Rooting resolutions: Bring life at large into your garden

beacon garden column

As we lay out plans to better ourselves, I invite you to consider a concept from author and entrepreneur Danielle Laporte, who asks, “What will you do to feel the way you want to feel?”

Laporte directs her readers from outward goals (go to the gym more, for example) to deeper ones: I want to feel strong, energized and empowered. Today, I’ll hit the gym.

This subtle shift in goal setting brings awareness of our deeper desires, granting us clarity that is crucial in seeking joy and fulfillment.

In setting goals for this new year, we can look at our gardens as living, breathing opportunities. In the garden, we can give root to our resolutions.

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5 books that might compete with your plant catalogs

beacon garden column

As gardeners, we play alongside Nature, taking turns sculpting the landscape and cultivating life. When winter comes around, we get cozy, curl up with warm drinks and greet her in thicker jackets—and through books.

Flipping through plant catalogs is a hoot, and how-to gardening books are informative, but we can use this downtime to expand our understanding through books that dive into topics like permaculture, homesteading, herbal medicine and more. These are some of my favorites:

“Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education” by Michael Pollan

In “Second Nature,” Pollan explores his relationship with his garden and Nature, blurring the line between the two. He weaves personal experiences together with research in a collection of essays that reads like a journey. This book is transformational and inspiring…

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Bringing the garden indoors

beacon garden column

Once you’ve tasted freshly picked produce, it’s hard to settle for anything less. Our bodies know the difference between a tomato just off the vine and one that ripened in a truck on its way from Mexico.

Those of us spoiled (in the best way) by fresh produce know that it offers us unmatched nutrition and flavor. So how can we access the foods we love throughout the winter?

A quick rewind

In the garden, much of our learning comes after the fact. We learn from our mistakes, discover tricks, make discoveries and find truth in our reflections.

Food preservation is a tool that comes after the fact, too. Preserving produce at its peak enables us to enjoy the benefits of fresh produce throughout the year. Preservation used to be a common practice. Though it’s no longer a necessity, we can still reap the benefits…

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Let nature do fall

beacon garden column

Maybe I’m the odd one, but I just can’t seem to wrap my head around raking up leaves, stuffing them into a big black garbage bag and setting them out on the curb to be picked up in a truck, driven across town and buried.

Through spring and summer, trees are drawing trace minerals from deep in the soil and storing them in their leaves. Full of carbon, fallen leaves are food for our critters below ground, feeding earthworms and microbes, which create nutrient-rich topsoil. Leaves help lighten heavy soils, creating space for life to thrive. They also act like a sweater, insulating bare ground and tender plants from the cold.

So for the love of life, let’s not treat our leaves like garbage!

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Action List: Inhabit – A Permaculture Perspective

The visually beautiful, mentally stimulating and spiritually enriching documentary Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective, shares insights from many inspiring minds around the world.

Director, cinematographer and editor: Costa Boutsikaris

Producer and assistant director: Emmett Brennan

Diving into a simple question,

Can we create a permanent agriculture?…in the sense that it is built upon and grounded in the resilient diversity of how ecosystems work… Can culture become something that is grounded in the real resilience of biology?

the film offers one example after another of permaculture designers, farmers, authors and activists taking steps towards restoring the planet through their daily lives. They show, “we can really look at permaculture design as a whole way of seeing the world. Looking at problems and seeing how they can turn into solutions.”

And by the end, the viewer can only be inspired by what is already happening around the globe in the world of restorative agriculture. We’re led to grinning in agreement with a truth stated by Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture:

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

Here’s a reading list inspired by the film.

Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison

The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk

Paradise Lot by Eric Toensmeier

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier

The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein

The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips

The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips

Farming the Woods by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel

Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard

Organizations and projects to look for

Whole Systems Design Permaculture Research Farm, Moretown, Virginia

Paradise Lot, Holyoke, Massachusetts

The Resilience Hub, Portland, Maine

Mobile Design Lab

Pedal People, Northampton, Massachusetts

Resilience Planning & Design, Plymouth, New Hampshire

Five Boroughs Green Roof, Randall’s Island, New York

Power Polyculture

The Center for Bioregional Living, Ellenville, New York

Brooklyn Bears Carlton Avenue Garden

Sister Sol

Open Road

The Center for Environmental Transformation, Camden, New Jersey

Earth Seed Consulting

Pathways to Resilience, New York

Lost Nation Orchard, Grovetown, New Hampshire

Willow Crossing Farm, Lamoille River, Johnson, Vermont

Wellspring Forest Farm, Mecklenburg, New York

Permaculture Research Institute

Green Gold (documentary)

