consumed during hand washing is from the water heater.”

ENERGY STAR Support

Holy steam, 42.3 gallons is a lot of hot water! The average shower, by comparison, consumes about 17 gallons. This information illuminated a potential source of the confusion. While 42.3 gallons may be the average amount of hot water used to hand wash dishes, I suspected that it was possible to do better. But, is it possible to use less hot water when hand washing dishes than an efficient dishwasher uses? Which methods of hand dishwashing are most efficient? And which methods of hand dishwashing are most wasteful? I headed into my own kitchen to find out.

Note: this is a long article, so if you want to skip the details, feel free jump straight to the findings!

Parameters

Faucet: My kitchen faucet is equipped with a low flow aerator that has a maximum output of 1.2 GPM (gallons per minute). I also have a spray wand off to the side, which has a maximum output of 0.55 GPM.

Sink: I am using a double sink (a sink split into two halves). Each side has a maximum capacity of 10 gallons.

Dishwasher: The dishwasher used in these tests is a Frigidaire LFBD2409LF0B purchased in approximately 2015, with an EnergyStar certification.

Environment: This is not a controlled lab experiment. I am more interested in real world data from a real kitchen. I have taken careful measurements and notes from my real life, which includes hand-wash-only dishes, double-load-days, and half-load-days.

Funding and Bias: This is a citizen science study, conducted at home, by me, because I was curious. No money was exchanged as a part of this study, and I’m not on anybody’s payroll.

Hand Dishwashing Methods, Compared

Part 1: Water-Wise Hand Dishwashing

Considering all the information I gathered in the parameters about water flow rates, I put forth my best effort to optimize my wash routine. On four separate days, I carefully measured my water use and documented my dishwashing strategy. Even in my worst attempt, I used only 5 gallons of hot water, less than a gallon more than my dishwasher’s Energy Saver cycle uses (not counting the pre-rinse water that I would have had to use in addition to running that cycle). My best attempt used only 2.5 gallons of water per load, nearly twice as efficient as the dishwasher. As long as I was being careful of my water usage, I never came anywhere near the 42.3 gallon average.

Soaking In The Wash Basin

  • Water Use: 5 Gallons
  • Time Spent: 25 Minutes
  • Notes: Since many of these dishes would have needed a pre-soak treatment even if they were being washed in the dishwasher, I would have needed 2-3 gallons of soaking water in addition to whatever the dishwasher uses.

With both sides of my double-sink clean and empty, I plug the drain in one side, add 1-2 TB of detergent, and turn on the hot water. As the hot water runs, I scrub some of my cleaner dirty dishes, the ones that don’t need soaking, and move them to the other side of the sink without rinsing. By the time a couple of inches of water have accumulated in the sink, I’ve typically finished with the original pile of dishes. I turn the water off. I continuously add dirty dishes to the reserved soaking water in the basin. Without running any more water, I use the soapy water in the sink to scrub those dishes, and when each one is scrubbed, I move it over to the other side of the sink. If there are more dishes, I keep repeating this process without using any additional water until all the dishes are scrubbed.

When all that is left is to rinse, I lift each soapy dish and individually, hold it over the basin filled with water, and spray it clean with the wand. That way, all the rinse water is collected in the basin for measurement. Note that use of the spray wand here contributes to efficiency, since it uses much less water than the main faucet, and because the water is more pressurized, it cleans the dishes faster.

If you anticipate generating more dirty dishes later in the day, you can leave the soaking water in the sink and reuse it until it becomes too dirty.

Reduced Soaking Water

  • Water Use: < 4 gallons
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Notes: I also washed a clay pot that did not fit in the dishwasher (not pictured), and some recyclables and plastic wrappers for ecobricks. That clay pot isn’t dishwasher safe, so I would have needed at least a gallon of additional water to soak and hand wash it separately, over and above whatever the dishwasher used.

I begin with a clean sink, plug the drain on one side, add soap, and begin filling the basin with hot water as I wash dishes. This time I only allowed 2 gallons of wash water to accumulate in the sink instead of 3. I scrubbed all the dishes in this 2 gallons of water. I found it worked just as well as the 3 gallons in Method 1. It took a little more time, due to smaller but more numerous soaking batches.

Fixed Position Wand

Faucet Wand

After a couple days of careful wash optimization, I contrived a slight modification to my setup. I mounted the spray wand onto the main faucet using two rubber bands. This allowed me to use both my hands to rinse the dishes, without having to hold the wand in one hand. This made it easier to rinse the plates, but harder to rinse the insides of glasses and bottles.

(Reminder: the reason I want to use the wand is to save water, because the flow rate of my wand is much lower than my faucet, while being more pressurized.)

