“Roy Skeen is a 32-year-old farmer with a degree in history from Yale University. When he graduated in 2004, he moved to New York to work in investment banking, but he found the work unfulfilling.
After a trip to the Caribbean, he discovered his true calling: farming.
‘It exposed me to culture that grows food and lives in one place,’ he told CNN. ‘It was pretty simple, but it was nice and I liked it.’
Skeen moved to his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and now runs his own urban farm and sells produce at the local farmer’s market. He says the work is hard but satisfying.”
I have been in the botanical trades for over 30 years. The horticulture trade is quite worried about where the new, young gardeners are going to come from. They didn’t garden like their parents, and seemed to show no sign of interest in the garden. Many, many nurseries have closed due to the lack of a younger generation of gardeners taking over from the aging baby boomers.
That all changed a couple of years ago, and has really hit it’s stride this year. The number of younger people, especially young families, that come into the nursery has increased from years past. It’s all about growing food, which leaves the ornamental side of the trade still hurting, but we take our pleasures where we can.
I am not sure where all this interest will take us. For now it’s a pleasure to be dealing with a whole new group of interested people. They really want to make it work, and are just discovering how hard, but rewarding it can be to grow food. That’s an important part of the movement, putting people back in touch with how much work is involved from farm to table. As far as making a small farm profitable, that’s a whole different set of challenges. Still, it’s nice to see so many young people heading back to the garden.
Mother Earth News
The carob tree is a landscape tree here in California, but in the Mediterranean region it grown as a food crop. Carob is mildly sweet and is used in powdered, chip, or syrup form as an ingredient in cakes and cookies, and in chocolate substitute. Since chocolate contains theobromine, which is poisonous to some mammals, and carob does not, it is used to make chocolate-flavored treats for dogs. The island of Malta has a liqueur made from carob, Zeppi’s Harruba. I would love to try this someday.
The carob tree was known in Antiquity and was introduced very early in Greece and is possible indigenous to Crete. During St.John the Baptist’s sojourn in the desert he fed himself on the nourishing pods of the carob, along with locusts, and honey.
Ceratonia siliqua’s common name, Carob, alludes to the Greek word “kerátion” literally meaning, a small horn. This is the shape of the carob pod which holds inside the carob seed, used as food. It’s this seed that shares it’s history with the weight used to measure gems, carat.
The seeds are remarkably uniform in both size and weight, varying within very definite limits. Ceratonia siliqua, the scientific name of the carob tree, derives from the Greek kerátion, “fruit of the carob” (from keras “horn”), and Latin siliqua “pod, carob.” The term “carat”, the unit by which precious metal and stone weight is measured, is also derived from the Greek word keráti?n, alluding to an ancient practice of weighing gold and gemstones against the seeds of the carob tree by people in the Middle East. The system was eventually standardized, and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams.
In late Roman times, the pure gold coin known as the solidus weighed 24 carat seeds (about 4.5 grams). As a result, the carat also became a measure of purity for gold. Thus 24-carat gold means 100% pure, 12-carat gold means the alloy contains 50% gold.
Found in Namibian desert of Africa, Welwitschia is considered a “living fossil”. It has been around for over 200 million years and while all of the other plants from that time have slowly vanished, it has managed to survive in the empty desert of The Namib. The one pictured is estimated to be over 2000 years old.
The Namib is almost completely uninhabited by humans, except for several small settlements and indigenous pastoral groups. The average annual rainfall is less than 10 mm (0.39 in) of rain. The plant lives by sending a tap root deep underground, and collecting dew formed during the early mornings.
As they are located in very inhospitable regions of Nambia and Angola, they are not a threatened genus at this time. Plants in Angola are even better protected than those in Namibia, because of the relatively high concentration of landmines in Angola, which keep collectors away.
According to Science Magazine, “the woody vine Boquila trifoliolata… transforms its leaves to copy a variety of host trees. Native to Chile and Argentina, B. trifoliolata is the first plant shown to imitate several hosts. It is a rare quality—known as a mimetic polymorphism—that was previously observed only in butterflies.”
