Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Special offer for blog readers: Only $20 [lists for $24.95] No tax.

Autograph included.

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Buy From the Source So Writers Can Keep on Writing®

Send a check made out to Metamorphic Press to: Metamorphic Press, PO Box 412, Occidental, CA 95465

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Information about the book:

As a celebration of its 25th anniversary, the highly respected newsletter Avant

Gardener published a list headed “The 25 Best Gardening Books of the Past

25 Years.” Up there on that list, at number seven, was the first edition of Drip

Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates. Great then, even better now.

Yes, Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates, by Robert Kourik,

is now available in an updated second edition. It will give you the knowhow

to optimize your water use, survive a protracted drought, or work with the

unpredictable intermittent rains of certain climates. Its light-hearted approach,

step-by-step instructions and clearly drawn diagrams will allow you to construct

and streamline your own drip-irrigation system without the clutter of superfluous

widgets and gizmos.

Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates also describes, in clear

and scientific terms, how drip-irrigation systems can be designed or reconfigured

to use less water while increasing yields of fruits and vegetables and improving

the growth of all plants. New in this edition are descriptions of how to use two

very important water sources—grey water and cisterns—as well as how to utilize

satellite control or a home-based weather station to irrigate your garden with


In short, this fully revised edition of the original ground-breaking book is designed to 1) help gardeners manage

precious water supplies with ease and efficiency, and 2) create sustainable water-efficient gardens and landscapes with the latest technologies of drip irrigation.

Page Count —192 (74 more pages than the 1993 edition)

Number of illustrations—89 B&W (21 new B&W illustrations)

Includes: A Bibliography, Glossary, Web sites to explore (new to this addition), and an expanded and detailed Index.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Battle of the Heirlooms Versus the Hybrids

Hybrid seed is often selected for providing resistance to specific diseases and pests. With tomatoes, you'll notice all, or some, of the letters V, F, and N. These letters tell the buyer that the tomato is resistant to, respectively, verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes. Some heirlooms have resistance to these same factors, but often not all three in one plant. The difficulty with heirlooms is with their lack of genetic similarity. If your plants are attacked by a disease which the hybrid isn't "programmed" (or, selected) for, then the plants may be sitting ducks. Perhaps the whole field, or a great portion of it, will succumb to the disease. The dogmatic opponents of hybrids often mention this lack of genetic diversity as the Achilles' heel of hybrid seed. But, in all their testaments to the evils of hybrid seed, the heirloom proponents can only dredge up a handful of scary agricultural examples. More notable to the home gardener, the Achilles' heel argument only works well with the agricultural scale. Five hundred acres of one type of wheat is a far cry from the dozen or two types of vegetables, and the several or more varieties of many of the types, found in the average home garden. If all the tomato plants die, you'll be depressed—but, you won't be lacking in things to eat.

While the following story doesn't represent hard science, it will illustrate the difficulties generated when dogma on either side becomes fixed like a case of mental lockjaw.

The setting is the rural acreage a nonprofit organization we'll call the Institute. Located in the coastal belt of Northern California, these well-tended organic gardens—with an incredible organic matter content of 12%—lay at the western edge of a reasonable tomato climate. Still, every three- to four-years, a late summer blight stimulated by intruding all day fogs will wipe out 80% of the plants or a late spring frost will damage or kill a number of plants. (Flavor is another problem altogether. If the warmth of an unfoggy summer graces the garden and Indian summer lingers into October, then you'll have good chance at something approaching the archetypical Midwestern smile-on-your-lips tomato flavor.)

The Institute attracts the young, the enthusiastic and the righteous to a variety of gardening and landscaping programs. All who arrive come already indoctrinated in the Church of the Organic Way. A few have gardened before. Many already have it in for anything corporate, industrial, or chemical. This is a fertile breeding ground for the dogma of heirlooms.

The young interns got swept away with the growing tide of interest in preserving genetic vegetable diversity and started growing rare and unusual heirloom varieties. (They often turned a superior nose to heirloom flowers—as they only grew food, for sustenance.) They grew 25 to 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes a season to sample the flavor and save seed. Somehow, they decided to have a contest for disease hardiness between hybrid and heirloom, open-pollinated varieties. They may have been shamed into it by the pestering of the remnants of the pro-hybrid gardeners. Or, the Church of Heirlooms may have decided to prove its superiority to the rest of the heretics. Whatever. The proselytizers of open-pollination made a big stink about the showdown. Many an evening meal ended up with various predictions of the triumphant heirlooms. They reveled in how the final report would show that their study had proven heirlooms victorious. I was living there at the time and found the horticultural piety amusing one day, and tedious on other days.