Days With Multiple Loads & Reusable Soaking Water

  • Washed: one very-full-dishwasher-sized load and one pretty-full-dishwasher-sized load
  • Water Use: 5 gallons for two loads, an average of 2.5 gallons per load!
  • Time: ~50 minutes
  • Notes: In addition, I cleaned all the day’s recyclables in the same soaking water.

On the days when there are multiple loads of dishes to be washed in the same day, there is an even greater opportunity for water savings when hand washing by reusing the primary soaking water all day.

Part 2: Low Effort Hand Dishwashing Methods

We have seen how water and energy is used in hand dishwashing when a person is actively trying to conserve resources. Obviously, there are myriad ways to waste water while washing dishes, and I can’t test them all. But I did examine four specific short-cuts that I think are pretty common.

Not Fitting The Faucet With Low-Flow Aerators

You’ll recall from the Parameters section that I’m using a low-flow aerator and a super low-flow spray wand. Normal (not low) flow kitchen faucets output about 2.2 GPM. If you have one of these 2.2 GPM faucet aerators and you run hot water for 19.2 minutes, you have used 42.3 gallons of hot water like the participants in the Energy Star study.

If you have a 1.2 GPM aerator like the one I use on my faucet and you run hot water for 35.2 minutes, you have used 42.3 gallons like the participants in the EnergyStar study.

Using the spray wand with 0.55 GPM output, you would have to run hot water for 76.9 minutes to match the 42.3 gallons used by participants in the study.

Using The Main Faucet Instead Of The Spray Wand

In my own tests, regardless of how much water was allowed to accumulate in the wash basin, I used about 2 gallons of rinse water each time with the spray wand.

If I had not used the spray wand and instead used the faucet with 1.2 GPM aerator, I would have increased that rinse water usage to about 4.3 gallons, bringing my total water use to about 7 gallons.

If I had used a faucet with a not-low-flow 2.2 GPM output, I would have used about 8 gallons of rinse water, bringing my total use to about 10 gallons.

These numbers assume that the dishes are pre-soaked, pre-scrubbed, and arranged in a way that facilitates quick rinsing. More time rinsing would increase the number of rinse water, as described above. I suspect I could rinse even faster if I had a dish drying rack. I could place the drying rack in the empty half of the sink, load it with the scrubbed-but-still-soapy dishes, and aim the spray wand at the fully-loaded drying rack to rinse all the dishes at once. Since I don’t have a drying rack, I stack them neatly in the empty half of the sink and lift one at a time for rinsing.

Running Water While Scrubbing

Since it took me about 30 minutes to hand wash an entire load of dishes each time, if I had left the faucet running that whole time I would have used about 36 gallons of water. Without the low-flow aerator, that could be as much as 66 gallons. Wow. I think I see how the Energy Star study came to an average of 42.3 gallons used. This is one method we should all stop using. I cringe to think that I used to pre-rinse my dishes this way before loading the dishwasher, thinking it too wasteful to fill up the sink and soak them. Going forward, I will always use the wash basin method, whether I’m pre-rinsing before running the dishwasher or hand washing the dishes. Not only does filling the wash basin appear to save significant amounts of water, it is much easier and faster to do. Soaking my dishes this way is also responsible for the time savings benefits I noticed when I switched to hand washing. If you don’t have a double-sink, you can buy a wash basin that nests inside your sink and fill that, or you can fill the whole sink and then drain it when you’re ready to rinse.

Filling The Whole Sink

Instead of carefully filling only 2-3 gallons of soaking water in my sink and soaking my dishes in batches, admittedly it is easier to fill the sink most of the way up and soak all the dishes at once. Since the capacity of one side of my sink is ten gallons, the most I would use is 8 gallons. This increases my total use water from 4-5 gallons to about 10 gallons.

Electricity As Water

Even if you live in an area where water is not scarce (as I do), there is an energy cost associated with water use, especially with hot water use. To calculate approximate energy used by an electric water heater similar to my own, I used the data here.

  • Approximate Energy Used To Heat 1 Gallon Of Water: 0.195 kWh

My water comes from a well on the property, so I see the energy cost of the well pump and pressure tank included in my electricity bill (we have solar power, but it’s a grid-tied system). Even if you have city water, there are machines involved in pumping, filtering, and pressurizing the water that runs from your faucet. It is very difficult to determine exactly how much electricity is used to pump water, because there are so many unknown variables. I put forth my best effort to come up with an average number that could roughly represent energy used to deliver a gallon of water to a faucet. I used this publication as a guideline to find an approximation of the energy required to pump and pressurize one gallon of water.

