Category Archives: Sustainable Living

Monarch butterfly


Photo credit: Rick L. Hansen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wikimedia

Monarch butterflies have been in decline for years. As a result, backyard gardeners, butterfly lovers and environmentalists have been encouraging homeowners (and renters) to provide plants for Monarchs. I found the following graphic on Facebook and thought I would share it here:


  1. Plant milkweed. It is important to locate seeds and plants that are native to your area. Very, very important.
  2. Encourage your locals schools and businesses to allow a Monarch-friendly patch of milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants to thrive. Important: do not mow down plants until and unless they have gone to seed or died back naturally.
  3. No pesticides: my property is a pesticide-free zone. During the warm months, there are hundreds of insect species that stop by or live here including butterflies, bees, wasps (not all are bad), dragonflies, flies, and more.
  4. Share this information with others. If I had my way, pesticides would be banned from use by the general public and government entities.

More information: Journey North Monarch Butterfly project.

Don’t rake those leaves!


For years now we (that’s a royal we) have not raked leaves in the fall.


Some years they were left in place untouched until spring due to my own health issues (nothing gets done around here unless I plan and organize the job). Some years, we did something a little different:

Mowed the leaves and left in place.

As a final mowing (my yard is mowed no more than 6 times each summer season), the yard is mowed chopping up the leaves. But even that is not recommended. It might be better to wait until spring to mow those leaves.

In his article Scientists Urge: Don’t Rake Your Leaves! – Here’s Why, David Wolfe cites the National Wildlife Federation’s recommendation that readers not rake up and throw away leaf litter. Here is Wolfe’s summary of the benefits of leaving leaves in place:

screenshot - David Wolfe, National Wildlife Foundation leaf litter benefits.PNG

Leaf litter provides habitat for creatures (small, smaller and smallest), nourishes the soil, and not raking keeps leaves out of landfills, reduces carbon emissions (no leaf blowers, please — hate those things), and gives you more time to do other things.

Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director, in Leaf Litter: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Work?,  discusses the benefits of allowing leaves to remain in place:

  • moisture retention from precipitation
  • stormwater runoff slowdown
  • availability of nutrients for organisms and soil as they are broken down

Although his article mentions the year-round drop of leaves in Florida, the science behind his recommendations apply to all parts of the country.

We do rake leaves off of the driveway because they are quite slippery and make it more difficult to remove snow in the winter months. But those leaves are raked into areas nearby beneath shrubs and trees so their nutrition is not lost to the environment.


Rethinking fall chores is easy: just don’t rake those leaves!

Grow bags for tomatoes? Nope.


I wanted the title to this blog post to be: “Why grow bags are not the best choice for growing tomatoes.”
I spent the past few years experimenting with the best ways to grow tomatoes.

I have grown tomatoes in raised beds, grow bags, plastic containers, and ground level garden areas. I grow indeterminate tomato varieties, so nothing I write here today is about my experiences growing determinate varieties. Not sure that is relevant, but I wanted to declare that up front.

Last year was an AHA! growing season for me because I discovered what I consider one the most important elements necessary for growing delicious tomatoes that do not crack: steady moisture levels.

I want to specifically address why I think grow bags are not a good choice for growing tomatoes.

I experimented with grow bags in different locations for two years. My grow bags are homemade and sewn from inexpensive landscape fabric. The grow bags that I placed in a warm, sunny location in my yard dried out very quickly. They needed daily watering, and even dried out too much during the day if temperatures were in the 80s.

Moskovich tomatoes ripening. These never cracked. Notice the moist soil. I never watered this side of the raised bed.

Moskovich tomatoes ripening. These never cracked. The occasional rain and spring below kept the soil consistently moist.

Last season, I planted my tomatoes in a variety of locations, but the one location where I had the healthiest tomatoes with no cracking at all was a raised bed in my backyard garden located directly above where a spring keeps the soil very moist. It wasn’t muddy, but the soil never dried out. The tomatoes that I grew in my front garden and in grow bags all had some cracking. The small cherry tomatoes in my front garden cracked the worst.
These tomatoes all cracked right before ripening due to dramatic soil moisture level changes.

These tomatoes all cracked right before ripening due to dramatic soil moisture level changes.

Tomatoes seem to do best with steady soil moisture levels. Dramatic changes in soil moisture stresses the plants which can result in diseases, etc. and can cause cracking. Cracking is bad because tomatoes are exposed to insects and can rot before ripening completely.

