Go Plant a Million Trees

Kelly and I interviewed Akiva Silver, of Twisted Tree Farm, for the next episode of the sporadic Root Simple Podcast. Silver is the author of Trees of Power: Ten Essential Aboreal Allies (Amazon, library). The book celebrates the power of trees to feed us and solve a lot of the world’s problems including climate change and soil erosion. In the book Silver makes the provocative suggestion that we might all be better off with a greater emphasis on tree crops instead of clearing land for monotonous fields of wheat, corn and soybeans. He has an interventionist, Johnny Appleseed like passion at odds with the hands-off, leave-no-trace branch of environmentalism. Silver says, “Instead of trying to have as little impact as possible, I want to have a huge impact. I want to leave behind millions of trees, a bunch of ponds, enriched soil and wild stories.”

In our own small urban yard, we’re beginning to see the fruits, literally, of our own small-scale arboreal efforts that we began over ten years ago. This month we had a abundant crop of Mission figs, avocados, olives and pomegranates. And that pathetic vegetable garden I blogged about? My heretical thinking is to give up annual vegetables entirely and use the space to plant two small citrus trees. If I want vegetables I’ll put in artichokes which grow well here and return every year without any effort. We’ll outsource the misery of growing annual vegetables to the vendors of the farmer’s market.

Watch for our interview with Silver next Wednesday. In the meantime read his book and then go plant some trees.

Destroy Nature Before it Destroys Us


As philosopher Slavoj Žižek so wisely reminds us, we don’t spend enough time thinking about the ideology behind our assumptions and vocabulary. This is especially true with our vague and ill defined concept of “nature.” I really don’t think that we’ve all really thought through what we mean when we use this word.

Conner Habib takes a look at “nature” in this thought provoking episode of his podcast, Against Everyone with Conner Habib. Habib calls our concept of nature “fatally flawed” and connects it to Sigmund Freud’s notion of a death drive in the sense of something that we think is separate from ourselves that generates a feeling of longing that can never be fulfilled. Paradoxically, we revel in this state of separation, in a never ending spiral of longing that explains not only our twisted relationship to the environment but also things like gambling, smart phones and drugs. I’m not going to summarize Habib’s profound thoughts on the meaning of “nature” but let’s just say that he says that we need to destroy our concept of nature in order to save it. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

Straw Bale Gardening Update

I think I’ve put a name to an all to common gardening experience. I’ve got what I shall, from now on, refer to as Tomato Disappointment Syndrome or TDS for short. TDS recognizes a unspoken reality of vegetable gardening: that for every lush and productive tomato plant there exists at least ten spindly, diseased specimens hiding in backyards.

Without careful soil stewardship, just the right amount of water and diligence about not growing tomatoes in the same place every year TDS will visit your household. Since I’ve had tomato disease problems for years I decided to grow them in straw bales this season as I did, successfully, back in 2013.

Unfortunately, my straw bale tomatoes succumbed to one of three possible problems:

  • Improperly conditioned bale. I may not have spent enough time adding nitrogen to the bale.
  • Root-bound seedlings.
  • Herbicides in the straw.

I’m leaning towards a lack of nitrogen caused by not following bale conditioning instructions carefully. Herbicides in the bale are also possible or some combination of all three of the above factors.

Allow me to also theorize, building on the foundation of TDS, that success in vegetable gardening is inversely related to one’s propensity to brag, write or boast about vegetable gardening on, say, a blog or social media account. Perhaps I should just shut up and take care of the soil or pay more attention to my bale conditioning efforts and cease the grandstanding.

Make Magazine: Online and Free

Update: It appears that the archive was taken down at the request of the magazine shortly after I wrote this post. Thanks Sean for letting me know!

I was sorry to hear that Make Magazine and its parent company Maker Media are calling it quits. Founder Dale Dougherty promises to bring the concept back at some future date but until that time there’s some good news. You can access all issues of Make Magazine for free at Archive.org.
An article in Tech Crunch quotes Dougherty,

“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.

[Update 6/9/19: Dougherty tells me he’s been overwhelmed by the support shown by the Maker community. For now, licensed Maker Faire events around the world will proceed as planned. Dougherty also says he’s aware of Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey’s interest in funding the company, and a GoFundMe page started for it.]

I wrote an article on drip irrigation for Issue 18 and have to say that it was a pleasure to work with the Make editorial team. Unlike other publications I’ve written for, the editors at Make knew a lot about the technical details of the subject matter and worked hard to ensure accuracy.

Speaking of technical details, the only thing I’d change if I wrote that article again is that I would recommend 1/2 inch drip irrigation tubing instead of 1/4 inch in the interest of keeping things simple and reducing the need for multiple fitting sizes. I stand by the rest of my irrigation pontifications.

Using the Google Search App for Plant Identification

Over the past few months Kelly and I have been testing Google’s search app, which lets you use your phone’s camera to do a kind of reverse image search, to identify weeds and trees. It’s surprisingly accurate and even when it doesn’t get you to the exact plant it usually shows results close enough to make a good guess with a little more research.

To do an image search you click on the colorful square next to the microphone and allow the app to access your phone’s camera. It seems to work both with long distance shots, for instance a picture of an entire mature tree, or closeups of leaves.

There are other plant identification apps out there that I have tested over the years but none have worked as well as Google’s search app. Google is sitting on way more data than any small-time app maker. Which leads to my disclaimer . . .

While this search ability is amazing, I find Google creepy. Why? Let me list just a few reasons.

  • When you use Google for a search they track your location data. What exactly are they doing with this location data? Yes, you can turn this off but you loose functionality.
  • They gather publicly accessible information about you and hoard it like the Nibelungen hoard their gold.
  • They have monopolized and monetized search.
  • Google’s Director of Engineering is Singularity nutjob Ray Kurzweil who believes we will, someday, be raptured up to the cloud in a perverse, secular form of millenarianism.
  • Google confuses data accumulation with wisdom.
  • See Adam Curtis’ three part series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Part I, PartII, Part III) to see where the nightmarish world Google’s belief in cybernetics will take us.

Enough ranting. You will all have to help still my urge to take a sledgehammer to the whole interwebs.

To that end if any of you know a plant search alternative that works as well as Google please leave a comment. Or perhaps we should all just take our kids for a walk and show them some plants . . .