  • Average Well Depth In My Area: 60′
  • Average Pump Height: 10′ higher than the bottom
  • Average Pump Efficiency: 60%
  • Average Home Water Pressure: 55 psi
  • Approximate Energy Required To Pump and Pressurize One Gallon of Cold Water: 0.00066

Combining those numbers, one gallon of hot water carries an energy cost of approximately 0.196 kWh.

Dishwasher Cycle Water Use

MethodGallonsMinuteskWh   (Water)
Pots & Pans9.11501.78
Normal Wash + Hi-Temp & Sanitize8.11201.59
Normal Wash4.11050.80
Eco Wash4.7900.92
Top Rack4.6900.90
Rinse Only 2.3150.45
**Taken from my own dishwasher’s users manual.

**Note: The water used by the dishwasher is sourced from the hot water hose. This means that the water going into the dishwasher is already hot, so when we compare gallons of water used by the dishwasher to gallons of water used in the sink, that is a fully equivalent comparison in terms of both water and electricity per gallon. But the dishwasher also uses electricity in order to run, in addition to the energy already used to heat the water. Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to find out how much electricity the dishwasher uses.

Conclusion

If you turn on the faucet full blast and leave it running while you scrub and rinse all your dishes, then you could be using up to 66 gallons of hot water every time you wash your dishes. That’s almost as much as four average showers, and carries an approximate energy burden of 12.9 kwh. If this is sounds familiar, then you have some room for improvement, and you have some options. One way to reduce water and energy use over that particularly inefficient method of hand dishwashing might be to purchase an efficient dishwasher. But that is by no means the only way to wash dishes efficiently. If you learn to wash your dishes carefully by hand, doing all your soaking and scrubbing in a shallow wash basin with the faucet off and then quickly rinsing the soap off of them after they are already clean, you can beat or tie an efficient dishwasher in terms of water and energy use, as I did.

Even if you take a few short cuts and use a little more hot water than the dishwasher uses, there is still a strong argument to be made that washing dishes by hand is more environmentally friendly than owning a dishwasher. Consider the noteworthy environmental impact of mining, manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of all the components in the dishwasher machine. Consider the electricity used to run the dishwasher, over and above the energy needed to produce hot water, and whether you need to run extra hot water to soak or pre-rinse the dishes before loading them into the machine. Consider the ongoing maintenance of the machine. And consider the satisfaction we can gain by relying on our own hands and minds instead of the global industrial system.

Since I already have a dishwasher, I think I’ll keep it for hectic days when I feel compelled to save a little effort, and on those days I’ll pre-soak my dirty dishes in the wash basin instead of rinsing them in running water. But when this dishwasher is done, and it is send off for disposal, I don’t plan to buy a new one. It is no longer a priority for me to own a dishwasher, now that I have learned to wash my dishes quickly and efficiently by hand. If your needs are different from mine and you feel you get great value from your dishwasher, then keep using it in good conscience, because it seems this is a pretty efficient device as far as devices go. Perhaps you are better able to reduce your environmental footprint in another way, maybe by driving less, buying used, hanging your laundry to air-dry, or growing a garden. The world is full of possibilities.

For Further Reading:

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider showing us some love! You can help us and our cause of Earth-positive agriculture by sharing this article with your friends, following us on social media, and interacting with our posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss us a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi. It’s easy to use and processes through PayPal so you don’t have to create a new account.

Cover Crops: When To Grow Them And How

Cover crops are all the rage in regenerative farming, and for good reason. Plants are powerful. This world contains plants that can make nitrogen out of thin air, plants with roots that can break hardpan, plants that can prevent erosion, and plants that can clean contaminated soils. Cover crops were a step on my own path in transitioning the land from corn fields to pasture to native plant food forests. Overall, my cover crop project was successful, but I made some mistakes and learned some lessons along the way. I paid out of pocket for some projects that I might have received funding assistance for, bought some tools I didn’t need, and planted some cover crops that I shouldn’t have. These are some lessons I wish I had learned before I began.

Sprinkle The Seeds On Top

The cover crop project was my first ever project as a farmer. My experiences in horticulture up to that point had all been from the perspective of a gardener. So I thought I would have to rent fancy, expensive, fuel-intensive tools to till the ground and bury the seeds 1/4″ deep as one would in the garden, but bigger. Luckily I got some great advice from my local NRCS representative before I began: surface-sowing works fine. As it turns out, in spite of traditional gardeners wisdom, tilling often does more harm than good for the soil. And when you think about it, how do weed seeds get planted? They just land on the soil and grow. So even though my soil was all crusted over and I was certain that no seed could germinate in it, I took a leap of faith and sprinkled my seeds on top. And, they grew!

