Thoughts on Earth Day

And, why bother gardening?

File photo by Susie Safford

Stand up for what you stand on

Earth Day is April 22. Space exploration is said to be one of the grandest, vastest human ideas. As the delightful Mary Clear points out in the propaganda gardening video, Peas and Love Revolution, “we are living in extraordinary times: where we have the means to put ‘a little digger’ on Mars; where science, technology — all the things we need to make a better world, we choose not to do …”

Shortsightedness prevails, as our bodies must “learn” to live with chronic disease and contaminated or missing (e.g., avoiding mercury-laden fish) food supplies. We must forcefully contradict the idea that toxics, for the earth and for us, are just the price we pay for 21st century needs, and that colonizing space provides an alternative.

With the designation of 2015 as the U.N. International Year of Soil, we have the rationale for a focus that should be uppermost with all of us, each and every day, and each and every year.

Why garden? Upsides, downsides

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” —Abraham Lincoln

“Onions” are one reason. As I was planting my onion seedlings (purchased as part of a bulk order by the Homegrown vegetable gardeners group, from Dixondale Farms), I thought how, years past, I often used to discover we were out of onions — just as I’d started cooking dinner!

A small thing, perhaps, to have loads of your own garden’s onions in the cellar, and certainly not the entirety of what Lincoln’s quote addresses, but these days I try to grow enough here at home to last us through the winter. It is a nice challenge, moreover, to attempt to supply yourself, and maybe your relatives and friends too, with as much of “whatever” as it is possible to self-produce, and share.

The key to making large onions is to choose seedling transplants over sets and to plant as early as possible in the season, since they tolerate mild frosts. Feed onions every two to three weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Make the first application three weeks after planting. Continue every three weeks until the onions start to bulb. Do not apply to the tops, and ensure that the tops are dry when applying fertilizer. For more information, visit

As an important side note, anyone can start onion seedlings, although I chose not to. In January, sow seed that is day-length-appropriate to your area; our area is “long day.” My criterion is storage, or keeping, quality, but a wide variety of onion types exist: red, white, cipollini, pickling, sweet, etc.

Fill a flat with high-quality seed compost, such as Vermont Compost’s Fort-V or other, and sprinkle the black seed evenly over the top. Barely cover, water lightly, and within days the first bent-double seed leaves emerge. The seed packet will contain cultural advice.

Soil temperature in my vegetable garden is 59°F, “cool” in relative terms, and ideal for beets; greens such as spinach, mustard and Asian greens, and arugula; potatoes; and peas.

“Strawberries” are another reason. Commercially available strawberries are grown with the fumigant methyl bromide, a potent no-no for the body and ozone layer alike.

The strawberry plants, which I have successfully used as a vegetable garden groundcover, are showing top growth. It reminds me of my intention to try cinnamon-leaf oil as a squirrel repellent. Last year, despite a heavy crop of large berries (netting and row cover too), the clever squirrels with their little hand-paws deprived us of all but three! They like strawberries as much as we do, evidently.

For those who are at home all day, the ol’ Red Rider or “wrist rocket” creates deterrence too. Recipes for squirrel may be found in most older cookbooks, or publications such as Country Wisdom & Know-How (Storey Publishing).

An advertisement for “The All Natural Ceylon Cinnamon Oil Pesticide” claims that it “repels all insects, kills fungus, eliminates powdery mildew. Stop the squirrels … Spray on garden vegetables and fruits. Safe for humans. The most effective insect repellent. Period!”

I put my order in. The product is applied by means of a spray. Use once a week, and after heavy rains. It is nontoxic to humans, and can be used the day of harvesting vegetables. Cinnamon has antimicrobial properties that also help to control molds and fungus, as a substitute for liquid copper fungicide. For more information visit

Growing your own is not going to eliminate pantry moths, also known as Indian mealmoth. According to Wikipedia, Indianmeal moth is a pyraloid moth of the family Pyralidae. Alternative common names are North American high-flyer, weevil moth, and pantry moth. Spring is pantry moth season. Most of us probably care less about their entomology than about controlling them, once they manifest as the dry food pests they are.

But if your dry beans (or maybe even your grain!) are homegrown, you will be doubly offended to lose any to pantry moths. Storage in tightly closed, airtight containers, in a cool, dark pantry or storage area, is always recommended, but pantry moths also arrive in purchased dry groceries, and may spread. Freezing the entire infested container sometimes kills the larvae. I have had good results with pheromone traps, which can be purchased locally or from garden suppliers such as Gardens Alive or Gardeners Supply.


Plants are leaping out of the ground. Continue to clean beds. Side-dress perennials with low-number organic soil food — it gives an early-season boost to the surrounding soil life. Cultivating around emerging crowns helps mark them clearly. Continue deer and rabbit sprays. Check fencing.