Nature Reveals the Truth

white flower photo For a while now, I've wanted to write about sourcing good seeds. I'm relatively new to the seed game. This is my third year. By looking at a tomato seed, you have no idea what variety it is, if it's authentic organic, or how fertile it is. Trust is a paramount when sourcing seeds. Seeds are a commodity, and like all commodities, they are bought and sold.

Last year, I came across a source for Goose Creek Tomatoes. I read that it's a rare variety, and there was story about the origins. Without question, that combination peaked my curiosity so much, that I had to grow it. Later, I found out about the questions concerning the veracity of the story.

From Tatiana's TOMATObase;

  • There is some controversy about the origins/dating of this tomato, as tomato experts know that there were no 'smooth' tomatoes available in the early 1800s.
  • There is also a lot of controversy about the fruit color, whether it is supposed to be red or pink.

Goose Creek seeds are hard to find, but I found a source on eBay. I ordered them right away. They were expensive as far as seeds go, fifty cents a seed to be exact. Since seeds are a commodity, and in a market driven economy, scarcity is factor in price.

When the seeds arrived, they were in a small, clear plastic envelope with a handwritten label on it. A slight pagne of skectipsism came over me. Now, for small seed collectors, having a preprinted package is expense that might discourage them from the important role of seed collecting.

A preprinted package though, is no gurantee that the contents inside, match the content printed on the outside. That's what the white flower told me last week. It provided the truth of what was inside the package of Zucchino Rampicante, a vining zuchinni and pumpkin, that I ordered this year.

I was SO looking forward to this variety. A massive vinning zuchinni with large bottleneck fruit that can be either a summer or winter squash, is a maddness that I embrace whole heartingly.

It would be trellissed with long red  asian string beans. A living Jackson Pollock painting perhaps, with the distinct contrast in foligae, flower and fruit between these two varieties.

Alas, that won't happen this year. While I was admiring the lush foligae of the vine, I saw a white flower. I found this odd, squash and pumpkin flowers are yellow. The flower I saw had expired, but I could tell it was a brilliant white.

So, I went to the Google and presented my case, white squash bloom. The verdict, I have either a birdhouse gourd, or an apple gourd. Lucky me. I don't like gourds. I don't get them, nor do I want to. Evidently though, this year I will have no choice.

From what I could find, these two varities of gourds come up consistently id keywords search for white squash flower. They are grown for a variety of craft products, and they do have some interest to them.

Mistakes happen, and I trust the source where these gourd seeds came from. They are passionate about heirloom varities. I had some iffy results from some other vendors this year. It was the first time I ordered from them. Other first time vendors I had good luck with. It's a matter of trial and error, and following your gut. If your not sure, don't order from them. If your fortunate enough to have a local seed vendor, with local seed sources, buy from them.

The Goose Creek tomato seeds I ordered were fine, and so were the Tiger Melon seeds I ordered from that eBay vendor last year. The other melon seeds not so much. This year, the pepper seeds I ordered from different vendor resulted in some fairly week plants across three varities. But I also didn't start a large number of each variety, so it's a tough call.  The  organic San Marzanno seeds I got from the same vendor are doing tremendous, so it's kind of a balance.

Not every seed from every plant is going to be a blue ribbon winner. I have noticed though that some vendor's seeds have a high germination rate, consistent with what's noted as the standard rate for that variety, while others not so much. This is also all the more reason to learn about seed collecting. You can get to see where your strong plants are, and you can collect seeds from a wide variety of fruit.

The Goose Creek tomato is very tasty, and the green tomatoes are a very light shade of green, almost a translucent white. Very pretty to see.  They were a lot like the Box Car Willies (BCW) I grew last year. Almost strikingly similiar. The BCWs were a lot later though, and thanks to a hail storm, which destroyed the BCWs, I couldn't do a tatse test.

I love that fact that a white flower told me a story this week. It goes to show that no matter what, storytellers tell their stories. And, on a blog influenced by Thoreau, that is as much about storytelling as gardening, how fortunate that this story was told by my garden?  The wonder of it all.


White Vinegar as a Weed Inhibitor

In my FB newsfeed recently, an item appeared about white vinegar being a weed killer. Intrigued by this, I looked further into it across the internets. There I found  a number of blog posts about how this works. So, here's another one.

