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Wednesday, February 1, 2012 @ 07:02 AM
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RODALE PRESS                 1982



Introduction (Cont.)


As you embark on a soil-building program, you’ll find no better source of organic matter than compost. A serious organic gardener would no sooner be caught without a good source of compost that a serious cook would be caught with an empty canister of flour. Compost is the lifeblood of a thriving organic garden, where it serves the dual purpose of enriching the soil and creating a light, porous structure conducive to good plant growth. In its finished form it contains roughly two parts nitrogen, one part phosphorus, and one part potassium, with  pH of 7. It releases nutrients slowly, and they aren’t easily leached away by water seeping through the root zone. Thus, compost is a slow but steady source of basic nutrients. In addition to its fertility value, compost is a first-class soil amendment that can help turn hopelessly clayey or sandy soils into rich, crumbly, productive loam.

Composting is a relatively simple process, as long as you meet certain basic needs: you must assemble the proper blend of organic matter, nitrogen, and humus-forming bacteria, and make sure that there is adequate air and moisture present so the pile heats up and the process of decomposition gets under way.

The granddaddy of composting methods is known as the Indore method. With this classic method and its variations, you build up layers of organic matter, interspersed with a layer of manure or other high-nitrogen substance, and a layer of soil. The pile should measure 6 to 7 feet wide, 3 to 5 feet high, and 6 to 7 feet long (or longer).

  • If you’ve provided the right mix of organic matter, nitrogen, bacteria, moisture, and air, the pile should begin to heat up and begin to shrink in size within a couple of days.
  • You’ll need to turn the pile twice to help the decomposition process along.

If you’d like quicker results and have access to a shredder, you can try the 14-day California Method. For this method, you will need a bin of some sort to contain the material, which should be a mix of green garden debris or garbage, and dry garden debris. Begin by layering 2 to 4 inches of green materials, then 2 to 4 inches of dry materials. This organic matter should be shredded into pieces no larger than 6 to 8 inches. Moisten each layer so that the particles glisten, but don’t overwater so you end up with a sodden mess. A good size for a bin is 3 feet square, and the pile should range in height from 3 to 4 feet.

  • Frequent turning is the key to success with this method, for it provide the aeration necessary for the aerobic bacteria to do their breakdown work.

You never need to worry about overapplying compost, or about it burning tender plants. As a general guide, apply at least a half-inch layer to your garden each year. You can make a general application and work it into your garden plot before planting, add it to furrows before sowing or transplanting vegetables, or work it into the soil before planting a fruit tree or berry bush. Screened compost is a good seed-starting medium, and it can also be sprinkled over newly sown seeds in the garden to keep the soil from crusting. Use it as a top dressing or as a mulch in the vegetable garden. Build a mulch ring around fruit trees, 1 to 2 inches thick, starting 2 feet away from the truck, extending out to the drip-line. Or work 3 to 4 inches of compost into the top couple of inches of soil around the tree, or around berry plants.


Mulching your fruit or vegetable garden figures into a sound soil management program, and in addition can help cut down on the time you must spend on garden upkeep.

A mulch is nothing more than a layer of organic, or in some cases inorganic, material that you spread on the soil surface. It will keep soil moisture from evaporating by protecting the soil from the direct effects of the wind and the hot sun. A mulch serves you well during any long dry spells, since you can get by with fewer waterings and make a limited water supply go further.

  • Mulches provide the immediate benefit of guarding against soil erosion. Organic mulches in particular play an important part in the long-range care of your soil’s structure and fertility.
  • Examples of particularly nutrient-rich mulching materials are straw, seaweed, various hays, corncobs, peat moss, wood chips, grass clippings, and sawdust.
  • Mulch (especially the black plastic type) is a weed deterrent of good repute and acts as an insulating blanket to guard against temperature extremes.
  • A fine-textured mulch can help keep the harvest clean by sparing it from mildew, mold, rot, and mud splatters when crops like cucumbers, melons, squash, strawberries, and tomatoes sprawl on unmulched ground.
  • Where soil is heavy and poorly drained, a thick mulch could do more harm than good. It would prevent the soil from drying in the spring, might sharply diminish aeration, and would increase the chances of crown-rot problems.
  • The Guide to Mulching Materials gives you a handy rundown of mulching materials and general tips on how to use them.
  • Woody materials such as sawdust or wood chips tend to utilize soil nitrogen when they first decompose, so extra fertilization would be necessary in order to guarantee sufficient nitrogen supplies for crop use.
  • Acidity becomes a problem in some gardens when oak leaves or pine needles are used as a mulch.
  • Even though you are an organic gardener, don’t ignore the benefits of certain inorganic mulching materials.


Fertilizing the organic way

In the organic garden, your basic objective is to feed the soil, not necessarily the individual crops that are growing in it. When you incorporate a wide variety of natural materials you ensure that the proper nutrients will always be present in the soil, where they will be released slowly as the plants need them, rather than in a single massive dose, as occurs with chemical fertilizers.

The basic materials that boost and maintain your soil’s fertility fall into two categories: organic matter and rock powders. Organic matter encompasses such materials as animal and green manures, compost, leaf mold, bone meal, dried blood, and wood ashes. Organic matter supplies the major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – in varying amounts, and also plays an important role in making these nutrients available in forms that can be used by plants.

Crops in an organic garden get most of their nitrogen as an end product from the decomposition of organic matter caused by soil bacteria and earthworms. In order for the decomposition process to continue, you must add regular infusions of organic matter. However, you must pay attention to the type of material you are adding. If, for example, you were to add some dry plant matter that was high in carbon but low in nitrogen, the bacteria would have to draw upon the nitrogen present in the soil to fuel their breakdown of the carbon material. Although decomposition of this woody material would eventually release nitrogen to the soil as an end product, there would be a temporary deficiency of nitrogen available for plant-growth. To counteract this drain on the soil’s nitrogen, you should add a high-nitrogen substance such as blood meal or manure whenever you add woody plant matter to the soil.

Organic matter contains considerably less phosphorus than nitrogen, but its value lies more in making soil phosphorus already present from other sources available to growing plants. A soil rich in organic matter is rich in soil bacteria, which secrete acids that promote the breakdown and availability of phosphorus. Without ample organic matter, phosphorus in the soil would be locked up in insoluble compounds.

Organic matter also makes potassium available to plants. Most of the soil’s potassium is bound up in mineral form and therefore unavailable to plants; some potassium appears in soluble form which plants can use, but there is the danger that it can be quickly leached from the soil before plants can draw upon it. Organic matter helps hold soluble potassium in the root zone, and helps change mineral potassium into a form acceptable to plants as they need it. In short, organic matter helps balance the potassium level in the soil.

Rock powders are substances derived from natural materials which complement the use of organic matter. Commonly used rock powders are phosphate rock, granite dust, and greensand; the first is rich in phosphorus, while the last two are good sources of potassium.

By using rock powders, you build the natural phosphorus and potassium reserves in the soil; by working in plenty of organic matter you boost the soil’s nitrogen level and ensure that the soil nutrients will be readily available in the form that plants can use as they grow.

Tricks of the trade: Compost and manure teas

These are nothing more than enriched water which can be added to give a midseason fertility boost to heavy-feeding crops. This supplemental feeding will come in particularly handy in gardens where organic methods have not been in practice long, and where the soil hasn’t achieved a high level of ongoing fertility. Compost and manure teas are also widely used as starter solutions for vegetable transplants, and when berry bushes and fruit trees are set in the ground. You’ll find that these liquids are easy and inexpensive to make and convenient to use.

For compost tea, fill a burlap bag with finished compost and suspend it in a bucket or water-tight barrel filled three-quarters of the way with water. Stir the contents several times over the course of two weeks. You can also make the tea by simply filling the container one-quarter full of loose compost, adding water to fill, and stirring as directed above. Tea made this way will need to be strained before using.

The mixture will bubble and deepen in color as bacterial activity and nutrient leaching take place. When the bubbling has stopped and the liquid is brown in color, the compost tea is ready to use. You should dilute it until it reaches a light amber color, and apply about 1 pint per vegetable plant, and more for bushes and trees. You can store the extra brewed tea in jars or bottles with loosely fitting aluminum foil caps. Tight-fitting caps are not appropriate, for they would hinder the release of gases which may occur over time.

For a smaller batch of compost tea, fill a sprinkling can halfway with finished compost and add water to fill to the top. Stir briskly, about 12 times, then pour it on. You can use the same compost several times before its nutrient value is leached away, and even then it is still of value to the garden. You should dig it into the soil where it will benefit the structure.

Manure tea is made in the same manner as compost tea. Fill a burlap bag full of fresh manure, then suspend it in a garbage can full of water. Let the manure/water mixture steep for several days before using. When you do apply it to the garden, dilute it as needed with water, so that it has the color of weak tea.


