Book Review: Container Gardening for Health, by Barbara Barker

Have you heard of the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Clean 15’ lists? They highlight the 12 fruits and veggies that are tested, and have the most pesticide residue on them. In contrast, the ‘Clean 15’ have the least amount (which is not to say no residue, necessarily…).

I found the book ‘Container Gardening for Health: the 12 most important Fruits and Vegetables for your Organic Garden’ to naturally segue from my interest in the above lists, and give me a ‘go-to’ guide for how to make it happen – right in my backyard.

As you’ve read, I’m building a garden from the ground up, and early on in my new journey had checked out this short book from the library. It reinstilled in me the idea that container gardening is not ‘giving up’, but instead is a realistic way that I can still have a garden, while I’m taking time to plan my permanent garden. For all those who are well into container gardening and consider the ‘giving up’ comment mean, consider me slapped for my effrontery. I stand corrected, and container-happy.

Thanks, Barbara Barker, for a great book! It combines practical knowledge, varieties for various climates, and cultivation and harvesting tips. Complete yet concise.


Vermicomposting for Kids and Adults: a 2-book review!

Worms Eat my Garbage, by Mary Appelhof, is a lovely book…..if you don’t mind reading about worms.

Which I don’t.

Worms are nature’s efficient composter, lowly and despised by some, yet ultimately – necessary for our very survival! Truly!

The book shows simply how to set up an maintain a worm composting system, also known as ‘vermicomposting’, with simple, inexpensive ‘equipment’, and a little know-how. Worm bins can be keep indoors or outdoors, and can help you to have a productive and healthy garden. Worm castings are one of the best fertilizers known to us, all thanks to Red Wigglers!

While I’ve shared with my husband and family my desire to give vermicomposting a try, I also remain on the look-out for books that can communicate how cool this idea is to my kids (you’d think 4 boys who like to play in the dirt would naturally take to this idea? I guess they like arachnids better…). One such book we recently read was “Class Worms”, with pictures by Barry Gott. A classroom teacher brings red wigglers to class and the class performs various experiments to learn more about worms. Not all the class is thrilled about having to handle worms, but all gain an appreciation for the lowly wiggling creatures by the end of the day.


Another New/Old Review: Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ok, Ok, I know – everyone read this book in 4th grade, besides me.

But, I have to say, working my way through this delightful series, is perhaps even more meaningful as an adult, minded as I am towards real food, traditional ways of cooking, and family values of love, respect, and faith.

They resound in abundance in the Little House series! *I look forward to reading a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is on its way to me via the library reservation system.

Farmer Boy chronicles a year in the young life of Almanzo Wilder and his family (Almanzo, destined to become Laura’s husband later in life). Growing up in a farm in upper New York State, not too terribly far from New York City, but far enough that their life is truly rural, Almanzo develops a love of farming and animal husbandry early in life. This leads to, for me, the part of the book that truly made me think and reflect (as enjoyable as the whole of the book was).

When asked by the kind Mr. Paddock if Almanzo might soon be apprenticed to him as a wheelwright, Father is quiet and almost grim as he an ‘Manzo ride back to the family’s farmstead. Over supper, Father mentions the generous offer to Mother, who responds with vitriol:

“Well!” Mother snapped. She was all ruffled, like an angry hen. “A pretty pass the world’s coming to, if any man thinks it’s a step up in the world to leave a good farm and go to town! How does Mr. Paddock make his money, if it isn’t catering to us? I guess if he didn’t make wagons to suit farmers, he wouldn’t last long!”

“That’s true enough,” said Father. “But–“

“There’s no ‘but’ about it!” Mother said. “Oh, its bad enough to see Royal [the eldest son] come down to being nothing but a storekeeper! Maybe he’ll make money, but he’ll never be the man you are. Truckling to other people for his living, all his days — he’ll never be able to call his soul his own.”

For a minute Almanzo wondered if Mother was going to cry. 

Almanzo is then asked to consider the apprenticeship, something that surprises him, in this age of absolute obedience to parents wishes. He considers what he really likes, and what he likes to do, as Father informs him of the various pros and cons of each way of life. Of farming, Father says,

“A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you’re a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm. “

It strikes me that this idyllic vision of farming doesn’t exist, except for a select few, in our day and age. I don’t personally know anyone that raises sheep, shears them, and spins their wool into yarn then weaves it into cloth on a loom, like Mother, from start to finish. Nor do I know anyone that has a small and diversified far, like the Wilder’s had, with cows and grains and vegetables and maple trees for sugar, and who heat their house solely with wood they chop. Hmm…as I’m writing all of that an thinking of all the hard, back-breaking work, maybe ‘idyllic’ is not the exact right word, but they truly were free, as Father said — free to prosper or fail, depending on the weather and their own work ethic.

