Tag Archives: Eliot Coleman

Misguided Environmentalism

The house smells like salsa from the batch of 21 pints that we canned last night, made with produce from our farm as well as my friend Esther’s (thank you, Esther!) It is such a good feeling to be able to grow and produce our food and feel the satisfaction from our hard work and perseverance. Unfortunately, due to misguided notions, the ability to live off the land is literally being denied to people. So I dedicate this, my 100th blog post, to Misguided Environmentalism.   In case you don’t think this is a real threat, see Dr. Mercola’s article about small farmers facing jail time…

There are several categories of errors that I’d like to describe. I have seen people fall for one of the other, and in rare cases, for all of them. If skimming, I recommend you go the section at the end called NIMBY.

Don’t Shoot Bambi – This is a popular statement we hear from people recently displaced from cities, especially by those who have cabins that they only visit half a dozen times a year. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not stereotyping all visitors from the city – I was once one of them. But, if you’ve had a superior attitude toward hunters, this shoe may fit.

In this county the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates there are approximately 50,000 deer. This means there are more deer than people. It also means that there are numerous automobile accidents, the results of which are devastating for the humans, deer and cars involved. But there are other issues. The deer population is now so large that the existing mast crop cannot always supply for it, creating years in which the deer are malnourished, leading to disease and death. The deer end up competing for corn at places where people bait deer (please don’t do this). Since the deer are concentrated in these areas, diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) are readily spread. The deer also spread the deer tick, the source of Lyme Disease.

Walk through the woods where deer are in abundance, and you’ll see what is called the browse line. This is the height to which deer can reach the lower branches of trees as well as the shrubs and plants below. In a heavily populated area, you’ll find that the undergrowth of a forest is missing, disrupting the cycle of the forest. Since they tend to eat their favorite plants and trees first, it diminishes the diversity in the forest.

We’ve had some record-breaking snow falls over the last decade, and when these occur, the deer are again hard-pressed to find the limited food. We have seen the deer suffering, slowly dying, as they move slowly downhill and eventually expire in the streams. We know this is a serious problem as we have met DNR agents doing inspections and assessing the extent of the problem.

There is also some arrogance in some of the people who have admonished others with the “don’t shoot Bambi” slogan. Many families we know support themselves with the venison that they look forward to each fall, and yet there are those who do not or will not understand that this is a staple, not a luxury.

In some jurisdictions, there are proposals to limit the deer populations by implanting birth control devices in them, such as slow release hormone implants. This is perhaps one of the most misguided “solutions.” We already have problems with municipal water supplies filled with estrogen hormones from women on birth control or hormone replacement, resulting in male fish with female parts. Is it intelligent to make this situation even worse?

The truth is that if the deer are not hunted within reasonable amounts, the deer suffer. It is logical to allow a family to put food on their tables and keep the deer populations in check.

Electric cars are good for the environment – We know people who have fallen for this one, especially in Washington, DC. They happily plug their cars in and make condescending remarks about our gas vehicle. I’d love for Voltz and Prius owners to see the additional power lines that were just recently erected in our otherwise idyllic valley due to the recent increase in electrical demand from the city dwellers. These ugly scars across the mountain are an eye sore that divided farms, placed hideous wires and gigantic towers in neighbors’ front yards, and forced the closing of the local trout pond. The towers cross thousands and thousands of acres reaching to power plants in West Virginia that are powered by COAL. Read MERCURY. In Moorefield you can see the plume of smoke from the power plant FIFTY MILES AWAY. Yep, these otherwise intelligent people think that running electric over thousands of acres and burning coal for electric is better than burning some gas. Here are real solutions. Keep your existing car in shape longer so that more cars don’t have to be produced, and finds ways to drive less, such as buying more than two days groceries at one time.  Howdoes this affect farmers?  Eminent domain gives utilities precedence over locals.

Hideous towers now in front yards, placed there in the last year due to increasing power demands from Washington, D.C.  These are only a few miles from Meduseld.

Hideous towers now in front yards, placed there in the last year due to increasing power demands from Washington, D.C. These are only a few miles from Meduseld.

Trees, trees and more trees – One of the biggest fallacies is that animals need forests and trees to survive. Please watch The DVD series Planet Earth narrated by David Attenborough.  He plainly states that grasslands and Savannas feed more animals and wildlife than any other eco-system.