Chapter 1: Planning the Vegetable Garden

Friday, January 27, 2012 @ 04:01 AM
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RODALE PRESS                 1982



Where does the motivation come from to lug countless shovels full of manure, to endure the ache of winter-lazy muscles called upon to till soil in the spring, to patiently pick cabbage loopers from each broccoli plant in a 10-foot row? Ask one person why he gardens, and he may tell you he does it for the pleasure of plucking warm, vine-ripened tomatoes bursting with juice as he needs them, and for the almost sinful pleasure of sinking his teeth into hot, succulent kernels of corn that just ten minutes before were still out on the stalk. Pose the question to another person, and she’ll tell you in dollars-and-cents terms that gardening is an effective way to shave money off the family food bill. Ask a third person, and she will stress her concern about a consumer’s dependence on chemically treated produce shipped from miles away, and tell you how she is seeking to break away from this precarious, wasteful system of food distribution to become more self-reliant. And then there are those who will tell you that they garden as a form of relaxation and recreation. All these reasons underscore the fact that home gardening is becoming an increasingly popular and increasingly important activity.

And, as people become increasingly aware of the ramifications the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have on the environment as well as on the food they eat, the more organic gardening methods appear as a gentle and sane approach to safeguarding diminishing resources, the earth’s water supply, the health of the soil, and ultimately, the health of people themselves.

Between the covers of this book, you will find all the information you need to grow a wide range of vegetable and fruit crops by tried and true organic methods in your home garden. To help you make the best use of this book, here is a brief description of how the information is presented and how you can find exactly what you need to know.

The book is divided into two main sections, one dealing with vegetables, the other with fruits. Each of these sections is broken down into several chapters providing general information on such topics as garden planning, basic planting methods, and basic cultural techniques. If you’re new to organic gardening, you’ll probably want to read through the chapters in their entirety. If you’ve got some experience under your belt, you can skip the basic chapters on planning and zero in on intensive gardening, espalier and cordon training, and other techniques which may be new to you.

The heart of the book is its detailed coverage of 57 vegetable and 45 fruit crops. These are gathered together under the headings “A Guide to Vegetables for the Home Garden,” and “A Guide to Fruits for the Home Garden,” which follow the general chapters in their respective sections. In these Guides you’ll find specific advice on soil needs, spacing and planting methods, culture through the season, potential pest and disease problems, harvest and storage. To aid you further in your gardening endeavors, many of the fruits and vegetables discussed have an accompanying chart giving recommended varieties and their pertinent characteristics.

  • This book was designed so that the general chapters would supplement the information given under the individual vegetable and fruit listings.

Your main concern as an organic gardener should be to continually work organic matter into the soil so that it can be broken down by soil microorganisms into a crumbly, dark substance known as humus. For a soil to be considered in prime condition, it should have a humus content of at least 5%. Humus is a critical ingredient in your soil because it combats leaching by holding nutrients in the root zone, counteracts the effects of a drought by holding water where plant roots can get to it, and keeps the soil well aerated. A soil rich in humus is the best possible medium for plant roots, and the most hospitable environment for the beneficial soil microorganisms and earthworms. A humusy, well-nourished soil encourages large numbers of these microorganisms to become active, which in turn helps control and ultimately eliminate soilborne diseases caused by fungi and other pathogens. Organic matter also has been found to act as a buffer between these helpful soil microorganisms and any toxic chemicals which may be present in your soil, as well as reducing the activity and movement of pesticides that may have seeped into your soil from elsewhere. And finally, humus encourages healthy plant growth, which keeps insect damage down.

Organic matter, referred to as the storehouse of the soil’s nutrients, also benefits the soil’s fertility level as it is broken down by microorganisms. One of the end products of decomposition is nitrogen in a form that can be used by plants. Organic matter also plays a key role in keeping phosphorus and potassium available in the soil in forms that can be used for plant growth. In this way, crops get the proper nutrients in the forms they can absorb, as they are needed. With a careful soil maintenance program, there is no feast-or-famine cycle of nutrients – they are always present, being released gradually.

As you can see, organic matter plays the starring role in maintaining a healthy, fertile growing medium for your fruit and vegetable crops. And healthy, abundant crops are nothing more than an extension of soil in good condition. Highlighted in the following pages are several aspects of a long-range soil management program that you should become familiar with. Once you understand these basic concepts or techniques, you’re well on your way to growing fruits or vegetables successfully the organic way.

Determining your soil type

The first step in managing your soil is understanding its basic character, and where it falls among the four main soil types: clay, loam, muck, and sand. All soil is made up of four main ingredients, and the actual mix of sand, clay, silt, and organic matter determines the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of the soil, and whether it is a well-structured growing medium for plant roots. A lab analysis can give you the exact proportions of these ingredients and pinpoint your soil type, but you don’t actually need to be that precise. You can find out all you need to know about your soil’s basic identity by bending over and picking up a handful. Rub it between your fingers and compare its texture with the descriptions given in the chart on Getting to Know Your Soil. Once you’ve identified your soil type, you can read about its basic characteristics, both good and bad, and what you can do to improve or maintain it.

Checking your soil’s pH

You can work copious amounts of organic matter into your garden and add appropriate amounts of rock powders in the belief that you are bringing your soil to the peak of fertility and good structure, but end up sabotaging your own efforts by a simple omission – failure to test your soil’s pH.

Soil pH is the term used to express the degree of acidity or alkalinity, and it is based on a scale of 0 (acid) to 14 (alkaline) with the midpoint of 7 indicating a neutral soil condition. The pH is an important element in the overall health and well-being of your garden, for it influences bacterial action, soil structure, nutrient availability and leaching, and the toxicity of certain elements.

In very acid soils (below pH 5), phosphorus becomes locked up in a form that is very unavailable to plants. Nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium have an increased tendency to leach out of overly acid soils. In addition, beneficial bacteria begin to slow down their work of turning organic matter into humus, adversely affecting soil structure. An acid condition can even prompt earthworms to move out of your garden to more hospitable ground. The incidence of the disease clubroot, which often strikes brassicas, increases in acid soils.

An overly alkaline soil (above pH 7.5) is no better. A high degree of alkalinity causes most of the trace elements, which are necessary for good plant growth, to be locked up and made unavailable to plants. An alkaline condition also breaks apart humus and in some cases causes a concentration of salts to build up to such levels that they become toxic to plants.

To find out where your soil stands along the pH scale, you must test it. There are a number of ways you can do this, ranging from commercially available do-it-yourself test-kits to sophisticated test meters. For a fee you can send soil samples to an agricultural experiment station (through your local extension agent) or to a private soil laboratory for a complete analysis.

  • Your soil pH can change from season to season, and vary from one place to another in the garden.
  • To safeguard the health of your garden soil, it is wise to test the pH three times a year – before planting, midway through the season, and after harvest.
  • When you are collecting a soil sample, take small amounts from at least three or four locations in the garden so you get a good representation of your garden’s current pH status.
  • Most vegetables and fruits grow best in soils with a pH between 6 and 7 (see the vegetable Guide and the Guide to Fruits for specific crop preferences).
  • You can either grow those crops that are suited to that particular pH, or incorporate certain materials to change the pH to bring it to a level that accommodates a wider range of fruits and vegetables.



Sunday, January 22, 2012 @ 07:01 AM
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Chapter 2: What to Plant Where

A time-honored way to start an orchard is to buy a bunch of trees to which nursery catalogues ascribe almost supernatural powers of fertility, plant them helter-skelter around the house, and then spend the next few years moving the ones that survive to other locations as the mood dictates. Another favorite method is to plant the trees carefully and studiously, then a year later move yourself to a different location. Neither method, I can vouch from experience, puts much fruit in your cellar. Until some small measure of wisdom came to me in my middle years when I realized the fruitlessness (oh, those puns) of wandering from place to place, I was a veritable Johnny Appleseed, planting fruit trees wherever I set my suitcase down long enough to get an order back from Stark Bro’s.

The decision to start an orchard involves a decision to stay put. The first plant you want to get rooted in the earth is yourself. That’s what makes home orchards so valuable; where they abound, they speak eloquently of a stable and responsible community, the first necessity of a healthy civilization and a happy culture. The decline in home orchards between 1930 and 1970 parallels almost exactly the increase in social mobility and consequent deterioration of family life and local institutions. As a result, we claim a population of very important people who tell their psychiatrists they do not know who they are. Not having recognized the natural habitat of Homo sapiens, or having ignored it, they wander the country over, hoping to find identity in money, badges, awards, or “rooting” for equally rootless professional sport teams.

But having decided that wisdom might come to you while sitting under an apple tree (look what Newton discovered), your next step must be to face mundane matters: how to go about establishing this “Edenic” grove of trees.

To grow an orchard requires plans, but trees are living things, not bridges or houses. One should not blueprint a home orchard and then follow the plan too literally like a bureaucrat with a new regulation. There are reams of general information to help you select your trees, but none will be as authoritative as your own experience in your own place. Your own peculiar combination of climate, soil, luck, and preference will not be quite like any other grower’s, so be ready to change any plan you put on paper. Besides, if you have any imagination and curiosity at all, sooner or later – and usually sooner – you will throw advice and caution to the wind and plant a tree that is perfectly ridiculous in your locale. That’s how new discoveries are made, sometimes. That’s also the way so many nurseries stay in business.