P.S. I tried several kinds of broadcast seeders, and abandoned them all in favor of scattering seeds with my hands out of a bucket. The broadcast seeders wasted a lot of seed. I had a lot more control with my hands, and it really wasn’t that hard or time consuming. I was able to sow about 3 acres per day this way. Also, scattering seeds to the four winds is really enjoyable.

Seek Help

There are some governmental assistance programs that can help you pay for your cover crops, if you’re eligible. I planted my first few rounds of cover crops on my own dime, but later I received some funding assistance through NRCS in the form of an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) grant to help me finish. If you’re planning to do a soil conservation project in the United States, it might be worth contacting NRCS to see how they can assist you.

Fields of Clover

Learn Your Local Weeds

I wasted time hand-pulling weeds out of my cover crop my first year. This was a losing battle. But even if you’re determined to pull weeds, you only need to pull the perennial ones. Annual and biennial weeds can be easily controlled just by mowing them down before they set seed. Plant identification is a learning process though, and the weeds I see on my farm land are different from the weeds I was accustomed to seeing as a gardener. I suggest joining a local plant forum where you can share plant pictures and exchange IDs, or downloading a plant identification app to help bring you up to speed quickly. These days, I let most of the weeds do their thing and I only expend energy removing plants if they are poisonous, irritant, or extremely invasive (namely poison hemlock, poison ivy, and garlic mustard).

Scythes Work Best on an Acre or Less

I was determined to mow my sorghum-sudangrass cover crop with a scythe. This is a crop that is planted for its vigor. It has incredible roots that can break up hardpan layers in the soil, and it produces a massive amount of biomass up top, which when mowed, becomes a nice mulch for the soil. It does need to be mowed, though. I was drawn to the idea of mowing with a scythe in order to avoid the maintenance, cost, and fossil fuel use of a mower. And I had heard many rave reviews about scythes within the permaculture community. So I bought a scythe and I tried it. But not only was I unable to mow ten acres this way, I was unable to mow even two. My field had some volunteer tree saplings in it and some giant ragweed with thick rigid stalks that frequently caught the scythe blade mid-swing. And it was hard work. By the time I made it from one end of my smallest field to the other, my body was in ragged shape and it was time to start over at the beginning again. My husband saved the day by borrowing a pull-behind brush hog and finishing that mowing job himself, because a regular lawn mower can’t handle 8 foot tall vegetation, and I can’t start a pull cord engine to save my life. Luckily, none of my other cover crops were this huge, and the crimson clover that followed it needed no mowing at all. Even after all this, I still think the scythe has a place on the farm. It would be excellent at cutting smaller cover crop rotations from the garden or harvesting a small grain crop.

Consider Seasonal Rainfall Patterns

Once, as a gardener, I planted a buckwheat cover crop in the summer. It grew beautifully, fitted in nicely after some of my other crops were done producing, provided great forage for the bees in a time of dearth, and improved my soil. I sought to recreate this on the farm. But, one key factor of my earlier success was that I had irrigation in that garden, and I do not have irrigation in all my farm fields. Turns out, there isn’t enough rainfall in summer for the crop to establish itself, and my summer buckwheat cover crop didn’t thrive. All my early spring plantings did well without irrigation though, as did my late-fall-planted crimson clover.

Grasses and Weeds Are Cover Crops Too

All the cover crops I have discussed up to this point are annuals, and they add the most value when they are grown as one rotation of many on an annual crop farm or garden. Since I was transitioning my farm from annuals to perennials, I now realize that I could have skipped a few steps. My final cover crop was a perennial blend of pasture grasses and clovers. The pasture grasses need no fertilizer or irrigation, and they do a great job of keeping the soil aerated and protected from erosion, preventing nutrient loss, and addding organic matter. The clovers add nitrogen to the soil and provide food for the bees. Looking back through the lens of experience, I suspect these perennial plants would have grown just fine if I had planted them straight away and skipped all the annual cover crops. Even certain weeds can function as free cover crops! I especially value the dandelions for their taproots, the clovers for their nitrogen-fixing abilities, and the wild grasses for their erosion prevention.

If you’re interested in learning more about cover crops, check out this comprehensive resource by SARE.

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider showing us some love! You can help us and our cause of Earth-positive agriculture by sharing this article with your friends, following us on social media, and interacting with our posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss us a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi. It’s easy to use and processes through PayPal so you don’t have to create a new account.

