Category Archives: Reviews

One Straw Revolution – A Book Review

Last night I finished reading The One-Straw Revolution by Mansanobu Fukuoka.  This book is part autobiographical, part philosophical, and a very small part practical application.

As a young man, Mr. Fukuoka worked as a research scientist.  He worked hard and long hours, and also enjoyed the night life after work.   Burning the candle at both ends led him to fainting at work.  Eventually he got very sick and almost died in the hospital.

After his close brush with death, he found a new inner truth.  He found that all of his life has been meaningless.  All of his pursuits, all of his work has been for nothing.  This thought could either be depressing or freeing.  I found the thought depressing.  He found this new personal truth set him “free”.  After he left the hospital, Mr. Fukuoka went to his job and quit.  All of his peers thought he was insane.

He then went and lived on his parent’s farm.  While there, he was in charge of the citrus trees.  He decided that since everything in life was meaningless,  he did not have to care for the trees. The lack of care caused all of the trees to die.  Needless to say, his father was less than happy, and Mansanobu Fukuoka had to look for work off of his father’s farm.  He eventually came back to living on a farm, and began the “no-work” farming method.  This method was planned out a little more, and he started experiencing great success with is farming methods.

This “no-work” farming method was actually quite a bit of work.  But he used no chemicals.  He grew rice without flooding the fields.  He used a cover crop of white clover and mulched with long straw.  He then scattered seeds around that were covered in clay pellets.  The clay pellets protected the seeds from rotting or being eaten by slugs  or other garden creatures.  His results were very good and comparable to his neighbors who used chemical means on their fields.  He harvested his yields using hand tools.  Nothing more.

He decried the “organic” farmers of the West (AKA Americans) as taking too much work.  The idea of composting seems like too much of a hassle. He felt they didn’t get it.  He said they could scatter the straw on the fields and essentially let the waste compost on it’s own without all the extra work of formal composting.

Other than those basics, I didn’t really get any major “how-to” take aways.  I got a lot of philosophy though.  Some of it was esoteric.  Okay, most of it was esoteric and I didn’t quite grasp what he was trying to say.  and I disagreed with some of his philosophical thoughts.  It would not be how I chose to live.  He is against what we would call progress.  From his book he stated that if our economy has an increase in growth from 5% to 10% are we twice as happy?  I agree that wealth doesn’t make us happy, but it does allow us to make more choices.  Sometimes these choices can allow us to live happier lives.   He lived his life (as far as I know) living up to his ideals.

While he expressed discontent with the way the world was doing things, he seems much more at peace with it than the Nearings from the Good Life seemed to be.  Back in the 1970s, he predicted the human race would have experienced great losses and have a sad and futile future.  Thank God he was wrong, I’m really liking being on this planet right now (and writing these blog posts for you to read).  We do have to remember, this is a Japanese human who lived through World War II.  That means that he lived through the nuclear bombing of his country at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It’s quite easy to understand how anyone who lived through that would believe that catastrophe is just around the corner.

Overall the book was a good read.  I think it will help you to become a more well-rounded gardener, and it will help you to think about your land in a different way.  However, I don’t see myself ever referencing this book for the sake of my land.  I’m glad I read this book, although I don’t see myself using any of the techniques.  His methods have been critiqued for being hard to follow and unsuccessful unless they are followed exactly.  I believe once you understand how all of his methods work, it works well.  I also believe if you don’t do it exactly his way, you may be looking at failure (even though that’s the road to success, as I talked about here).

Do I recommend you read it? If you want.  If it interests you.  I don’t consider this a must read.  I consider it a “pretty good if it’s lying around” kind of read.  Keep in mind, a lot of folks disagree with that.  So, if you are in the mood for a philosophical book with some gardening ideas, pick it up.

