Come see me at the Williamsburg Book Festival in Williamsburg, VA on October 1! I’ll have an outdoor booth and, depending on the weather forecast, maybe a DOG WITH ME!!! Come see a dog! If I can have a dog with me, weather permitting, it will likely be Aggie The Fierce Rottweiler, the cover dog of First Watch! Maybe she’ll even paw-tograph your copy of First Watch that you buy at the Williamsburg Book Festival!?!!
No promises. Many possibilities. You’ll have to attend to find out!
So, in case you haven’t guessed already by the several book reviews I’ve posted recently in this blog, I am tackling a new writing project. In the past years I’ve really become quite practiced – and, according to my friends and some Internet strangers, quite skilled – at gardening. I’ve made some posts here and there about random strategies and tips for gardeners, but these have all been teasers really. Today – YES, TODAY! – I will start lending my voice to the first real work of nonfiction that I’ve ever written. I’m going to write a ghardening book.s
I’ve left the typos in the last bit up there because, honestly, it’s how I feel about it right now. I’m headbutting a thick wall of Imposter Syndrome. I’m, what, 35?! I’ve been gardening for….well, thanks to my mother it’s honestly been a lifelong interest, but solid actual WORK IN THE DIRT it’s been…..maybe…I want to be generous to myself and say 21 years? On my own in my own space, 8 years. And here I am, about to write a tome that will seek to not only introduce new folks to the joys of gardening and all the different things it entails, but to also change the minds of The Older Folks about certain things they Think are right and actually aren’t. Who the hell am I to do that? What the hell gives me the authority?
Short answer: the dying world and my passion for preserving it not only for future human generations but for future wild generations. There’s a saying my mother shared with me recently: “We are only borrowing this world from the next generation.” But that’s not true. We are the Stewards of this world for the next generation(s) – parenthesis because if we don’t start trying to heal the world then science says there aren’t going to be a lot more generations – AND for the other animals, insects, single- and multi-cellular organisms, plants, bacterium, etc! with which we share this ridiculous marble. We aren’t the only ones here! And we need to stop pretending that we can exist without the other ones that are here.
So I’m gonna write a gardening book. This means Nine Hundred Leagues (my third book in the Civil Dusk series) might be on hold for a little bit, but don’t worry, I am absolutely NOT dropping it forever. I’ve just got something to do first.
“Nature’s Best Hope” delves more into the conservation topics raised by “Bringing Nature Home”, Tallamy’s other book that I reviewed previously in this blog. This book has a more scientific voice than the conversational one held in “Bringing Nature Home,” but it is the opposite of a dry read. Tallamy lays out strategic steps for how the regular homeowner (yes, that’s right, boring people like you and me!) can – and SHOULD – assist in the reversal of the demise of our world. Where “Bringing Nature Home” is more the story of WHY, “Nature’s Best Hope” is the straight-forward HOW of our changing role in backyard stewardship.
Are you a person that likes wild things? Things like flowers and songbirds? Things with sweet scents and sweet tastes? How about the burning orange of a maple tree in autumn and the brilliant beryl of new leafy growth in spring?
If you said yes, great! If you said no, then honestly what the actual fuck is wrong with you. I bet you know somebody that would say yes. Pretend it’s you.
Well the best way to help the wild things survive in our fast-changing world is to plant native species in your yard, garden, balcony container, window pot, whatever, ANYWHERE. In Douglas Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home” he lays out why we should plant native species, who can plant them (spoiler: it’s everyone, including you), where to plant them, and what to plant in your area. I learned so many fascinating things about insects from this book that I now want to experience in real time. This book has truly opened my eyes to the necessity of restoring native species to our individual lots. Tallamy presents his information in an easy-to-read guide to this process, making what otherwise seems like a doomed or insurmountable task completely approachable. Read this book. You will not regret it. All you’ll regret is that you didn’t read it sooner.
Have you ever wanted to grow vegetables in your own backyard? Have you ever wanted to roam a food forest, the surrounding branches loaded with fruit? Have you ever lost an entire crop of lettuce to rabbits, or berries to birds? Do you have a swath of land that isn’t doing anything for anybody? Are your knees and back aching from hours of pulling weeds? Are you a farmer who’s tired of fertilizing and weary of all the damn costs?
PERMACULTURE IS THE ANSWER!!
And hands down THE BEST book to learn about it is “The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture,” by Christopher Shein. Shein makes the lofty principles of permaculture attainable for anyone, from the large-scale farmer to the home grower. Whatever your goal, this book has the tools you need to achieve it. He even shares strategies for off-grid gardeners, because the whole point of permaculture is to grow with the Earth, not against her. If you’re looking for a better way to garden, this is absolutely where you need to start, and likely also where you will finish. And if you’re not looking for a better way to garden, well, you should be! Permaculture cuts down on the work of the gardener by revealing low-maintenance secrets that nature is already using all around us.
