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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Dan Walt Garden Tour

This year’s DanWalt tour ended up being on an unseasonably cool and wet Aug. 26th day. This special garden is now owned and managed by current Master Gardener Suri Lunde and husband Clint, who are doing a wonderful job carrying out what must have been a most all-consuming life choice. The gardens were beautifully kept. The hibiscus were in their prime (so huge), and the Love Lies Bleeding amaranthus had some strands over 2 feet long.

2018 newletter 12.1

An extra bonus were pears for all who were interested from the huge pear tree beside the pavilion. We did have rain showers to contend with, but Suri and Clint had us covered with umbrellas for all so the tour went on with-out a hitch. The traditional chicken salad lunch was delicious as always, and the cheesecake Divine. We then had a real surprise when Dan Jellison (former owner) showed up by accident just as dessert was finished. Of course he mingled and shared his sharp wit for many light hearted laughs. For those of you who missed or who would like to share DanWalt with family or friends, don’t forget the self-tour option. This garden is well worth visiting and sharing.

Submitted by Amy Grandpre

Master Gardener LuAnne Eng

As many times that I have typed LuAnne’s name, I think I have spelled it differently every time. Her name is correctly spelled LuAnne Engh (as in “ing”).

LuAnne grew up in Dickenson, ND and just happened to go to the same schools and church as her husband of 37 years, Rob. LuAnne and Rob owned Northland Corrosion in Laurel where they also live. They are now retired. She enjoys the fact that when they moved into their home, it had mature trees and shrubs and takes pride in being able to continue caring for them.

Thinking about where to go after graduating from NDSU in Fargo, since there wasn’t really anything in North Dakota, LuAnne joined the Peace Corps and traveled to the Philippines. LuAnne said that “they” were supposed to teach the people about growing food, but they themselves learned a lot also. Food isn’t available everywhere, you have to grow it and it grew like crazy. Carrots can’t be grown in the lower elevations but can be in the higher parts. They raised fish in tanks and rabbits.

LuAnne stated that she would like to be more active in MGs because she really enjoys being with so many resourceful people, but when you listen to her schedule, you understand how everything works out. They travel south for 3 months of the year, visit the three grown children and five grandchildren in Seattle and DC. LuAnne is also involved in the Laurel Tree Board finding resources for replacing trees and pruning and on the Laurel Park Board overseeing all the parks. The first Arbor Day Celebrations in Laurel were headed by LuAnne. The MayFlower Church community garden is managed by LuAnne and Rob helps with mowing the five acre parcel with twenty-four plots in addition to keeping a beautiful yard at home. She and Rob will be going to Vietnam in March to build a Habitat house near DaNang.

The booth at the Farmers Market made a huge impression on her, again because of the vast amount of information they all gave out. What you learn can also be fun, like the Mystery Night at the Library being with such a great group of people. Resources are top on her list and she admires all that Amy can put you in touch with. What an enthusiastic, energetic and interesting person to talk to and work with. She didn’t come from a gardening background, but after seeing Amy’s advertisement about the Master Gardeners program, she was eager to sign up and learn. She is a tremendous resource in herself and a great help when she is here to pitch in. Thank you, LuAnne.

Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Winter’s Garden

I must go into the garden again

to find the limestone and clay

Be waiting by the morning rise

amongst its sleepy decay

but I need no garden to soothe

nor right as would be believed

I need no foot on buried steel

Nor flowers or such conceived

I must paint a canvas filled

with ochre, orange and green

My brush may still hard fabric

As I imagine what I had seen

Or my colours could be dark water

like the rivers of Arcadian deep

Careless what my mind perceives

what it sows or what it reaps

I might write sad tearful verse

words might as hammers fall

Roar and blow like creaking bellows

in the dark of my minds thrall

Or I could sit and watch a while

raise my head close my eyes

Beautiful words nature has spoken

and wonders in earth and sky

Copyright © Declan Molloy | Year Posted 2015

 

Local Gardeners and Master Gardener Steve and Kelly Pottenger

Jim’s Jungle has been a fixture in town for many years. Recently, as current owners, Steve and Kelly Pottenger, sat down with me at the end of a hot day in the fenced nursery location in front of the West Park Shopping Center, a shopper asked Kelly if they still had new plants coming in. With new plants coming in through the middle of June, I agree with the nice lady – even at the end of the planting season when the garden is stuffed full, it’s still hard to stop coming here to buy plants.

The name of this place is actually Potager’s Jungle, but it is hard to bend a great tradition to fit changing times. Potager is an Old English gardening term that these folks would like customers to become accustomed to as they settle in to the location they hope to make permanent. While Steve, Kelly, and their two kids Katie and Skyler bring years of knowledge to the colorful oasis among the pavement and cement along Grand, they are quick to explain that at home the environment is even more challenging to garden. I wanted to know more about that.

Steve told me right off the bat that at home “the water is not good, the soil is not good, the wind is nasty.” Our place does not look like this, he said with a swoop of his hand. While I can relate to those challenges of rural Montana gardening, I couldn’t imagine desolation where this kind of gardener lives. Of course they garden successfully – they figure out what is most hardy for this area when they take the last of the crop home to plant in those rough conditions. The plants that survive there are the toughest,
and prove to be what they recommend to folks next year that will take whatever the Montana summer can dish out. They have hanging baskets of colorful flowers and mix their own soil for pots full of vegetables, which last year they brought in to the sunny south window and enjoyed tomatoes in the living room all winter!
What are their favorite plants? That was hard for them to pin down, but Kelly’s favorite is gaillardia. She did say when she gardened in the Kalispell area she loved the begonias and dahlias, too. They just aren’t as well suited here. Steve enjoys all plants, but perennials in particular. He gardened in Reno for many years before returning to Billings.

Where did they get the willingness to experiment in these harsh Montana conditions? Both Steve and Kelly grew up with gardening dads and even while doing those unloved weeding chores never gave a second thought to the natural ebbs and flows of the backyard landscape. Kelly spoke of an activity at the local YMCA where she was able to introduce kids to their first experience with gardening. Realizing that there are so many kids who don’t grow up with that kind of daily practice made her appreciate what she had learned from her folks. It makes Steve and Kelly happy to encourage people of all ages to get in the backyard and grow things, and they see many younger folks coming to buy plants to produce their own home-grown food.

They are teaching new generations side by side with their own kids. Katie and Skyler are learning all aspects of the nursery business and have integral parts in the family operation. Steve says Katie is great at the till, and Skyler is a very reliable ‘yard’ man, helping customers and keeping the area running smoothly. They are also learning to practice safety – Kelly and Steve make sure everyone that works in the nursery use good gardening habits: stay hydrated, have access to shade and takes breaks in a cool, protected environment, and be mindful of using good tools and proper clothing.

Steve told me that one of the things he wants his fellow Master Gardeners here to know is how grateful he and Kelly are for their help on Saturdays in May. Handing out the leaflets with gardening tips and taking the time to have conversations with beginning gardeners is a wonderful treat for their customers, and they love to see people become even more interested and confident with the insight from the Master Gardeners who help out there. I let them know that as a Master Gardener I appreciate their business and having access to vibrant healthy plant materials delivered with a smile and thanked them for a lively interview!

Submitted by Corinna Sinclair

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