The Good Life – A Review


Recently, I received a very thoughtful gift, the gift of a book.  The book was two separate works within  The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living.  The first section of the book is entitled The Good Live Project.  In this part of the book, Scott and Helen Nearing decided to move from New York City into rural Vermont during the Great Depression in the 1930s.  They began building a homestead and working the land.  Scott was in his late forties/early fifties when their adventure begins.

Within in the book they describe how and why they:

  • Allotted their time in the most efficient ways
  • Constructed stone buildings
  • Ate a fully vegetarian diet (It seemed most vegan to me)
  • Got the most from their garden
  • Believed in a No-Money, take only what you need economy

This was also their personal story.   This is a couple who lived as city folk and moved out to the country and started an entirely new way of life.  While this is probably the first “back to the land” movement book, I think it is important to point out that large portions of the American population were not “back to the land”, but “never left the land”.  My great-grandfather built his barn and home from wood milled from his land.  He then made a living as a farmer for years afterward.  Although he did not adhere to the strict rules laid down by the Nearings, he lived off the land on the east coast, in the country, a little further South than the places the Nearings called home. And I would bet his political leanings were not aligned with the Nearings, but I do not know. (and I want to avoid any discussion of politics on here, as I hope this blog is useful/informational/entertaining for you no matter how or if you vote)

While this book was inspiring, and helped me to see ways to make my homestead flourish, it also made me a little disillusioned at the idea of homesteading.  The design of their life seem too strict and rigid.  They were so rigid in their work schedule that if someone stopped by to talk while they were working, they would continue on and/or be mildly annoyed.  The person could either stay and help or leave.  While this does lead to very productive days, it would leave my day feeling empty, I suppose.   Furthermore, they criticized the surrounding farmers who would take time out of their work to talk.  The tone of the book seemed to be that either you agree with the Nearings (and I believe it was mostly Scott) or you were a fool.  They were very harsh on the native Vermonters for their ways, their thoughts, their drinking, eating and working habits.

I can understand falling into that “I am doing it right, and you’re silly” train of thought.  I have done a lot of research on the how’s and why’s of my daily life, and therefore I do things certain ways that may be different or require more work than the mainstream’s habits.  When I see folks making different decisions that are easier in the moment, I feel the need to justify to myself (to myself) why the path I chose iss right for me.  The balance of doing this while not judging those folks is something I am practicing and learning.

The book includes details on how the couple built their homes and buildings out of foraged stone.  This was very instructional, and I believe you could use this to help if you are interested in construction of a stone structure.  I am not, so I skipped through much of this.

The Nearings moved from Vermont to Maine when they found the area was becoming a little too built up for their liking.  I admire their courage to start over again at an advanced age. Part Two of the book, Continuing the Good Life, begins with this move.  For me, the couple became more likable in part two.  I’m not sure if it was their advanced age, or maybe they were more settled in their ways, or perhaps I just got more used to their writing style.

In both parts of the book, the Nearings’ diet was discussed.  They ate simply, from the land and they at as much of their diet as fresh as they could.  The way they discussed the plight of DDT, the disease caused by processed flours and sugars, and the importance of a healthy diet, it seemed like it was something out of a modern day “diet visonary” such as David Wolfe .  As far as how well their mostly vegan diet worked, I would have to say pretty darn well.  Scott worked hard around his homestead through his 90s and died when he was 100-years old.  He died by choice after “fasting for a month and a half“, which, to me, means he starved himself to death.

Along with the simple, mostly vegan diet, he and Helen, who lived until the age of 91, fasted one day a week.  He also attributed good health to meaningful work.  I fully agree that living your purpose and making a positive difference in world leads to greater personal health.

This book did expand my gardening knowledge.  Specifically, how to extend the season and create healthy soils using compost.  I have pages ear-marked for easy reference for my gardening needs over the years.

Overall, the book was entertaining and informative.  While I didn’t agree with all of their thoughts or ways of doing things, I absolutely learned and had the opportunity to challenge my current opinions.  It is definitely worth the time to read this.

The Nearings’ left a legacy at their old Maine homestead.  The Good Life Center is still running to this day, 10 years after Helen’s passing and 20 years after Scott’s passing.  They are taking applications for interns in the upcoming season.

Helen wrote two more books I would like to explore:

 

 

 

Ditch the Poof: Use a Wash Cloth

I’ll admit it, poofs are pretty awesome.  Whether  you use bar soap or a gel body wash, you are pretty much guaranteed a great lather.  They have a few drawbacks.  The main one that bothers me is that you can’t wash them.

These poofs are balls with an accumulation of mesh in the middle.  This middle is shaded from the outside with its outside layers and it’s almost never dry.  You don’t flatten your poof out to dry like a towel, you let it hang with all of its microbial dirtiness going on in its center.  While I understand a towel is made of cotton and a poof is a plastic material, I think we can still draw the same conclusion when thinking about it in the following way: take your towel after using it in the shower, crumple it into a ball and tie a string around it.  Then hang that tied towel in the shower (which most of the time is dark). How long would you feel comfortable using it without washing it?  How long do you go without washing your towel?

Granted, the different materials mean the poof will dry out faster, but after participating in the above mental exercise, I threw my (and my husband’s) poof away .  I had a small one in my bathroom cabinet that someone got me for Christmas years and years ago.  I found these instructions on it:

The instructions on the poof tell you to throw it out every 30 days.  It's so important, they tell you twice.

The instructions on the poof tell you to throw it out every 30 days. It’s so important, they tell you twice.

I wash my towels more than once a month, and I suspect you probably do, too.  Wouldn’t you want to replace your poof as often as you wash your towels, in the very least? That seems far from simple and highly wasteful.

For the past 2 years, my family and I have been using wash clothes.  I was even able to find super cool, super cute wash cloths sold at a local boutique.  ” Oh Julia! That sounds so expensive!” You may be thinking.  It actually wasn’t.  I believe it was less than $10 for 4 wash clothes.  And they look awesome. And super bonus, they were made by a local artisan.

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You can wash them after every use,  and they last a really long time.  I will trade that for less lather any day!

New Affiliate Announcement!!

I am very excited to announce that I have partnered with Mountain Rose Herbs.  Why am I so excited by this?  I have used this company for over two years.  My mom has started using Mountain Rose about 6 months ago.  We both really love this company.

  • They have awesome teas.  I love the loose leaf teas.  I save so much money by using loose leaf tea.  My favorite is the Mint Chocolate Mate.  I buy it by the pound, it is so delicious
  • I bought my tea making accessories through them.  I bought this awesome tea travel mug, which I use daily.  I put the tea in the bottom of the glass bottom, fill it with hot water, and put the lid on.  You have loose leaf tea to go.

Their products are amazing and high quality.  They are so reasonably priced.  For example, Turmeric at the local health food store is almost $30 for 100 capsules.  At Mountain Rose Herbs, it’s only $9.25.  And it’s organic!!

I would be using the company and promoting it whether I was an affiliate or not.  I love them.  Beautiful, high-quality products at very reasonable prices.  Sounds excellent to me!  I was so excited when I found out I could partner with them officially.

I trust them and have used them for years.  I will continue to use them and I hope you do, too.  I also hope that if you decide to use them, you go through my links, as I get credit for your purchases.  However, I still want you to use them, whether I get the credit or not.  I will have a banner on the side of my blog so that you can access it easily if you decide to order through me.

I also want to take a moment to make a promise  to you.  I will only endorse or become an affiliate or be sponsored by products and companies I use.  I will also always let you know when I have a beneficial relationship with a company.   It is my hope that you love this company as much as I do.

Have you used them?  What are your thoughts of their products?  What is your favorite product?

Mountain Rose Herbs. A Herbs, Health & Harmony Com

Barnheart – A Book Review

I previously posted this on my old blog.  I decided it would be good to re-post it.

