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
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.
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
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’)
Be kind to your knees. And don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
It has been a wild and wooly week in the world of research here at the Manic. Since I’m researching for my WWII book as well as my podcasts, I go careening from nitrous oxide emissions from manure to a history of blood transfusions. (Did you know that the first successful transfusions to humans occurred in 1667 and involved blood from sheep? Neither did I.)
Of course, since my only source for that fact is a single internet document, I shouldn’t call it a fact at all. Yet. I used to give freshmen students an assignment in which they had to find the real source of a quotation or document that’s commonly misattributed. My favorite was what’s known as “The Sunscreen Song,” (Remember that? It had some great lines: “Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.” and “Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.”) *
So there I was, blithely researching studies about whether our fresh foods contain fewer nutrients than they used to, and this quotation kept popping up: Continue reading