Saturday, December 30, 2017

Puerto Rico: Restoring Sustainable Agriculture after Hurricane Maria

Brittany Anuszkiewicz

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, a US territory, and our fellow citizens braced themselves for the 155 mile per hour winds over 30 long hours.  The pictures on the news revealed its complete devastation of the communities' crops, greenhouses and livestock--the entire food economy flooded, buildings torn 
apart, and trees ripped out of the ground.  But what can we do to help? 

You can take your next volunteer vacation in Puerto Rico and help restore the farming on the island.  Join local Puerto Rican activist, Tara Rodriguez Besosa, by bringing your camping gear, your water filter and your grit and hard work to lend a hand to La Solidaria on their farm bus tour whose goal is to restore 200 farms over 24 months.  Consider donating directly to the Puerto Rico Resiliency Fund and learn more about the farm bus tour and needed supplies.  Ms. Besosa lost her restaurant in San Juan when Maria hit and the farmers lost their crops at the same time so she immediately did what she does best--organize for change!  She organized her friends both on the island and in the US for tools, seeds and supplies for the local farmers to restore their land, their crops and their livelihood.  

Before Hurricane Maria hit, the agricultural economy had boosted jobs by 50% and now with the huge national debt and more than 80% of crops destroyed, she and other activists, many of them here all over the mainland US, are working either with or alongside Tara with the mission of restoring Puerto Rico's sustainable agriculture.  

One local herbalist in Philadelphia, April Pedrick, also made it her mission to start a small organized effort to send seeds, tools and medicine to Puerto Rico, to the place she too calls home, with her mother, on the southwest side of the island in Guanica.  April, with local Philadelphia friends and permaculture partners in Florida, started the Land+Heart Project.  She has been directing volunteers to Tara's farm bus while also developing a vision to connect with local farmers to restore their crops through permaculture, renewable energy and water filtration systems and eventually bringing youth volunteers from Philadelphia through Teens Inc, a service learning and youth development organization, to teach youth about the skills of farming and the importance of fair trade cooperatives.  Please help support the efforts in any way you can. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cozy Winter Reading

Laddy Lau

Happy Winter Solstice! During this time of year, I like to peruse my local library for a variety of gardening and cookbooks.  I often pickup more than my arms can hold but nothing makes me more excited than diving into a great book!

Lately, I picked up Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy.  This selection makes the case for the benefits and need to protect and enhance native vegetation.  Tallamy curates examples and published research on how native vegetation has an evolutionary relationship to insects and other bugs as these creatures are vital to our food web.  A well known example is the relationship of monarchs and milkweed, as captured in last week's blog post.  Bringing Nature Home will inspire you to reevaluate your lawn and exotic plants for the better and give you guidance to implement easy ways to promote sustainability in your own backyard.

My next read was A Wilder Life by Celestine Maddy.  It is a lovely book that takes you on a seasonal journey to explore nature with wanderlust. Each section pours into the holistic balance of human life with the natural environment.  From seasonal growing to inspired cooking to beauty products, I continuously found myself delighted with surprising ways to make homemade perfume, discover the best places to hike and how to travel by moon and stars.  If you are looking for unique yet simple ways to rediscover your natural environment, A Wilder Life is for you!

Taking the natural environment and turning my attention indoors, I landed on Feng Shui In A Weekend by Simon Brown.  Just as it is important to balance our existence with nature outdoors, I feel that it is essential to have a sense of peace inside the space we spend most of our time.  The great thing about this book is that you can go head first into implementing practical ways to balance the energy in your home but if you want to really get the details of this ancient practice, there is comprehensive information available in the latter portion of the book.  Depending on the spatial position of your home and more specifically rooms, you can evaluate areas of your home that may have blocked or conflicting energy that can influence how you feel.  This book may help you to resolve issues with easy steps such as adding a water feature, rearranging furniture, including certain colors throughout your home or adding plants.  Certainly it will take more than a weekend to truly understand the principles of feng shui but I plan to take a few steps to begin making my home more enjoyable.  Feng Shui In A Weekend is an easy read and is great for beginners with the right amount of detail.

This is the just the beginning of my winter reading.  What books are you reading to get you through this winter?  Share in the comments below.  Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Monarch and the Milkweed

Kalie Wertz

Monarch Butterflies nesting in Pismo Beach, California

Image from the

Growing up on California’s Central Coast, I was surrounded by Monarch Butterflies. There was a monarch resting habitat, inconspicuous along the highway, and my family would stop there every year to gaze among the pale eucalyptus trees for the familiar bright orange.

After moving to Pennsylvania, I thought my visiting days with monarchs were over, until I learned that Monarchs exist both east and west of the Rocky Mountains. As one of the recognizable species, it is not difficult to identify the Danaus plexippus, as it is not often confused.
Monarch Sanctuary in Pismo Beach, California
Image from TripAdviso
Additionally, I was not aware that, depending on which side of the mountain range they are on, they will migrate to a different part of the world. The Monarchs I had been seeing in my childhood had been making a journey from the Canadian border, down the Pacific Coast to stay the winter in California, between Eureka and San Diego - an impressive couple hundred of miles. They harbor in the Eucalyptus found everywhere on the Central Coast, as well as Pine and Cypress found in more Northern California areas. They were on the hunt for tall trees where they can roost with the most wind protection, but with enough sunlight let in to warm their bodies. Monarchs also are in need of spaces with enough moisture for hydration, and prefer areas that are foggy and humid, and the Central Coast is known for their mild climates and particularly chilly foggy mornings.

