Too Many Spruce–?

I’ll never look at my garden the same way again.

Only a few pages into Sue Reed’s Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for your Home and Garden (New Society Press, 2010) I started glancing around my  yard with a new eye. How well did our trees funnel summer breezes and block winter ones? Were deciduous trees and conifers planted in the optimal places?

Well, I already knew the answer to that one: no. I’ve got five large spruce grouped on the east and south-east side of the house, and while they do a marvelous job of keeping us cool during heat waves (like the one last week), they do an equally good job of blocking winter sunlight and preventing passive solar warming of the house. And by large, I mean fifty or sixty feet tall–much, much taller than our two-story house.

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So—What’s wrong with lawns? Podcast #34

The Back Story

I grew up in an apartment in Manhattan, so anything green seemed natural to me. It’s only much more recently that I’ve come to see lawns as man-made objects imposed on the environment—often an unforgiving and unreceptive environment.

Then Eric Vinge of Planet Natural asked me to write an article on organic lawn care. Writing that article (A Home-Owner’s Guide to Organic Lawn Care: Maintaining a Chemical-Free Lawn) was my education in lawn-care pesticides and other chemicals, and it was quite a class. Obviously, I started with a strong bias towards the organic point of view. But I have a strong skeptical streak, and I decided to trace every claim about rising cancer rates and endocrine disruption, about tracked-in chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the rest to either a university or a government study.

You know what I found? It was all true. All those claims about contaminated well-water and streams, the danger of childhood exposure, reproductive disorders—they’re all true.

This show is an attempt to share some of what I learned. Continue reading

A Farmer’s Story – podcast #33



This is a conversation with Atina Diffley about the loss of one organic farm to development and the fight to protect its replacement from an oil pipeline. She talks about the ecological damage and spiritual wounds she, her children, their father, and his family farm suffered when The Gardens of Eagen went piecemeal under the bulldozer. Then she describes how she took on the Koch brothers and won. Her memoir Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works came out this spring.

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The (Nearly) Weed-Free Garden – Podcast #30

Here’s a picture of Lee Reich’s garden:


Either he knows a lot about gardening, or he’s a whiz at Photoshop. I’m betting on the first, which is why I interviewed him for this week’s podcast, The Weed-Free Garden.

Lee has a four-part system for beating the weeds:

  •    – Don’t disturb the soil. (prevents buried weed seeds from surfacing and germinating.)
  •    – Set up permanent beds and paths. (so you won’t have to till to aerate the soil.)
  •    – Keep the soil covered at all times. (so weeds can’t get established.)
  •    – Use drip irrigation where irrigation is needed. (prevents disease in a densely planted bed, saves water, and puts the water where it’s needed: in the root zone.) Continue reading

More Space Than You Thought – Podcast 29


Fern Richardson grows “tons of herbs,” “tons of succulents,” lots of vegetables, and at least six trees—on a balcony. I’m not quite sure of the tree count, because after I counted to six, I’m afraid my hearing did the auditory equivalent of glazing over—I just wasn’t entirely functional for a moment there.

When she was listing them—the kumquat, the apricot, the fig, the two apple trees—I squawked “TWO?” so loudly that I had to lower the volume of that one word in the recording, to preserve my listeners’ hearing. There are two, Fern quite reasonably replied, because apple trees cross-pollinate with a nearby tree of a different variety.

I know this, of course, but still—two apple trees on a balcony? And lest you envision some Hollywood terrace big enough for a swimming pool, let me give you the exact dimensions of Fern’s garden space: four feet by ten. (4’ x 10’)

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