When tomatoes are ripening, the skin becomes softer and more delicate. Soil that dries out between waterings or doesn’t remain fairly moist means there is a quick uptake of moisture and water flows into the fruit causing cracking.

I did not get a single yellow pear cherry tomato last year that wasn’t cracked which means that the crop was mostly a loss. Even the red cherry tomatoes I grew cracked last year.

My recommendations:

Plant tomatoes in a rich, loamy soil with lots of organic matter incorporated for moisture retention in a container or bed that does not dry out quickly. Then, mulch. We don’t have an affordable source of mulch up here in Connecticut, so I rarely mulch my vegetable garden.

I also recommend a drip irrigation system. When I watered by hand, too much water was taken up by the plants too quickly. A drip irrigation system (which is really easy to set up — I still have components from my Florida drip system in the garage) will provide slower moisture which should prevent cracking and stressing the plants. I would probably water every morning (just the tomatoes — the rest of my vegetables had no problem with drier conditions — except the pumpkins).

Is there a use for grow bags? I honestly am not sure. They tend to dry out quickly. The felt grow bags (which I did not test) should dry out slower, but soil moisture evaporation is definitely fast in a grow bag. If grow bags are wrapped in something that would help prevent evaporation, that could help.

I really love the portable, impermanent nature of grow bags. It was so easy to build welded wire cages that not only support plants but protected the plants from creatures. The bags themselves were easy to sew, and the cost was minimal. The soil can then be returned to the compost pile, turned in, and replenished. The welded wire is reusable for years.

Thinking about starting seeds . . . it is so easy.

Thinking about starting seeds . . . it is so easy.

Additional stuff I learned about growing tomatoes:

  • Fruit won’t ripen if temperatures are too high – hotter climates should grow tomatoes in early spring and shade or protect summer tomato plants. Spring and fall is best for tomatoes.
  • Fruit will get eaten by slugs (and other creatures) if allowed to sprawl on the ground. Fencing is probably necessary. Keep chickens out.
  • Tomato plants brought home from a nursery or garden center can introduce pests, diseases and viruses. I had this happen and had to rip out a lot of plants year before last, bagging them up and sending them to a landfill (do not compost diseased tomato plants)
  • Starting tomato plants from seed is really easy and only requires a few weeks’ head start. So many more varieties to choose from, too.
  • Tomatoes grow just fine with less than 12 hours of sunlight, though they will need strong support since the plants will be leggier.

Grow bags in back yard garden had less drying out, but they were in the shade for hours every day.

Grow bags in back yard garden had less drying out, but they were in the shade for hours every day.

I still consider myself a tomato novice, but I am learning more every year. And just when I am figuring out how to grow vegetables in New England I am leaving. I will be moving back to Texas very soon.

Happy gardening, everyone!

Warm and Cozy: Winterizing and Indoor Air Pollution


Here in New England, cold weather has finally arrived, signaling to all of us that it is past time to put up those storm windows, check that weatherstripping, and lock those windows tight. But with the winterizing process, with shutting out the cold, comes a loss of fresh air in our homes.
When we bought this house in 2000, my husband was thrilled (energy conservation engineer). This house had enough insulation for two houses, amazing windows that seal tightly, a design that was energy efficient by nature, and a decent furnace that my husband made more efficient by installing a hot water storage tank (so every demand for hot water didn’t trigger the furnace). All wonderful features that would thrill anyone concerned about conserving energy.

It also had wall-to-wall carpet except for the kitchen and bathrooms. That carpet was dated then. After a few years, I developed fairly serious allergy problems from mild asthma to cold urticaria. I had experienced two separate episodes of hives, the second being much worse than the first. And then my youngest son was diagnosed with asthma (he also attended a sick school, getting a double whammy).

After pulling up all of the carpeting, putting in hardwood floors and changing to leather furniture, we all began to do much better; however, I still struggle with strange allergic reactions to unknown irritants. With my chronic Lyme disease, this type of irrational immune response is not uncommon.

Finally, my husband identified that the house was entirely too “tight” for anyone with breathing problems and allergies. He talked about installing an air exchange system.

Winterizing means shutting out fresh air. This traps indoor air pollution inside the house, putting each member of the household (and your pets) at risk. Indoor air pollution is a huge problem here in the United States because of all of the new “stuff” we bring into our homes every week. We buy lots of plastics, new appliances, furniture, items in packaging that is made using a variety of toxic chemicals. Nonstick cookware, hair products, lotions, even those cute little air fresheners and candles that we use to make our homes smell good, all release polluting chemicals that our bodies must then deal with.

