Earth Day

The Earth Day Reading Project–joene’s garden style

What have you read in your lifetime that inspired you to a sustainable act or to live green? Can you answer this question quickly or did you have to stop and think a spell? I had to do the later which is why I took up the Earth Day Reading Project challenge – a by-invitation blog meme that asks bloggers to commemorate Earth Day 2011 by sharing at least three books that inspired them to a sustainable act or to live a more ‘green’ life, and why.

I rarely use event days to precipitate life changes. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions or use Valentine’s Day to tell loved ones my feelings. I prefer to change as the need arises and to frequently express affection. Similarly, an annual Earth Day does not cause me to act ‘green’ since this is something I try to do on a daily basis.

But I was intrigued by the question. What have I read that inspired a sustainable act or greener living? So I looked through my bookshelves and dug into my memory banks to come up with a list of reading materials. I’m stretching the rules a tad – apologies to the meme’s sponsor, The Sage Butterfly – my list includes a catalog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I started reading Whole Earth Catalogs as an impressionable teenager. I cannot pinpoint a specific article or issue that inspired me to a sustainable act, but I do recall the general impression that each issue was jam-packed full of useful information on how to obtain more useful information – kind of like a mini-search engine in print. The first Whole Earth Catalog reviewed books about organic gardening and solar power, and likely served as my first introduction and fed my continuing interest in both. My organic gardening seed remained dormant until I reached adulthood but I’ve now gardened organically for more than thirty years (all in Connecticut). The solar seed also took a while to mature but with the recent installation of solar roof panels, my house is now generating more electricity than it pulls from the local electric company (the extra feeds back into the grid). Our solar panels produce electricity even on cloudy days like the one in the photo.

Foxfire Books opened my eyes to rural life among the hardy and self-sustaining people of the Appalachians. The region’s high school students, directed by their teacher Eliot Wigginton, collected stories from elders – often their parents and grandparents – on age-old methods for planting by the signs, preserving foods, reading weather, edible wild plants, gardening in general and multiple other less useable to me topics like hog dressing and building an oxen yoke. Wigginton started the story-gathering project to engage his students in publishing a magazine and, thereby, teach them the required high school subjects English and history. The magazine idea morphed into a series of books about real American do-it-yourselfers. I devoured most of the first five or six Foxfire Books. They gave me a genuine appreciation for the waste-not, common sense of people who have lived close to the land for generations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My first garden design and creation was a circular herb garden divided into four equal sections around a central sundial underplanted with Lamb’s ear. I edged the planting areas with vertically placed bricks and planted sage, thyme, oregano, lavender, chives, basil, borage, chamomile, and calendula after studying the properties of each as described in The Rodale Herb Book. The further I read the more herbs I planted into areas well beyond the circular herb garden. My experimentation taught me just how quickly mint, feverfew, and tansy spread, how and when to harvest herbs for drying, and how to make chive and other herb vinegars. I can trace my discovery of foxglove, hyssop, lemon balm, nasturtium, rosemary, rue, scented geraniums and horseradish to this book. The result of consuming every written word in The Rodale Herb Book? Store-bought herbs are a rarity in my kitchen – I grow and preserve most myself. My kids grew up eating foods seasoned with fresh grown or dried herbs and, now as adults, they welcome any extras I can pass on. I’d offer a link to the book here but I think my version is only available from resellers. Instead, check out Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.

Two more recent publications also led me to more sustainable gardening practices. Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy which I wrote about last year, explains the important role native plants play in vibrant, balanced plant environments. The other is the clear, concise, easily understood explanation of soil life provided by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis in Teaming with Microbes, A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. Even a seasoned gardener like me can be wowed by the activity in healthy soil – it’s not just worms and bugs you know, it’s a life system of millions and millions of interconnected fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms intent upon working together to make healthy soil. If you don’t yet compost, read this book to understand why you should. If you spread chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, read this book to understand why you shouldn’t.

I urge you to visit Jean’s Garden to watch for her Earth Day Reading Project post – thanks, Jean, for inviting me into this meme. Also be sure to watch for posts from Debbie at A Garden of Possibilities and Laurrie at My Weeds Are Very Sorry, two fellow Connecticut garden bloggers I invited into the meme (I asked other blogging friends to join, but heh, this meme is a sizable commitment and other responsibilities prevailed). Then make sure to visit The Sage Butterfly for more Earth Day Reading Project links.

And remember … reuse, recycle, compost, garden organically, and seek other ways to make every day Earth Day.

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