The limiting factors as to which fruits, and which varieties of a given fruit, you can grow or cannot grow are mainly two: temperature and moisture. Both factors work in several different ways to limit your orchard selections. Regarding temperature, your main problem in the North is too much cold weather, and in the South your problem may be not enough cold weather for temperate trees to break dormancy. As for moisture, too much produces poor drainage in the soil and humidity in the air – a humidity that contributes directly to the danger of developing blights and other fungal diseases. Too little moisture, of course, means that nothing will grow. But given a choice, a very dry climate with adequate irrigation combined with a mild, but not too mild, winter provides the best environment for temperate zone fruit culture. That’s why California, Oregon, and Washington produce so much tree fruit. To choose the proper fruits for your area, you need to consider certain climatic factors in great detail.

Cold hardiness

Chill requirements

Humidity tolerance


Chapter 3: Planning Your Grove of Trees

In planning your home orchard, try to weigh all of the purposes and advantages of various trees toward the comfort and health of your home environment. That’s not easy. There’s no neat, step-by-step procedure by which you can fashion a haven for a whole community of living things. Ecology does not proceed with linear, logical cause and effect, but by a dynamic implosion and explosion of interacting events only dimly understood.

You may achieve success sometimes not by action at all, but by inaction – that is, allowing nature to resolve the problem its way. For example, when we first moved to our homestead, my impulse was to remove the brush and weeds in the woodland so that it would look neat and parklike between the tall trees. So I mowed several times before I came to my senses and realized that I was clipping off the seedling trees by which the woods renewed itself, a renewal that guaranteed me a steady supply of fuel forever. Left alone, the seedlings grew thick and tall, blotted out the weeds and grass, and eventually thinned themselves into a productive stand of timber. Moral: the first consideration in developing your grove of trees is to consider considerably before doing anything.

  1. The amount of time and space you have available for orchard care will influence your planning.
  2. Growing backyard orchards and groves of food trees can be handled along with a full-time job without difficulty.


Evaluating conventional orchard management

With limitations of time, space, and climate in mind, the backyard orchardist should proceed in his planning with a questioning attitude toward the conventional platitudes of commercial orcharding. Hardly anything most of us amateurs have heard about tree management is completely true. Most of it is true, or at least “factual,” only under modern, commercial situations. Rules of the factory orchard do not always apply in the home orchard, nor vice versa. Here are some of the usual remarks the home orchardist hears, and how he should respond:

  1. “Seedling trees – those grown from seed – are worthless because they do not come true to the parent stock.” Answer: A few fruit trees do come true from seed most of the time. Seedlings often do produce poor quality fruit, and hence the five-year period growing them to bearing age might seem wasted. But if the seedling is hardy, you can graft on a good variety and have fruit in two years. Seedlings produce good fruit often enough to justify a steady planting of a few at all times, if you have the space. The expectation of a real discovery adds much interest to orcharding.
  2. “Dwarf trees are the only size worthwhile planting today. Standard trees are on the way out.” Answer: That depends. Standard trees have some advantages over trees with dwarfing rootstock trees.
  3. “You have to prune hard and strictly by the book to get a good crop.” Answer: Whose book? If you ask the five top professional orchardists how to prune you backyard tree, you’d most likely get five different sets of instructions. A tree’s first five years or so are more for training than pruning, and excessive pruning at this time encourages vegetative growth but delays fruiting. Start pruning to shape from ages five to ten.
  4. “An orchard site must be tilled deeply and frequently for at least a year before the trees are planted.” Answer: That is standard advice for anyone starting commercial orchards. The advice is not necessarily essential and in some cases would be utterly disastrous. Whatever extra growth such pre-preparation obtains will hardly be worth the cost to the homestead grower of a grove of tree to live in. What’s more, deep tillage a year in advance cannot be practiced on steep hillsides, which are eminently suited to tree culture. All the soil would wash off into the valley.
  5. “Keep the orchard floor cultivated, or the sod will rob trees of water and fertility.” Answer: Some commercial orchards will grow better, or crop better with a dirt floor, particularly in dry regions or where the soil will erode. Better to mulch under trees with old hay, straw, grass, and clover clippings, and a little manure. In steep orchards, even the ground under the trees must be kept in sod.
  6. “If you don’t spray insecticides and fungicides on a regular professional weekly schedule, you might as well forget about raising fruit. Answer: Then why is it that I know personally of so many backyard fruit trees that produce without any spraying? For the backyarder, a combination of less toxic, so-called natural spray materials a few times a year with intelligent use of various biological and mechanical controls and resistant varieties will suffice most of the time.
  7. “You have to apply extra fertilizers to orchards just like you do any other crop if you want to get a high yield.” Answer: I like to fertilize my trees, though I know the manure and wood ashes and bone meal are actually making the soil too rich around some of my trees – particularly too rich in nitrogen. Harold Schroeder in New Jersey has a large commercial orchard, described earlier, in which no extra fertilizer of any kind other than clippings from the orchard grass has ever been applied to the trees. He believes and has fairly well demonstrated that skillful pruning produces better quality fruit without fertilizer. Dr. Elwood Fisher, in Virginia, grows hundreds of fruit trees as a hobby, and uses no fertilizer, either, except grass clippings as mulch.
  8. “You have to arrange your trees very assiduously into blocks in which pollenator varieties are spaced ‘just so’ next to the self-unfruitful varieties. Otherwise you will not get a crop.” Answer: In large commercial orchards, especially where Red Delicious apples are grown in quantity (Red Delicious is self-unfruitful – that is, it needs another variety to pollenate it), the spacing of pollinating varieties requires careful planning. The idea is to use as few pollinators as possible in favor of the more marketable Red Delicious. In a naturally managed grove of trees, an abundance of bees and other pollenating insects will do a fine job for you so long as the trees are reasonably close to each other.
  9. “Plant fruit trees on hillsides where they will enjoy good air drainage. Keep trees out of frost pockets.” Answer: That is standard advice printed and reprinted by every horticultural writer. What if you don’t have hillsides? I think low-lying areas that get labeled as frost pockets are bad for fruit and nuts because such low ground is often poorly drained, and very few, if any, food trees will grow in poorly drained soil. Worry about soil drainage rather than about air drainage. You can improve the former; there’s not much you can do about the latter.

10.  “Some trees prefer rich deep bottom land and some like light sandy upland soils. Plant trees on the sites they prefer naturally.” Answer: Paul Stark, Sr,. was once showing me round his family’s orchards in the neighborhood of Stark Bro’s Nursery in Missouri. I asked him if there was anything special about the soil there that started the Starks growing fruit trees. He didn’t hesitate. “No, I don’t think there’s anything special about the soil. The climate is more important. You can’t do anything about that, but the soil you can always improve by adding the proper nutrients.”

11.  “It’s foolish for older people to start an orchard. They’ll never live to enjoy it.” Answer: the best orchardists I know are all old men. They are all livelier, however, than many young men I meet. One fellow planted a pear orchard when he was 70. Twenty years later he was enjoying his pears while many of the people who had laughed at him were dead and gone. I sometimes think that old orchardists live long and healthy lives because they continue to plant trees to the end of their days.


Considerations “for the backyarders only”

Food trees for fuel and tool wood

Food trees as shade

Food trees as windbreaks

Food trees and bees

Microclimate variations

Food tree placement and the garden

Trees and yearly food supply

Yields of food trees


Chapter 4: Making a Tree Plan and Keeping Records

Chapter 5: Landscaping with Ornamental Food Trees

Chapter 6: Planting and Propagating Trees

Chapter 7: The Art of Pruning

Chapter 8: Orchard Fertility





Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 04:01 AM
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Chapter 1: Life in a Grove of Trees: An Overview

Even those who know little about the complex and intrinsically beautiful world of the orchard like the sound of the word. It echoes the essence of the good old days and the timeless solidity of supposed rural virtue in American tradition even as the reality disappears sentimentally into the names of roads and subdivisions: Old Orchard Lane; Peach Orchard Hills; Crab Orchard Park. Like windmills and smoke houses, sitting porches, and well pumps, the old home orchard exists as an anachronism only. The trees have all marched off to join the armies commanded by commercial fruit growers.

Or so it seems. Actually, the home orchard is not really disappearing but has only changed its appearance. Nurserymen are selling more fruit and nut trees to homeowners than ever before. But the backyard gardener does not always have the space for the formal orchard of yesterday’s family farm. Instead of a prim, white-fenced block of apple and peach trees along the road, handy to barn and house, today’s home-food producer scatters food trees of many varieties around his property wherever he can find room, to serve double duty as food and for landscaping beauty, not to mention as shade, fuel, or protection from the wind. His orchard becomes something more than the orchard that we are accustomed to thinking of – it becomes an orchard in the oldest and truest sense, a grove of trees not only to eat from but to live in.

  • It is this broad view of the “orchard” that I take in this book – a grove of food trees that provides a natural and healthful habitat for man.
  • This view – perhaps I should call it a vision – is quite different from the conventional notion of an orchard.

So specialized is the culture of some fruits and nuts that during many parts of the growing season the orchard habitat is distinctly inhospitable to man, rendered so by the toxicity of chemicals used in an effort to exclude forms of life that threaten the profits from the fruit crop. Man, bird, animal, bees, and countless other beneficial forms of life come to the orchard in the summer spraying-time at their own risk.