There has recently been a reversal in scientists views towards grazing animals and the environment. Previously it was thought that grazing animals contributed to erosion and desertification. The scientists have come full circle and now advocate returning grazing animals, such a sheep, to areas in order to heal them.

Trees only feed deer and other animals one time a year, such as when the acorn crop comes in. The local DNR keeps food plots open on state hunting preserves, mowing them and planting them with grasses, sorghum, and alfalfa in order to provide deer with feed the rest of the year. We often have deer grazing in the pastures with our horses. To repeat – forests are not adequate to feed wildlife.

Sepp Holzer describes in his book Permaculture what ill-conceived ideas about forestry can do to the environment and animal populations. Austria is known for its splendid mountains covered with pine forests. Trouble is, these forests do not support wildlife and contain no diversity. The pines eventually deplete the soil of its nutrients. He points out that it is more expensive to remove these trees than to sell them, so these trees do not even contribute to a countries available natural resources.

In this area, when areas are timbered, they are frequently replanted with bull pines which the state has even given away for free. These pines are a nightmare to the environment though, depleting the soil of nutrients and acidifying it. There is no diversity of plants and trees to provide sustenance to wildlife. We recently had acres of these bull pines removed, and we replanted hundreds of diverse trees such as chestnut, oak, birch, and maple.

“Free-range” eggs at stores – Many people are not aware that “free range” on the store eggs does not mean the chicken is outside wading in the grass, scrounging for bugs in the earth. It means they get to move around in a building with an open door.  Mother Earth News had an article that demonstrated the nutritional superiority of truly free-ranged chicken eggs over their store counterparts.  This is why it is important to buy eggs locally where chickens get outside and get some vitamin D from sunshine.

Leather and fur products - “He said, but you’ve been wearing leather. I laughed and said, we’re the top of the food chain and yes, you’re the still final one, and I cringed.” Allanis Morrisette

Try yelling “shark” on a beach and see if we are actually the top of the food chain, but the lyrics above sum up the PETA and other environmentalists misguided notion that we should not wear leather and fur products. Of course, the only alternatives are synthetic materials made from petroleum products. The irony is that you generally see the Prius (no-gas) owner advocating wearing petroleum-based shoes and coats. Huh? How many animals died in Exxon Valdez, how many in the BP oil spill? By accounts, entire areas of the Gulf of Mexico are now devoid of life. Dead ocean – how scary is that? And this is a better alternative over leather shoes?

Another consideration is the new understanding about the health benefits of grounding. Turns out those rubber and plastic bottomed shoes don’t allow grounding, while leather shoes do. So leather shoes may actually be good for you.

I’ve written elsewhere about how long-lasting a real fur coat it, so I won’t cover that again. I have even recycled fur coats from thrift shops and recently a popular sewing magazine had an article demonstrating how to do it. But don’t wear that recycled coat into D.C. near a PETA rep., or you’ll be wearing spray paint (petroleum products, fluorocarbons, heavy metals, etc…). Logic does not stand where passion prevails.

NIMBY – (Not in My Backyard) Saving the best for last, I see this as the most pervasive and dangerous of the errors.

This usually manifests in the form of conservation easements or covenants. Someone purchases a piece of land, decides they no longer want to own it, but still want to control it for perpetuity. So they place it under a conservation easement or under covenants and have inflexible and narrow-minded views about other peoples’ lifestyles. Their mentality is “my way or the highway” and if they have a little money they are even worse, like a new aristocracy, willing to throw their financial status around to make sure that everyone else has to live  life by their standards or life philosophy.

Let’s break this down a bit. Looking first at the private property rights and ownership. If you own a business, but someone else has unlimited jurisdiction to tell you how to run that business, then in effect, you are not the owner, but merely the person with  legal responsibilities.

One local covenant we have become familiar with mandates that NO ANIMALS MAY BE RAISED ON THE PROPERTY and NO HUNTING. An eleven acre property with a no-animal restriction? The enforcer of this covenant sits on over 100 acres, yet they do not want to hear any animals – chickens, sheep goats, etc. This is agrarian, rural West Virginia and they don’t want their neighbors to have a dozen chickens? With such an extremist position, it prohibits having a dog, restocking the pond with fish – would this include a gold-fish bowl?

What this means is that a potential purchaser for the eleven acres would not be able to use their own property for reasonable, even non-commercial raising of their own eggs or meat. It means paying for eleven acres that someone else gets to control. It isn’t even American.