Always on outlook for simple, sustainable and effective ways to work in the garden, and to live my life with the smallest foot print I can, I gave white vinegar a try.

It's NOT a weed killer, rather it's a detriment to the growth of the weed above ground, or any plant that the vinegar lands on. It's not selective, and some plants seem more effected by it than others.

I took some photos to share, but I can't find them. I've been using it for the past 3 weeks in my garden, so the initial impact of how effective it works is no longer evident. I'm impressed. I have 3 sides to my community garden plot that are not being used. The weeds are over grown, it impacts my plot. The vinegar works great ant inhibiting new growth along my fence. It's buying me time to get to these areas with paper and mulch as long term solution.

It does not kill the plant, but it singes the the foliage, and stops the plant from advancing in size. The plant will spend it's energy recovering and regrowing the existing foliage instead of advancing the growth further.

Adding some dish soap is more effective than not, and I found that Proxi brand dish soap works significantly better than Dawn. I had both in my house, so I tried both. The dish soap makes the vinegar sticky, and when spayed on the plant, it  stays on the foliage longer than just running off.

Get a spray bottle, and my ratio was 2 tbls. of soap to the 32 ounces in the spray bottle I use. That's it.

The ph in the vinegar has minimal impact on the soil, and in my opinion, in the home garden,or around the house, there is no need to use anything other than the standard 5% acid vinegar sold in supermarkets. I've seen people suggest using pickling vinegar, which has 9% acid, but unless you have it readily available, there is no need to go out of your way to acquire it.

There is a product called horticultural vinegar, and that has 25% acid. That will burn your skin, and it's not necessary for home gardening use in my opinion. Why risk injury to yourself when you don't have to?

Also, it's almost 10 times the price per gallon as the standard, 5% acid vinegar you buy in the supermarket. Keeping the Economy chapter from Walden by Thoreau in mind, the supermarket version is practical and effective.

This post gives you more detailed information about the research going on about vinegar as an organic herbicide. Just think, that hassle of the weeds growing between the cracks of the sidewalk can be taken care of with this simple, sustainable and effective solution.


Thoreau as Model for a Heirloom Gardening Movement

Ghandi. Martin Luther King, Jr. Anti-war protesters from the 1970s. Three significant agents of social change. They credit Thoreau as an inspiration for their action. So why not use Thoreau as a model for a social change against GMOs, and the Industrial Food Complex? If you read Walden, Thoreau lays out an example of being self-sustaining, and the value of economy. The chapter of Economy in Walden, to me references what we call our carbon footprint today. If blogging been around in his time, Thoreau would've been a great blogger.

Thoreau's writing about phenology is cited frequently.


is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate.

Nature's influence on Thoreau's journal writings, his beliefs, and philosophy was immense. I would love to read what he would write about GMOs, factory farming, and especially climate change.  When you consider the painstaking detail of his phenology work, and how climate change can make it all obsolete, his point of view of where we are at today, and the lack of government action on climate change, would be an important critique. All though with the state of society today, he would have to do it a reality TV format that our culture embraces so dearly to have an impact.

Can you see Bravo or TLC doing Civil Disobedience, where Thoreau lays out his argument for taking a moral stand against the government? Neither can I.

In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau's wrote about how an personal act of conscious is larger than any civil law. Thoreau's objection was to slavery and the  Mexcian-American War, both embraced by the American government at the time. He wrote about this after spending a night in jail after withholding his poll tax while at Walden. He was released after someone paid his tax debt for him.

Mention civil disobedience in conversation, and it send shudders down the spines of a lot of people. It's not for everyone, and long term, it's not sustainable, like a an organic, heirloom garden. That may seem like a huge leap, but it's really not. Both are actions that can be used to take a conscious stand against actions that our government or corporations are taking that have negative impacts on society and nature.

Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs) uses genetic engenering to modify an organism to achieve a certain end than nature intended. There is no value to nature, or to human beings added by this process. It's about profit and control by the corporation modifying the organism.

While governments outside the USA are taking steps to ban these organisms, we have a government that appoints Michael Taylor,a former lawyer for Monsanto, the company that is leading the charge for GMOs, as the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at The Food and Drug Administration. The American government is also siding with the Industrial Food Complex by allowing GMOs into processed foods, and not enforcing these foods be labeled so the consumer knows what they are eating.