There are plants that mimic host species. Some mistletoe species in Australia, are able to mimic the host, but that’s just one species they can mimic. The Boquila can mimic several species. “When the vine climbs onto a tree’s branches, its versatile leaves (inset) can change their size, shape, color, orientation, and even the vein patterns to match the surrounding foliage (middle panel; the red arrow points to the vine, while the blue arrow indicates the host plant). If the vine crosses over to a second tree, it changes, even if the new host leaves are 10 times bigger with a contrasting shape (right panel). The deceit serves as a defense against plant-eating herbivores like weevils and leaf beetles, according the researchers. “
On this first day of spring let’s enjoy the changing season. Here in northern California the sun is shining and hope springs eternal. At the nursery we are selling the cool season vegetable starts, flowers, seed starting trays, and lot’s of seed. The number one question this year from our customers is, are your seed free of GMO? Yes they are. I imagine most folks truly don’t understand GMO’s, but the term and “idea” certainly has caught their interest.
We are in drought here in California, and likely won’t see too much relief rain wise in the near future. Our rainy season is fast coming to a close, and after a few years of drier than expected weather, we will likely see more water restrictions. We are currently in a “Stage 2” water alert. The local water authorities are asking us to cut back 30% on our water usage. It’s doable, and an opportunity for us to teach and guide our customers.
I look forward to being a place where people can come to learn more about how to feed their families, and bring beauty into their lives. While the ornamental side of the business has shrunk over the last few years, the edible side had grown exponentially. We seem to be doing better than in years past, and the customer is engaged in their garden like never before.
So it’s it a positive note that stands above the rest this first day of spring. While there will be challenges going forward, we are entering a new age in horticulture. While not all is shinny and bright in the trades, I have never been happier, or more proud to be a nurseryman. Our goal here is to stay small as possible, while making the largest impact in our world. We can change our world more easily, one customer at a time.
Cheers to spring!
“One pill makes you larger, And one pill makes you small, And the ones that mother gives you, Don’t do anything at all, Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall. And if you go chasing rabbits, And you know you’re going to fall, Tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar, Has given you the call, Call Alice, when she was just small.” – Grace Slick, The Great Society.
Seems Alice’s adventures with proportion we’re the results of ingesting Amanita muscaria, yesterdays featured fungus for Google + “Shoorm Staurday”. It is likely one of the most well known yet unrecognized fungus in the world. Mainly noted for being hallucinogenic, a primary result of ingesting this fungus is in distorting the size of perceived objects. This observation is thought to have formed the basis of the effects of eating the mushroom in the 1865 popular story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The mushroom is commonly known as “fly agaric” or “fly amanita” and can be found in conifer and pine forests in North America, The Mediterranean and Central and South America. Amanita muscaria cannot be commercially cultivated, due to its mycorrhizal relationship with the roots of pine trees. While it is considered poisonous there are few cases of death associated with ingesting it, and in many regions it is eaten as a food in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America after being parboiled (this process removes the mushroom’s psychoactive substances).
The history of the mushroom being used as an hallucinogenic be traced back to 1700–1100 BC and and The Rig Veda texts of India where is may have been the active ingredient in Soma. Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Allegro has proposed that early Christianity sprang form cultic use of the fungus in Second Temple Judaism.
Franco Fabbro, author of “Mushrooms and Snails in Religious Rituals of Early Christians at Aquileia” documents the depiction of Amanita muscaria, in the art of the Christian Basilica of Aquileia in northern Italy. The section of the mosaic floor which displays these mushrooms is found in the oratory of the northern hall, which is the oldest part of the basilica, dating to before 330 AD. An epigraph in the floor itself claims that the oratory was used for religious ceremonies.
Another bowl containing snails, probably of the variety Helix cincta. a favored edible species, is found adjacent to the mushrooms. Fabbro hypothesizes that the snails and mushrooms were eaten together. It is possible, however, that snails were allowed to feed on the mushrooms, and then the snails were consumed. This preparation may have effectively reduced or eliminated the undesirable physiological effects of consuming the mushrooms directly. This is more likely than it might sound initially; not only were the Romans well known for snail breeding, but they recognized that what the snails fed upon had a determining effect upon their flavor.
From the mist of time to the present day Amanita muscari has played an important role in man’s development. Surprisingly, or not the Nintendo video game “Super Mario” features the mushroom. “Power-up”, and Super Mario might say.
Saw this tweet the other day. “Dear Toronto bookstores: Please stop closing.” My reply, “Dear readers in Toronto, and everywhere, buy more books from bookstores BEFORE they go out of business.”