I wonder if the people who wrote these prohibitive covenants really considered the long-term outcome of their nonresilient stance. If people can’t grow food on their own properties, it forces them to use gas to go to stores, supporting CAFO operations, and the import of foods from long distances that have to be trucked in on increasingly congested highways. Is this really their goal? I doubt it.

And consider who they might be running off! We’d like to have nice neighbors. But people such as Sepp Holzer, or Eliot Colemen could never live nearby due to these restrictions. Holzer has built as close to paradise as you can get on earth – on the side of a mountain where he has multiple ponds, diverse plant life, and livestock. Holzer is world-famous for his permaculture, gives lessons across the globe, and provides consulting for restoring habitats on both hemispheres. YET HE WOULD NOT QUALIFY TO BE OUR NEIGHBOR UNDER THE COVENANTS.

Fortunately, our farm predates the local subdivisions and is unrestricted. But it seems like ever encroaching authoritarian people will now decide what kind of neighbors we can have, and will gradually change the fabric of this rural farm community. It’s disheartening that the dream of having a piece of the American Pie can be deprived to families because someone else has the gall to think they can tell other people how to live.


Permaculture Garden Progress and Projects

It’s so fun to see progress in the garden.  Last month, I posted a photograph of our permaculture garden. 

That was then:


This is now:

june permie garden


It is amazing to compare and see how the garden has taken off in the last month.  We have enjoyed its bounty already, having harvested lettuce, cilantro, broccoli, onions, basil, and a few fava beans.  I also harvested an abundance of rose petals for the rose petal jelly.  Very soon we will have green beans, tomatoes, Napa cabbage, cucumbers  and peppers. 

Here is the progress of the hoop houses.  In the first we have established herbs that we harvest throughout the four seasons: lemon thyme, rosemary, sage, mint and oregano.  In their protected enclosure these herbs are available even in the coldest months of the year.  In this hoop house we have pole beans growing on the rear right side and cucumbers on the rear left.  On the front right you can see a raised bed that has been planted with melons that have yet to emerge, and on the left, you can see one of our son’s small garden which provides quite a bit of food for such a small space.  We have already had turnips, chard and beets from his small patch.

herb hoop house


In both hoop houses I have planted assorted gladioli bulbs.  I love having cut flowers in the house and these are some of my favorites.  The down side is that in this 6b agricultural zone, they would have to be dug up each fall and replanted.  By growing them in the hoop houses, I don’t have to dig them up and still can enjoy their flowers.  The other nice thing is that while we had chickens in the hoop house for seven weeks, they did not touch or eat the gladioli.  You can see them standing in the rear of this otherwise empty hoop house.

empty hoop house

It is almost ready for planting.  The wheelbarrow on the right contains more compost to be worked into the soil.  The days have been so hot lately that doing manual labor in here was impossible.   The heat-loving plants such as cucumbers and melons have already been started in the conservatory, though, and are ready to move into their new home.

Finally, here is the row garden.  It is nearly 100 feet long and has three rows of black plastic with drip irrigation underneath.  Compost was incorporated into the soil as the rows were prepared, and you can see that the plants are thriving.  The row on the left was planted in only the last two weeks, while the rows on the right are just over a month old.  We have already harvested an assortment of summer squash and zucchini and have our eyes on some fine clusters of tomatoes that should be on the menu soon. 

june row garden


If you look at the posts surrounding the garden, you can just make out bird houses.  Some of these birdhouses are currently inhabited by Eastern Blue birds.  When we approach the garden, pairs of these little birds fly out of the garden where they have been searching for insects.  We can enjoy their help because we don’t use hazardous sprays on the plants.  It is an example of finding systems that complement instead of destroying.  As Eliot Coleman said:

     “We live in a world that has practiced violence for generations – violence to other creatures, violence to the planet, violence to ourselves.  Yet in our garden, where we nurtured a healthy soil-plant community, we see a model of a highly successful, non-violent system where we participate in gentle biological diplomacy rather than war.  The garden has more to teach us than just how to  grow food.”

While Eliot does not include animals in his statement above, in practice both he and we include them in our systems.  He describes his ducks that help weed his gardens.  Here at Meduseld, we include all our livestock, the pigs, sheep, etc., as well as chickens and birds in the cycles of farm production.

Permaculture Garden 2013

In an earlier blog article I discussed the differences between an organic garden and a permaculture garden.  Both have their applications and benefits.  Sepp Holzer of Austrian permaculture fame, has turned his mountain top into a food-bearing oasis using permaculture methods, while Eliot Coleman has restored his Maine soil and provides unknown bushels of foods using organic methods. (Both books are in Meduseld’s Amazon store.)

