Book Review: Lentil Underground by Liz Carlisle

Lentil Underground by Liz Carlisle

I adore this nonfiction book for so many reasons! As a gardener, a dreamer, a reader, and a Montanan (after being here 43 years), this book nurtures those of us craving some prodding towards creativity. It’s about the conversion from conventional, large-crop, synthetically fertilized farming to rotating, small crop, organic farming. Technical while still being accessible to the non-scientist, Lentil Underground explains the process of finding new ways to do what no longer works and the willingness to take the leap away from the mainstream. Many third-generation farmers were facing bankruptcy in the 1980s while farming the way they were told to do by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana State University agriculture professors.

Liz Carlisle, a Missoulian by birth who holds degrees from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, writes in a crisp journalistic style made popular today by writers such as Michael Lewis and Mary Roach. She weaves information into a timeline featuring real characters in an ongoing story that reflects recent history of the past few decades.

“My intention has changed from making money to growing good-quality, healthy food. I think the soil’s happier. The farm just feels better. It’s like it knows I’m not going to pillage.” These few farmers in Montana who moved away from debt to large corporations towards certain weeds to replenish their soils represent a broad philosophical shift. The independence and innovation of farmers fortunately cannot be restrained, even though they were bucking the trend and often alienating neighbors and family members. In the long run, most organic farmers not only survived but thrive.

What began with some founders of AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization), now based in Helena, has become essentially commonplace. Albertson’s and Walmart carry organic produce, whereas that designation used to be only carried by specialized, expensive health food stores. The movement no longer is the domain of a small, kooky cluster of transcendentally minded hippies, although the evidence, as explained by Carlisle, is that it started that way. Both the history of the movement and the character descriptions involved make colorful fodder for reading.

As a gardener, I still feel mixed about black medic and clover helping fix the nitrogen in my flower and vegetable beds. On one hand, I care about appearance. I get stuck in those middle class values that Carlisle confronts: “It became customary, when passing by a tidy, productive farm, to remark that a good family must live there.” Alternatively, I feel relief knowing I help the soil by ignoring what’s under the canopy of flowers and vegetables, thereby contributing to healthier, nutrient-rich soil.

She includes some celebrities, too, since land use often mirrors personalities of those that own it. I won’t be a spoiler, though, because reading the book far exceeds reading this review. If you have doubts about picking up a copy, keep in mind that it was the ‘Read for all Incoming Freshmen’ at the University of Montana in the fall of 2017. The themes of thoughtful change while taking charge of destiny from the ground up can inspire future leaders and gardeners everywhere to ask essential questions and experiment.

BOOK REVIEW submitted by Bess Lovec

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2018 Flower Show

The 2018 Flower Show, hosted by the Thumb-R-Green Garden Club, had the theme of “Under Montana Skies.” The flower show was held Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at the D.A. Davidson Building, in conjunction with the downtown farmers market. Of course all the displays were super, but especially enticing were the underwater arrangements…what a fun twist on flower arranging.

Thanks to all the Master Gardeners who helped in making this yearly event easier for all involved: Ann McKean, Bess Lovec, Charlie Hendricks, David Fisher, Gail Tesinsky, JoAnne Bylsma, Joyce Hendricks, Linda Walters, Marion Grumett, Mary Davis, Merita Murdock, Ron Hendricks, Vonnie Bell.

Submitted By Amy Grandpre

 

Swanky Roots Tour

On August 28th, Master Gardener Association members were treated to a tour of Swanky Roots, a new aquaponics business in Billings. Our tour was given by co-owner Veronnaka Evenson, who graduated from Montana State University in 2016 with degrees in Plant Science and Agricultural Education. Veronnaka and mom, Ronna Klamert, are owners/operators of this most clean and modern greenhouse business. (I was most impressed with the requirement of washing our hands and walking on a specially treated mat to be sure no contamination entered the greenhouse.)

2018 newsletter 5.1

At this early stage of the business it’s mostly lettuce being grown, which is available for purchase if you happen to be out in the area…on the way to Oscars Dreamland. The future will include sales of fish and more produce items, as ongoing research and demand are determined.

As you enter the greenhouse, you see the large blue tanks that are holding the fish (which some of our group got to feed!). The fish water is then cycled to irrigate the plants that are grown through a Styrofoam type mat that floats in aerated bins of water from the fish tanks. The large greenhouse is filled with these long bins of water and plants, with the exception of an area along one side, which has larger plant material grown in a medium of expanded clay balls.

This was truly a unique, first-time tour for our group of a business such as this. We wish them well on this most ambitious business venture.

GARDENING IN THE 18TH CENTURY

It’s mid-June and the spring planting rush is over. Thank heavens for all of the resources we have at our fingertips—from nurseries, seed catalogs, the library, and the internet to our own Master Gardeners’ private cache and network.

Such a plethora begs the question of how people got their gardening information before the modern advantages we all enjoy.

Plants and information moved much more slowly but I think you might be surprised at the variety available to people living in a four-mile-an-hour world in which most people seldom left their counties. Here are three examples.