Dandelion Blossom Veggie Burgers

I’ve been a small time forager for years, but last spring when I found myself newly unemployed and trying to navigate a pandemic and a recession at the same time, I doubled down on this relaxing, money-saving, health-building hobby. I taught myself how to forage for dandelions, and began gathering the flowers and greens to incorporate into my meals. I found, to my delight, that the humble dandelion is one of my favorite foods. The blossoms are especially delicious, reminding me somewhat of an artichoke drizzled with honey. The yellow fluff is traditionally separated from the green base and used to flavor wines, meads, and confections. Whole flower heads can also be individually battered and fried. I tried these preparations last spring, and found them delightful. But I really wanted a way to incorporate the dandelion blossom as a substantial part of a main dish. Enter the Dandelion Blossom Veggie Burger.

Basket of Dandelion Blossoms and Leaves

Important! If you intend to forage at all, it’s imperative that you put in your own research time and educate yourself thoroughly about safe foraging practices, poisonous plants, indicators of soil contamination, lookalike plants, food allergies, and more. Believe it or not, there are numerous other plants that resemble the common dandelion. Invest the time to learn how to collect and consume wild foods safely. There are lots of great foraging resources available through your local library, your county extension office, and local foraging clubs. Learn first, then gather.

Once you have learned how to gather the dandelions safely, you’ll need to collect about 2 cups (packed) of the fresh whole blossoms (yellow fluff and green base in tact). It’s ideal to pick them soon after they open fully, which seems to be around 11:00am. You may not be free at 11:00am, and the perfect is the enemy of the good. Pick them when you can get them. If you like, you can also gather some of the leaves at the same time. A delicious and slightly bitter pesto can be made from the leaves, which makes a wonderful sauce for the burgers. (Use a recipe for regular basil pesto, but substitute dandelion leaves for the basil).

After picking, the blossoms need to be processed as soon as possible, but at least within a few hours. They do not keep well when raw. I like to soak the flowers for 5-10 minutes in a large bowl of cold water to clean them, agitating them a few times with my hands. They can be dirty, and they can have little ants in them. Don’t bring them inside until you’re ready to wash them, or the little hitchhikers might escape into your kitchen. After soaking, I gently wring them out with my hands to remove most of the excess water. Now they are ready to use!

Washing Dandelion Flowers

To make the veggie burgers, you will need:

  • 2 packed cups freshly picked, rinsed, and wrung out dandelion blossoms.
  • 6 whole dandelion blossoms, reserved for decoration
  • 1 cup cooked & drained black beans (or any leftover cooked beans you might have on hand)
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (or any other cooked whole grain you may have leftover in your fridge)
  • 1/2 cup organic cereal, such as fruit juice corn flakes
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon each of turmeric, thyme, sage, basil, garlic powder. Or, about the same amount of any flavoring herbs and spices you enjoy and have on hand.
  • 1/2 tsp each of sea salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the baking sheet
  • 1 large egg, or two smaller ones

Before You Begin: Oil a baking sheet with extra virgin olive oil, or the cooking oil of your choice. Set your oven to preheat to 350˚.

Step 1: Roughly chop the 2 cups of dandelion blossoms, or use your food processor to “pulse” them a few times.

Step 2: Add all the ingredients except for the six reserved decoration blossoms to a large mixing bowl. With clean hands, massage the ingredients together until they are well mixed, sticky, and cohesive. You could probably use a spoon for this part, but your hands are going to get dirty in the next step anyway. Why wash an extra spoon?

Step 3: When you feel the ingredients are well mixed, scoop up a handful of the mixture and try to form it into a ball. If it’s solid and sticky enough to hold its shape, then you are ready to form the patties. If it’s too dry to hold together, add more egg. If too wet to hold its shape or it will not stick together, add more flour.

Step 4: Shape the mixture into patties of the size and shape you prefer. I like to form a ball first, and then squish it down until it resembles a hockey puck. I usually get about five patties from this recipe, but you may find you have four or six based on how generously you pack your measuring cup, and how large you portion your patties. Place each patty onto the greased baking sheet when it’s complete.

Step 5: Press one of the reserved dandelion blossoms sunny-side-up on top of each patty for decoration. After you’ve finished this, I suggest flipping the patty over so that the dandelion blossom is on the bottom. You’ll flip the patties again midway through the baking cycle, and I think the blossoms come out more beautifully if they finish their baking time sunny-side-up.

Step 6: When the oven is fully pre-heated, place the baking sheet in the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, take the baking sheet out of the oven and use a spatula to flip each patty over. Use a fork to smooth out any decorative blossoms that might have gotten folded or moved so that they lay beautifully atop each patty. Place the baking sheet back in the oven and bake for 20 additional minutes.