Last year, we tried using a full permaculture method for our primary garden and had several challenges.  The heavy layers of mulch created nitrogen excess and made our veggies delectable  to insects.  The helter-skelter method of sowing and planting made it hard for people to harvest if they did not have the day-to-day familiarity with the garden that I had.  In plain English, my husband could not find the bean plants easily – so I had to do most of the harvesting.  It also made it very hard to weed or to manually pick off insects due to the mini-chaos that ensued from helter-skelter planting.

Another negative that this method causes is that it makes crop rotation difficult if not actually impossible.  Considering the diversity of plants we had planted in close proximity to each other, this year it is impossible to ensure that I am not putting cabbages again in places they were last year, or tomatoes – well, you get the point.  As Mr. Coleman points out in his book Four-Season Harvest, crop rotation is a very important part of controlling insects naturally.

On the other hand, the key-hole beds and meandering paths made the garden far more picturesque and turned the garden into a destination instead of a chore.  As a result, we are considering placing seats in the garden so that we can spend more time there. 

So this year we are doing a modified perma-garden.  I am planting things in sections and sometimes alternating two types of plants,  such as onions and cabbages.  This year’s garden also has far more flowers.  At first my focus was on marigolds for their insect preventing properties, but then I expanded into other varieties of annuals such as petunias, alyssum, and ageratum.  Is it possible that these flowers, in addition to being eye candy, might not also have other benefits?  Do they draw beneficial insects or fix nutrients in the soil?  It’s hard to believe that they would have only one function. 

Although set back by a late May frost, the bulk of the plants survived and are starting to struggle past the cold spell.  I wanted to share the  progress.   In case you’re wondering, the rocks are not stonehenge; they are my hose guides :)



Spring Planting

While we still have snow on the ground from the late snow on March 6, today we are hauling out our seed box and starting flats of seeds for this year’s garden.

Even for an experienced gardener, each year contains a little trial and error.  Sometimes a lot, like last year.  I tried some new gardening methods from a book called Gaia’s Garden (no link, I don’t recommend it) and we ended up with some setbacks in the garden.  Maybe that’s an understatement.  The book recommended multiple layers of mulch, from straw, to compost, cardboard and finally shredded mulch.  So we can all agree that weeds were not a big problem.  However, all those layers of mulch breaking down made the conditions too acidic for the plants, and most had failure to thrive.  The plants that managed to grow became insect candy.  Now, since we’ve been growing organic for many years, we are used to a certain level of insects, but this is ridiculous!  One thing that grew well in this soil was turnips.  After figuring out that even the children will eat turnips if you use enough Romano cheese, it ended up being a beneficial crop. 

The book I mentioned advocated permaculture gardening, a method I strongly endorse in general.  This method encourages the cycles of plants and animals and humans in such a way that each benefits the other and creates a system where each sustains each other.  Monoculture – planting only one variety of plant in an area – is discouraged for requiring extra fertilizer and making it very easy for insects to take over a crop.  Permaculture encourages planting diverse things in an area so that insects have a more difficult time finding the type of plant it feasts on.  The diverse plants each have different nutrient fixing properties (like beans with nitrogen) and the plants can improve the soil instead of depleting it.  Permaculture also advocates the creation of microclimates that help each plant to thrive.  For example, placing a stone next to a delicate plant will give it additional heat at night and help it grow.  We are able to keep a large fig tree by planting it on the south side of the house – a microclimate.  I find that Sepp Holtzer has wonderful advice since he’s been planting this way since before it was called permaculture.

The areas of the garden where I ran out of all these mulching materials did much better and here are some of the gorgeous vegetables we were able to grow last year.  All pictures below are from our garden and not stock photos:)


This year the mulched areas have had time to break down further over the winter and I am hopeful that this will yield ideal growing conditions.  We’ll do some soil amendments recommended by Eliot Coleman in Four Season Harvest (a book I highly recommend!) and keep our fingers crossed for a good growing season.

So, with my husband next to me talking about scranlettin tipcklepenny corner (can anyone guess the source?) lets start planting!  The best seeds and value are from GourmetSeed.com.  We can’t say enough about this company, and this blog links to them on the right column as well as from our farm website.  They import most of their seeds from Europe which is a benefit since Europe has so consistently banned GMO crops.  That means we don’t have to worry about cross-pollination with undesirables.  The quantity of seeds that you receive for the money is outstanding.  I frequently make comparisons with the other seed catalogs we receive, that will usually have 50-100 cabbage seeds in a packet.  For the same amount of money, the Gourmet Seed packets will usually have about a thousand.  I could not make this up – start comparing some seed websites for your self!