It's not slavery, which was Thoreau's objection, but with the government allowing the use of GMOs while not enforcing the labeling of foods that contain GMOs, this action removes the freedom of choice and trust that is part of the social fabric in a free and just society. While there is no law forcing the American public to eat GMOs, allowing the use of them while not enforcing the labeling of foods that contain them, in my opinion, is  tacit concent.

tacit consent - (law) tacit approval of someone's wrongdoing

It puts more value on the profit of the Industrial Food Complex than on the health and well being of our planet, our democracy and our society.

When you have a society that embraces Snooki, Kim Kardashian and Real Housewives, asking them to take action that would qualify as civil disobedience would fall on deaf and dumb ears, like their reality TV Goddesses.

Positioning an organic heirloom garden as means of action against the tacit consent of the American government on GMOs is more accessible to a wider range of people than an act of civil disobedience.

It's also a good first step to disconnect from the Industrial Food Complex. Social change takes a long time. Especially, when it's against large corporate interests, and their influence on government policy. An organic heirloom garden is nature driven, sustainable and authentic. Positioning it as an action for social change against government and corporate interests that puts the health of nature and society at risk, such as what's going on with GMOs right now, is one that I think would have Thoreau's approval.



Fashioning an Heirloom Gardening Lifestyle – An Introduction

photo gardens No doubt about it, heirloom gardening is a hot trend. Take for example the class I’m about to teach. The class is a new offering at a local enrichment program, and I have thirteen people signed up for it. A WOW next to the last email in my inbox next to my  enrollment number tells me this is a good for a new class. This bodes well for everyone involved. The role of the enrichment program is fulfilled by offering information sought by those in the community. The participants will learn about the opportunities presented by heirloom gardening, knowledge about heirlooms and organic gardening will be shared, and most important, nature will be benefit by people learning to care for it in a natural way.

Nature has provided all we need to sustain ourselves. It serves as an example that we can learn from. Along the way societies have made choices, some good, some bad about how to sustain this example. After WWII there was a big shift in society, I wrote about a brief timeline about this change here. Woman were entering the workforce, the suburbs offered a reflection of a new prosperity, commuting and driving to regional shopping malls were eating into available time, television was a new medium that brought visual advertising into the living room, and industrial processed food was sold as a convenient product to fit this social change. One significant area that marketing could target this product was the fact more woman were working outside of the house. Their traditional role was changing, less time was left for cooking meals. Industrial food filled a gap by positioning it as new and convenient reflection of the new, modern and society.

However, the industrial food complex was very quiet about how their processing removed nutrients and replaced it with fillers and chemical preservatives. Never mind that people were canning their own food for ages without anything but what nature offered, the industrial food complex changed what they felt they needed for mass consumption and profit.

It also changed a lot of our choices about food.

Embracing this processed food was one of many choices that society made, and by doing so, ignored the lessons from nature that sustained societies for thousands of years.

Hindsight is 20/20. We’re at a critical point now with GMOs, and reliance on food that is low on natural ingredients and nutrients and high in chemicals. Biofuels have put a strain on food supplies. Factor in natural disasters thanks to climate change, and we are faced with challenges to sustain ourselves. The USDA just released a new hardiness gardening zone map that reflects a warmer USA.

With the rise in popularity of heirlooms, the opportunity is presented to transition this increased awareness into a lifestyle change that is more sustainable.

I wrote about Thoreau and Emerson here, and how their philosophy would be a big influence on what I aim to accomplish with Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom Solution. Since I wrote that post, I found an interesting parallel. In astrology Neptune has moved into Pisces, which in astrology is significant. Neptune is considered an outer planet. The outer plants move slow, and because of this their influence is a slow. This gradual change is what influences society since social change is slow, and what influences people in deep change to their being.

As a storyteller who studied the fine arts, symbolism is a paramount to being creative. An interesting fact I found out about Neptune moving into Pisces is the last time this happened Thoreau wrote Walden. Self-reliance and nature is a lot of what Walden is about. So in economy. What Thoreau did was write about how he lived and demonstrated the economy and practical nature of nature. He also studied nature and all the interactions that occur and has been refereed to the father of American Phenology. (The link will take you to the citation in a Google Books pdf.) That’s disputed, however it’s his observations that have attracted the most attention.