Hi friends! You may or may not know that I took a series of classes in the early part of this year about growing medicinal herbs. One of the books recommended by the teacher is “Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies,” by Maria Noel Groves, and I picked up a copy of it like the dutiful student I am. And, let me tell ya, I was NOT disappointed.
This book is an absolute must-have if you’re interested in herbal remedies. Not only does Groves include an encyclopedic appendix of various herbs and their uses, benefits, and in some cases dangers, but she includes snap-shots of healing gardens designed for every ailment that the herbal medicine cabinet could ever think to aid. Her descriptions of preparation methods, from teas to tinctures, are incredibly approachable for anyone from the beginner herbalist to the experienced chemist.
Here in zone 8 my blueberry shrubs are loaded with fruit! I have five different shrubs, each a different variety of blueberry and they’re all ripening at different rates! I couldn’t have planned it better. Each morning and evening I pull in a handful or two of delicious berries. Looking at the shrubs I’ll manage this for another month at least!! Delightful.
Gardening, whether in ground or in containers, outdoors or indoors, requires four things to maintain healthy plants: growing medium, light, water, and nutrients. As long as you have those things, you’re on your way to being a gardener!
If you have space constraints, or you’re moving at some point and don’t want to walk away from your work, or if you don’t have an outdoor area with growing medium, or if you want to grow indoors, container gardening might be just the perfect thing for you. I choose to grow primarily in containers because I move every few years and like to take my plants with me. Some people garden with containers in water, which is generally called hydroponics. Others, like me, focus on containers filled with soil, because I primarily grow plants that naturally grow in soil and I think they deserve that natural medium. This is the style of container gardening on which this series will focus.
Perhaps the first thing to consider with container gardening is how much soil you’ll need and what size container is best. For a plant which is currently smaller but will grow larger, start with a smaller container and increase as necessary.
This plant is a young (1st year) blackberry plant that I started from a root cutting off a larger shrub. It is, consequently, in a smaller container than its parent plant (3 years old).
There they are next to each other. If you give a smaller plant a larger container straight off, its roots will never reach the water that will pond in the soil at the bottom of the pot. This can cause all sorts of problems from rot to bad fungus to insect infestation. As your plant grows, increase its pot size once a year or when you see the ends of the roots peaking through the drain holes. Repot to a container roughly a half size bigger than the current container, or no more than twice as big. You want enough room and fresh soil for the roots to spread and delve, but not too much room that you’ll have lingering water.
Disclaimer: This article will give you a general explanation of why you should bring a map and how to read it. This is NOT a cartography or navigation primer and I am NOT an expert in those subjects.
Okay! Even if you plan to bring your smartphone to take pictures with or to have that security blanket weight in your pocket, be mindful that you are NOT guaranteed cell service on any trail. Connectivity has improved more and more lately, and will likely continue to do so, but no amount of Google can beat the real deal of having a current map to look at and guide you. For trip planning purposes and preparedness on the trail, I highly recommend getting a topographical map. This kind of map has billions of squiggly lines on it that show elevation changes. This information is critical when you are planning your trip.
For example, let’s look at some images of National Geographic’s topographical map for the Mount Rogers Recreational Area.
If this isn’t confusing to you right off the bat, then why the hell are you reading this series of blog posts. If this is confusing, then hurray, you’re in the right place! The trails are marked with dotted lines, and the major ones are highlighted in yellow. Boundaries are highlighted in green. And those light tan/green/gray curvy lines throughout? Those are the elevation lines. The elevation change between each line is 50ft. The further apart the lines are, the more gradual the elevation change.
This bit? A walk in the park.
THIS bit? Absolute murder. Probably a cliff.
Get it? When you’re planning your hike, take these lines VERY seriously. Sure, you can do 10 miles in a day of gentle elevation changes, no problem. But 10 miles which includes more strenuous ups and downs and steep switchbacks? You’re gonna regret that one in the morning. And remember, when you’ve stopped for the day and made your camp, streams and water sources are generally down a slope of some kind. Plan for a little more exercise even after you’ve put down your pack!
And one more word of warning: yes, the Appalachian Trail (or AT, indicated in the white diamond on that second close-up image) is considered to be a maintained trail. That DOES NOT necessarily mean it’s easy. It likes to follow the ridge lines, and when there isn’t a ridge line it has to go down and back up to find the next one. Sometimes spur trails are kinder.
For a really great resource on navigating with a map, click this link here!