The following are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you are breathing cleaner, healthier air over the winter.

Crack a Window

If your house is not naturally drafty (if it is drafty, ignore this section), if you do not feel a slight draft on occasion, good chances are that you do not have sufficient air exchange. Air exchange means changing out the stale air inside a home or building with fresh air from outside. Commercial buildings usually have an air exchange system built in to the heating and air conditioning systems, but single family homes typically do not, at least not up here in New England where most of us use either oil, propane or wood heat.

We have no vents in our house, just baseboard units for the oil heat system and the same connected to our wood boiler. If you have a wood stove, you typically just have heat radiating from a single source. Some people actually do use fans to circulate the heat better within the home, but rarely have I heard of a home having an air exchange system.

I keep two windows cracked just a teensy bit until I feel the slightest draft when the wind is blowing, and usually nothing when it isn’t. I know this sounds counter-intuitive to what we are being taught about making our homes energy efficient, but a completely sealed up house is not healthy for humans. There must be some way for indoor air pollution to be removed.

House Plants

I grow a fairly substantial organic garden over the spring and summer, but had given up trying to grow houseplants because of the challenges of doing so over the winter. When I lived in the southern part of the country, I always had lots of houseplants — I love green, growing things.
I recently read a chapter in my Environmental Science textbook on indoor air pollution and was reminded that I need to take as much care with the air in my house over the winter as I take with what I feed myself over the summer. It was time for houseplants.

NASA published an excellent article entitled, “Plants Clean Air and Water for Indoor Environments.” Scientists found that Volatile Organic compounds (VOC) and other pollutants that off-gassed from a completely-synthetic, sealed environment were almost completely removed when a substantial percentage of the interior was devoted to growing indoor plants.

I was in one of those large home improvement stores the other day to pick up a housewarming gift for a new friend, so I grabbed the only pothos plant they had. It was reasonably priced and in good health. I still need to give it a bath to wash off whatever toxic pesticides they sprayed on it before shipping, but it is here in my house removing pollutants and releasing fresh air. I plan to pick up at least one houseplant a week until I have a nice variety and enough to offset the mostly-closed environment we live in during the cold months in New England.

Shop Thoughtfully

Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is right around the corner. This means lots of shopping, lots of packages, lots of new things entering your home. Consider the nature, chemical composition and packaging of any item you purchase this holiday season. This might mean NOT buying a bunch of cheap stuff, wrapping paper, shiny bows, stuff in plastic packaging, and lots of chemicals. Everything new you bring into your home off-gases. This means lots of toxic chemicals enter your home and its air which are then breathed in by family members (and your pets).

Consider packaging when choosing items. Consider buying in bulk, or buying items that don’t have extensive packaging. Think about the impact each purchase you make this year can have on your home’s air quality and that of the ones you are bestowing gifts.

If you have never visited your local health food store and checked out the bulk bins, this might be a good time to do so. You could buy a case of pint-sized canning jars, buy some organic tea, herbs, yummy treats, and more, put them in canning jars and wrap in a cloth napkin tied up with a cloth ribbon.

Try to avoid anything that is made from plastic, has strong dyes or a foil appearance. Think natural. Think organic (meaning from nature).

Gift your friends with air-purifying houseplants this winter. Give them a pound of organic coffee or chocolate or a unique extract.

Rosemary plant I grew outdoors over the summer. I just brought it indoors and placed it in my south-facing bay window where it will purify the air inside my home.

Rosemary plant I grew outdoors over the summer. I just brought it indoors and placed it in my south-facing bay window where it will purify the air inside my home.

Buy a package of brown paper bags (like lunch bags) to use as gift bags, tied up with a fabric ribbon.

Think outside the box, so to speak, while shopping this holiday season.

Oh, and as much as we love our Christmas trees, what are live cut trees sprayed with? What are artificial trees made from? I have an older artificial tree (actually 3 small ones) that I might use this year, or I might cut down a small bare sapling and decorate that instead.

But I need that new 60-inch flatscreen TV

I hate to tell you, but all of that amazing new technology that we buy, the latest television, that new computer, even that gaming console, are made using toxic chemicals, and they will off-gas after you take them out of their boxes.

You might consider unboxing and leaving that product in a basement — but who is going to do that?

Okay, buy a bunch of large houseplants and place them around that new technology. That should help.