William Faris, a silversmith, clockmaker and avid gardener, lived in Annapolis, MD across from the state capitol from 1728-1804. Because of his prime location, he had contact with everyone from local slaves to the governor and he discussed gardening and traded seeds with anyone he could. He was, in fact, the hub of a very democratic gardening network. In addition, because Annapolis was an international port, Faris had early information of which ships arrived from where and what plants, seeds and people they carried. He had access to seeds and plants from around the world. Luckily for us, Faris kept a careful diary of his gardening, including sketches of his garden layout and the plants he and his slave cultivated. You can read more about Faris in Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake, 1700-1805 (Baltimore, 1998) by Barbara Wells Sarudy.
Also, read her excellent blog about all things gardening in early America at this link:
https://americangardenhistory.blogspot.com.

Charles Carroll, Barrister, lived in Annapolis at the same time as William Faris and surely knew him. As a young man, Carroll decided to build a country house on the Patapsco River, in what is now Baltimore, on land he owned and on which was an
iron mine. A wealthy bachelor, Carroll planned a showpiece plantation, Mount Clare, that included an extensive orchard, a kitchen garden and a greenhouse (in which he and his wife later grew pineapples.) If he got seeds from William Faris, he did not make note of it. Rather, many of the varieties of fruit trees and vegetables he grew at Mt. Clare came directly from England. It was a slow process but Carroll wanted to do everything according to the latest standards of the time. The process began when Carroll shipped iron from his mine to London. He sent with the captain a very long shopping list of all the fruit trees, vegetable seeds and latest gardening manual he wanted the captain to bring with him on his return to Maryland. Dozens of varieties were available to him. Three months later when the captain arrived in London, he handed the list over to Carroll’s agent in London who did the shopping and delivered the plants, seeds and book to the ship. That may have taken several months. It was at least a three-month journey back to Mt. Clare and the condition of the plants depended completely on the diligence of the captain in seeing that they were watered and protected from the sea weather. Many of the plants must have survived the trip because the grounds of Mount Clare were well-known once they were established. For pictures of Mount Clare, see 
http://www.mountclare.org/.


John Bartram (1699-1777), a Philadelphia Quaker and botanist, traveled up and down the eastern colonies collecting native American plant species in the early part of the eighteenth century. He took them back to Philadelphia and established a plant nursery. In addition, he began to collect seeds, plants and knowledge from correspondents, many of whom were in England. Bartram’s Garden became the first plant nursery in the colonies and had customers from the colonies as well as England. In 1765, King George III named Bartram his “Royal Botanist”. Bartram’s son, William, also a naturalist and plant explorer, ran the family nursery after his father’s passing. After 1810, John Bartram’s granddaughter, Ann Bartram Carr and her husband, Robert, took over and expanded the gardens. At one point, they offered 1400 native species and over 1000
exotic plants to their customers. The gardens closed for business in 1850. Luckily for us, though, the gardens were preserved, first privately and now as a public historic site. You can learn more about Bartram’s Gardens at
https://bartramsgarden.org/about/history/horticulture/.

To my knowledge, no one has made a comparison of the species and varieties available to early Americans and those available to us today. I suspect that they would find that while we enjoy a wide number of genera native to many parts of the globe we have
lost what people in the past had—a smaller number of genera and a larger number of species and varieties. It gives one pause.


Submitted by Trudy Eden

The Zen of Gardening by David Wann

I marvel at the lush gardens I see on gardening shows and admit to a bit of
“green” envy. Unfortunately, those shows and gardening books for the humid
eastern U.S. do not help me much here in Montana. Instead I seek out advice
from gardeners who create successful gardens in our challenging conditions out
west.

David Wann is one such gardener. David began gardening at 7000 feet outside
Denver in the early 1980s. He has faced the same drought, wind, heat, cold, hail,
poor soils and short growing seasons that we cope with here in Montana. He
has distilled decades of experimental gardening and many lessons from masterful
gardeners that he has interviewed and worked with into this book.

Mr. Wann covers a very wide range of topics from mulching, choosing natives,
starting seeds, growing garlic, producing food in the winter to planting trees,
shrubs and perennial flowers. The novice and the seasoned gardener alike will
find great information here. As I read the book, I started a list of useful tips that
I plan to implement in my garden, such as mulching potato plants with pine needles, feeding my strawberries with compost and bone meal, using different methods of seed-starting to meet the varying needs of seeds, growing hairy vetch as a cover crop and companion plant to tomatoes, and trying the adage “When cottonwoods bud, plant the spuds.”

This book is not a story that you can read through like a novel. It is more a reference book and can be read gradually or used as a go-to source for specific help. One philosophical approach I particularly like about Mr. Wann’s gardening is that
there are lessons in failures—gardens are an experiment that we learn from every year. That is one of the things I love about gardening—there is always something new and useful to learn. And I definitely learned a lot reading The Zen of Gardening.

Reviewed by Ann Guthals

May Master Gardeners at the Greenhouse

On May 24, Master Gardeners on the Town was hosted by Amy at the Metra Greenhouse Ed Center. Mary Davis and Amy planned on having a crackling fire to welcome all with, but winds and rain made that option impossible. Lucky for us the greenhouse became the perfect location for serving up some refreshing root beer floats to about 14 takers.

Things are coming along out there, especially the disappearance of the weeds, thanks to Greg T, Sherry D, Mary D, Gloria E, Marilyn L, Joann and Corry G.

Inside the greenhouse the Tumbleweed Teens have planted up 5 4×4 square foot beds, which are coming along nicely. Still looking for volunteers to adopt a garden patch or two out there, so if you are interested, just let Amy know.

May at the Greenhouse 2

Article and pictures by Amy Grandpre