 I got Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One’s Own from the library. This is a wonderful memoir by a formerly local woman, Jenna Woginrich.  In her previous, book she mentioned she went to Kutztown University and in this book, she reveals she grew up in Palmerton, PA.

The book starts with Jenna uprooting her homestead in Idaho and moving to Vermont to start over due to job loss.  She moves into an old rental house with some acreage and starts to make her dream come true.  Vermont holds a lot of challenges for a starting farmer including the harsh winter and urban folks who only want “pretty farms” as neighbors.  Jenna ends up being forced from her rental property by her landlord when the landlord wants to reside in Jenna’s current home.  Jenna takes you through her journey of reestablishment.  She rebuilds her farm twice throughout the span of the book.

The book is honest about her struggles.  She is introspective and inspiring.  When I was single, I dreamed of a homestead, but could never imagine accomplishing this without the help of a partner.  She threw caution to the wind, and chased her dreams.  She has more responsibility on her shoulders without a partner to lean on. Jenna shares her frustrations of being alone, but she has  dream and won’t let anything stand in her way.

Jenna goes from nothing, to a full garden, a flock of sheep, chickens, and bees all while learning some lessons about farming along the way.

This quick read (under 200 pages) lets you share in her adventure.  I enjoyed reading about her passion for her lifestyle, although I did have to roll my eyes at the thought of Palmerton being suburban.  Palmerton does have a downtown, but it is about as small town as it gets and I would consider rural.  Palmerton is surrounded by farm and woods.  But it made for good reading when she described her sister’s horror at the thought of eating a turkey Jenna raised herself.

I would recommend this book for light, fun reading.  It was an enjoyable read from someone who harbors the urge to homestead.  You can follow Jenna on her blog where she has added to her farm.

**This post contains affiliate links**

Restoration Agriculture – A review

I recently finished reading Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard.

This book outlines Mark Shepard’s journey from his childhood in New England to life at his farm at his home in Wisconsin.   As a child, Mark’s family relied heavily on their annual garden and fruit trees to provide food for the family.  He remembers garden work to be hot, laborious and never ending.  The annual garden was a constant fight against nature.  Weeding, watering, planting, a never ending cycle.

He then recounts the food they foraged.  It was cool and peaceful.  They mostly harvested.  They didn’t have to worry about weeds, as every part of the natural system worked together.  These childhood experiences, along with a few books, led him to the restorative agriculture system he uses today.

Mark’s farm in Wisconsin copies natural systems which are conducive to the area which he lives.  Within a small area, he will plant chestnuts, apples, grapes, and blackberries.  Each plant either complimenting each other, or utilizing different substrates of the area.  An area filled with this diverse plant system will produce more food overall.  However, if that same area were planted with all apples, you would harvest more apples, but the diversity equals safety.  If there is a bad year for apples,  the apple producer is completely out of luck.  You can even use this system to harvest wood for fuel and building.

He also expand this system to include animals.  You an have pigs foraging in between the alleys of perennial woody crops, in a paddock shift system.  This means that the pigs move from area to area with just enough disturbance to to enhance the area.  If there are too many pigs in too little an area for too long ( or one of any of those three “too’s”), you will end up degrading your land instead of enhancing it.

This book also commented on how these methods can actually nourish the world instead of “feeding” it.  He discussed the nutrition lacking in corn and our other mono-crops.  This is evident when we see 500 pound adults with Rickets, a disease partially caused by  a deficiency in necessary nutrients such as calcium.  They are clearly getting enough calories, but not any nutrition.  It is possible to be fat and malnourished.

At his farm, New Forest Farm, Mark is also trying to restore the American Chestnut.  The American Chestnut was hit with a blight originating from the Chinese Chestnut.  The American Chestnut was the East Coast’s version of the Red Wood.  When the blight first started to spread, we stupidly decided to cut down all the American Chestnuts to stop the spread.  This removed any trees that may have had a natural genetic resistance to the blight.