First, the easy ones that can go directly in the garden right now.  As soon as the melting snow reveals the black earth, we can start planting the hardiest varieties such as fava beans and peas.  Fava beans are delicious, and are much better known in Europe than they are here.  They are a wonderful way to put early vegetables on the table.  The peas are hardy and a favorite with our family, and need to go in now.  If planted too late, the hot summers here will stunt them. 

We will start the seed trays in the conservatory, although we could do them in the hoop houses as well.  The temperature in the conservatory is much higher though, and the seeds will germinate more quickly.  The conservatory is also much more humid and the seeds are less likely to dry out.  You can start seeds successfully in a sunny window – morning sun is best.

Eliot Coleman has his own recipe for making soil blocks, but we do not use those.  We have an abundance of seed trays we were given, and we recycle those each year.   For this operation we do use the organic seed starter mix which seems to prevent damping off – the early death of a seedling from some unknown cause, most likely bacterial or fungal.   We will start with hardier varieties of plants, Brassica family plants like cabbages and broccoli, lettuces and spinach.  In a few weeks we will start the tender vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. 

Here are the seed trays that we have planted today – five trays with 72 cells each should make a good start for the garden in a few weeks.  The seeds used are radiccio, lettuces, chard, cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts and more. 



It was heavenly to plant the seeds only feet away from fragrant orange blossoms. 


orange blossoms


We also had another baby lamb and we are pleased to introduce Comet, in honor of Comet PanStarrs.  Here she is in her little black dress.  Her fleece is stunning and will make beautiful naturally colored yarn.

Comet - Freisian/Jacob Cross Ewe

Well, we need to go drain the well.  One of the neighbors is missing…

Hoop-house Gardening

As promised, we are starting with the first post about winter farm activities, and it is one of our personal favorites. 

We began hoop house, or tunnel gardening after I bought Eliot Coleman’s book, The Four Season Harvest, as a Christmas present for my spouse.  We started our first hoop house that January, a small structure, only 12×16 feet, made of PVC pipe and some boards.  By March we were enjoying salad, radishes, and cilantro.  That winter may have been a warmer winter than most, but we were sincerely impressed with our first attempt.

Inside first hoophouse.  First year.  This also gives a good look at the PVC bracing for do-it-yourselfers who want to make one for yourselves.

Inside first hoophouse. First year. This also gives a good look at the PVC bracing for do-it-yourselfers who want to make one for yourselves.

That little structure is now gone and has been replaced by two sturdier versions made of bent fencing and a wood “foundation.”  Both are set directly on the ground and we plant directly in the soil.  We have one layer of agricultural plastic on one and two layers on the other.  Each layer is supposed to give us approximately one more agricultural growth zone, but we find that the extra layer actually reduces the amount of sunlight, so you don’t actually get two full zones.  Meduseld is in a 6b agricultural zone, and we are not getting to 8b with the extra layer.  We find that the plants in the one layer house seem to do better, and when the weather warms, we will reduce the other to one layer as well.

We have been working on amending the soil gradually and I wish we had focused on this more during construction phase.  We have still had to contend with insects and less than ideal growth at times, and we think this is due to the fact that we did not follow all Mr. Coleman’s advice about soil amendments, especially copious amounts of compost.  Over the years, we have gotten better at composting, and hopefully this will pay off.

None-the-less we have enjoyed chard, lettuce, fresh herbs, brassicas, every year since but one.  That year was exceptionally cold and there was not enough sunlight to warm the soil during the day.   We could have resorted to heating the tunnels, but that seems contrary to what we are trying to achieve – namely growing produce without consuming non-renewable energy.

Hoop houses are wonderful for rotating “crops” and for extending growing seasons.  There is also no waste.  Anything that does not do well,  becomes overgrown, or gets insects, becomes chicken feed.  We see this as a win/win situation even if we can’t put something on our table – we’re certain the chickens are glad for fresh greens in the middle of the winter, or as the case today, right after a snow storm.

Mr. Coleman’s book had excellent charts with plants that can be grown during the winter months and that are tolerant to cold temperatures.  We strongly recommend this book and it is available in the Meduseld Amazon store.