Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Difference Between guru and Guru

Waxing nostalgic today, remembering the early days of learning to use a computer, and eventually developing expertise at it.

When our Math teacher in high school had us working with TRS-80 computers for about 2 weeks, I failed miserably. Made no sense, and I just could not understand what he was telling us to do, or why it had to be so difficult just to get text to scroll across a screen. Or why I’d want to spend 10 minutes writing an instruction to make it do that. Confusing. Pointless.

Then about 10 years later, my father-in-law gave us his used Mac Classic. I read Macs for Dummies. Then More Macs for Dummies. Then Mac Secrets. Within two years I could quote the statistics for every Mac ever made up to that point. I could do that for about five years. Until the iMac, when models and specs were no longer synonymous.

Somewhere early on, I started rebuilding Macs and Mac Laptops. I did a lot of online support for them, helping people troubleshoot issues. Even though I was in the middle of nowhere, the internet opened up the ability for me to develop that expertise anywhere.

One day, a guy contacted me. Said that he had pretty good Mac skills, but considered himself to be more of a “Mac guru-small g” type expert, and he was looking for a “Mac Guru-big-g” level expert to go to when he could not figure things out, and that is why he had called me.

Considering that up until that point I had considered myself to not even BE a “Mac guru” yet, I was really flattered. I’d just been having fun learning this stuff and figuring things out!

I kind of thought it was normal for Mac enthusiasts to be able to quote specs off the top of their head at the mention of a model number (I still know that the Quadra held the most RAM of any pre-PowerMac, and what the initials RISC stand for – and if you know what that means, you are really geeky). Geeky doesn’t begin to cover that… I know. But I didn’t realize that when I was answering emails off the top of my head, the other guys were looking it up before they answered. I had also failed to notice the number of times I jumped into a forum thread and gave some simple answer that everyone else had overlooked, and I happened to get it right on the first try.

It dawned on me… He thought I could be his…. DAVID POGUE!!! Only a girl.

I soon realized that he was not the only one who thought that. I found references to my skills increasingly by other people when they could not solve the problem themselves in public forums. In fact, even four years after I owned my last Mac, people on one forum were still referring to me as the Mac expert.

It really changed how I felt about my skills at that time. Gave me the courage to go on and do some other things I might not have otherwise.

But it was a different day then. Becoming an expert was easier when there were fewer of them (and fewer people pretending to be them). The internet was different. Less crowded. Easier to find a quiet corner and get to know people.

I went on to develop outstanding expertise in other fields – Joomla, SEO, Small Business Website Automation, and some other oddball areas. And I’m off again in a new field again (sometimes literally), in the area of small ag, mushroom foraging and cultivation, and small scale manufacturing. But I never again really felt like I achieved an uncontested status of Guru.

It is harder now. You can still rise to the ranks of “Guru-big-g”, but it tends to be within a certain online or offline circle. It is far harder to do on a global, or even national basis.

It still feels perfectly normal to quote specs off the top of my head, but today it is animal breeds, fish species, plant growing parameters, the latin names of edible mushrooms, and digestive system biology. Maybe, someday, someone will need me to be their “Guru-big-g” for something I’m learning now. But if not, I’ll keep learning, because no matter what anyone else thinks, the learning is still a lot of fun!


**For those of you who do not know, David Pogue was the “Mac Guru to the Stars”, with a list of Hollywood clients that read like People Magazine’s top 100 list.**

Why Seed Bombs and Seed Paper Don’t Grow

It is SUCH a cute idea! Seeds embedded into paper, or other materials, shaped into cool shapes, or just made into cards. Give them to your friends, they say. They’ll love the surprise plants that come up, they say. Spread a world of color and growing things!

Only one problem. The recipe to make these things goes something like this:

Put paper scraps and water in the blender. Blend to make a sludge. Stir in seeds, and pour onto a paper making frame. Alternately, drain the sludge to make a paste, mix in the seeds, and form into neat little shapes. Let the shapes or paper dry, and you have a nifty thing to give away.


Seeds + Moisture = GERMINATION.

Germination + Drought = DEATH

If you mix seeds with water, and leave them in a moist environment for several hours, they germinate. They come out of stasis, stimmulated by the moisture. And then you let the environment dry out. So they die. All of this happens silently inside the seed hull – because you’ve given them enough moisture to bring them to life, but not enough to grow enough to be visible. And then you KILLED them.

And then you give them away to someone else who buries it in some dirt, and watches, and nothing comes up, so they figure they forgot to water it or something.

There are a VERY few seeds that can actually survive this – those meant to survive a wet season before they germinate, or those that require fire, or other exposure to remove a seed coating prior to germination. Your average garden seed, either edible plants or not, simply cannot survive this.

I’ve pointed this out to people promoting this project. The response I got was that people make these all the time, and I was directed to many websites showing how to make them.

They are right. People DO make these all the time.

But people NEVER actually GROW these things. They try, but they don’t grow.

Ok, so why did someone come up with this idea in the first place? Either deception, or ignorance. In this day and age, it could easily be either one.

I’m thinking seed paper had to have been deception, because it started with one of those trendy “green” companies (and scams are rampant in that arena – sorry folks, but they are, and people who REALLY want to live lightly on the land are the first to admit it!).

I’m thinking some crafty homeschool mom or kindergarten teacher came up with the seed bombs, figuring if paper, then why not bombs? They likely made one up, then ran straight out to test it, before it dried. Voila! It worked! And they never even thought that it would not after it dried out, even though they teach their little students to make sure their plant gets water when they send them home with a bean plant in a styrofoam cup!

But then, a dying just germinated seed that hasn’t even put out roots yet doesn’t visibly wilt, wither, and turn brown when you forget to water it. It just quietly expires and leaves you wondering why it never came up.

So what is the REAL lesson here?

We KNOW that if you get a seed wet, and then let it dry out again, it will kill it, and it will not germinate. Every gardener knows that! Every person who stores seeds knows that – they know that you have to protect them from getting wet. We know this so well that we’d NEVER think of taking a packet of seeds, soaking it in water, letting it dry out, and then send it to someone to plant! But that is just what this project does!

Some very smart gardeners have passed this project on as a neat idea. Why would they do that? Why don’t they apply what they KNOW to this project?

Sometimes when information comes from a source we view as “an authority”, or from someone who says it works, it can cause us to doubt our own knowledge. We think of what we know, then we dismiss it, thinking maybe they know something we do not! We LET someone else cause us to doubt FACTS THAT WE KNOW.

This actually happens a lot. This is why wordmasters and Politicians can twist things around. This is how an entire nation can be persuaded to set aside elementary school math and buy into a political scheme that hasn’t a hope of giving them what they want. This is how drug users can persuade themselves that their actions aren’t hurting anyone but themselves.

So the first lesson is, don’t bother making seed bombs or seed paper for gifts if the process involves getting the seeds wet (I’ll bet there are plenty of other creative ways to make seed bombs).

The second lesson is, trust what you know to be true, no matter who is saying otherwise. And if you still doubt, TEST IT!

Making Winter Farmer’s Markets Work


Many people experience a sense of let-down when the farmer’s markets end in the fall, and look forward with anticipation to the rewewal of them in the spring. There are places where they run year-round, and it is possible to do so pretty much anywhere, if a few requirements are met.

In warm climates, the climate solves the problem itself. Outdoor markets are possible all year, crops produce all year, and the rest of the products and handmade goods that populate the markets keep right on coming. It is really the cold climates that present the challenges, but they really aren’t complicated to solve.

  1. You’ll need an indoor venue if temperatures drop below about 50 degrees. In every city there is somewhere that can host a market weekly or monthly. It may increase vendor costs somewhat.
  2. Local producers would need to get on board with producing more winter crops. This includes microgreens, winter stable crops (lettuce, spinach, arugula, and about 30 other crops can tolerate temperatures down to 15 degrees), and greenhouse crops.
  3. Local producers can store and sell winter root cellar crops (cabbages, carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, potatoes, squash, apples, and other cold storage crops).
  4. Local growers also have the option for dried and locally preserved crops (dried fruits and veggies, nuts, legumes, etc), and home canned vegetables, soups, chili, etc.
  5. Farmer’s markets are a haven for pickled goods, jams and jellies, locally produced sauces and condiments, and other preserved goodies. This is applicable year-round.
  6. The usual baked goods are still salable, along with fresh baked pizza, ribs, etc.
  7. There is scope for local handcrafters to use the markets for sale of a range of crafted items.
  8. There is also scope for expansion of the winter markets into locally produced fibers, hides, farming by-products such as compost, corn stalks, leaf piles, and straw bales for holidays, and other items which can be locally produced but are typically stocked at big box stores and hardware stores.
  9. Farmer’s Markets may wish to allow home businesses, or farm gate or farmhouse businesses other than just farm raised. I have heard of a local flea market that was allowed in because he sold AND bought local second hand items at his booth, and offered appraisals. He often sat next to a watch repairman, and an antiques dealer who also bought and sold.

Winter Farmer’s markets could easily provide a more versatile outlet for the sale of locally produced items in tune with the seasons of the year. It would allow local producers to take advantage of Holiday themes more readily, and to find productive options for continuing healthy sales through the winter.

Farmer’s Markets are a little like Christmas. One of the reasons they have a sense of excitement in some areas is because the season is limited. But they also have a hard time succeeding with many people because they are not a predictable entity.

Shoppers are largely driven by habit. If it is their habit to go to the Farmer’s Market once a week, they’ll get what they can there, and then go to the other stores. When the Farmer’s Market dries up for the year, they may or may not return to the weekly habit the next year. Keeping them alive through the winter, and keeping them fresh and vital through that time would add to the stability of it as a local shopping source, and help people to incorporate it into their habits more effectively.

People who CAN market through these venues all year exist in virtually every community that is large enough to support a Farmer’s Market. Making it work all year would mean reaching out not just to growers, but to other producers, and encouraging seasonal production of whatever is possible in that area. It also means bringing back Winter Food Production, which has largely been lost in America.