  • The result is not a grove of trees to live in. After listening to orchardists complain, I’m not sure it provides a grove of trees that one can make a good living from, either.

The home orchardist, on the other hand, does not have to look at his tree grove with bankers’ eyes. He plants his trees to establish a healthy living environment. He sees the totality of that environment, not money, as his profit. The fleshy fruits provide fiber, vitamins, and carbohydrates in his diet; the nut fruits provide protein and energy. His “orchard” includes both kinds of food. Variety is his objective. A mulberry tree is as legitimate as a plum; a wild papaw as appropriate as an apple; a hickory nut as practical as a walnut, or maybe more so.

Home processing uses of the fruits and nuts are as important as fresh uses. Less than perfect apples make for applesauce, butter, pie, and cider just as good as perfect ones. Secondary uses of the trees are also important to the grove-owners scheme. Hickory nuts are delicious; hickory wood is an excellent firewood.

The home grove owner sees his “orchard” as a community of interrelated living things. He has an idea and a vision of how varied and complex that community should be if it is to interact correctly in the maintenance of an environment healthy for him. That is his goal, not just the production of fruit and nuts. He knows that if he can promote ecological completeness in his grove, then the foods and fibers he needs will come as a fringe benefit.

His apple blossoms herald another fruit crop but also another honey crop – the honey indeed a much surer proposition than the fruit. The sod floor of his grove may be graze for sheep, hens, or hogs, who by keeping the fallen fruit cleaned up help control harmful insects, too. He expects to find aphids in his trees, but, to help control them, he’ll also find ladybugs. If damaging mites are present, he knows that predator mites will also come to prevent serious crop losses.

  • The home grove-owner does everything in his power to bring not only a variety of insects to his orchard but every bird as well.
  • Owls, especially the screech owl, may be the grove-owner’s best friends, patrolling the orchard for mice, which often are more damaging to trees than bugs.
  • To have enough of nature’s variety to effect some semblance of balance in the grove, naturalists know that areas of wild habitat near the fruit and other food trees are necessary.
  • Just as he seeks diversity in the animal and insect populations in his grove, the home orchardist endeavors to increase the variety of plant life.
  • Although weeds and grasses occasionally may rob trees of some nutrients, the grove-owner is not too worried to see them grow up among the trees.
  • He seldom cultivates around his trees because of erosion problems or because mulching or grazing animals is better.
  • Since the backyard grove-owner continually seeks more diversity in his grove plant life, he is not afraid to test old and seemingly unscientific practices such as companion planting.
  • He may plant nasturtiums under apple trees to keep away aphids. If the ploy doesn’t work, the nasturtiums are still pretty to look at, and the leaves are good to eat.
  • The grove-owner’s concern – to restore the pristine diversity of life natural to a grove of trees – is a never-ending and lifelong challenge.

This chain of events is but a very short segment – and a very oversimplified short segment at that – of the interconnected dining table of the tree grove. Into this infinitely complex and fragile relationship blunders man, the only creature capable of intentionally altering the biological linkage holding all life together. And he has the temerity to say, in the face of millions of years of proof to the contrary, that the “only” way food can be grown from trees for human sustenance is by altering the natural environment with laboratory chemicals.

Living in a grove of trees does not mean a grueling schedule of work. The secret is embedded in the diversity of life you establish in your grove. If you plant 50 apple trees of the same variety, then you are going to have to work to care for them properly and dispose of all those apples ripening at the same time. But if, instead, you plant one or two of each fruit and nut tree that you like, you will find that the bit of work you do on each variety or each type is finished before it gets tiring. For example, rather than trying to harvest cherries from five trees, be content with one, and when that is finished go on to the plum tree, and then to the peach, and then to a couple of apples. You spread out the work load, and you do not put all your fruit in one basket.

Variety is more than the spice of life. It is the key to life.

Chapter 2: What to Plant Where

Thursday, January 12, 2012 @ 07:01 AM
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Back cover

You can harvest your own apples, peaches, pears, cherries, and many other fruits and nuts from trees that grow naturally around you own home by using this book. Gene Logsdon has brought his extensive experience together with that of many organic orchardists across the continent to share with potential grove-owners everywhere. This includes his philosophy that the best grove is one in which the orchardist plays an intrinsic role in the ecology of the trees. Logsdon completely details the practical skills necessary to orcharding, including propagating trees, grafting, pruning, and fertilizing, also dispelling any mysteries about these skills through simple, easy-to-understand instructions.

Disease and pest control receive comprehensive consideration, again with the emphasis upon the natural, organic orchard. The home groveowner can do a great deal to minimize damage to his fruit and nut trees by knowing the natural predators and parasites of pests.

Fundamental to organic orcharding is raising varieties that grow naturally in your region as the most resistant to insect and animal pests, disease, and climate fluctuations. Since native trees are so important to the success of a grove, a substantial part of this book is devoted to varieties of major fruits, including apples, stone, and citrus fruits, and to nuts, such as almonds, chestnuts, pecans, and acorns. Minor fruit trees are not neglected either, nor are syrup- and oil-producing trees. All of these varieties are noted for their resistance or susceptibility to disease, and their climatic preferences, rounding out Organic Orcharding as the complete book on the natural food-bearing grove for the homeowner.

Front flap

Organic Orcharding: A Grove of Trees to Live In presents the philosophy of raising fruit trees, nut trees, and other food-bearing trees in a wholesome, ecologically sound manner such that the grove-owner becomes a benevolent, intrinsic facet of the growth of the orchard trees as Nature intended. Gene Logsdon has combined his experience with that of many organic orchardists throughout the country to offer the best guidelines to orcharding, including specific information on the ten zones according to tree hardiness to frost and other climatic variables in the United State and Canada.

  • Climatic variations within a region are important to a tree’s growth potential. Thus the first general rule for growing healthy food trees is to grow varieties that come from the area in which they’ll be raised.

The first part of Organic Orcharding details the techniques necessary to raising a grove of trees. Logsdon presents 12 plans of actual existing orchards, and also information on how to draw up your own plan, including hints such as labeling each tree as it’s planted – memory of what’s planted where usually fails a year or so after planting. The author also fully details how to plant tree seeds and seedlings, including what trees need special treatment, like scarification, stratification, and other propagation skills. He also removes the mystique from grafting scionwood onto various trees, by revealing through his thorough instructions just how simple grafting can be. Completing the book’s first part is information on fertilizing and pruning trees to stimulate best growth. All of these techniques are fully illustrated for easier understanding.

The second part of Organic Orcharding examines the state of disease and pest control in the organic grove. In this section, the concept of the well-integrated grove and the grove-owner comes into full play, for the natural control of many pests depends upon the encouragement of their natural predators. To do this the orchardist must be knowledgeable of the ecology of a grove of trees, and Logsdon discusses various diseases, insects, and animal pests, each in turn, including their natural enemies and those organic techniques that have prevailed against these pests in other orchards. For example, birds play an important role in controlling some insects, so Logsdon suggests ways to attract birds to the home grove, including illustrated instructions on building birdhouses suitable for individual species.

The final third of the book lists in detail all of the best fruit, nut, and syrup-bearing trees for each respective zone. The common fruit trees are covered, such as apple, peach, pear, and plum, including the best varieties for specific regions, along with the variety’s susceptibility to diseases, pests, and temperature fluctuations. Logsdon also describes the best varieties of underused trees, too, such as the mulberry, the persimmon, and the papaw. In chapters on nuts, he characterizes walnut, pecan, and chestnut varieties, but he also notes the qualities of hickories, hazelnuts, and pine nuts. No region is neglected as far as information on varieties goes, as exemplified by details on such trees as macadamia for Hawaii, citrus for the South and the West Coast, maples and birches for syrup in new England and Canada, and many, many more. Organic Orcharding:  Grove of Trees to Live In is the complete guide to growing food-bearing trees for the backyard or small grove-owner;  no doubt, this book will become the standard of its kind.

About the author

Gene Logsdon, author of many other Rodale books (The Gardener’s Guide to Better Soil, Two Acre Eden, Small-Scale Grain Raising, Getting Food from Water, and Homesteading) has managed his own organic orchards, a 2-acre backyard grove in Pennsylvania, and at present a 22-acre farm in orchard in Ohio.


We should accept as a fundamental concept, the proposition that crops should be grown primarily for the purpose of satisfying man’s food requirements and not as a means of making particular human activities commercially profitable regardless of the overall effect on human welfare.

A.D. Pickett, “A Critique on Insect Chemical Control Methods”

For nearly a decade I tried not to write this book. One of my editors at Rodale Press, Bill Hylton, would suggest it, and I would change the subject. I did not know how to go about telling people how to grow fruit trees in a totally “organic” (or biological, as I prefer to say) system. There were, in my experience, diseases of fruit trees that in favorable weather could not be controlled even with the most potent chemicals, let alone without them. In addition, there was a growing number of virus problems in some tree fruits that defied all control methods, natural or man-inspired, making fruit production in some instances a fit venture only for poker players with a desire to lose money.