Sustainably Produced, Non-Toxic Products

Again, my science textbook provided some interesting information on the availability of products manufactured with the goal of being environmentally safe. What a novel concept! Products that don’t contain carcinogens and benzenes and formaldehyde. Why didn’t anyone think of this before we were all exposed to hundreds of toxins by the time we were born.

Many furniture chains are selling low-toxicity furniture and products that were made with sustainability in mind. If you must buy new furniture before the holidays, please keep in mind that furniture, especially, will off-gas lots of dangerous chemicals.

One solutions is to buy vintage and antique furniture that has not been refinished recently. It is better to buy a piece of furniture and refinish it yourself using low-toxicity products than to buy a new piece of furniture unless it is certified low-toxicity.

Green Guard is a certification organization created to ensure the low-toxicity of products in particular.

Keeping in mind that new products are made using chemicals, most toxic to humans, and that those products will off-gas after they are brought into your home (even the packaging they come in), can direct each of us to thoughtfully choose what we purchase.

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are made with chemicals that are toxic to humans. And, sadly, they have not been proven to actually accomplish anything worth the chemical exposure.

When my children were little, I bought all-cotton underwear for them that I then used as sleepwear. When I moved up here, I bought those really warm sleepers made from who knows what and treated with who knows what dangerous chemicals. If I had known what I know now about the chemicals that are used to make flame retardants, I would have sewn sleepers from organic fleece for them.

Since this blogger wrote such an amazing article on flame retardants in children’s sleepwear, I will just link to that article instead of regurgitating all of the carefully-compiled information.

Flame retardants are toxic to humans, period.

Consider buying all-cotton underwear such as Carters union suits (I loved these things) and layering them as a way to avoid using synthetic fabrics in children’s sleepwear, most of which are treated with flame retardants. It is the law that any loose sleepwear, such as little girls’ night gowns, be treated with a flame retardant. Simply avoid those kinds of sleepwear.

Read Labels

Although manufacturers are not required to label the chemicals used in the making of a product’s packaging, you can read labels on sleepwear, cookware, furniture, and so on. Ask salespeople where products are manufactured before purchasing, and then do a little internet research into products made in that region. Research companies, distributors, and then, as a first resort (not as a last resort by any means), use common sense. If a product is made from a synthetic of any kind, it will contain toxic chemicals. Most furniture is treated with something before it leaves the factory. Fabrics are treated with sizing, so wash linens, towels, and clothing immediately.

Here is a great article on fabric treatments that are toxic. Eye opening to say the least.

You know that new car smell Americans love to love? That is a myriad of materials off-gassing all at one time. This happens in your car and it happens in your home. It can even happen in your office space. Keep some indoor plants in your own workspace, too.

We can deal with indoor air pollution through some simple and inexpensive actions and choices. I will be working on my home’s air quality. I hope you think about doing the same in your home.

Why organic? I care about farm worker health.


Organic farming is sustainable, and its products are healthier because they are grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. We all agree on those points. More toxins = less healthy; less toxins = healthier. Right?

Herbicides linked to Depression and Suicide in farm workers

Herbicides linked to Depression and Suicide in farmers and farm workers

Current discussions include the debate over the superior (or not superior) nutritional value of organically-grown produce, meat and other products. I have another reason to buy organic:

I care about farm worker health.

When I eat that organic banana, orange or lettuce, I think about the farm worker that cultivates and harvests that food product. When I buy organic, those farm workers are not exposed to dangerous chemicals (hopefully).

In an article available on the PubMed from the Archives of the Environmental and Occupational Health by Payán-Rentería et al (2012) entitled “Effect of chronic pesticide exposure in farm workers of a Mexico community,” 20% of farm workers from Mexico showed acute pesticide poisoning along with other negative effects.

In another article about how well the U.S. government is protecting farm workers from pesticide poisoning, “NIOSH Pesticide Poisoning Monitoring Program Protects Farmworkers,” there is a case study discussing three farm workers who gave birth to children with birth defects linked to pesticide exposure. When I buy organic, I am supporting an agricultural system that protects pregnant farm workers and their children.

It is common sense that exposure to chemical pesticides and fertilizers poses a health threat to farm workers. This is no mystery. But what is not common sense is how the industrial agriculture spin machine can argue over whether an organic carrot contains equal amounts of Vitamin A when the real issue is much more complex.

When I buy organic, I am supporting a sustainable system that cares about farm worker health. I am supporting a system of life, not illness and death.

Farm worker health should be the number one reason to buy organic.

