Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life – Book Review

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver, 2007
Pages: 384, ISBN: 9780060852559

Reviewed by Jeff Ross, Master Gardener, Maricopa County, AZ – 2007



“Our highest shopping goal was to get our food from so close to home, we’d know the person who grew it. Often that turned out to be ourselves as we learned to produce what we needed, starting with dirt, seeds, and enough knowledge to muddle through. Or starting with baby animals, and enough sense to refrain from naming them.” — Barbara Kingsolver

Master Gardeners have a diverse set of interests and concerns some of which may be directly connected to gardening. I have always had a respect for nature and science and how they relate to the various methods involved with successful gardening, i.e. composting, vermiculture, pest management, etc.

It was because of these attractions that I read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver first got my attention because she lived in Tucson and did her fair share of desert gardening. This book, however discusses her journey from the desert southwest to “a place that could feed us”; Virginia. Not only did she and her family change their geographic location, they took this opportunity to revise their lifestyle to adapt their lives to creating as small an environmental footprint as possible as a one-year experiment which could be extended.

She readily admits that what she and her family embarked upon is not practical for some and may be difficult for others. The book, however, is an attempt to encourage most of us to think about how we obtain our food and water and whether we can do so in a way that is better for our health and the health of our planet.

Barbara Kingsolver does not attempt to force this lifestyle on the reader. Throughout the book she simply says this is what I am doing and you can do it too. There is no preaching, just an explanation of her methodology and environmental philosophy. The author makes note of the trade-offs. Naturally some of the adjustments will not work in other geographic areas or meld well with certain lifestyles. The main takeaway is that most of us can probably do better and work smarter to help ourselves and our environs.

The reader follows along as Kingsolver and her family raise their plants for both immediate consumption and preserving for out-of-season use. The sections related to raising animals for family meals may prove a bit more difficult for some to appreciate. Even turkeys are cute when they are chicks, but this does not shield them being served on a dinner platter in Kingsolver’s household once they become adults.

This book does not portray the family’s adventure as a panacea and we suffer along with Kingsolver and her family as they deal with a variety of pests, blights and animal infertility. Through it all she exhibits her witty take on the entire situation as only she can do. Injecting humor into serious topics proves to be one of her fortes and makes the book immensely enjoyable even as she refers to the slaughtering of animals using the euphemism of “harvesting.”

Not only do we read the thoughts of Barbara Kingsolver herself, but also those of her husband Steven Hopp and her daughter Camille. Camille focuses on the nutrition aspects of the family’s locavore inclination and contributes recipes for us to consider. Steven offers a deeper dive into the science and business-related aspects of their new lifestyle and how it contributes to their goals.

One of the last chapters of the book discusses her ordeal with trying to raise turkeys who are generally artificially inseminated for this process, but she is determined to encourage her charges to do it the old fashioned way. We follow her trials and tribulations thorough this ordeal. It is perhaps the most poignant and satisfactory section of the book.

To make the book and subsequent message more enriching for readers, the author(s) have created a website to add to and enhance their story in hopes of helping all readers to consider some of their suggested lifestyles modifications.

NOTE – The website, http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/, is divided into several sections: The Book (a few brief excerpts), Farm Tour (seasonal happenings), Recipes (downloadable format), Harvest Table Restaurant and more.

Desert Sunflower Roulette

Gardening is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work. Based on my experience the work component can be more or less difficult depending upon the garden’s location. In the desert, there seems to be an ongoing struggle during the warmest months.

There are roadside sunflowers along the trails and highways of Sonoran Desert that seem to tolerate the harsh growing conditions. After seeing this desert-adjusted specimen growing in the Phoenix area, I decided to try to grow the more showy, standard sunflowers in our cultivated garden.

My main concern was the sun’s intensity. Heat is one thing, but the searing intensity of the sun’s rays is another. There can be a more than one hundred days with temperatures of one hundred degrees or more. The one factor in my favor is that our gardens receive irrigation and drought will not be a factor for this experiment.

With this idea in mind, I visited one of our local stores and purchased a package of mixed sunflower seeds. I wanted a selection that would perhaps offer up at least one variety that is less prone to fail under our extreme conditions.



The package indicates that the plants will bloom from summer to fall, but I did not anticipate that long a blooming season in the desert ecosystem.