Summer passed. Evening conversation turned to other events or topics. And the first frosts blackened what remained of the tomato plants. Finally, I pulled aside one of the clergy from the Church of Heirlooms. "Where's the report," I asked. "What were the results?" In a hushed tone, he said "the hybrids were more disease resistant, so we didn't do a report." So much for the integrity of this flock of the Church of Heirlooms. The results failed to confirm their expectations, so nobody will find out. (These are the same people who degraded Nixon for the shabby and criminal way in which he suppressed information and kept secrets.!)

Let me know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert

A Sheety Garden

From my book Roots Demystified, Change Your Gardening Habits to Help Roots Thrive.

Nature builds soil from the top down with all the decomposition of carbonaceous materials such as fallen leaves and decaying grasses, as well as various forms of feces. In addition, there’s a lot going on, root-wise, beneath the surface of the soil that helps it improve without cultivation. The activities of roots loosen the soil; the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants add nitrogen; “compost” is created as roots rot at all levels to create decomposed organic matter for the use of other plants and microbes; nutrients cycle from root systems to the foliage of plants (and back to the earth again as leaf, stem, branch and trunk litter); roots develop tunnels for the movement of earthworms, root canals help rainwater soak into deeper areas and root exudates create a microbial “soup” which helps to liberate all manner of nutrients.

Sheet Composting

Sheet composting offers an easy way to improve the garden's soil without strenuous digging. The technique is akin to Ruth Stout's deep mulching practices. Sheet composting has nothing to do with woven percale or thread counts, but refers to the use of thin layers of compostable material laid out over the soil like a thick mulch. By layering high-carbon wastes with nitrogenous plant refuse, you essentially construct a thin, wide, two-dimensional compost pile. Use a blend of dry brown leaves or woody stems (chipped, chopped, or not); fresh grass clippings; green-manure crops such as buckwheat, vetch, bell beans, and clover; wet kitchen garbage or scraps (no meat scraps, as they’ll tend to attract hungry animals and/or smell bad); and green weeds from the garden before their seeds ripen.

Experiment with a ratio of one part green matter to three or four parts dry dead matter. Water the dry materials as you’re layering. At each planting location, make a large planting pocket in the native soil to receive the roots. NOTE: sheet composting doesn't generate enough heat to kill weed seeds, diseases, or pathogens, so after planting, water everything again, then cover the area with five to ten sheets of newspaper, and the newspaper with a weed-free mulch; this should take care of the nasties. The sheet composting slowly helps improve soils from the top down while allowing the gardener to quickly dispose of large quantities of compostable materials and avoid unnatural tillage. The sheet-composted area will require more irrigation the first year or two as the roots grow into the uncultivated soil.

Let me know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gophers Rule (?)

The attempts to annihilate gophers in agricultural fields and gardens reveal how resilient life can be. Gophers are industrious and fertile. These pesky subterranean rodents love to eat the roots of wild and domesticated plants alike. They must tunnel no matter what they eat in order to survive. A typical gopher's teeth grow 15 inches per year. If the they didn't burrow around, a gopher's teeth would grow into a long curve which would impale the base of their own skull.

They are as reticent at being killed as they are reluctant to tunnel. A farmer might put poison bait in the soil, in fake gopher tunnels made by a tractor-draw implement, over a 20-acre area. Yet this will only protect the center of the field for approximately two years. By then, the offspring of the gophers around the edge will have migrated into the "free" area. Gardeners face a more difficult problem. Gophers are territorial. They make plenty of babies (up to seven in each “brood”) who must stake out their own turf. Even extensive trapping, the Macabee trap is my favorite, is often compromised.

Only religious, consistent trapping (especially in the Spring when the young are trying to establish their new territory), is a possible solution. Trapping in your neighbors’ yards can help the invasion from the edges. Kill more gophers!

Let me know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert