More good news on the food front

Last week, two posts on opened a startling window on the capacity of well tended small gardens. The first article, “Why Micro-Gardening Could Go Big,” discussed the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a large supporter of micro-gardens, defined as “intensely cultivated small spaces.”  They claim that an 11 square foot garden can produce “as much as 200 tomatoes a year, 36 heads of lettuce every 60 days, 10 cabbages every 90 days, and 100 onions every 120 days.”

Micro-garden by Nick Saltmarsh, 2009.  CC-by-3.0

Micro-garden by Nick Saltmarsh, 2009. CC-by-3.0

The post features a number of links to other sites with numerous links of their own, and it soon becomes clear that many groups and individuals are finding new ways of boosting yields.  As I discussed recently (Good news on the food front), unless agriculture finds ways of keeping pace with population growth, disaster is a mathematical certainty.

These articles show that there are far more efficient configurations than traditional, single row gardens. Raised beds and containers are common features of the gardens pictured online.

Rooftop garden, Senegal, CC-by-2.0

Rooftop garden, Senegal, CC-by-2.0

One nice thing about these photos is that they make you want to get your hands dirty! Maybe not this afternoon, with temps in the mid 90’s, but I’ve already got a spot in mind for the fall and spring.  We used to have a veggie garden when we lived north of here and had more time and far better soil.  With micro-gardens you don’t need large amounts of time or good soil to get started.

Photo by USDA.  CC-by-2.0

Photo by USDA. CC-by-2.0

NPR’s second post, Micro-Garden Madness, has additional photos of places where people are growing things.  Unlike the ambitious plots at the local community gardens, where you often see couples and families work long hours on weekends and evenings, the smaller gardens can work for people who spend their evenings and weekends in strange pursuits like blogging.

Phil Weiner co-founded a company that makes products aimed at micro-gardeners.  “Everyone in the world should have a victory garden,” he says.

Can we even begin to imagine what such a world would be like?  With these articles and photos, we can begin to envision such a transformation.

NPR’s Best Books of 2012

I usually tune out end-of-the-year “Best” lists the way I ignore after Christmas sales, because at a certain point, enough is simply enough.  National Public Radio, however, compiled a quirky and compelling list of 20 different lists by critics, writers, and NPR staff members.  It’s worth a look.  Most titles were not ones I’d heard of and were so diverse there should be a wide appeal.  Here are the categories:

  1. Picks by indie booksellers.
  2. Picks by a librarian.
  3. Five YA novel choices.
  4. Staff choices of best music books.
  5. Best book club reads.
  6. 10 books to help you recover from a tense 2012.
  7. The best heroines of 2012.
  8. Best romance in various sub-genres.
  9. Middle-grade recommendations.
  10. True originals:  a list of compelling biographies.
  11. Graphic novels.
  12. Best science fiction.
  13. Contrarian cookbooks.
  14. 2012’s best mysteries (mean girls rule).
  15. Best historical fiction
  16. “2012’s Books to hang onto,”
  17. Five poetry choices.
  18. Great short story collections.
  19. Gift and illustrated books.
  20. Best books of the winter season.

I haven’t been reading or wanting to read many novels in recent months, but a description on list #2 piqued my interest.    Among Others by Jo Walton is a Hugo and Nebulla award winning novel about a girl in south Wales whose survival becomes tied up in a library reading group that exposes her to classic science-fiction writers like Heinlein, Le Guin, and others.

On the same list I spotted the sort of history I have enjoyed lately, America Aflame:  How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield.  Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina, considers all aspects of American life between 1834 and 1876.  Reviewer, Nancy Pearl said, “like all the best histories, it made me carefully consider my own assumptions and beliefs about our country’s past.”

Have a look.  I’m sure you’ll find something worth reading that you missed in 2012.

A fun music poll

I’m in the middle of a compelling book I know I’ll discuss when I finish, Andrew Bacevich’s 2008, The Limits of Power:  The End of American Exceptionalism. I don’t read all that fast, and there is so much to consider here that it will be a few days, but tonight I took a break to cruise around a bit, and I found a fun and interesting music poll on NPR.

It’s old news, really – it was posted a week ago, but there’s no clear time limit on this one.  Questions of taste and why certain pieces of music move us were posed in a recent article in The Guardian by Oxford professor and musicologist, Eric Clarke.  The Guardian has launched a website, “Six Songs of Me,” to map as many personal playlists as possible.  You can access the NPR story and the Guardian site here:

A followup piece on NPR today covered some of the thousands of responses received, which range from serious to funny.  For instance, in the category  of “What would you want played at your funeral?” one person answered, “Stayin Alive,” and another, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”

Here is the poll along with my answers.  Please feel free to list your songs in comments here as well as on the website.  Music is such an important and personal thing to so many, but it’s also fun to share.

  • What was the first song you ever bought?
  • El Paso by Marty Robbins
  • What song always gets you dancing?
  • Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits
  • What song takes you back to your childhood?
  • Medicine Wheel by Kate Wolf
  • What is your perfect love song?
  • Wedding Song by Bob Dylan
  • What song would you want at your funeral?
  • Barricades of Heaven by Jackson Browne
  • Time for an encore. One last song that makes you, you.
  • Box of Rain by the Grateful Dead

Meanwhile, this whole exercise brought to mind an exceptional clip of my choice for category two. This may be my favorite YouTube clip of all time – Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton doing Sultans of Swing at the 1988 celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. You absolutely cannot sit still when you hear this. Enjoy!

A new history of Rome

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see analogies between our current situation and ancient Rome.  In a recent NPR interview, Anthony Everitt, who has written biographies of Cicero, Augustus, and Hadrian, explains his fascination with that time period:  “I love stories and I love characters.  And the thing about the ancient world, it is crammed, it is packed with [the] most interesting and eccentric and brave and villainous characters of all kinds.”

Everitt was on NPR to discuss his new history of Rome, The Rise of Rome: The Making of the World’s Greatest Empire.

In the interview, Everitt brings a 21st century sensibility to bear a past that has shaped us even more than we may know.  Our founding fathers, for instance, poured over the constitution of the The Roman Republic.  And here is what Everitt says about why the Republic failed, to be replaced with a military autocracy:

“The people who governed the world suddenly lost the ability to govern themselves. There was bloodshed. … This collapse of the constitution and an unwillingness of political opponents to talk with each other, to do deals, to come up with agreements, however messy and provisional, that loss was a catastrophe for Rome. And the Republic, in fact, went up in flames.”

‘Nuff said about the relevance of this book, I think…

More lists, bigger lists (of books).

Last time I posted a small list of my favorite English novels.  Now, thanks to Adam, who blogs at Reviews and Ramblings, I can send you to look at lists of 400 of NPR listeners’ favorite books.

Adam spotted this summer’s NPR poll, devoted to teen novels. Sadly I didn’t look at the date the voting closed, so it’s too late to put in your choices. Still, you can look at the 100 finalist titles (selected by a panel from 235 listener nominations). You can check back next week to see the rankings assigned by people who paid attention to the deadlines.  And you can also check out the winners in the categories featured over the past three years:

  • 2011 – Science fiction & fantasy
  • 2010 – “Killer thrillers”
  • 2009 – Beach reads

The panel of three who whittled the list down from 235 to 100 for voting said their main criterion was selecting books “that teens themselves have claimed — whether they do, in fact, voluntarily read it.”

Umm – I’m not convinced in every instance, anymore than I think Anna Karenina belongs on the 2009 list of beach reads.  Still, the good folks at NPR have pointed me toward several great novels.  Look through the results of their polls.  You may well find something great to read.