This is our second year growing these sunflowers. Each spring we pour a selection into a container and make our choice of five random seeds. Once they become viable seedlings, we select the strongest three for final planting.



This year we had a false start because a large squirrel entered our courtyard and devoured our first group of sunflower seedlings. You can read about that HERE.

Bushy-tailed squirrels are not the only culprits in an area where nutrients and water are scarce. Birds, lizards and a variety of rodents prowl the premises looking for greenery to eat. Packrats are especially problematic because of their size and climbing ability.



Did I mention rabbits? There is an abundance of rabbits in our neighborhood and they constantly probe our gardens for weaknesses to exploit.



The situation is not insurmountable, but vigilance is the key. Every day I make the rounds of our gardens to check for damage or potential breeches in our “bulwarks.”

Last year we had two sunflowers from our chosen group that stood out.



This multi-headed beauty enhanced our front courtyard for a number of weeks.



Another seed produced a plant that yielded a single and rather unremarkable flower which was disappointing. Our last chosen seed graced our rear patio with an orange-hued flare. While it did not flower as long as the courtyard specimen, it did give us several nice blooms.



After the destruction of our initial plantings by the squirrel this year, I started additional sunflower seedlings. I was concerned that we missed the best growing window with moderate temperatures, but we had little to lose.

After careful cultivation and coddling, we were able to appreciate the fruits of our labor.



As we were about to leave for a one week, out-of town visit, we watched this one bud get larger and larger and hoped that it would bloom prior to our departure. Sure enough, the day before we left, the flower opened. The plant is a bit taller than I am in the picture above and considering that it is in a pot, I estimate it was 6’3″ tall; give or take.



The close up view (above) shows that there were more flowers to come and we hoped they would survive our time away. Upon our return a week later, we were greeted with this…



This morning, I was making the rounds in our front garden where we have two other sunflower specimens progressing toward their blooming stage and I noticed that there was some destruction on one of them.



We have cutter bees in our town and there is little gardeners can do to prevent their damage. They cut circular patterns in the leaves, but they are relatively small circles or semi-circular holes. I knew this was not their work.

Then I noticed these black dots on some lower leaves



and around some of the large buds heads.



This was a sure sign of a caterpillar, i.e. a larva of a butterfly or moth. Sure enough, I hunted it down and sent it packing! The plant will do fine as long as I continue to monitor the situation and prevent other significant damage. The caterpillar did not eat any of the buds, practically destroyed the one leaf pictured above, but did little else to the plant.

It was not all dismay and gloom with the courtyard sunflowers as this beauty opened this morning.



It was a deep, burnt orange color; nearly red. If it produces well, I might try to collect some seeds from it for next year although it may be cross-pollinated and not true to the mother plant. It would most likely have strong color.



I don’t know if we will continue to grow the showier cultivars of the sunflower family, but it has been fun and fills our mornings with hope that we will be greeted with yet another marvelous flower.


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



A Pungent and Invasive Weed in the Desert

There is a pungent smell in the air this spring in our Sonoran garden and surrounding neighborhoods. It isn’t really a bad smell, but it cannot be described as a totally pleasant one either. When we first discovered this fragrance several weeks ago, we couldn’t figure out the source, but over the ensuing time period we discovered its origin.

You can see the culprit in the picture below…



and here it is again.



This yellow plant is called Globe chamomile (Oncosiphon piluliferum). While seeds can be bought for Globe chamomile, I am sure most gardeners consider it a weed.

Because of the frequent and substantial winter rains, these yellow weeds are pervasive throughout open areas in the Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona corridor.

You can see how thick it grows. It can be pulled out by the handful.





Globe chamomile is a South African native and it has found its way to various regions of the United States and other countries.

It has been in bloom for weeks, but the drier and warmer spring weather is now causing some die off. Notice the brownish stems (below). The flowers are still quite vibrant and fragrant, but they are definitely on the wane.



It has been blamed by many in the area for their severe outbreak of allergy symptoms. Melanie Dunlap, a Naturopathic practicioner, writes about here experience in this article titled Goddess of Allergies

You can read more about Globe chamomile HERE

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Gardening – Winter Garden in the Desert

When we transitioned from the northeast to the southwest, it was a dramatic change on a number of levels. We left many of our friends and relatives behind and there was a huge void in our lives because of this.

