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5 Free Shows on Gardening, Food, & Farming

Gardening may be as good as therapy but sometimes we all need to kick back and enjoy a little screen time. While Game of Thrones may be really exciting, next time you’re in the mood for a Netflix binge consider one of these five documentaries. They’re all free to watch and shed light on gardening, food, and farming.

Living Soil Film

This documentary, produced by the Soil Health Institute, discusses the problems with humans’ relationship with soil. It introduces staggering statistics like, “the societal and environmental costs of soil loss and degradation in the United States alone are now estimated to be as high as $85 billion every single year” and provides methods for more sustainable farming. It features innovative farmers and soil experts from across the United States. Learn more about soil and how you can keep your garden’s soil healthy.

Tales from the Green Valley

Though not a documentary this TV show created by the BBC as part of a historic farming series is an informative look at agricultural techniques of the past. The show follows historians Ruth Goodman and Stuart Peachy as well as archeologists Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn, and Chloe Spencer as they run a historical farm just the way it would have been in the 17th century for a full calendar year. Try an episode (or twelve!) for a glimpse of history through the lens of everyday life.

Unbroken Ground 

Created by Patagonia Provisions, this short documentary discusses the role of agriculture in our current environmental crisis. It takes an inspirational look at folks who are trying to change the way we produce food and protect our lands and waters. Join the food revolution with this informative film.

Treasures of New York: The New York Botanical Garden

This PBS special explores the 250 acre New York Botanical Garden. A “museum of plants,” the New York Botanical Garden is home to over million plants and operates one of the world’s largest plant research and conservation programs. Get inspired as you follow along on a tour of this amazing garden.

Stone Age Stories: First Farmers

This documentary focuses in on archeological evidence that Stone Age peoples began gathering and growing grains. It attempts to explain their transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers. It also looks at the beginning of permanent settlements, animal domestication, and metal working. Check it out to learn more about agriculture’s profound effect on civilization.

Next time you’re having a family movie night or just want to relax on a rainy afternoon try one of these documentaries. They might change your ideas about food and farming! 

Pin it for later.

Thinking like a plant

Books-Vegetable gardening in the Southeast-smallGarden Primer bookBarbara Damrosch states, early in her 633-page Garden Primer book, that “Good gardening is very simple, really.  You just have to learn to think like a plant.”

One of the challenges of learning to think like a plant is that not all plants think alike.

When you’re wondering how best to take care of a particular crop, the first question you’ll ask yourself might be “Where can I find good instructions?”  You might, for example, start by looking at the cultural notes in our catalog, or by looking in the “Edibles A to Z” section of Ira Wallace’s book Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast, or Barbara’s Garden Primer.

Another question to ask yourself is, “What do I know about the needs and habits of this plant’s relatives?”  Plants tend to be similar to their relatives in terms of the conditions they need for germination or fruit set, the relationships they form with soil microbes, the strategies they use to spread their seed, and many other factors.

For example, if you know that luffas are related to pumpkins and cucumbers, you can guess that growing luffas will be more similar to growing pumpkins or cucumbers than to growing tomatoes.

photos mid fall 2011 177 luffa stages
Left to right, the progression of luffas from flower bud to mature fruit: buds, flower, baby fruit with spent petals still attached, edible young fruits, intermediate-maturity fruits, and mature fruits for retting and use as sponges.

Luffas (also called loofahs), like most crops in the squash (cucurbit) family:

  • prefer dryer soil than most other plants, particularly while seeds are germinating
  • have delicate root systems, but can be transplanted with care
  • can sprawl or climb
  • use tendrils to cling to surrounding plants or structures
  • have flowers that are very attractive to bees
  • have separate male flowers and female flowers on androgynous plants
  • are easily killed by frost

If I was sending a soil test to a lab and wanted a recommendation on whether to amend the soil before planting luffas, I’d check the box of another crop in their family (assuming luffas aren’t on the list).  If I was worried that an insect might be attacking my luffa crop, I’d run through a mental list of the insects that I’ve known to attack other crops in its family. If I wanted to make a guess at which nutrients are abundant in luffas (when picked small for eating), I’d start by looking up which nutrients are abundant in other cucurbits that are also harvested before the seeds mature, like cucumbers or summer squash.  If I wanted to  harvest pure, market-worthy seeds from one variety of luffa, I’d plant it at least 1/2 mile from any other varieties of the same species of luffa, based on the similar isolation distances recommended for harvesting reliably pure seeds of other cucurbits.

However, any plant will have some significant differences from its relatives.  For example, most cucurbits set their seeds in a wet environment, but luffas set their seed in a dry environment.  Thus the techniques we use to clean luffa seeds are very different from those we use for most seeds in the cucurbit family.

It might be tempting to focus your gardening efforts on one family, grow lots of its members, and really learn how they think.  But diversity of plant families in your garden is one aspect of agrobiodiversity, and will help ensure that the bugs or diseases that like one of your crops won’t like too many of your crops.  It’s also important to rotate your crops, and like many farmers and gardeners, we organize our crop rotation according to plant family.

For an easy way to learn which plants are in which families, take a look at our illustrated list of the predominant plant families in American gardens.

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VABF Conference Wrap

VABF John Boyd
John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association

Last weekend I got to attend my first Virginia Biological Farming Conference, not just as a participant, but as part of the team making it happen, the Tradeshow Coordinator. If you have any interest in organic farming/gardening, I highly recommend going next year. There were fascinating talks on a wide range of topics, great exhibits from a variety of vendors and organizations, and the food was unbelievable.

Some highlights:

  • Southern Exposure teamed up with Seed Savers Exchange for an all day special seed saving pre-conference workshop. I had to duck in and out while setting up for the exhibits, but I still learned so much!
  • Nazirakh Amen of Purple Mountain Organics gave a talk about his rice farming project on University of DC land. In addition to being a farmer and tool vendor, Nazirakh is a Chinese medical practitioner with extraordinary insights to impart.
  • Rodger Lenhardt of Norm’s Farms brought his fabulous elderberry products. He traded us some syrup (great against coughs and as an immune-booster) and jam, and I now have three little elderberry sticks on my windowsill happily sprouting roots.

    Rodger Lenhardt with his elderberry wares
    Rodger Lenhardt with his elderberry wares
  • Debbie Roos of the NC Cooperative Extension got me all fired up about pollinators and what we can do to attract and protect them. Look for pollinator blog posts soon!
  • Did I mention the food? The food alone was worth going to this conference for. There were contributions from local farms at every meal, but best of all was the giant pot luck lunch. Let’s just say I regretted that I was wearing a corset.

    So much yummy food!
    So much yummy food!