New England Organic Garden: September update


These photos were taken the week ending September 28th (computer software issues prevented me from processing them sooner).

Mammoth sunflower plants that aren't, but pretty just the same.

Mammoth sunflower plants that aren’t because of long dry spells, but pretty just the same.

I remember as I was lamenting my very late garden this past spring that if only the weather stays warm longer than normal, I will get a harvest of tomatoes. Well, I was apparently feeling a bit prophetic. We have had warm weather with highs in the mid-60s, 70s and even 80s the past two weeks, and the weather forecast for the next week indicates temperatures in the mid-60s during the day.

I am harvesting and enjoying my late tomatoes very much. Moskovich is my absolute favorite for flavor, and I discovered the key to no cracking: steady water supply — not allowing the soil to dry out, ever. The raised bed were I grew Moskovich’s is above a natural spring which keeps that bed moist at all times. The tomatoes were thrilled. Next year, I will put together a drip irrigation system for my tomato plants set on a timer so that they remain uniformly moist at all times (because I practice crop rotation, I will not be planting tomatoes in that bed next year). No stressed plants, no rush of water for thirsty plants to quickly draw up, and no cracked tomatoes.

Moskovich tomatoes finally ripening. These two have since been harvested, ripened, and sliced for sandwiches. Yummy!

Moskovich tomatoes finally ripening. These two have since been harvested, ripened, and sliced for sandwiches. Yummy!

Mutt cherry tomato that was a volunteer in my front garden, a cross between Black Cherry and Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes. The taste of these little treasures is amazing! Again, yummy!

Mutt cherry tomato that was a volunteer in my front garden, a cross between Black Cherry and Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes. The taste of these little treasures is amazing! Again, yummy!

We had a week of decent rains and my pears plumped right up. They are juicy and oh, so sweet.  Crop was very small this year, though. Probably only 20 pounds total?

We had a week of decent rains and my pears plumped right up. They are juicy and oh, so sweet. Crop was very small this year, though. Probably only 20 pounds total?

Suyo Long cucumber filled with lots of mature seeds. This cucumber probably weighs three or four pounds. It is huge.

Suyo Long cucumber filled with lots of mature seeds which I will save for next year (and share with some friends). This cucumber probably weighs 3 or 4 pounds and is approximately 22 inches long. It is huge.

Happy gardening, folks. And happy Autumn!

Gross National Happiness – Bhutan’s gift to the world


I was reading along in my environmental science textbook this morning, reading about GDP and GPI and ISEW and NEW when I reached this intriguing little snippet:

Withgott and Laposata (2014) state that “In recent years, attempts to measure and pursue happiness (rather than economic output) as the prime goal of national policy are gaining ground” (p. 154).

Okay, I really like this concept. As an American, the words “pursue happiness” have special meaning to me, reflecting one of the visions our founding fathers and mothers had of this nation, and the world. Yes, they forgot to consider the happiness of slaves and Native Americans in the short term, but the seed was planted that would germinate and grow into the beauty that is equality and justice, and the opportunity for all people to pursue happiness (we’re still working on this).

“In 2012, a global conference on this topic [happiness] was hosted by Bhutan, a small Asian nation that has pioneered this approach with its measure of Gross National Happiness (GNH)” (Withgott and Laposata, p. 154).

What is GNH?

A quick Internet search, and Voila! there it was:

The website details its four pillars of GNH: “good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation.”

The “Short GNH Index” available in .pdf form states: “unlike certain concepts of happiness in current western literature, happiness is itself multidimensional – not measured only by subjective well-being, and not focused narrowly on happiness that begins and ends with oneself and is concerned for and with oneself.”

It goes on to explain that an individual can be happy even when circumstances are not optimal. “Different people can be happy in spite of their disparate circumstances and the options for diversity must be wide.”

The GNH contains 9 domains of evaluation:

psychological well-being
time use
community vitality
cultural diversity
ecological resilience
living standard
good governance

Gross National Happiness Roots

Apparently, the concept of happiness as being a national goal is not new. “The 1729 legal code, which dates from the unification of Bhutan, declared that ‘if the Government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.’” Wow! That is powerful.

I notice that the date of this Bhutanese declaration precedes by almost 50 years the Declaration of Independence that contains the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

How does the United States ranks on the GNH Index? USA is 11th. Denmark is first (Koch).

Koch (2012) stated that since the U.S. is the wealthiest nation on Earth, shouldn’t we be the happiest? Good question, and telling. We could infer that wealth obviously does not make a nation happy. That would be simplistic, though, since the wealth in the U.S. is not possessed by the majority of Americans but a small percentage.