Salamander Springs Farm, Berea, Kentucky

New Forest Farm, Viola, Wisconsin

People to follow

Ben Falk, permaculturest and author

Erik Toensmeier, Paradise Lot

Lisa Fernandes, permaculturest and teacher

Lisa Depiano, teacher and Pedal People rider

Steve Whitman, permaculturest and teacher

Dwaine Lee, urban designer and teacher

Andrew Faust, permaculturest and teacher

Paula Amran, artist, educator and designer of green playgrounds

Ari Rosenberg, urban farm manager

Luis Sanchez, junior farmer

Pandora Thomas, teacher

Charles Eisenstein, public speaker and author

Michael Phillips, Lost Nation Orchard

Keith Morris, farmer and teacher

Steve Gabriel, farmer and author

Rhamis Kent

Susana Kaye Lein, farmer

Mark Shepard, farmer

Geoff Lawton

Dave Jacke


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Consider cover crops: A full-circle garden starts with soil

beacon garden column

Summer is fading and fall is creeping in. We’re canning, pickling and drying. We’re eating tomatoes with every meal, cooking squashes and making vegetable soups. We’re pulling out plants that have had their fun.

And as we mosey around the garden, we have something to consider: the cycle continues. Fall reminds us that nature is cyclical. Leaves fall from trees and become soil that sprouts life.

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Celebrate August with local produce

beacon garden column

Between farmers markets, local farm stands and backyard gardens, our area is bursting with fresh produce. There’s nothing like some Olathe sweet corn, a sun-ripened heirloom tomato, or a juicy Palisade peach.

Not only is locally grown produce the tastiest, it’s also the healthiest. It’s easy to forget that grocery store produce has traveled hundreds of miles to get here and loses much of its nutritional value within just a few days of being harvested.

For me, taste and nutrition are reasons enough to gravitate towards local produce. Caring for our planet and supporting the local economy are also huge factors. But there’s another reason to participate in our local growing season: money in your pocket.

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Brassicas now! Extend your harvest with fall crops

beacon garden column

We are blessed with a long growing season, which means we can play in the garden through fall.

Brassicas, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and other hearty vegetables, will thrive as temperatures begin to cool. Starting them from seed this month will allow you to plant fresh starts in August. Fall’s cool nights will sweeten these mild veggies and encourage tighter flower heads (the part of the plant that we see in produce aisles, stripped of dense leaves).

This is the perfect time to start brassicas, as many pesky pests like flea beetles and cabbage worm are less of a threat this late in the season.

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Soil and oneness and FDR

soil oneness

FDR said it: “The nation that destroys its soil… destroys itself.”

Now, daring and dedicated public figures like Ray Archuleta make a similar claim by professing the flip side:

Recognizing the power of interconnectedness just might save us from our own destructive doings. And soil is not only a symbol of that oneness — it is that oneness.

Okay, hippie.

But is he? Am I, for nearly falling out of my chair as I listened to him speak at this year’s Food & Farm Forum?

Theology and physics both operate on such a simple statement. Picture Dr. Bronner shouting All-One! Archuleta dared us:

“Understand the power of one.”

Healthy soil won’t stick to your feet when it’s wet, and it’s home to millions of living organisms ranging from the microscopic to the Earthworm. For Archuleta, ‘organic matter’ is too simple a phrase, too small to capture the immensity of what it’s meant to describe.

Organic matter is the stuff of soil, carbon compounds. Plant and animal materials decompose on the ground amongst roots and microbes.

“Organic matter,” Archuleta proclaimed, “is the fusion of life and death!”


In order for the world’s farmers to produce food to feed us all (a gross simplification, of course), we need healthy soil. As we are still learning from the failures of chemical dependencies and mega-industrial agriculture, growing good food sustainably requires some input.


Plants pull nutrients from the soil. We eat the plants. Plants go back into the soil (hopefully) and become organic matter. Life and death, interconnected. Plant, soil, humans, microbes — all interconnected.

How we treat our soils, the future of food as we know it — interconnected.

So I’ll dare to suggest: The nation that becomes one with its soil becomes one with itself… and is healed.


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So many ways to grow peaches


Sitting this week, tuned in as doctors and professors explained their research findings, I was consistently in awe of the dozens of farmers, who have spent decades tending to their fields and orchards, leaning in eagerly and attentively.

I wondered how many of these innovative ideas would come to life on their farms, or spark new innovations in their minds.

There are so many ways to grow peaches. And cherries, and apples, and grapes and plums.

One could raise walls of fruit — trellises holding clusters of sweet, big and juicy fruits, arranged for optimal picking efficiency.

There are 3D trees and 2D trees, retractable greenhouses and high tunnels that keep rain from cracking fruits. There are peach trees directed to grow outward for easy picking, and there are tall trees grown upward so that tractors can navigate through rows. There are growers who snap off branches and pruners who make decisive cuts.

There are so many ways to grow peaches, and so many more farmers who have grown peaches all their lives.

And yet, so many are still listening.


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