Mark is planting thousands of trees in hopes of finding one genetic variety that has resistance.  He does this over planting them from seeds and then using his STUN technique.  STUN stands for Sheer Total Utter Neglect.  This allows for the strongest of plants to survive.  If any tree wants to die, he lets it.  The weeds out the weak genetics and brings the strong genetics to the foreground.

This book is an enlightening read.  It gives hope, and also gives a reason to become active in your food choices.  It offers a new prospective on farming and restoration to the land.  This book is an entertaining and quick read, but beyond informative.

My take aways:

  1. Plant more trees
  2. Plant things you can eat (they still look pretty!)
  3. Plant trees
  4. Eat from a perennial systems. (nuts, fruits, pastured meats)
  5. There is hope.
  6. Plant trees that will thrive in your area.

I do recommend this book.  It has opened my eyes and added to my arsenal of information so that I can make educated decisions.  As I start to design my property and plant with a plan, I will be keeping Mark’s systems and philosophies in mind.

**This Post contains Affiliate Links**

Carrots Love Tomatoes – A book Review

Several years ago, when I began my backyard garden, I bought myself Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.

This book outlines which veggies (and sometimes fruit) to plant together.  This is called companion planting.  The idea is that different types of plants in close proximity can benefit each other.  For example, planting your carrots near onions and leeks is beneficial for the carrots since the onions and leeks act as a repellent to the carrot fly.
A gardener can also gain a higher yield per acre by integrating plantings instead of abiding to a mono-cultural method (i.e. rows and rows of carrots, followed by rows and rows of beets).  Planting rows which contain a kohlrabi – beet – kohlrabi pattern benefit both crops.  They both do best in the same type of soil and pull their nutrients from different levels.  Anytime you diversify your crops, you make it harder for critters to take out your entire patch.
If there is a worm that just loves cucumbers, he and his buddies can easily demolish one plant, but if the next plant is a distance away from the one he destroyed, he must figure out how to get over to the new cucumber plant.  Chances are he won’t make it the entire way, and your other plant is safe.  Or you have time to take protective measures.  But if all of your cucumber plants are close and hanging out together, it will be that much harder to save your plants as that evil cucumber critter can just mosey on over to the plant right next door.
The book also discusses which plants are detrimental to each other.  As well as the different ways to cope with certain diseases and pests and basic descriptions of each plant.  While this book is not exhaustive (and therefore NOT overwhelming), the array of plants it covers varies from vegetable and herbs to nuts and wild plants.  There are also chapters on gardening techniques, garden plans and pest control.
This book is a wonderful resource that I have by my side when I’m planning my garden. Although of this information is easily accessible via the internet, having a small, easy to read book (that won’t break if it get’s wet or dirty) by your side makes life a lot easier.  I would recommend this book and have used it often and will continue to use it over the years.
**This page contains affiliate links**

Reusable Coffee Filter

My mission is to make life simple.  Buy less, use less, throw less away.  Every morning, my husband and I (whoever gets up first) would use a paper coffee filter.  Yes, it’s not much in the way of waste, but it is a piece of the larger puzzle.

When we ran out of paper coffee filters, I knew I would be replacing it with a reusable one.

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So here are the details:

Where did I get it?  the grocery store

How much did it cost?  $2.50.  That is ALL.  Not expensive saying I don’t have to worry about running out of coffee filters and I don’t have to buy them again.  I was happily surprised at the low price.

Is it easy to use?  Incredibly easy.  I dump the old grounds into our compost container (which I then put on our blueberries and strawberries as those plants like acidity). Then, I rinse it out and it is ready to go.  I would say it takes about 15 more seconds of work than our old method.  And once a week, I give it a good scrub down with hot soapy water ( this will take 2 minutes, maybe)

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All in all, I am very happy with our reusable coffee filter and would recommend it to friends and family.  It’s simple and that’s our goal!!

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