Another quick Internet search landed me at the website, founded by a small group of 2008 Annual Gross National Happiness Research Conference attendees (held in Bhutan) who were inspired to see if they could bring the ideas of GNH to the United States. It looks like Vermont hosts the headquarters of the US movement. Their website states, “The state of Vermont declared April 13th (President Jefferson’s birthday) “Pursuit of Happiness Day,” and became the first state to pass legislation enabling development of alternative indicators and to assist in making policy.“

USA Today reporter Wendy Koch wrote an article on the GNH movement: “Is the USA moving toward a ‘happiness index’?” The concept has taken hold and is being taken seriously by local, state and federal agencies. Koch reports: “The practical impact of the panel’s work would be to figure out whether a broader GDP could better guide public policy. For example, if commuters prefer riding the train to fighting traffic in a car, perhaps public transit should be bolstered. Or if patients value pain management more than costlier medical treatments, care considerations could get a second look.”

This points to a citizen-centered approach to government which would be completely different than our corporation-centered current government (at least on the federal level). Most of us would applaud any movement that evaluated the DMV and determined what could be done to make people happier while registering their vehicles or renewing drivers licences. Yes, this would be most welcome.

Government putting its finger on the pulse of citizen happiness, discovering what made its heart grow fonder or happier, would certainly be an improvement to the massive, impersonal, often antagonistic behemoth that most of us deal with every day in one way or another.

I wonder what the GNH of Ferguson, Missouri would be? Or Hartford or New Haven, Connecticut?

How does GNH move beyond a social science experiment to practical application? Go personal.

I really like the concept behind this movement. I like its tenets and its goals. I like that it is non-partisan. I like that it is concerned not only about the happiness of people, but that there is recognition that the happiness of humans is tied directly to the health of our planet. Yes, I really like this movement.

I am going to read through the material on these websites and evaluate my own happiness. And that is where I would go with this concept. Yes, our government agencies should certainly be taking into consideration how their policies impact the well-being of citizens, but ultimately, it is up to individuals to figure out what makes them happy or unhappy (and through political involvement hold politicians accountable for irresponsible policies).

What if Americans did that everywhere and discovered that the rat race does not make them happy and that having the latest gaming system or biggest flat-screen, 3-D television doesn’t really make them happy. What if they discover that walking in the park makes them happier than streaming Netflix for 6 hours straight (this is one of my weaknesses).

I even mentioned to my sons yesterday that I think we might start camping again. Not in Connecticut because the parks are so small (sorry, I’m used to huge Texas and California parks) and policed (yes, policed – we are intruders and they never let us forget that). I live in a beautiful part of the country, and to not go camping in New Hampshire or upstate New York while we are living here seems like a crime. I love camping. Why didn’t I remember that? [Because before Lyme disease I had many small children to supervise with little help — camping is not fun with small children, or it wasn’t for me. And since Lyme disease I wasn’t sure I could handle camping. My kids are big now. No excuses.]

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. We just need to figure out what that really means for each of us personally and as a nation.

Here’s to Gross National Happiness! And let it start with me 🙂


Koch, Wendy (2012). “Is the USA moving toward a ‘happiness index’?”

Withgott and Laposata (2014). Environment: The science behind the stories. Boston: Pearson. Print.

Ura, Alkire, Zangmo, Wangdi (2012). “A Short Guide to Gross National Happiness Index.”

New England Garden Journal – September Part 1


September, oh September, you started off with a fall.

I literally fell on Labor Day. After spending 4 hours in the ER, having a possible surgery scare, I was back home actually excited about pain medication. Chipped elbow bone, small but deep laceration, IV and oral antibiotics, I am muddling through until it heals.

Since I am supposed to keep my right arm immobilized, I haven’t been out to the garden until today. You don’t want to skip three days in a late summer garden. Things can grow really big while you aren’t looking.

Lots and lots of bell peppers. These are my grow bag plants.

Lots and lots of bell peppers. These are my grow bag plants.

Heirloom variety of black beans producing now.

Heirloom variety of black beans producing now.

Suyo Long cucumber escaped its raised bed and climbed the cattle panel fencing. They grow straight when vines are trellised and curved when grown on the ground.

Suyo Long cucumber escaped its raised bed and climbed the cattle panel fencing. They grow straight when vines are trellised and curved when grown on the ground.

My seed cucumber is huge and turning yellow. You can see an immature cucumber growing on the left.