If Americans are to make the move to more locally produced foods, in a way that lasts, Farmer’s Markets are an essential part of that. They need to provide enough variety and enough stable production to assure every shopper who WANTS to buy local, that it is worth their time to make the effort to check the Farmer’s Market every week. Those markets that are held only monthly need to be established and built up to a weekly event in order to really gain a lasting foothold.

Year-round operation is not only a tantalizing possibility, it is a practical necessity, and possesses the very real potential to benefit a range of producers within a community.

I have found ONE exception to the Year-round potential. That is in a tourist driven economy where seasonal customers WILL buy, and locals will NOT buy.

UPDATE: Mushrooms are a great year-round product. Our book Profitable Mushroom Products is now available on Amazon for Kindle, and in PDF format through our Firelight Heritage Farm Books website.

What Is Traditional Food?

“Traditional Food” is a term that is bandied about in Foodie circles, and used to give a feeling of authenticity to whatever method a particular author is defending as being the most superior way of making a thing. Traditions are funny things though… They tend to evolve over time, and become something different than what they started as.

To many people in the US, Boxed Macaroni and Cheese is now a Traditional Food. It is the food their grandmothers served to their mothers and fathers.

To some people, the meaning of traditional food means they have looked back a hundred years or so, and have decided that this is how humanity always did a thing.

To others, it means going back far enough that all traces of industrialism are removed from the processes – and most of these people have NO idea how far back they really have to go to achieve that goal.

A further wrinkle in defining “traditional” is that historic methods of preparing and preserving foods varied from family to family, culture to culture, and climate to climate. Chinese traditional cooking and preserving is different than European traditional cooking and preserving. While they have many aspects in common, details vary widely.

Because of the confusion, I’ve preferred to use the term “Historic” rather than “Traditional”. Historic Foods encompass those foods used to sustain human life and population growth for nearly seven millenia. It had to be successful to do that!

In general, if you want to remove industrialization from the food arena, you must go back at LEAST 200 years. This removes the industrialization processes only from food preparation and preservation. It does not remove industrialization from farming. Mono-cropping on a large scale was practiced for some time prior to that, first on a very limited, then increasingly large scale.

To achieve truly Historic food – that is, food that is clean, produced by nature (with or without the cooperation of people), and purely healthy, you must go back in time both in how the food is prepared, AND in how it is grown. This is true of plants, and animals. You must remove industrialization as far as possible from the production of the food, from birth or sprouting, to consumption.

Industrialization in food has caused more harm to the quality of food than anything else. Our government has entrenched industrialization into virtually all commercial food production processes – requiring the use of artificial means and methods, prohibiting the use of natural and healthy means and methods. If you buy it in a grocery store, the hand of government controlled industrialized contamination is already upon the food in one way or another. The only exception to that is a very few small local stores that carry food direct from small farms that are exempt from the heavy hand of government regulation. If the product is marketed nationally, the hand of government has already dirtied it.

Mass produced foods have lower nutrition, higher chemical contamination, higher foodborne illness contamination rates, and far lower digestibility. There is nothing about them that is superior to the customer in any way. They are NOT lower in cost. They only appear so, because they are subsidized by tax money, which you pay in ways that you do not associate with the food you are purchasing.

Industrialization has affected foods increasingly in negative ways for many centuries now. To remove it, we must go back further – to a time when crops were grown together, companion plants were used, chickens and pigeons and pigs were used to benefit the gardens, and the manure from farm animals, along with composted food and garden waste were the only enhancements available. Back to a time when food was harvested wild in dense forests with deep litter. Back to when any farm animal that was not disease hardy and an easy bearer was allowed to discontinue from the gene pool.

All of those natural conditions can be either utilized, or recreated on a polyculture, permaculture style farm. Farming becomes an endeavor of managed ecosystems involving the full range of organisms, rather than a science of crop management designed to produce hundreds of acres of a single crop on semi-sterile ground. Production rises, profit rises, and food quality is enhanced exponentially when the entire complement of crops and beneficials are balanced.

Food is then handled and processed cleanly – without chlorine or other chemicals, without artificial additives, and in small batches to control potential pathogen outbreak. Food gets from the producer to the customer fast – so it is not required to be genetically modified or chemically preserved to retain the appearance of freshness, and so that pathogens have no time to become dangerous contaminations. People are treated to fresh ingredients, which they then prepare from scratch. Preserved foods are dried, pickled, cold stored (root cellared type crops), or cured – some may be frozen. They are not heat sterilized, nor are they chemically embalmed (both processes destroy the majority of nutrients, and may introduce other problems as well).

REAL food – good Historic food – is produced in a partnership with nature (rather than a replacement of nature), and is prepared using only real food ingredients. It is NOT based upon traditions which contain hidden assumptions of safety, but upon time honored methods stretching back for thousands of years. There is a REASON why those methods survived for so long!

So the next time someone tells you that a process, or method, or concept is “Traditional”, ask them just what they mean by that. Because their definition of traditional may be completely different from yours.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.