Recently my brother and his family visited New Zealand. They returned bearing an assortment of very cool gifts including a deceptively simple, yet ingenious weeding tool called the Wonder Weeder.
Yes, it does look a little like something cobbled-together in the backyard, but as soon as you get it in your hand it becomes clear just how useful and clever a product this really is. For starters, holding it just feels natural. Its shape automatically encourages ergonomic wrist position, lessening strain on a whole host of gardening muscles. It even comes with a long-poled version to save your back.
It worked perfectly tending the weed-prone spots between my mom’s patio blocks and is also great for places where you need fine control and a delicate touch like containers of seedlings.
So far I’ve only been able to find it for sale in New Zealand but I’m going to dig deeper to see if we can get them here in the states. Until then, I will definitely be bugging my mom to borrow hers as often as I can.
Recycled, a 6-minute documentary film, follows a homeless poet through his day in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The cinematography is as inspiring as what he has been able to do with an empty piece of dirt in the median of a neighborhood street. (Shown with subtitles.)
From there the author goes on to provide ample, accessible information on garden planning, seed/plant selection and acquisition, planting, watering, pest management and so much more. The real jewels in the crown of this book, however are the nearly 200 pages of detailed plant descriptions including recommendations about which grow best in which microclimate.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and want to grow fruits and vegetables, this book is a must-read. Especially if you, like me, have ever wanted to grow tomatoes in a garden 10 blocks from a foggy San Francisco beach. Try the variety Stupice. It grew and produced like a dream.
“Hidden Villa is a nonprofit educational organization that uses its organic farm, wilderness, and community to teach and provide opportunities to learn about the environment and social justice. Hidden Villa stretches over 1600 acres of open space in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 40 miles south of San Francisco. Our mission is to inspire a just and sustainable future through our programs, land and legacy.”
Hidden Villa is also a working farm, complete with a Community Sponsored Agriculture program. A portion of all harvest go to shareholders, while another is donated to local low-income families.
As part of their educational programs, they offer a large assortment of family-oriented classes and events (including How Does Your Garden Grow?, Cheese Please! and my personal favorite, Manure to Meadow to MMMMmmm!) all at very reasonable prices.
Like most non-profits, Hidden Villa is run by a very limited full-time staff on an even more limited budget (especially now), so they rely very heavily on their hundreds of volunteers to keep things running.
I spent a day volunteering as a horticulture worker, starting shrub cuttings and labeling fruit tree scions while others in the group hacked back overgrown blackberries or mulched garden beds. After, we got a tour of the grounds. For me, at least, the rewards of helping to start new plants alone would have been enough, but knowing it was for a good cause made it even better.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, consider volunteering.
The bulk of the work focuses on ancient gardening techniques and includes an entire section of methods of taro farming which I found myself longing to try, if only Northern California had the right climate. Ironically, another section of the book discusses what the author considers the top ten most nutritious vegetables, most of which he was sad to say he couldn’t grow because they required much cooler and less humid conditions, which made it the perfect list of what to grow in my garden.
It’s true that most everything in there is pretty basic, and that the author, who’s from the mainland, may not be the most immediately or obviously credible source of old Hawaiian knowledge and lore (gardening or otherwise). Still, he brings a joy and reverence to his topic that both charms and enlightens. And the appendices include pages of sobering statistics, inspirational quotes, footnotes galore, a glossary of terms, and, most importantly, a list of references and resources including the University of Hawaii’s Tropical Agriculture program.
I can’t even remember where I heard about this one, but something about it (and the reviews it got) piqued my interest so I ordered it from the library. It had been sitting on the shelf for three weeks untouched while I worked on Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez but when I got the renewal email and realized that a) both books were on hold and so couldn’t be renewed, and b) there was no way I could adequately get through the one I was reading, I decided to spend the day with The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka.
At 181 pages, I figured it would be a quick, easy read. It was. But the ideas in the book were deceptive in their simplicity. The four precepts: no cultivation, no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals, seem like a fairy tale, but in his experience have led to the highest, most consistent grain production in his region.
The book reads almost like a series of Zen koans or the teachings of Buddha, every word about so much more than farming. The anticipated how-to on pest and weed avoidance was really a call to re-evalute your relationship with food, farming, the world and yourself — oddly similar to Dominguez’ approach to money management. Interesting to have borrowed them both on the same day.
This book was a gentle but powerful reminder of what I already intrinsically believe and where I am hoping to take my life but which has been buried in the side-effects of my current day-to-day.