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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Got Hail Damage?

Wild summer storms can discourage home gardeners as well as farmers. The best defense is a good offense by using proper cultural practices – location, watering, fertilizing and pruning techniques – from the beginning of the season. When hail happens, trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals can successfully survive if the proper maintenance is done after damage.

Trees and Shrubs
Prune off any broken branches caused by hail. Use proper pruning cuts, taking care not to cut into the branch bark ridge. If trees or shrubs were split and large limbs were broken, clean the wounds with a sharp knife or pruning shears. Browned leaves will not turn green. To assess the ex-tent of damage, move up the plant and past the leaves to check how far back dead material extends. Dead twigs will snap. Moving further back on the branch, you can use a knife to scrape the top of the branch to look for live wood. Prune twigs and branches at the point where there is live, green wood. Do not apply paint or wound dressings, but let the wound close naturally. If damage is too great, consider removing the plant.

Continue to inspect branch wounds closely and monitor throughout the growing season. Many wounds will callous over with proper plant watering and maintenance. Be vigilant about spotting Fire Blight if humidity and temperatures (60°F to 85°F and relative humidity above 60%) are conducive to the bacterial growth. A preventative spray of horticultural oil in the spring or fall can reduce overwintering egg casings and spores.

Hail often destroys leaves, but trees may have enough reserves to re-leaf. Because this takes a lot of energy, be sure to give the tree adequate water throughout the summer (approximately one inch per week, depending on species). Applying two to three inches of mulch at the base of the trees but not touching the trunk and shrubs will also help moderate soil temperatures and maintain soil moisture.

2018 newsletter 17.1

Annual flowers and edibles
Plants that are completely stripped of foliage and have broken stems should be replaced. If less than one-third of the plant remains, it is probably not worth trying to save. Other plants with less damage might be salvaged, but they will need time and care to recover.

  • Trim and remove severely damaged leaves so that the energy of the plant is directed to create new growth. After trimming, spray edibles with a copper-based product available at garden centers.
  • Apply fertilizer to promote growth. Pat Appleby of Canyon Creek Nursery suggests Soil Diva either to spray on foliage or as a soil drench. It will enhance microbial activity to stimulate the plants.
  • Water regularly without stressing plants with too much or too little water.
  • Place new plants between damaged ones to provide instant color in the case of annuals – and to help insure a harvest in the case of edibles.

After a very intense storm, the soil around plants tends to form a crust after it starts to dry out. Use a small hand rake to gently work around those plants and break up that crust so it doesn’t form a hard shell.

Perennials
Perennials often have secondary buds that will provide new growth following hail damage. Perennials also require optimal care following hail so that they not only survive the current season but gain the health to overwinter and bloom again next season. Trim perennials back as far as the extent of the damage is visible. This also applies to perennial grasses.

Apply fertilizer to provide nutrients that will generate growth.

Do not cut back damaged foliage on bulb flowers such as daffodils and allium. The leaves enable photosynthesis which feeds the bulbs though severe damage may cause less vigorous plants the following year.

Water adequately. Xeric plants may need more water than usual to help them recover more quickly.

Living with Hail
In areas more prone to hail, use a cloth designed to protect plants from hail (or sun). Pat suggests using a 30% block to allow moisture and light to reach plants while protecting them from hail. You can also look for finer-leafed plants such as cosmos which the hail often falls through rather than shreds.

Sources 
Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado https://www.alcc.com/dealing-with-weather-damaged-plants.
Ask an expert Cooperative Extension https://ask.extension.org/questions/395347.
Colorado public news http://www.cpr.org/news/story/after-hail-advice-resurrecting-your-garden.
Interview with Pat Appleby of Canyon Creek Nursery.

~Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

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

PVC TOMATO CAGE

Using ½ inch PVC pipe, an easy to use and store tomato cage can be assembled. Build it to match your method of tomato growing. I plant in pots so the cages are made into two foot spacings to fit around my pots. These cages can be built as high and wide as needed. Using the two foot spacing I usually go to about five feet high to hold indeterminate tomatoes. These PVC cages set up quickly and easily and just as easy to tear down. They need little space for storage. I think they may last forever.

Submitted by Corry Mordeaux