Phenology is a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as bird migration or plant flowering)

Today a lot of the current research and writing about phenology is the effect climate change is having on it. A new phenology is coming into being. I will say the new hardiness zone map reflects this.

Symbols in a story are opportunities. They creative the narrative. Living life as a story, as I encourage here, it’s looking for these symbols and opportunities to drive my narrative, which is to keep heirloom plants from vanishing. When you work with this technique, trusting your intuition is something that needs to be nurtured, like a garden. To Thoreau and Emerson, intuition was an integral part of their philosophy. It is to mine also.

I see the rise of interest in heirlooms as an opportunity. I see the move of Neptune into Pieces as a symbol. I see the threat to the environment from GMOs, chemicals and climate change as facts. It’s with Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom Solution that I’m using storytelling to fashion an heirloom gardening lifestyle as a response to it all. I encourage you to join me. Nature will reward you if you do.

If you don't garden, I will write about other ways to support a heirloom gardening lifestyle. For now, check out for a lot of good information and links about how to support this lifestyle without a garden.


Emerson, Thoreau and Me

I put myself in the title of this post with such luminaries of American literature for two reasons. First, it's a tribute to them, their philosophy and their writing. I make no claim to be their equal. Time will tell however if their influence on my life and Vanishing Feast will be successful for the second reason, which is to honor their work by citing their influence, and demonstrating how relevant it what I'm doing. I recently rediscovered Emerson and Thoreau. It's been a long time since high school. I was doing some research about the animal/weather phenology when I found a reference to Thoreau being the father of American Phenology. As I read that I felt a hunch, and if you read what I write about, I follow my hunches.

I went to my local library and checked out a copy of Walden. As I was reading what Thoreau wrote about, I felt like I was reading a series of blog posts. I felt a kinship with him, his cabin, his writing about his experiences, his critiques about what he was doing and how it relates to society. I felt that I was doing the same with Vanishing Feast, my garden and how this all fits in with our society today.

I see an interesting parallel that I'm going to explore this year. I see some significant aspects their philosophy which will challenge  and inspire me to relate those aspects to you.

For example, all along I've been encouraging people to look at their lives as stories that get written every day. I've written about plot twists and following hunches. I provided examples of how the hunches I have are like plot twists, which are part of any storytelling process, and how these hunches have lead me to discoveries and experiences that would not have happened if I ignored them. When you look at your life as a story that you write everyday,  following your hunches is where you find your content.

The Mark Twain tomatoes from 2011 for example. A random reading of a seed catalogue lead me to these tomatoes. I didn't know they existed. They are very rare and when I went to order the seeds, the seed company was out. I took this a plot twist. A hunch. A challenge to find other seeds or plants. I refused to dismiss it as "Oh I'll order next year."  I followed the hunch. Found plants in Tennessee, drove from NJ to Tennessee to get the plants. Met some wonderful people. Took some beautiful photographs. Encountered some wicked tornado damage which was foreshadowing about some destructive forces coming into my own life latter in 2011. Got introduced to a another wonderful and rare heirloom tomato, the Jerusalem. The Mark Twain tomato ended up on the cover of my first book. It served as the introduction to the rest of the photos and stories in that book They made the connection for me between American literature and heirlooms. And since I had the plants, some very tasty tomatoes. I now have seeds too. Cue another plot twist.

Had I not follow my hunch, and dismissed it, I'd be out of the luck. The seed catalogue, the only commercial source for Mark Twain seeds don't have any seeds this year. None of their seed collectors grew them in 2011. Whether this is a case of crop rotation on the seed collectors or not remains to be seen. As you can see in the context of what I do, following my hunch was right. And the payoff, I have had an experience that is bigger than my life itself.

One of the crossover aspects that I find in Emerson and Thoreau is the emphasis on recognizing and following intuition, and how intuition is part of a process that larger than the human experience. This is one basic example of the connection I sense between what Emerson and Thoreau wrote about and myself. There are more examples, which I will touch on as I write and explore the connection. I felt this was significant since as a visual artist I knew my influences ranged from Dali, Di Chirico, Hopper, Hockney, Warhol, Chagal, and my all time favorite, Magritte. As I transitioned to writing, I felt a little lost not having the same influences. Now that I found them, there are no limits to where this will go.