Some things have been lost since this series was written, but I truly believe that some things have flourished. What Father writes about farming could be re-written in a more inter-dependent style today. I am purchasing chickens, turkeys, and lamb from a farm in Western North Dakota. Beef from North-Western Minnesota. Honey from right here in the Fargo-Moorhead area. A 4-H hog from a family friend. (Also on the list to find? Rabbits and goats for meat). I shop at the farmer’s market and have a CSA, and, slowly but surely, I’m growing more and more veggies, fruits, and herbs, right on my own little patch of land. I can’t do it all, like the Wilder family seemed to, nor would I want to. I don’t think that is the overall call we receive from God, to be quite at the point of it. We should all help each other, using the gifts we were given, to give proper reverence to each other, and the world He created.

I will be said when I finish the last 3 books of this series, as Laura, Mary, Carrie, Grace, Ma, Pa, ‘Manzo and Royal seem to be friends (and who could forget Mr. Edwards, Nellie, and some of the other memorable characters). I simultaneously long for the simple hardworking times described, and am grateful that the burden of producing food for my family can be shared with other families.

What a treasure these books are!

Friday Flood Update…

How interesting or coincidental that I have just finished reading the ‘Little House’ series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Though I truly enjoyed all the books, “The Long Winter” particularly struck me, with its grisly description of how the homesteading Ingalls family, located in town (but with such severe blizzards and winds, they might have been in the middle of no where), felt the beginnings of cabin-fever craziness set in as the winds howled and howled around them, from the end of October to the end of May…

This winter, for us, has been long, and made longer by a recent blizzard, and two days later, another dusting of heavy wet snow.

Historical crests. Graphic from Fargo Forum,

If you’re not a local, but a CNN watcher, you *may* recall the epic flood Fargo faced in 2009. We’re up for another one, and though we learned enough over the last couple of years to be prepared, floods always come with worry. Mother Nature, and water, can be destructive. Not to be mean, but to be true to what ‘they’ are…

So, for the next couple weeks, I’ll give a little update on how things are going. You can click here to read a current article from our local paper about the flood potential, and also note that the second article in the series refers to, “The Long Winter”! I was like, “Bingo! I should work for the paper!”

Book Review: The Untold Story of Milk, by Ron Schmid, ND

The secondary title of this fascinating book? “The history, politics, and science of nature’s perfect food: raw milk from pasture-fed cows.”

And, the book delivers on both its primary and secondary titles. I challenge anyone who has a poor opinion of raw milk to read this book with an open mind! While I myself am a raw milk drinker and advocate, I learned so much about the early history (ancient history, really) of milk, the struggle for clean and reliable milk that led to ‘certified’ milk and pastuerized milk, the role of milk in the prevention of disease, and how the ongoing struggle to ensure access to consumer choice of raw milk is a convulted case of ‘follow the money’ at best, and under-handed politics at worst.

Anyone that thinks milk is boring would do well to read this book, that, while extremely informative,  and at times even scientific, is by no means dry reading.

I think among the epiphanies I noted while reading it was that the advent of pasteurization in the early to mid 1900’s was not a conspiracy aimed at ending the sale of raw milk. It had noble aims and goals, and accomplished some of them. In large cities, such as New York, the number of people, many of them immigrants, who desired milk for themselves and their children, outweighed the resources to safely deliver raw, or pure, milk to them. As a result, so-called ‘swill dairies’ grew up alongside of whisky distilleries, the cattle being fed and housed un-naturally, that is on the leftover mash of the whisky-making process and confined in pens where they stood and rested in their own excrement. Milk, in its raw state, in this condition, was unsafe.

On the flip side, physicians continued to advocate for access to raw milk, so that their patients could truly heal and receive nutritious food. The physicians of this time so believed in the healing power of pure milk that they inspected dairies and certified them independently, asking the dairy farmers to sign an ethical code, and adhere to safety and cleanliness standards. The ‘certified’ dairies the physicians endorsed were generally outside city limits, and couldn’t provide for the needs of all.

As a stop-gap measure, I would say, milk pasteurization entered the picture, rendering the swill-dairy milk sterile. However, forever in the minds of the public, continuing to this day, we confuse ‘sterile’ with ‘nutritious’.

Take a chance and read this book! I’d love to hear what you think of it. It reinforced my own desire to continue to advocate for the right to choose the milk I drink, and for the state or national government to protect and defend my right to do so – though sadly, even in my state of North Dakota, the legislature is considering a bill to make it much harder to have access to raw milk. Perhaps if each legislator even read the first three  chapters of this exciting tome, the education they receive would ensure that no further bills of this nature be considered.