I fretted a long time over what seemed to be flaws in the organic argument: the seeming inability to cope adequately with fungal disease in tree fruits, and the rather vague insect-control program that applied to a medium- or large-size orchard. (It was at that time only beginning to be realized that the same criticism applied to chemical controls, too.) After some years of study and experimentation, I think I have the answers to my frettings, but ten years ago I certainly did not. I was raised on and worked on farms where financial worries dominated every decision. In the face of heavy debt, or in striving to avoid heavy debt, we felt unable to farm in as ecological a manner as we would have liked. As an agricultural writer, I came to know many fruit growers in the same situation. They grappled with staggering debt loads; with rigid and often senseless market standards; with a shrinking number of market buyers who often seemed to act in collusion with each other when they bid on farmer’s produce; with enormous competition from other growers; and with crop risks that would give a racetrack gambler ulcers. I found unsavory the idea of writing a book that would espouse methods these growers would only consider naïve and pompously insulting. No matter how carefully I worded my argument for a more natural and less financial approach to tree crop agriculture, I would insinuate that these farmers, who scratched out their livings raising fruit, were the bad guys ecologically, while I, who raised fruit without toxic chemicals but only for my own table, was one of God’s little ecological angles. I did not want to assume such a sanctimonious posture.

  • In realizing that finance, not biology, was the root of the farmers’ predicament, I was closer to a solution to my fretting than I understood at the time.
  • Only rarely did anyone answer my question by saying, “If I don’t spray, the trees will all die.”
  • If all fruit trees would die without spraying, or if the whole crop would be ruined, a fruit industry could not have arisen in the first place.
  • I began to study the history of chemical pest control in fruit trees.
  • Trees die from fungal or insect attack only if something has upset the ecological balance or if a species is introduced to the region not biologically acclimated to that region.
  • The history of chemical pest control is a history of conflict between profiteering humans and natural biology.
  • My conclusions about the orchard were the same as those about the forest.

The 1970 paper by R.W. Stark stated: “It seems to me that the tremendous economic growth of forestry in the past has blinded us to the fact that prior to our exploitation of the forests, forest pest problems were much less. In many of those areas that are still relatively undisturbed, problems are usually minimal. The majority of our pests are man-made.”

Robert Van Den Bosch in The Pesticide Conspiracy (New York, Doubleday, 1978) points out that about 30 years ago, when the synthetic insecticide era really got rolling, the Unites States used roughly 50 million pounds of insecticides a year and insects destroyed about 7% of our crops. Thirty years later, we dump 600 million pounds of insecticides on our land and lose 13% of our crop to insects! Van Den Bosch went on to say, “This reflects incredibly bad technology and extremely poor economics – unless, of course, one is selling insecticides.”

  • The renewed emphasis on biological pest controls that came during the 1970s further motivated me to write this book.
  • You can’t poison just part of an ecosystem. Persistence in trying to do so leads to a collapse of the whole system.
  • Scientists and orchardists are trying to work out a compromise – a combination of biological controls with some continued but decreased use of chemicals.
  • This method is called integrated pest management (IPM) and, for success, demands an extremely disciplined and knowledgeable attention to the orchard environment.
  • If fruit growers are prepared to accept IPM, it is my hope that a total biological-control system would be better yet and a goal possible to attain.
  • If I needed a last straw I stopped at a roadside stand in front of a large peach orchard where scores of customers, who had driven some distance, were turned away angry because he was sold out.
  • Since the locale had a good peach-growing climate, those disgruntled customers could have grown their own peaches without spraying.

Naturally, the orchardist had to spray, and spray, and spray ten more times. What was achieved? Disease continued to mount in his orchard despite the spraying. The grower’s bank account, by his own admission, dwindled rather than increased. His customers paid exorbitant prices for the fruit. Or got none at all. Nature was wasted and no one was satisfied, save perhaps the chemical companies who supplied the spray materials and the government regulators who parasitized a living from the fruit industry under the pretense of protecting consumers.

And so to this book. It is intended neither for the commercial grower trapped in a financial situation over which he has no control, nor for consumers who prefer to support that financial situation because they are too lazy to grow their own fruit. Biological orcharding won’t work in that kind of “progressive” society. Biological orcharding is economical in the original meaning of “economy” – the management of a household with a careful and thrifty use of resources. The truly biological orchard is a grove of trees to live in – literally to live in and from. The establishment of such a grove and its maintenance are quite different from that of a commercial orchard. For those who yearn for such a tree grove, for those who like the independence of raising their own food and wish now to advance beyond vegetable and berry gardens, for those I hope this book will be helpful.

In establishing my own grove, I’ve committed my share of blunders, and some of them will inevitably creep into this book. For this, I apologize. Let us all seek and learn together, for there is much more to be learned about biological food production than is known now. A nation of nearly self-subsistent grove dwellers is not an impossible dream. If you have a home or plan to have one, you are more than halfway there now.



Chapter 1: Life in a Grove of Trees: An Overview


Wednesday, August 17, 2011 @ 05:08 AM
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EARTHSCAN          2005




Perspective 27: Reducing Food Poverty by Increasing Agricultural Sustainability in Developing Countries by Jules Pretty, James Morison and Rachel Hine


Over the past 40 years, per capita world food production has grown by 25%, with average cereal yields rising from 1.2 tonnes per hectare to 2.52 tonnes per hectare in developing countries (1.71 on rainfed lands and 3.82 on irrigated lands), and annual cereal production up from 420 to 1176 million tonnes. These global increase have helped to raise average per capita consumption of food by 17% over 30 years to 2760 kilocalories  per day, a period during which world population grew 3.69 billion to 6.0 billion. Despite such advances in productivity, the world still faces a persistent food security challenge. There are an estimated 790 million people lacking adequate access to food, of whom 31% are in east and southeast Asia, 31% in south Asia, 25% in sub-Saharan Africa, 8% in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 5% in North Africa and Near East. A total of 33 countries still have an average per capita food consumption of less than 2200 kcal per day.

An adequate and appropriate food supply is a necessary condition for eliminating hunger. But increased food supply does not automatically mean increased food security for all. A growing world population for at least another half century, combined with changing diets arising from increasing urbanization and consumption of meat products, will bring greater pressures on the existing food system. If food poverty is to be reduced, then it is important to ask who produces the food, who has access to the technology and knowledge to produce it, and who has the purchasing power to acquire it? Modern agricultural methods have been shown to be able to increase food production, yet food poverty persists. Poor and hungry people need low-cost and readily-available technologies and practices to increase food production. A further challenge is that this needs to happen without further damage to an environment increasingly harmed by existing agricultural practices.

Key questions for research on agricultural sustainability

There are three strategic options for agricultural development if food supply is to be increased:

  1. expand the area of agriculture, by converting new lands to agriculture, but resulting in losses of ecosystem services from forests, grasslands and other areas of important biodiversity;
  2. increase per hectare in agricultural exporting countries (mostly industrialized), but meaning that food still has to be transferred or sold to those who need it, whose very poverty excludes these possibilities;
  3. increase total farm productivity in developing countries which most need the food, but which have not seen substantial increases in agricultural productivity in the past.


In this research, we explore the capacity to which more sustainable technologies and practices can address the third option. We draw tentative conclusions about the value of such an approaches to agricultural development. This is not to say that industrialized agriculture cannot successfully increase food production. Manifestly, any farmer or agricultural system with unlimited access to sufficient inputs, knowledge and skills can produce large amounts of food. But most farmers in developing counties are not in such a position, and the poorest generally lack the financial assets to purchase costly inputs and technologies. The central questions, therefore, focus on:

v  to what extent can farmers increase food production by using low-cost and locally available technologies and inputs?

v  what impacts do such methods have on environmental goods and services and the livelihoods of people who rely on them?

The success of industrialized agriculture in recent decades has often masked significant environmental and health externalities (actions that affect the welfare of or opportunities available to an individual or group without direct payment or compensation). Environmental and health problems associated with industrialized agriculture have been well documented.

What do we understand by agricultural sustainability? Systems high in sustainability are making the best use of nature’s goods and services whilst not damaging these assets. The aims are to:

  1. integrate natural processes such as nutrient cycling, nitrogen fixation, soil regeneration and natural enemies of pests into food production processes;
  2. minimize the use of non-renewable inputs that damage the environment or harm the health of farmers and consumers;
  3. make productive use of the knowledge and skills of farmers, so improving their self-reliance and substituting human capital for costly inputs; and
  4. make productive use of people’s capacities to work together to solve common agricultural and natural resource problems, such as pest, watershed, irrigation, forest and credit management.


Agricultural systems emphasizing these principles are also multifunctional within landscapes and economies. They jointly produce food and other goods for farm families and markets, but also contribute to a range of valued public goods, such as clean water, wildlife, carbon sequestration in soils, flood protection, ground water recharge, and landscape amenity value. As a more sustainable agriculture seeks to make the best use of nature’s goods and services, so technologies and practices must be locally adapted. They are most likely to emerge from new configurations of social capital, comprising relations of trust embodied in new social organizations, and new horizontal and vertical partnerships between institutions, and human capital comprising leadership, ingenuity, management skills and capacity to innovate. Agricultural systems with high levels of social and human assets are more able to innovate in the face of uncertainty.