While most noticeable, friends and family were not our only loss. We also lost our gardens and plants that we relied on for our three seasons of flower-filled joy. There are a number of plants we grew easily in the Northeast (Hunterdon County, New Jersey) such as hostas, astilbes, hydrangeas, morning glories, dahlias, etc. that either struggle in the Sonoran Desert or just downright die.

We have learned, of course, that there are trade offs. We have come to love gazanias which grace us with their bouquet of striking colors throughout the year and we are likewise able to grow geraniums in the spring through early summer and then again from late fall through the winter and spring if we avoid a hard freeze.

Here are some of our gazanias growing strong in January when football on television shows snowstorms in the northeast.





It is a bit unusual to have the alyssum (above) so full and lush this time of year, but we nursed them along. It is so delightful to experience that honey-like smell during a winter’s afternoon.

We have had a couple of light frosts which leave our gardens looking funky when festooned with frost cloths. These are only temporary for a day or two and then they are removed and kept at the ready should we need them again. We haven’t had a significant frost in quite a few years. Last year there were no frost days in our particular area, but we stood ready to take action if necessary!



Our mid-fall planting of geraniums on either side of our front door are still doing well.



In a previous photo, we took a peek at the alyssum currently in bloom, but what wasn’t obvious was their potted companions; pink geraniums.



They really make a great team especially during those chilly winter days when we are glad to be reminded of the inevitable spring.



Here is wider view of the “companions” putting on quite a performance.



It isn’t always fun having these delicate plants “out-of-season.” In the middle of the covered array below are the same plants pictured above during one of our light frost days.



Another geranium giving us significant winter color is a pink trailer situated between two very large pots of twisted myrtle creating a floral exclamation point.



Whenever we pine for our morning glories and dahlias under the blazing 110 degree heat we recall these winter scenes and we are grateful and happy!

NOTE – Fresh plantings of gazanias and alyssum will continue to do fairly well through the summer with ample water and some shade. The geraniums struggle through the heat and are often treated as annuals.



If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability.

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Gardening – My Favorite Homemade Tool

Gardening can be a very personal endeavor. There are some who love the joy and satisfaction of growing vegetables in our desert environment. There are others who focus on ornamentals and the beauty of flowering cacti. Most gardeners not only focus on particular plants, but over the years, they collect a bevy of favorite gardening tools.

This is one of my favorite gardening tools and time savers.



Wherever I have gardened, one of the first things I have done was build a dirt sifter. I use it many times each season. Perhaps my workflow differs from yours so let me explain…

Our agave collection, for example, gifts us with pups and after they are potted up and cared for a while, they grow their own set of “offspring” and need to be separated and shared.



The rootball is often dense and needs to be dismantled.



We first separate as many of the viable plants and roots as possible for replanting and/or sharing.



The next step is to place the densest part of the root ball on top of the sifter, break it up with a trowel and then rub it back and forth so the soil is released in to a garden cart or cement mixing bin (which we use to mix soil).





In the end we are left with a yield of reusable soil mix. The old roots and debris are discarded. More about the soil mix in a bit.



If the soil is wet or damp, it is placed on the side of our house where the afternoon sun warms and dries it.



Once the soil is dry, we place it in a large covered trash can to be used in our planting medium for new plants. Once again, if you speak to a dozen gardeners, you will probably get thirteen recipes for various plant mixes. This is a very individual preference, but since you ask, here is one I use for non-succulent plants.

Planting Mix
– A five gallon bucket is used as the basic unit –

  • 1/3 – old plant mix that has been sifted
  • 2/3 – new plant mix – I use the Natural & Organic Potting Soil purchased from Summer Winds Nurseries.
  • 2/3 – of a large coffee can of gravel 1/4″ +/- which I purchase in bulk from MDI (2815 E. RoseGarden LN, Phoenix , AZ 85050). This increases drainage and provides a small buffer against over watering. *Adjust as necessary
  • 1 – Large coffee can of used coffee grounds (when available).
  • Mix all the ingredients very well until it appears even in texture and color. Don’t stint on this step. I use a large cement mixing bin and a standard shovel or in the large garden cart.
  • For flowering plants I use a dose of super bloom fertilizer following the recommended amount on the container UNLESS experience has dictated otherwise. This is added after the plant is potted and just before watering-in.