Dandelion Veggie Burgers Ready To Bake

Cool slightly and serve on a bun with your favorite toppings. Some of my favorites include pesto, hummus, and a fresh tomato slice. Or serve atop a bed of spring greens and drizzle with a good balsamic vinaigrette. Extras can be stored short-term in the fridge, or individually frozen for later enjoyment.

Dandelion Veggie Burgers Ready To Eat

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider showing us some love! You can help us and our cause of Earth-positive agriculture by sharing this article with your friends, following us on social media, and interacting with our posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss us a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi. It’s easy to use and processes through PayPal so you don’t have to create a new account.

A Night In Tomato House

I still remember my first year as a gardener. I had been dreaming of that garden all winter. Literally, I had dreams of watching carrots grow. I could almost taste the tomatoes. You couldn’t buy a good one back then, and I desperately missed the taste of my grandpa’s garden. April seemed so warm, and the official “Last Frost Date” for my area is April 16. I had never really noticed that we frequently get frosts as late as Mother’s Day. I planted my tomatoes in April at the community garden, along with all the other newbies. The elder, more experienced gardeners patiently prepared their soil and waited for May. I had to re-plant.

One would think I’d learn my lesson that year, and I thought I had. I know full well that the frosts will keep coming. I still plant early, starting with hardy peas and radishes on St. Patrick’s Day, but I surround my plants with jugs of water for extra thermal mass, and I build low tunnels over all my raised beds so I can easily cover them with clear plastic sheeting at a moment’s notice. Still, I usually wait to plant most of my really tender seedlings like tomatoes and peppers until May. But this year, my improved seed starting setup produced hundreds of seedlings that grew to such enormous proportions that I simply couldn’t keep them in the house any longer. The spring had been consistently warm and the two week forecast was clear, so I planted. But then the winds changed, and last night’s forecast predicted snow, ice, and a low of 26 degrees.

Perhaps my plants would’ve survived with the coverings I had already provided them and no extra effort. But 26 degrees is extremely cold for a tender plant, and I felt I couldn’t rest with months of work, hundreds of dollars of investment, and most of the summer’s harvest on the line. So, I woke up at 4am, just before the coldest part of the night, and I boiled some water. I took two quart jars of hot water, and two jars each containing a lit tea light candle to place inside the coverings of each raised bed. Then I placed a candle, a watering can full of hot water, a mug of hot tea, a flask of homemade fire cider, and myself inside the big tomato tunnel, and stayed there to monitor the situation and to share some of my own warmth with the plants until the sun came up, the candles burned out, and the ambient temperatures began to rise.

Side Note: If I had enough Wall-O-Waters to place one on every single plant, I wouldn’t have worried. But my garden this year is market sized, and my collection of Wall-O-Waters is not. I felt reasonably confident that my low-budget combination of plastic-covered low tunnels with gallon jugs of water interspersed would work down to 28 or 29 degrees, but I was concerned that 26 might be just that tiniest bit too cold.

Camping Inside The Tomato Tunnel

By 7:30 I was exhausted and a little frosted, so I went inside and crawled back into bed with my own hot water bottle. Later, I returned to check on the plants. All look healthy! I don’t think I lost a single plant. Was all this effort necessary? I don’t know. Maybe someday I’ll do a controlled experiment on another 26 degree night and find out. But for now, I’m simply glad that the garden survived, and looking forward to sinking my teeth into the earliest of ripe tomatoes. And, if all goes as planned, some of these fruits will make it to my local farmers market this coming summer.

Tomato Plant Inside A Low Tunnel With Thermal Mass

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider showing us some love! You can help us and our cause of Earth-positive agriculture by sharing this article with your friends, following us on social media, and interacting with our posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss us a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi. It’s easy to use and processes through PayPal so you don’t have to create a new account.

Winter Snow Day Reading List : 5 Favorite Books on Ecology, Botany, and Gardening

This winter started out so mild that I was able to continue my work outdoors with the land through the end of January. But cold weather finally arrived, and my work is now buried under about six inches of beautiful white powder. The garden soil is frozen solid, the mulch pile is buried, and aside from my daily nature walk and a few daily outdoor chores, I find myself spending most of my time inside. The forecast shows nothing but more cold and more snow, so now is a great time to curl up with a warm blanket and a big stack of library books. These are some of my favorite books about plants and gardening and more.

1. “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This book is one of the best things I’ve ever read from any genre. It combines great storytelling, fascinating botany and ecology, deep insight, and beautiful writing into a totally lovable package. The audio book is excellent, read by the author.

