World’s Largest Chard Grows in SIP

The story of SuperChard:

Its origin is unknown. It might come from Bountiful Garden seed, or perhaps Franchi.

It volunteered in a corner of one of our backyard beds, in a bed we were resting. We didn’t water it. It grew all summer long anyway, despite having no rain at all.  In fact, it grew huge and lush. We never harvested it, though, because it was growing in our lead contaminated soil. So we continued to ignore it and it continued to thrive.

It sucked up the winter rains and grew even bigger. Then, early this spring, as part of our whole “dealing with the lead” problem we tore out the two raised beds in Lead Central in order to dig out the clay beneath them to make adobe bricks. By this time SuperChard was so magnificent I couldn’t kill him (around this time I began to anthropomorphize the chard), so I trimmed off his outer leaves (some of which were as long as my arm) and transplanted him into a self-watering container (SIP).

I knew that transplanting such a big, established plant would be difficult, but by this time I really wanted to harvest this plant’s seed. So I told him that I wanted to preserve his genetic legacy–what plant doesn’t want that?–and praised his beauty, and babied him through the transition.

SuperChard adapted beautifully to life in a container and quickly grew back to full size. We took him  with us to our various gigs, both to show people what a SIP was and to blow their minds with the beauty of chard. I wish I had a pic of SuperChard in full leaf. In the photo above all his energy has gone into the flower, so the leaves are a sad shadow of their former glory. Basically, SuperChard used to look like an exotic, pampered tropical plant. One that did not mind rattling around in our hatchback and getting dragged all over tarnation.

Chard reproduces in its second year, and SuperChard’s time has come. He began to bolt with our first heat wave and has sent up a huge flower spike. He drinks like crazy to support the SuperSpike–so we  fill the SIP reservoir daily.

I’ll be sad to say goodbye to SuperChard, but I will be collecting his seed. And I do believe we will have to keep our promise to him and spread his genetic diversity far and wide by sending his seed across the country to be stewarded by our readers.

Watch out for a seed giveaway later this summer.

Chadwick’s Sweet Pea

This past fall I planted “Chadwick’s Sweet Pea” that I picked up from Seed Dreams who had a booth at last year’s National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa.

They are now my favorite sweet pea variety. I don’t see them listed on the Seed Dream website, nor can I find any information about them other than that I assume they were bred by Alan Chadwick, a student of Rudolf Steiner and John Jeavons’ mentor. 

You can bet I’ll be saving these seeds and growing them again. And I’m also planning on attending this year’s National Heirloom Exposition in September. Hope to see some of you there.

Bleach Alternatives for Disinfecting Pruning Shears

Apples with fire blight: one reason you should disinfect pruning sheers. Photo by Peggy Greb

Neighbor Anne tipped me off to an interesting fact sheet on disinfecting pruning sheers by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, a horticulture professor at Washington State University. I’ve been using bleach which, it turns out, is not the best choice.

Bleach is both toxic to humans and to plants as well. It also stains clothes and damages tools. Chalker-Scott’s preferred alternative? Lysol. It won’t corrode your tools and is safer to humans. She also discusses alcohol and Lysterine and a few other choices.

The fact sheet concludes with more important details:

• Be sure to clean tools of dirt, debris, etc. before disinfecting.
• After dipping your pruning tools, be sure to wipe away excess disinfectant to avoid injuring
the next plant.
• A longer soaking may be needed for pruning surfaces that are not smooth.
• Like pruners, increment borers should always be sterilized before and after use.
• Never use disinfectants on pruning wounds; they are phytotoxic and cause more harm than good.

(Why do you need to disinfect pruning tools? Because if you don’t, you can transmit disease such as fire blight and dutch elm disease from one tree to the next. It’s best to clean your tools between each tree or shrub as you work. We do this as a matter of course, whether we think a plant is diseased or not. It’s like practicing safe sex.)

For more horticultral myths, see Chalker-Scott’s myth page.

Reseeding Vegetables for the Warm Season

So what edible/useful plants pop up in lead contaminated soil along a hot, dry alternately sun-baked and deep-shaded south side of a house in Southern California? After dumping a load of compost along our side yard, mother nature is doing her own food forestry experiment. This month the following things popped up out of that load of compost:

  1. stinging nettle
  2. cardoon
  3. tomatoes
  4. nasturtium
  5. fennel
  6. sunflowers

Elsewhere in the yard, New Zealand spinach has popped up on its own. I doubt the stinging nettle or nasturtium will hang on for long (it’s out of season for those plants here).  But I’m willing to bet that the tomatoes, New Zealand spinach, fennel and cardoon will take. Because of the lead, the only thing I would eat of that bunch are the tomatoes (fruit usually does not take up heavy metals). Still, I think bio-activity in the soil in the form of microorganisms and plants will, over a very long period, help remediate that contamination.

More and more, I’m drawn to vegetables that easily re-seed themselves and grow without any fuss. And knowing when to plant things can be tricky, so watching nature’s own timing can provide important clues. I’ve taken to moving some of these self-seeded plants to our raised beds. And I’ve pledged to take better notes (this blog post, for instance) to keep a record of what comes up on its own and when.

So tell us where you are and what’s sprouting on it’s own this spring in your garden?

Disconnect to Reconnect: Ditching the “Flushie” for a Composting Toilet

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

We’re lucky to have another guest post by Nancy Klehm (see a nice interview with her on foraging here). Nancy visits us at the Root Simple compound at least once a year. What follows is an account of a plumbing misadventure she had on her last visit. 

To give you some context, ever since we’ve remodeled our bathroom and switched to a low-flow toilet we’ve had periodic backups. We think there is a low spot just within reach of our turlet snake. The toilet flushes OK most of the time, but at least once a week I’ve got to deploy that damn snake.

Here’s Nancy:

I don’t use a flushie often, I made the decision to ‘go dry’ years ago, adopting the bucket toilet + sawdust system as it pairs nicely with my composting obsession and food growing habit.

I stayed at Erik and Kelly’s back in February. Their low flush toilet and antique piping can’t seem to handle even the most modest bodily donation. Once a flushing attempt proves unsuccessful, and immediately following the ‘oh no…’ guilty grimace, a light-hearted blame game plays out and then according to homestead rules, Erik snakes the toilet. The closet augur is kept on the front porch (to greet visitors?). Erik augers for a few minutes, flushes successfully, marches the tool back outside to air out and we settle back into our routines relieved that our burdens are flowing into the larger mystery of pipes and their soupy contents to the municipal waste treatment plant miles away.

But with Erik and Kelly out of town on one of the weekends during my stay, the daily chores of feeding the kittens, letting out the single hen to roam the yard and snaking, if so needed, fell on me. And yes, the toilet clogged and no, I did not assume the blame. I am regular enough (2-3x/day) as are Erik and Kelly for the record [editor’s note: the editors demur from either acknowledging or disavowing the hypothetical frequency of their natural propensities.] to avoid creating such monsters and yet, the flushie needs snaking every day soon after the post-caffeine effect.

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