Research methods

Survey results

Changes in farm and household food productivity

Technical options for improving food production and agricultural sustainability

We discern in the dataset three types of technical improvements that have played substantial roles in these food production increases:

  1. more efficient water use in both dryland and irrigated farming;
  2. improvements to soil health and fertility;
  3. pest and weed control with minimum or zero-pesticide use.


More efficient use of water

  • In the projects analysed, water harvesting has been widely applied in dryland areas.
  • In the Indo-British Rainfed Farming project basic grain yields of rice, wheat, pigeon-peas and sorghum have increased from 400 to 800-1000 kg per hectare, and the increased grass production from the terrace bunds is valued highly for the livestock.
  • Improved water retention has resulted in water tables rising by one metre over 3-4 years, meaning that an extra crop is now possible for many farmers, thus turning an unproductive season into a productive one.
  • Women are major beneficiaries. Sodhi puts it this way: ‘In these regions, women never had seen themselves at the front edge of doing things, taking decisions, and dealing with financial transactions. The learning by doing approach of the project has given them much needed confidence, skills, importance and awareness.’
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, water harvesting is also transforming barren lands. Again, the technologies are not complex and costly. In central Burkina Faso, 130,000 ha of abandoned and degraded lands have been restored with the adoption of tassas  and zaï. 
  • These are 20-30cm holes dug in soils that have been sealed by a surface layer hardened by wind and water erosion. The holes are filled with manure to promote termite activity and enhance infiltration. When it rains, water is channelled by simple stone bunds to the holes, which fill with water, and into which are planted seeds of millet or sorghum.
  • Cereal yields in these regions rarely exceed 300kg per hectare, yet these improved lands  now produce 700-1000 kg per hectare.
  • Good organization also helps to improve irrigated agriculture.


Improvements in soil health and fertility

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 @ 05:08 AM
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CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS                  1998


Chapter 5: Towards the First Billion (1500-1825)

5.1 Introduction: from subsistence to commercial farming

Although there had been several bursts of population growth, e.g. following the Neolithic Revolution and in early medieval times, sustained rapid growth really began in the 16th century, particularly in Europe and China.

Late medieval agriculture in Europe was still largely for the subsistence of the predominantly rural population, within a manorial framework, and with a strong focus on the cereals of the Near Eastern origin. But over the three centuries following the discovery of the New World by Columbus, farming in Europe became more commercial and based on a wider range of crops used more systematically in rotations designed to improve soil fertility and to minimize the problem of weeds.

  • Freed from the constraints of communal ownership and rotation, the more enterprising began to replace the fallow in the universal three-course rotation with turnips for winter feed, thereby increasing their carrying capacity for livestock and the supply of manure for their cereal crops, while still cultivating for weed control.
  • This led on to ‘convertible husbandry’ in which the three-course rotation was followed by a ley pasture for several years. These leys were then improved by the sowing of clover and ‘artificial’ grasses, ie species like ryegrass not prominent in the natural grasslands.
  • Gradually, also, as surplus cereals were imported from the Baltic, the Low Country farmers began growing the more profitable ‘industrial’ crops, such as hemp and flax for weaving, woad and madder for dyeing, hops for brewing and coleseed for oil.
  • New World crops such as tobacco and potato were also grown following the voyages of Columbus and his successors.
  • The breakdown of feudalism began somewhat later in England than in the Low Countries but enclosure of the commons, the key to agricultural improvements, was initiated there in the 16th century and proceeded throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • The population of England trebled over this period, road and canal systems were greatly extended, industry burgeoned and cities multiplied. On the one hand, therefore, there was a growing demand for the ‘export’ of food from the countryside to the cities while on the other there was an accumulation of capital to be invested in country estates and their improvement.
  • Although the writings and example of the gentry were important, the real pioneers were often small farmers, as they had been in the Low Countries.
  • For the years 1660-1780, scientific institutions had little effect on agricultural progress.
  • Although much of the increase in agricultural production to meet the doubling of world population came from extension of the area of arable land, new crops, more frequent cropping and higher yields also played an important part.
  • These increases were accompanied by a doubling of the productivity of farm labour in England as improvements in management became widely adopted between 1700 and 1850.
  • More labour was freed for industrial development, and so the synergistic interactions between agricultural improvement, industrial development, population growth and the rising demand for food continued, with no clear indication of a prime mover.
  • It may seem ironic, therefore, that The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) published his pessimistic concerns about population towards the end of this era of progress and optimism.
  • Malthus’ concerns were shared on the other side of the world, where the population of China more than doubled during the 18th century.
  • ‘The Chinese Malthus’ Hung Liang-chi (1746-1809) wrote two essays on the population problem in 1793 in which he also argued that increase in population could outstrip the means of subsistence, bringing misery, sickness and famine to many because ‘the government could not prevent the people from multiplying themselves’.
  • Until the beginning of the 19th century, despite the global population being less than one billion, the majority of the people in the world, including those in Europe and China, were probably in a chronic state of hunger.

However, at least the frequency of famines in western Europe decreased through the 17th and 18th centuries, the last being in the 1620s in England, 1732 in Germany and Scandinavia, 1795 in France, and 1845 in western Europe as a whole (in Ireland). Although the Irish famine occurred about 20 years after the world population reached one billion, its seeds were sown and its likely occurrence predicted by several writers at the end of the 18th century. Often viewed as an example of the Malthusian scenario, recent research suggests that it was not demographically inevitable, and that Ireland was more under-industrialized than over-populated.

5.2 The impact of Columbus

  • The earliest recorded plant collecting expedition is that of Queen Hatshepsut to Punt, on the southern shores of the Red Sea, about 3,500 years ago.
  • That was preceded by the demic diffusion of plants and people westwards across Europe, eastwards to India and south to Ethiopia from the Fertile Crescent; by the transfer of sorghum and finger millet from East Africa to India; and by the westwards movement of sugar cane and bananas from New Guinea and south-east Asia.
  • The two-way redistribution of crops in the years following the voyages of Columbus dwarfs all others in its impact on world food production.
  • About one quarter of all the plants that have been domesticated come from the Americas.
  • One reason for the quick success of the American crop plants, the majority of which came from high altitudes in Mexico and the Andes, was their better adaptation to cooler growing conditions than that of many of the crops from Asia and Africa.
  • Also operating in their favour was the fact that crops taken to distant new environments often leave many of their pests and diseases behind and may therefore perform better than in their original habitat.
  • Their pests and diseases may eventually catch up with them, with disastrous consequences as we shall see, but even today, for most crops, their average yield beyond their centers of origin is substantially higher than that within it.
  • In China the population had hovered around 60 million for several centuries but increased to 150 million by 1640 AD.


5.3 The potato in Europe

Although it originated and was domesticated in South America, and was introduced to Ireland, unheralded, only late in the 16th century, the potato was already known as the ‘Irish potato’ by the middle of the following century. The so-called ‘potato famine’ of Ireland was still two centuries in the future.

  • Coming as they did from high altitudes but low latitudes, andigena potatoes were well adapted to the cool conditions but not to the long days of European summers.
  • Although it was not understood at the time, the long days of summer prevented tuber formation until close to the autumn equinox, leaving little time for tuber growth.
  • In Ireland, where both climate and soils were favorable, the potato became what Redcliffe Salaman in History and Social Influence of the Potato describes as ‘the universal and staple article of the people’s food in the greater part of the island’ within fifty years of its introduction in the late 16th century.
  • Described as ‘The greatest gift of the New World to the Old’, the potato was an excellent crop for those with very small holdings, particularly in areas where the law of primogeniture did not apply, so that even small peasant holding were progressively subdivided.
  • Its cultivation required only a spade or a hoe; it took only 3-4 months for the crop to mature; it could be grown on a wide variety of soils, it yielded 3-4 times more food than cereals and often flourished when cereal crops failed; nutritionally it combined well with milk, and a single acre (0.4 hectares) of the crop, plus a cow, could feed a family for much of the year.
  • Therein lay its popularity, and its threat.


5.4 High farming in the Low Countries

  • Because the Low Countries relied to a considerable extent on relatively cheap grain imported from the Baltic, their farmers could intensify their farming practices and concentrate on more profitable crops.
  • They transformed farming from a subsistence to a partly industrial activity.
  • Just as the inhabitants of the Low Countries became expert in the arts of canal and lock building, so also did they develop those of agricultural drainage, reclamation and survey.
  • In his great history of English farming, Lord Ernle repeatedly emphasizes the need for improved drainage on both pasture and arable land.
  • The Low Countries contributed more than better drainage to the intensification of agriculture. Their specialization on industrial crops, horticulture, fruit-growing and livestock farming shifted the perspective on farming profoundly, bringing an influx of capital for land reclamation and improvement.
  • Farming in the Low Countries also laid great emphasis on livestock, particularly cattle, whose manure fertilized the crops.
  • Pastures were no longer merely the pickings available on fallow land, but were treated as a sown crop for livestock and for improvement of the soil, the beginnings of ‘convertible husbandry.’