It’s that simple. If you want to preserve your favorite indie bookstore, garden shop, or coffee shop, you’ve got to quit speaking up after the fact. There we’re numerous tweets following the original plea, most all wishing these bookstores would stop closing. One person even said, “In Germany, it is illegal to sell books at a discount. Our govt has chosen not to intervene”. There you have it, it’s the governments fault.
Quit blaming the government, Wal-mart, or Amazon. The solution is simple. Go to your local bookstore, and buy some books. Repeat. Tweet, Facebook, and Google + about that awesome store BEFORE it closes. Then buy some more books. Stop on the way to the bookstore and buy an espresso at the coffee shop. Pick up some flower or vegetable seeds at the garden shop afterwards. Make it a habit.
This photo of community gardening in Switzerland was taken by Yann Athus-Bertrand. It is of Allotments in the Avanchets estate, Geneva, Suisse (46°12’N, 6°09’E). What a marvelous display of community gardening. This ability to share across borders and languages will continue to shape and change horticulture.
At times we can find ourselves stuck in an echo chamber based around our shared trade. We talk to, and hear from others in the trade. We use the various social media platforms to “sell” stuff, rather than to learn and enjoy. I believe conversation, and the sharing of ideas is the new advertising. It’s not advertising in the traditional sense, which is good, since the traditional way of promoting products and services is dying.
Rather than advertising the new way is to be “out there” enjoying and sharing stuff we love. Have a interest in history? Join some history groups on Google +, or Facebook. Want to broaden your interests from horticulture to the larger world of science? There are people doing stuff there that will blow your mind. Interestingly, it’s outside our traditional area of expertise that many great ideas can be found that ultimately will benefit us. Do it without the intent to build your business, or brand. People are developing an aversion to the “sales pitch” anyway. Conversations and sharing are the way forward for business.
With the New Year come new intentions. The nursery trade is so intertwined with Mother Nature that the best of intentions can sometime be derailed due to changes in nature’s mood. Does our happiness depend on reaching goals? What happens when our intentions are not meet? Often, if we don’t meet our intentions or desires we find ourselves unhappy. If we are a small business the owners or managers mood can affect how the business performs.
Happiness and peace with oneself is a state of being, and should not be dependent on outcomes. If we don’t have “X” amount of money in the bank, or a certain amount of sales by a certain date, a sense of being overwhelmed can cloud what should be a time of rest and relaxation. We need to prepare our minds, bodies, and souls for the upcoming spring season.
While having goals is part of having a business, it’s important to realize that happiness is available for us right here, right now. Rather than worrying about when the “big spenders” will start coming in again, perhaps we should just focus on and enjoy the lady interested in starting some seed for the first time. How about that customer who doesn’t always spend a lot, but does spend it with you? How are things going with them? Maybe write that next Facebook post with the intention of not necessarily selling something. Maybe just sharing something we take for granted, but the customer does not?
Dealing with the business aspect of the trade can be quite taxing at times. Instead let’s focus on the sense of wonder and awe we felt when we first started in this trade. Remember, having good intentions and desires is fine, but real happiness is available for us right here, right now. Once we get into that frame of mind everything else should take care of itself.
The State of California has just ended its driest year on record. Now we will have to make it all up in the next three months. It’s happened before, and in some years way too much, with flooding and landslides included. You have to learn to go with the flow here, so to speak. In the garden businesses you have to plan for all possibilities. I am planning on drought this year, with the hope of enough rain to keep water restrictions to a minimum.
I have always thought we should garden in the style of the early Spanish Missions. These early settlers had to survive with water that fell in and around the mission during the rainy season, January through March. The rest of the year is dry with no rainfall. Every plant in the missions had a reason for being, not just ornamental.
Here is a video done by the late Huell Howser for his show “California Gold”. I sure do miss Huell, and his childlike wonder at all things California. In the video he visits La Purisima Mission, located near Lompoc, California. The video focuses on the gardens inside the mission. The first thing you notice is all the plants had uses beyond the ornamental. Some were native to the area, while many we’re from Mediterranean areas of Europe. Food, oils, soap’s, herbs, wine, medicinal as well as psychedelic uses where all included in the garden. It seems as if it would fit in perfectly in today’s modern California.
With water becoming less reliable every year it would be wise to re-look at some of these old school ways of gardening. What can we learn about how these early settlers and natives managed to survive and thrive using what they grew? I believe the mission style of gardening, with an eye towards modern technology and knowledge, is the way forward in this state of extremes. Enjoy the video on this New Years Day, and we’ll revisit some of the ideas we can use today in future posts.