My seed cucumber is huge and turning yellow. You can see an immature cucumber growing on the left.

Dragonfly landed right in front of me and posted for the camera.

Dragonfly landed right in front of me and posed for the camera. I love dragonflies mostly because they can eat their body weight in mosquitoes every day.

The rest of the photos didn’t turn out very well. It isn’t easy taking photos with an arm that I am not supposed to be using. So this will be all this week. I picked, podded and sowed a bunch of snow pea seeds last week which are already germinating. I need to sow some lettuce, spinach and bok choy seeds very soon. The corn is getting fatter, pickling cucumbers are prolific, tomatoes are growing but not ripening yet, and the lemon squash is covered in powdery mildew but producing lots of squash. The zucchini squash in the back yard are producing well, too, with no sign of powdery mildew yet. Here’s to hoping that warm weather continues for at least two more weeks. I want tomatoes and peppers!

New England Garden Journal – August Part 3


In spite of little rain this summer and sporadic watering, my garden full of heirloom vegetables is thriving. After my very late start, it looks like I will get a decent harvest, albeit later than normal. Now if the warm weather will hang around well into September, I will be a very happy organic gardener. I have over a dozen pickling cucumbers ready to be fermented (pickled naturally), and the Suyo Long cucumbers provide a daily supply that are delicious covered in my fermented garlic dill dip made from organic yogurt (I will share the recipe someday).

Zucchini jungle!

Zucchini jungle!

Sweet corn

Sweet corn forming in spite of the damaged corn patch

Sweet corn growing among Moskovich tomatoes

Sweet corn growing among Moskovich tomatoes

And we have tomatoes, finally. I can't wait to taste my first Moskovich.

And we have tomatoes, finally. I can’t wait to taste my first Moskovich.

Black bean flowers signaling beans in the future.

Black bean flowers signaling beans in the future.

Teensy, weensy baby bell peppers.

Teensy, weensy baby bell peppers.

Two of my three bell pepper plants in grow bags

Two of my three bell pepper plants in grow bags. I hope there is time for a few of them to mature before the first frost.

Cherry tomatoes from the garden volunteers

Cherry tomatoes from the garden volunteers

Terraced bed overgrown with Lemon squash vines

Terraced bed overflowing with Lemon squash vines which are now covered with powdery mildew

Seed saving: cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and beans/peas


Open-pollinated varieties of fruit and vegetable seeds can be saved for replanting at a later date. Saving and sharing seeds has become popular among organic gardeners. Seed savers care about biodiversity and the preservation of varieties of fruits and vegetables that could, without efforts to preserve them, become extinct.

Following are some thoughts on saving cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and beans/peas:

Suyo Long Cucumber (or any cucurbit — melon, squash, cucumber)

Suyo Long cucumber will remain in garden long enough to mature for seed saving -- approx. 21" long

Suyo Long cucumber will remain in garden long enough to mature for seed saving — approx. 21″ long

This cucurbit must be left on the vine until it matures. Cucumbers are harvested when they are immature when the intention is to eat them. For seed-saving purposes, the fruit must remain on the vine for a much longer period of time. It is allowed to grow very large and typically turns yellow. I still have a huge, yellow pickling cucumber that I allowed to mature last summer sitting on my kitchen counter. It is filled with mature seeds that I can remove, wash, dry and plant, and I did just that in the spring with another pickling cucumber before planting that variety in June. These plants germinated, have grown well, and are producing perfect pickling cucumbers. This year I am saving Suyo Long cucumber seeds as well as the pickling cucumber seeds. They are growing in different areas of my yard, kept apart for purity of the variety. Pollen from a pickling cucumber could potentially be used to pollinate a Suyo Long cucumber which would result in a mutt cucumber. Not what I want.

How to Save Cucumber Seeds

Mature pickling cucumber harvest last fall compared to a 4-inch pickling cucumber harvested for eating and pickle-making.

Mature pickling cucumber harvest last fall compared to a 4-inch pickling cucumber harvested for eating and pickle-making.

If you have a short growing season as we do in New England, you must allow one or two cucumbers to remain on the vine to mature fairly early in season. You cannot wait until September to choose one or two fruits to allow to mature.

When you allow a cucumber to mature, the plant is signaled that its job of reproducing itself is successful, and that vine will stop producing. You will most likely sacrifice potential cucumbers when you allow a fruit to mature on the vine. Since you can buy a packet of heirloom Suyo Long cucumber seeds for about $4 or less, this might not be financially wise. You must make the choice. Seed savers sacrifice part of their harvest in order to save seeds or plant extra for that purpose.