Let’s talk about the sifter. We are not building a piece of furniture here so it doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. Good enough will be just fine for this project.

As you can see, the frame is made from simple 2 x 4’s. One will probably do, but decide how large you want it. Place the pieces of the frame on a flat surface and use L-brackets to fasten the sides.

NOTE – Our sifter is 35″ by 20″ after assembly and accounting for the width of the wood. The sifting surface is relatively smaller. Just decide how large you want it and purchase the appropriate amount of wood.



I then take one longer screw and screw it into each corner of the frame. Drill a pilot hole to assure alignment and to help keep the wood from splitting.



I purchased a roll of 1/2″ hardware cloth that we use for several different gardening tasks and cut it so there was an overlap around all of the sides of the frame. Be careful to trim off any pieces that stick out beyond the grid or you will be creating needles that will puncture gloves and fingers alike.



I then secured the hardware cloth using 3/4″ hot dipped, galvanized poultry net staples. Tap them in as far as they will go. It is OK if they stick out a bit as long as they don’t snag debris, gloves, etc. If you prefer, just hammer them flat so they don’t stick out as much.



Use a wire snip to cut the corners and fold them over similar to wrapping a present and secure the corners well with the staples mentioned above.



NOTE – In one iteration of building a sifter, I erroneously thought that if one layer of hardware cloth was good, two would be better so I assembled the frame using two layers of hardware cloth. That was a big mistake because debris was caught between the two layers. One layer is more than sufficient.



Of course, the sifter isn’t used only for breaking root balls, it is also great for sifting native soil and/or removing large rocks from a pile of dirt. It can even be turned upside down and used to protect seeds from birds or small rodents. Just be sure to place rocks on each corner so the rabbits and squirrels have less of a chance of moving the barrier.



NOTE – This procedure would be the same no matter where you garden. The only modification you would need to make would be in the planting mix and I am sure that you probably have your own favorite variation.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability.

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Garden Video: Live Capture of Critters in a Bottle Mousetrap

If you have followed JBRish.com for a while, you may have read one of my posts where I describe the difficulty we have with a variety of rodents (and other critters) in our desert garden.

I try to appreciate and respect all of nature and I don’t like to kill any animals if it can be avoided. I was intrigued by the EL GATO live-capture Bottle Mousetrap which may help with some of our smaller vermin.

Watch the video below and let me know what you think.

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Sunflowers in the Valley of the Sun – Part 1

There is no doubt about it, gardening in the Sonoran Desert during the summer is a challenge. It is similar to other areas of the country which have on season, mainly winter, that is not too hospitable to a wide assortment of plants that would be otherwise easy to grow in spring, summer and into the fall.

Unlike those areas where winter prevents almost all outside gardening, there are some plants and varieties that can tolerate our summers given the appropriate environment; and therein lies the rub!

As I travel the highways and byways of the desert regions of the southwest, I notice that there is one variety of wild sunflower that seems to survive the summer most years and even thrive when there are ample showers. Keeping that in mind, and not being able to nail down the exact variety (my bad), I decided to try a package of mixed sunflower seeds to see what it would yield in my desert garden. This was to be my gardening experiment for the summer of 2018.

Package of Sunflower Seeds

I always check the back of the package to see the “Packed for” date. Obviously the fresher the seeds, the better so I always make sure they are the current year’s seeds. I also like the fact that these seeds are organic and are not treated with chemicals. Our bees are struggling enough as it is.

Notice organic and sell-by date

An inexpensive turkey baster is used in this process to control the flow of water. It is good for delicate seedlings and at times when I need to wet a plant with a controlled, low flow of water.

Turkey baster for gentle watering

To keep everything corraled on the counter, I work inside a container lid. The lip of the lid keeps the water and other debris under control.

Coffee lid container for working

Of course we could plant the seeds directly in the ground, but I considered several factors:

  • We have numerous desert critters that would love to take a bite out of a luscious sprout.
  • There is no guarantee that every seed in a package will be viable.
  • I have limited time and space so I want to make sure any seed has the best start possible.

Considering the above, I decided to pre-sprout the seeds. Here are the three seeds I selected. [NOTE: One cannot tell from the seeds which sunflower will be “born” from any specific seed. This is a mix so it is a random choice.]