Driven by population pressure and partly by emergent industrialization under conditions where alternative sources of the staple cereals were available at reasonable cost, the farmers of the Low Countries initiated the intensification of agriculture by which cereal yields there and in England rose sharply in the 17th century and were not matched elsewhere in Europe for many years. Henceforth, as Slicher van Bath put it ‘farmers became conscious of the market economy and farming practice was influenced by the price level for agricultural products’. Dutch farming became a Mecca for agriculturists from all over Europe.

5.5 The Norfolk agricultural ‘revolution’

Thursday, July 14, 2011 @ 05:07 AM
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SOUTH END PRESS                       2007





Seeds embody the past and the future. The evolution of seeds in the future depends on our conserving the widest diversity of seeds and crop varieties to deal with the multiple challenges of food and nutritional security, food quality, climate change, and sustainability.

The following are ways in which the conservation, use, and further development of seeds can be tailored to meet the challenges ahead:


The preservation and maintenance of seeds and the knowledge about them should be based on and rooted in those who make use of them. Ex-situ and in-situ conservation of germ plasm should be conducted to support essential on-farm seed maintenance. Strategies and technologies for the further development of seeds should be based on the wealth of experience and ingenuity of farmers and food communities in general and include their participation and active input. This process should include making modern technologies of selection, identification, and breeding available to farming communities.


As a matter of principle, seed varieties should be developed that allow farmers to conserve soil, water, and biodiversity and intelligently adapt to local and regional environment to the needs of the seed. We should develop the seeds of tomorrow with the goal of embedding agricultural production in agro-ecosystems to protect soil, water, and biodiversity and increase resilience to environmental change.


To minimize the emission of the greenhouse gases that are leading to climate chaos, seeds should require no more external input of energy (through synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel) than absolutely necessary. The goal should be agricultural practices that are greenhouse-gas-emission neutral and that rely on renewable energy and on soil-biological resources.


To reduce the toxic contamination of our food chain and environment, we should shift from breeding seeds that respond to chemical inputs to seeds that are better adapted to the requirements of agroecological practices.


As a means to reduce the risk of susceptibility to pests and adverse environmental conditions, and to enhance the natural diversity, future seed development should be based on the broadest possible genetic diversity. To this end, an urgent review of present commercial requirements for the homogeneity of seed varieties is called for.


The holistic quality of food, including its taste and nutritional value, should be the dominant concern for further enhancing, preserving, and developing seeds of the future.


Globally, women represent the majority of the agricultural workforce and are the present and traditional custodians of seed security, diversity, and quality. Women are also the prime repositories and disseminators of knowledge about the quality and methods of processing food. As such, their central role in safeguarding biodiversity and in conserving, exchanging, and reproducing seeds in post-industrial agriculture must be supported and enhanced.




Seeds are an expression of hope. They bring to mind a cornucopia of harvest. Large numbers of individuals, initiatives, and traditional food communities the world over have long been engaged in safeguarding seed. Despite the present alarming scenario of monocultures and corporate seed monopolies, many encouraging initiatives have sprung up to counter the threat posed by industrial agriculture. The principles on which this manifesto is based have evolved from the initiatives and actions of diverse groups and movements across the world. The following are some examples.

v  A mushrooming of seed banks to preserve ex-situ and cultivate in-situ seed and plant diversity is taking place within seed communities. Women have played a pivotal role in safeguarding the heritage of seed and are set to continue to do so in increasing numbers. Movements such as Seeds of Survival in Ethiopia and Navdanya in India have evolved new models of saving seeds and enhancing the food security and ecological security of farming communities.

v  Seed-saving initiatives and seed-exchange platforms are taking on an increasingly important role. Large numbers of individuals are creating gardens with the express purpose of growing their own food. They have the potential to play an important role in seed saving and exchange. A number of communities committed to the protection of, and reversing the huge losses in, seed and breed varieties are rallying their forces. One such example is the Presidia biodiversity-protection project of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. Versions of this project have sprung up in all regions of the world.

v  Targeted plant-breeding projects that adapt seeds to the needs of organic and ecological agriculture are fast increasing.

v  Alliances and networks of civil society around seed are being built on the regional, national, and international levels. Examples include networks like ETC and GRAIN and political-pressure initiatives like Save Our Seeds, as well as farmer rights groups.

v  Movements such as No Patents on Life in Europe and movements to create patent-free zones (Living Democracy/Jaiv Panchayat) and non-cooperation with patents on seeds (Bija Satyagraha) in India, and the seed-sovereignty movement of Native American tribes in North America are evolving from the ground up to defend the freedom of seed.

v  Working in parallel with civil society activities are initiatives to adopt laws that establish GMO-free zones on a large scale and protect diversity of seed. The region of Tuscany’s Law on Seed is a good example of how local and regional governments can take responsible and concerted action to protect seed diversity.

v  The fast-growing direct relationship between producers and consumers, such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) networks, are another vibrant step in the movement toward conserving and maintaining seed and plant varieties.

v  International agreements such as the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and its Article 9 on Farmers’ Rights and the Convention on Biological Diversity have the potential to counter the aggressive control and suicide-oriented policies of large multinational corporations. This potential needs to be strengthened.

v  Demands to review Act 27.3(b) of the TRIPS agreement of the WTO and stop the patents on life, patents on seeds and biopiracy of farmers’ varieties and traditional knowledge continue to be made by third world governments.

The future evolution of humanity goes hand in hand with the future and free evolution of our seeds. What is embedded in and has been practiced by peasant cultures from time immemorial needs the utmost support from the public and private sector if our right to choose and to live healthy, safe, and culturally diverse lives is to prevail.

The future of seeds carries within it the future of humanity.






A view from Behind the Counter by Jamey Lionette


Saturday, June 4, 2011 @ 06:06 PM
posted by admin



EARTHSCAN          2005





Introduction to Part 1: Agrarian and Rural Perspectives by Jules Pretty

  • Part 1 of this Reader in Sustainable Agriculture focuses on seven agrarian and rural perspectives on agricultural sustainability by Albert Howard, Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, David Orr, David Kline, Wes Jackson and Cornelia Butler Flora and Jan Flora.
  • Albert Howard is seen by many as the founder of the modern organic movement. In his most influential book, An Agricultural Testament, he set out many of the scientific principles for organic farming while in Farming and Gardening for Health and Disease, he makes an early critical link between the state of agriculture and the health of the public.
  • Aldo Leopold is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential conservation writers of the 20th century.
  • Wendell Berry is one of the best known writers on agrarian pasts and presents in the US. He is a practicing farmer, poet an author of many books. In this excerpt from his 1976 book, The Unsettling of America, he tells the story of the change in culture and agriculture in a few short generations of frontier invasion, spread and modernization.
  • David Orr is professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, and author of a number of highly respected books on the relations between people and nature.
  • David Kline is an Amish farmer and author of many books and articles drawing on his experience of farming the rolling hills of southern Ohio. In his essay, he reflects on his community’s rootedness to the land. His careful use of sensitive, or sustainable, farming methods has resulted in nature being restored on his farm. He uses divers rotation patterns, grows and raises many crops and animals, and still farms with horses.
  • Wes Jackson is the founder of the Land Institute on Kansas, and has written widely about rural communities and the land. In this excerpt from his book, Becoming Native to this Place, he describes what is left of Matfield Green, a town of some 50 people in the rural plains of Kansas.
  • In the final article of this part of the reader, Cornelia Butler Flora and Jan Flora, both of Iowa State University, succinctly set out how social capital can be created in Post-industrial communities.