By saving seeds from cucumber plants that have done well, you are engaging in the practice of adapting seeds to your region, climate and soil. This can be beneficial should you need to grow your own food. I know, that sounds so apocalyptic, but if Monsanto wants to control the world’s food supply, I darn well want to have control over some of the food I eat by adapting seeds to my area, and owning those seeds. I can share those seeds with others, especially community gardens where many people cannot afford to buy $35-50 worth of seeds each spring (and I have done so in the past). Yes, $4 for a packet of cucumber seeds doesn’t sound terribly expensive, but most gardeners grow at least 10 different vegetables in their gardens. That adds up quickly.

Leave the fruit on the vine until the vine dies back or right before your first frost. The plant will become unattractive, the cucumber will look like a monster, but you will have a lot of seeds stored up in the ugly fruit that you can use to grow many more cucumbers next year. You can store the seeds in the mature cucumber over the winter and remove them in late winter giving them time to dry before planting, or you can remove the seeds in the fall and store the seeds over the winter. Your choice.

Some people use the ferment method to separate seeds from the cucumber pulp but I found that unnecessary. I simply placed the seeds in a bowl of water and rubbed the gel substance off of the hard seeds. I then dried them on a plate on the kitchen counter.

How to Save Lettuce Seeds

Amish deer tongue Romaine-type lettuce flowers. The yellow flowers are a food source for pollinators. The bulbous ones with dried flower petals are maturing the seeds within. When they send out a white fluffy material, they are ready for seed harvest.

Amish deer tongue Romaine-type lettuce flowers. The yellow flowers are a food source for pollinators. The bulbous ones with dried flower petals are maturing the seeds within. When they send out a white fluffy material, they are ready for seed harvest.

Saving lettuce seeds is very different from saving cucumber seeds. Lettuce bolts when temperatures get hot enough, sending up a central stalk that will eventually produce flowers. Those flowers will produce seeds. Not terribly complicated. The challenging part is knowing when to harvest the flowers. I had to watch a YouTube video the first year that I saved lettuce seeds so that I knew what to look for and how to get the seeds from the plants so that I could save them for use next season.

Again, your plants will sprawl and grow heavy under the weight of the pollinated flowers. You need to leave them on the plants until you see white fluff. At that point, cut off the bunches of flowers and their white fluff, place them in a paper bag if you don’t have time to deal with them right away, or check one flower to see if the seeds are mature. Pull the flower apart, rub the seed pods, and you should see tiny, hard slivers in black, brown or white depending on the lettuce variety. I have saved seeds from several varieties of lettuce growing in the same bed with success; they seem to bloom at different times allowing for purity. I found that fact fascinating, and wondered if that is why those lettuce varieties have survived for so long.

How to Save Tomato Seeds

Simply remove the seeds from a ripe tomato (no green), place in a jar with a little water, cover with a paper towel or cloth and allow to ferment for 1-3 days. Rinse the seeds well, and then place on a plate to dry.

How to Save Beans and Peas

Sugar snap pea pods drying on the vine in the garden.

Sugar snap pea pods drying on the vine in the garden.

Allow the pods to remain on the plants until the pods turn brown and dry out. If you have a very wet fall, you might need to shelter the plants or hang them in a dry shed to finish drying out. I throw away any moldy-looking seeds and keep only those that look healthy. Peas can turn a yellow color when they dry out. These are perfectly healthy and germinate just as well as the seeds that stay green. But any black or mold spots are grounds for tossing.

Sugar snap peas with tiny black mold spots on them. I will not save these due to the spots and the small pea size. Save the best for seeds.

Sugar snap peas with tiny black mold spots on them. I will not save these due to the spots and the small pea size. Save the best for seeds.

Seed saving takes up space in the garden that you might otherwise use for subsequent plantings and can look very messy. Making provision for these issues is important to seed saving. My garden starts to look very messy around this time as plants overflow into walkways, vines turn brown, and it looks like I am not caring for my garden. Surrendering a bit of the aesthetic is a part of allowing the plant cycle to run its course in my garden each summer and fall. I embrace this time knowing that I am doing my part to preserve biodiversity, will have seeds for next year’s garden and to share with others, and that pollinators have plenty of food at a time when many crops are finished and gardens are cleaned out. It is a trade-off well worth any inconveniences and lack of order.

Will you try seed saving?