2. “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times” by Carol Deppe. There are a lot of books that discuss growing salad ingredients, but this book will tell you how to garden for real sustenance. People need calories, carbohydrates, and proteins to survive, and this book is phenomenal if you’re interested in venturing beyond the salad garden to begin growing more of your main course fare. It also includes fascinating history and science lessons. I’ve read this book three times, and am planning a fourth.

3. “Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use” by Rosemary Gladstar. I’ve become very interested in herbal medicine over the last few years, and if you are looking to dip your toe into this expansive field of study, this book is an excellent place to start. Rosemary Gladstar is one of the most highly respected herbalists of our time, and many of the herbs mentioned in this book are familiar culinary herbs that are delicious, accessible, and easy to grow.

4. “The New Organic Grower, 3rd Edition: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener, 30th Anniversary Edition” by Eliot Coleman. Wow, this book blew me away! Eliot Coleman is a master organic vegetable farmer, an innovator, and an excellent teacher. I gleaned so many insights, ideas, and tips to improve my own success as a grower from this book. On his advice, I purchased a soil blocking set and I am currently growing all my vegetable and herb transplants using that method. So far, this is the healthiest and best set of transplants I have ever raised. I am eager to try out some of his other advice later in the season.

5. “The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture” by Wendell Berry. This book was originally published in 1977. It gives a detailed account of the history of the industrialization of the American farm system over the past century, and the impacts of those changes on farmers, rural communities, and our country as a whole. I recommend reading the newest edition; additional commentary has been added to cover the four decades of agricultural changes that have occurred since the book was first published. The audio book is narrated by Nick Offerman. Need I say more?

Honorable Mention: “Native Plant Agriculture vol. 1” by Indigenous Landscapes. This is a short book with beautiful photos that shines a light on certain native food plants of the Eastern United States. If you live in this part of the world and are interested in growing more food while also supporting maximum biodiversity and ecosystem health, this book is worth seeking out. On a personal note, I am grateful to Indigenous Landscapes for teaching me the term Native Plant Agriculture. At the time when I first encountered their work, I was midway through planting my wetland restorative food forest, which is entirely composed of native plants, and I had fallen deeply in love with the native food plants of the region. Finally receiving a name to attach to the work I was engaged in doing made available new information, resources, and connections that I might not have found otherwise.

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider showing us some love! You can help us and our cause of Earth-positive agriculture by sharing this article with your friends, following us on social media, and interacting with our posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss us a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi. It’s easy to use and processes through PayPal so you don’t have to create a new account.

The Food In The Forest

One of the iconic paradigms of permaculture is a food forest. The idea is as follows:

“By understanding how forests grow and sustain themselves without human intervention, we can learn from Nature, copy the systems and patterns to model our own forests — ones filled with trees and plants that produce food we can eat.”

Angelo Eliades, Permaculture News Magazine

Food forests are beautiful in concept and application, and many indigenous cultures throughout the centuries have practiced agroforestry techniques along these lines. If you’re starting with a lawn or a farm field, then planting a food forest is kind of like planting turbo-charged garden, and it’s likely to be a major ecological, environmental, and aesthetic improvement over what was there before. But what if your lot is already wooded? Should you cut down existing trees to replace them with food-bearing trees?

I encountered this very dilemma on the land I steward. Strawberry Moon Farm is about 10 acres in size; minuscule compared to all of the neighboring farms. Of this, we have 2.4 acres of frequently flooded wetland, 3.6 acres of woods, and 4.4 acres of former corn fields and lawn. By mainstream thinking, that equates to 4.4 acres of “good farm land”. At first, I believed this misconception about good and bad land, and I was not sure if the 4.4 classically-appreciable acres would allow enough room for all the plantings I had in mind for this farm. I briefly considered cutting down some trees in the woods to make space for more “food trees”. Ultimately, the idea of cutting down lots of trees made me feel a little sick. But don’t we need food? Aren’t there hungry and undernourished people in our community? Isn’t it important to reduce food miles? And, if I plant new trees, does that make up for cutting down existing trees? The old ones? The native ones? Is a food forest better than a wild forest?

Luckily, I was not forced to make that impossibly heart-wrenching choice. And if you are facing a similar tough decision, relax. There is really good news here. The forest is already made of food.

If you have a wood lot on your property, go to your library and borrow a nice field guide for tree identification in your locale. Take it with you as you walk through your woods. Identify as many trees as you can, and write down their names. Later, employ high technology to its highest purpose, and google those trees. Learn all you can learn about them. Search for them in the Plants For A Future database. Search for them in ethnobotanical databases, such as BRIT. Find out as much as you can about the ways indigenous people use them for food, medicine, tools, and fiber. Learn any modern uses. Learn which mushroom species can be cultivated on the fallen branches from each tree. Learn about its importance to wildlife and pollinators, about its lifecycle, and about its impact on soil, water, and air quality. Learn about its native range, and find out if it is endangered. Chances are, most of the trees in your woods have at least one wondrous purpose, and your only real task is to learn how to responsibly partake of their gifts.