Perspective 1: The Post-war Task by Albert Howard

  • The problem of disease and health took on a wider scope. In March 1939 new ground was broken. The Local Medical and Panel Committees of Cheshire, summing up their experience of the working of the National Health Insurance Act for over a quarter of a century in the county, did not hesitate to link up their judgement on the unsatisfactory state of health of the human population under their care with the problem of nutrition, tracing the line of fault back to an impoverished soil and supporting their contentions by reference to the ideas which I had for some time been advocating.
  • Their arguments were powerfully supported by the Peckham Health Centre and by the work, already published, of Sir Robert McCarrison, which latter told the story from the other side of the world and from a precisely opposite angle – he was able to instance an Eastern People, the Hunzas, who were the direct embobiment of an ideal of health and whose food was derived from soil kept in a state of the highest natural fertility.
  • By these contemporaneous pioneering efforts the way was blazed for treating the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject, calling for a boldly revised point of view and entirely fresh investigations.
  • By this time sufficient evidence had accumulated sor setting out the case fpr soil fertility in book form. This was published in June 1940 by the Oxford University Press under the title of An Agricultural Testament. This book, now in its fourth English and second American edition, set forth the whole gamut of connected problems as far as can at present be done.
  •  In it I summed up my life’s work and advanced the following views:
  1. The birthright of all living things is health.
  2. This law is true for soil, plant, animal, and man: the health of these four is one connected chain.
  3. Any weakness or defect in the health of any earlier link in the chain is carried on to the next and succeeding links, until it reaches the last, namely, man.
  4. The widespread vegetable and animal pests and diseases, which are such a bane to modern agriculture, are evidence of a great failure of health in the second (plant) and third (animal) links of the chain.
  5. The impaired health of human populations (the fourth link) in modern civilized countries is a consequence of this failure in the second and third links.
  6. This general failure in the last three links is to be attributed to failure in the first link, the soil: the undernourishment of the soil is at the root of all. The failure to maintain a healthy agriculture has largely cancelled out all the advantages we have gained from our improvements in hygiene, in housing and our medical discoveries
  7. To retrace our steps is not really difficult if once we set our minds to the problem. We have to bear in mind Nature’s dictates, and we must conform to her imperious demand: (a) for the return of all wastes to the land; (b) for the mixture of the animal and vegetable existence; (c) for the maintaining of an adequate reserve system of feeding the plant, that is we must not interrupt the mycorrhizal association. If we are willing so far to conform to natural law, we shall rapidly reap our reward not only in a flourishing agriculture, but in the immense asset of an abounding health in ourselves and in our children’s children.
  • These ideas, straightforward as they appear when set forth in the form given above, conflict with a number of vested interests. It has been my self-appointed task during the last few years of my life to join hands with those who are convinced of their truth to fight the forces impeding progress.
  • The general thesis that no one generation has a right to exhaust the soil from which humanity must draw its sustenance has received further powerful support from religious bodies, contained in one of the five fundamental principles adopted by the recent Malvern Conference of Christian Churches as follows: ‘The resources of the earth should be used as God’s gifts to the whole human race and used with due consideration for the needs of the present and future generations.’
  • Food is the chief necessity of life. Real security against want and ill health can only be assured by an abundant supply of fresh food properly grown in soil in good heart.
  • The first place in post-war plans of reconstruction must be given to soil fertility in every part of the world.
  • Land must be raised to a higher level of productivity by a rational system of farming which puts a stop to the exploitation of land for the purpose of profit and takes into account the importance of humus in producing food of good quality.
  • The electorate and they alone possess the power to insist that every boy and every girl shall enter into their birthright – health, and that efficiency, wellbeing and contentment which depend thereon.
  • One of the objects of this book is to show the man in the street how this England of ours can be born again. He can help in this task, which depends at least as much on the plain efforts of the plain man in his own farm, garden, or allotment as on all the expensive paraphernalia, apparatus and elaboration of the modern scientist.
  • A healthy population will be no mean achievement, for our greatest possession is ourselves. The man in the street will have to do three things: 
  1. He must create in his own farm, garden, or allotment examples without end of what a fertile soil can do
  2. He must insist that public meals in which he is directly interested, such as those served in boarding schools, in the canteens of day schools and of factories, in popular restaurants and tea shops, and at the seaside resorts at which he takes his holidays are composed of fresh produce of fertile soil
  3. He must use his vote to compel his various representative – municipal, county, and parliamentary to see to it: (a) that the soil of this island is made fertile and maintained in this condition; (b) that the public health system of the future is based on the fresh produce of land in good heart.
  4. One lesson must be stressed. The real Arsenal of Democracy is a fertile soil, the fresh produce of which is the birthright of nations.



Friday, June 3, 2011 @ 05:06 AM
posted by admin

Book Review


In Part 4 of Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed we learn that: “This manifesto is the outcome of a joint effort among participants in the meetings of the International Commission on the Future of Food, held in late 2002 and early 2003 in Tuscany, Italy.” “We urge people and communities to translate it and use it, as appropriate to their needs, and to disseminate the principles and ideas it contains in as many ways as possible.” “The growing push toward industrialization and globalization of the world’s agriculture and food supply imperils the future of humanity and the natural world.” “Technological interventions sold by global corporations as panaceas for solving global problems of “inefficiency in small-scale production,” and supposedly world hunger, have had exactly the opposite effect. From the Green Revolution to the biotech revolution to the current push for food irradiation, technological intrusions into the historic and natural means of local production have increased the vulnerability of ecosystems. They have brought the pollution of air, water, and soil, as well as new and spreading genetic pollution from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These technology- and corporate-based monocultural systems seriously exacerbate the crisis of global warming because of their heavy dependence upon fossil fuels in all stages from production through distribution. Climate change alone threatens to undermine the entire natural basis of ecologically benign agriculture, bringing the likelihood of catastrophe to the near future.”



SOUTH END PRESS                       2007




Chapter 5: Manifesto on the Future of Food.

  • This manifesto is the outcome of a joint effort among participants in the meetings of the International Commission on the Future of Food, held in late 2002 and early 2003 in Tuscany, Italy.
  • It is a synthesis of the work and the ideas espoused by hundreds of organizations around the world and thousands of individuals actively seeking to reverse the dire trend toward industrialization and globalization of food production.
  • It sets out a practical vision and ideas and programs to move us toward ensuring that food and agriculture become more socially and ecologically sustainable, more accessible, and for putting food quality, food safety, and public health above corporate profits.
  • We hope that this manifesto will serve as a catalyst to unify and strengthen the movement toward sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, biodiversity, and agricultural diversity, and that it will thereby help to alleviate hunger and poverty globally.
  • We urge people and communities to translate it and use it, as appropriate to their needs, and to disseminate the principles and ideas it contains in as many ways as possible.




The growing push toward industrialization and globalization of the world’s agriculture and food supply imperils the future of humanity and the natural world. Successful forms of community-based local agriculture have fed much of the world for millennia, while conserving ecological integrity, and continue to do so in many parts of the planet. But these practices are being rapidly replaced by corporate-controlled, technology-based, monocultural, export-oriented systems. These systems of absentee ownership are negatively impacting public health, food quality and nourishment, traditional livelihoods (both agricultural and artisanal), and indigenous and local cultures, while accelerating indebtedness among millions of farmers and their separation from lands that have traditionally fed communities and families. This transition is increasing hunger, landlessness, homelessness, despair, and suicides among farmers. At the same time, it is degrading the planet’s life-support systems and increasing, planetwide, the alienation of peoples from nature and the historic, cultural, and natural connection between farmers and all other people to the sources of food and sustenance. Finally, it helps destroy the economic and cultural foundations of societies, undermines security and peace, and creates a context for social disintegration and violence.

Technological interventions sold by global corporations as panaceas for solving global problems of “inefficiency in small-scale production,” and supposedly world hunger, have had exactly the opposite effect. From the Green Revolution to the biotech revolution to the current push for food irradiation, technological intrusions into the historic and natural means of local production have increased the vulnerability of ecosystems. They have brought the pollution of air, water, and soil, as well as new and spreading genetic pollution from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These technology- and corporate-based monocultural systems seriously exacerbate the crisis of global warming because of their heavy dependence upon fossil fuels in all stages from production through distribution. Climate change alone threatens to undermine the entire natural basis of ecologically benign agriculture, bringing the likelihood of catastrophe to the near future. Moreover, industrial agriculture systems have certainly not increased efficiency in production if one subtracts their ecological and social costs and the immense public subsidies they require. Nor do these systems reduce hunger – quite the opposite. They have, however, stimulated the growth and concentration of a small number of global agriculture giants who now control global production, to the detriment of local food growers, food supply, food quality, and the ability of communities and nations to achieve basic food self-reliance.

Already, negative trends of the past half century have been accelerated by the recent rules of global trade and finance from global bureaucracies like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Codex Alimentarius. These institutions have codified policies designed to serve the interests of global agribusiness above all others, while actively undermining the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as the ability of nations to regulate trade across their own borders or to apply standards appropriate to their communities. Rules contained in the WTOs Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, for example, have empowered global agricultural corporations to seize much of the world’s seed supply, foods, and agricultural lands. The globalization of corporate-friendly patent regimes has also directly undermined indigenous and traditional sui generis rights of farmers, for example, to save seeds and protect indigenous varieties they have developed over millennia. Other WTO rules encourage export dumping of cheap subsidized agricultural products from industrial nations, adding to the immense difficulties of small farmers in poor countries to maintain their economical viability. And by invariably emphasizing export-oriented monocultural production, the explosive growth in the long-distance trade in food products has greatly increased the fossil fuels used for transport further impacting climate change. The expanding search for fossil fuels and fossil fuel alternatives has also resulted in ecologically devastating infrastructure developments in indigenous and wilderness areas, with grave environmental consequences.

The entire conversion from local small-scale food production for local communities to large-scale export-oriented monocultural production has brought the melancholy decline of the traditions, cultures, and cooperative pleasures and convivialities associated for centuries with community-based production and markets, diminishing the experience of direct food growing and the long celebrated joys of sharing food grown by local hands from local lands.

Despite all of the above, there are many developments that inspire optimism. Thousands of new and alternative initiatives are flowering across the world to promote ecological agriculture; defence of the livelihoods of small farmers; production of healthy, safe, and culturally diverse foods; and localization of distribution, trade, and marketing. Another agriculture is not only possible, it is already happening.

For all these reasons and others, we declare our firm opposition to industrialized, globalized food production and our support for this positive shift to sustainable, productive, locally adapted small-scale alternatives consistent with the following principles.