However, the Monarchs on the east of the Rockies are actually a larger population than those on the west. They spend their time in southeastern Canada and northeastern United States before making a several thousand mile journey to a very specific overwintering site in Mexico. The Michoacan State in Mexico hosts fir trees that provide the preferred climate for the Monarchs during the winter. Because this journey is so long, it often takes several generations to complete the full loop from North to South and back again.

What I don’t remember seeing growing up is milkweed. We were taught in class that milkweed was the Monarch’s food of choice, but we were never taught how or where to plant it and make sure it was abundant. This has cost the Monarch, who relies almost entirely on the plant for food and reproductive space. Monarchs lay eggs at the end of their life, and having milkweed abundant when they are ready to do so it vital to their ability to reproduce. Additionally, milkweed is not only used by Monarchs, but many other butterflies, bees, and pollinators.

Milkweed, or Asclepias L., need plenty of light but are otherwise easy to grow between other plants. With colorful flowers, they are typically an annual within the Northeast region, with seeds that can be replanted in the spring for summer blooms. They can be propagated from either seeds or cuttings, started outdoors or indoors. If started indoors, make sure they stay warm and get plenty of light, either with a grow light or natural sunshine, and wait 4 to 8 weeks to transplant them, at a time after the frost has passed.

Monarchs on Milkweed
Image from
Monarch Butterflies certainly need spaces where they can migrate to and from, as the milkweed they use for food along the way is incredibly important. If you’d like to learn more about planting milkweed to support this important pollinator, check out Penn State's Gardening for Butterflies.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

4 Easy Steps for Homegrown Garlic

Shannon Pacilli

We use a lot of garlic in my house. In fact, we use it in almost everything!  It’s ALWAYS on my shopping list.  The difficulty with having this garlic addiction is:

  1. organic garlic can be expensive 
  2. you can't always find garlic when you need it at the supermarket or farmer's market and
  3. sometimes what you can find, doesn't look so great.  
For those reasons, this motivated me to grow my own. Below, you will see the step-by-step process to grow your own organic garlic.

The goal to growing garlic in moderate climates like Philadelphia, is to get enough top growth in fall, so the garlic has a good start in the spring, but not TOO much tender growth before winter.  Garlic will survive if it gets frozen back to the ground once. If it happens a second time, it decreases the yield.  

1.  First, choose your largest cloves.  Lay them out at your planting site, approximately 4-6 inches apart.

2. Plant cloves about 2 inches deep.  Pointy side up!  And here's a pro tip, use your thumb, which is roughly 2 inches long, to create the space for your garlic cloves. 

3.  Cover with 2-4 inches of mulch, (i.e. hay, straw, shredded leaves) and water accordingly.

4.  Harvest in mid-summer (late June-July) when leaves turn yellow/brown by driving a digging fork straight down to loosen soil around garlic and lift out.  Avoid damage to the bulb.
Things to consider:
  • Site Selection 
    • Garlic prefers full sun
    • pH of 6.5 to 7
    • fertile and well drained soil
  • Type
    • Hardnecks  tolerate a deeper freeze.  They produce garlic scapes (flower stalks) that should be harvested (and eaten) before they flower. These varieties are spicier and produce bigger bulbs that are easier to peel
    • Hardneck garlic “”

    • Softnecks are milder and produce more cloves per bulb.  They store longer and are the ones that can be braided.
    • Softneck Garlic “ Schmied” 
  • Irrigation
    • You will need to apply at least 1 inch of water per week during dry periods through mid-June.
    • Reduce irrigation after mid-June to encourage clove maturation and to discourage bulb diseases.
  • Curing
    • Garlic can be cleaned and eaten as “spring” garlic as soon as it’s harvested.
    • The rest can be cured in a dark spot that is cool and dry, either braided and hung or laid flat, for about 4 weeks until a papery wrapper forms.

      " Yu"

    • It helps to harvest your garlic when it has 4-6 leaves that are still green, to get a good wrapper layer.
  • Inter-planting
    • Garlic can be grown where you will plant your warm weather crops (e.g. tomato, eggplant and peppers) for the next year.  Just inter-plant those sun-loving veggies in late spring and the garlic will be ready for harvest before the warm weather crops grow big enough to shade them out.
  • Seed Saving
    • After your harvest, remember to set aside your biggest and best bulbs for next year’s “seed” stock. 
    • These bulbs have acclimated and are now uniquely suited to the conditions of your garden.

The next thing to do is use your organic and freshly grown garlic in some great recipes! Here are few suggestions below:

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Yield: 1 cup

3/4 cup - extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup - balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons - mustard, brown or Dijon
3 cloves - garlic, minced
1/2-3/4 teaspoon - salt

Combine all ingredients in a clean jar and shake vigorously.

And if you REALLY like garlic, try:

Roasted Garlic Dressing
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups

4 heads - garlic
3/4 cup - extra virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle
1/4 cup - apple cider vinegar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons - mustard, brown or Dijon
3/4-1 teaspoon - salt

Cut off the top 1/4 inch of the garlic heads.  Drizzle with olive oil and roast in a covered pan for an hour or until very soft when pierced with a knife.  Add garlic to the food processor by squeezing the root side to remove the cooked cloves from the wrapper.  Add vinegar, mustard, salt and blend well.  With the food processor running, add oil until just combined.  Don't over blend.

Try this variation if you want MAXIMUM garlic flavor, to beat a cold or to drive away a vampire.  Add 1-3 cloves of raw garlic, along with the roasted garlic, when blending.  Enjoy!