In my case, the woods provide walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns, beech nuts, sweet syrups, cherries, grapes, mulberries, fresh greens of many types, edible flowers and seeds, blackberries, raspberries, herbs, and spices. And I am convinced that is not all, that there is much more value in my woods that I have not yet learned to see. We are not talking about a token yield of a few snacks here, but rather about buckets and buckets of harvest every year, for which we need do no work other than learn what it is and be present to gather it and give thanks. In the future, when I have the time available, there is ample opportunity for me to engage with these woods in a more meaningful way. If I remove some of the invasive undergrowth, I could cultivate many more food and medicine herbs, brambles, and shrubs under the shade of the old canopy. I could inoculate fallen logs with edible mushroom spawn, and harvest the fruiting bodies. I could plant young saplings to replace dead and dying trunks, and eventually harvest their bounty. I could reintroduce numerous species of endangered or threatened native plants. I am only beginning to scratch the surface of all that is possible in these woods.

The key skills in farming the woods are to observe with attention and intention, to learn to recognize gifts of great worth, and to learn how to harvest responsibly and sustainably. One cannot approach a woodland with arrogance and a closed mind and expect to leave with an abundant harvest. Unfortunately, that’s what the first colonists of my county did, and it resulted in most of our old growth forests being cleared, most of our wetlands being drained, and a labor-intensive, resource-intensive monoculture imposed over the ashes of a once great land.

“Tall trees covered the whole county with their wide-spreading branches, depending to the ground, and the shrubbery below arose and united with the branches of the trees…In the open space, in the valleys, grew either prickly ash or nettles, both equally armed with sharp, fiery prickles…Where spice-wood did not grow to thickly, male fern formed a solid mass three feet in depth, covering logs and pit falls so completely” …

“During a dry time, two or three men might, by merely sowing and deadening over with fire, burn up the whole superincumbent covering over eight or ten acres in a single day… till the whole county, in an incredibly short time, was brought into cultivation.”

-Judge Franklin Harden, “A Historical Sketch of Johnson County” (1881)

Had Judge Harden (one of the first colonists of my county) and his people made a priority to learn from the indigenous people who were already engaged in a longstanding fruitful and reciprocal relationship with this land, perhaps we would all be living a more abundant life today. If he had studied more deeply, he might have learned that prickly ash, nettles, spice-wood (spicebush), some species of ferns, and many species of tall trees already produce premium quality food, and some of those plants have useful medicinal applications as well. Furthermore, there were likely many other magnificent species that he overlooked in his haste to slash and burn.

“There were wild plums, strawberries, grapes, pawpaws, persimmons, crabapples, and many varieties of berries. The acorn of the bur oak, Indian potatoes, and tubers of the water chinkapin, arrowleaf, and Jerusalem artichoke supplied starch. Common milkweed, flowers of the mulberry, early shoots of skunk cabbage, sour dock, wild onion, and a number of other plants were prized as greens. Teas were made from spikenard, spicebush, sassafras, and several other plants.”

-Stewart Rafert, an account of the wild local bounty known and enjoyed by one of Indiana’s largest indigenous tribes, the Miami. From “The Miami Indians of Indiana, A Persistent People” (1999).

I wish I could have seen my state covered by that old and abundant forest made of food. Past harms cannot be undone, but we can choose to learn from the mistakes of our past and to make a better decision today. I’m grateful for the wild spaces that remain, and I will do what is in my power to do to preserve and restore them. The woods on my land are not old, but they are becoming old. A token few trees may have lived a century or longer, but most are 50 years or younger. It is likely that someone of my grandparents’ generation planted the majority of these trees. That planting was a great gift. I hope someday, when a future generation inherits the new native tree forest that I have planted, they can recognize the inherent worth of it, and steward it on into the future. And as I begin to plant the 4.4 “good” acres on this farm, I find my plans evolving towards more and more native food-bearing trees and plants over the more common (mostly Eurasian) orchard crops. The native plants offer a brilliant package of joy and nourishment for the entire ecosystem. Perhaps one day, the old forest of abundance will return to these ten little acres in Johnson County.

For further reading:

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider showing us some love! You can help us and our cause of Earth-positive agriculture by sharing this article with your friends, following us on social media, and interacting with our posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss us a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi. It’s easy to use and processes through PayPal so you don’t have to create a new account.