Three sunflower seeds-mixed varieties

My process for pre-sprouting the seeds is to wet a piece of paper towel to the point where it is uniformally wet, but not soaked.

Wet paper towel

Once the towel has been wet, the seeds are then placed at intervals on the sheet leaving ample space between, but not too much. I like to make a compact packet.

Seeds on wet towel

After the seeds have been carefully placed, the towel is folded over them so they are enveloped in the moist towel. This will be a good environment for sprouting.

Towel folded over seeds

The towel is folded into an envelope-type form to provide the best chance of staying moist.

Towel folded into envelope/packet

I always make a label just in case I want to keep track of sprouting times, time from sprout to flower, etc., but I didn’t use that information for tracking in this instance.

Sunflower seed label

Once this process is complete, probably less than thirty minutes, the seeds are placed inside a plastic bag, label and all and set aside. I check them every day to …

    – make sure the seeds remain uniformally damp, but not soaking

    – see if they have sprouted (because at that point further action is needed)

Packet in baggie with label

To be continued…

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Desert Broom – New Cultivar Discovered**

There is a desert plant in the Sonoran Desert that has the distinction of being one of the few native plants that is considered invasive. It can become a problem during the very hot, dry summers when fires are a real possibility.

Here is a picture of the native Desert Broom.

Desert Broom Plant

Picture courtesy of Sierra Vista Growers

On the way to a shopping mall recently, I noticed what may potentially be a new cultivar or sport of the native desert broom. It was just off to the side of the road. Can you find it in the picture below?

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport closeup

If you are having difficulty, here is a closeup!

Possible desert broom cultivar or sport

What do you think?

 

 

**This post is a tongue and cheek bit of humor related to desert gardening! (wink, wink)

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Sore Thumb, Green Thumb – Desert Bloom

Red blooming desert cactus at a distance

Can you see it?

Red blooming desert cactus at a distance

It stood out like a sore thumb; at least to me. The desert landscape doesn’t usually have a significant number of blooms this time of year with temperatures between 90-110 degrees. This particular cactus was given to me a couple of years ago as a broken piece from a much larger plant.

We hardened it off a bit and placed it in the landscape. Over the first year, I babied it a bit with extra water, but it only receives scant water now in its second full year.

Red blooming desert cactus portrait

Here is a close up

Closeup

The bees were taking advantage of the abundant pollen being made available.

Closeup with bees

I must say, they burrowed way down into the base of the flower and appeared to be “rolling around” in all their glory. We have to feel sorry for the bees nowadays.

I believe this is a torch cactus variety, but I do not have the exact botanical name. It might be a Trichocereus huascha (Echinopsis), but I will let you decide by checking the link.

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



JBRish reaches a milestone!

Admittedly JBRish is a very “small” website. The traffic has grown very slowly, but I do receive an average of 50 views a day. There are some days that far exceed that number and others that go down as low as the 30’s.


Early in the morning JBRish had 49999 views

It was exciting to see that JBRish.com was approaching the 50,000 view threshold and I caught the screen shot just in time!

This site is not monetized and is strictly a labor of love. The impetus for JBRish was my enjoyment of quotes, quips, photography, hiking and gardening.

Then one day I was trying to explain pickleball to a woman who was recovering from knee surgery. Pickleball does have some “unusual” rules and components and it was very difficult to give a complete description. The idea to include a pickleball page on my website was born. Not only do I use that page (and website) for general pickleball information, but it helps me to be a better USAPA pickleball ambassador.

I am happy to announce to JBRish readers that yesterday was a “red letter day” for us. We reached the 50,000 view benchmark. I know there are websites that have this many views every day or every few days, but this is a nice step for a personal blog like JBRish.


Arriving home from a variety of tasks, the 50,000 view threshold had been reached!

Arriving home from a variety of tasks, the 50,000 view threshold had been reached!

On the day I wrote about editing photographs taken with my Fuji X-T2 camera, the site received the most views, but I hope I can write another article soon that will top even that one. It will be hard, but it’s a worthy goal!

Thanks to all of JBRish readers, visitors, etc. I hope to continue to provide interesting information, quotes, quips, photography posts and of course, information about pickleball.


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 — JBRish.com