Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our Favorite Weeds, by Lou Jonas

" A weed is a plant nobody has found a use for''. If that statement is true then there are very few weeds in the world. Many of those which the average gardener spends lots of time and money to get rid of, are regarded as favorite vegetables in other countries.

Salsify, if noticed at all by the average person, is called a dandelion with an especially strong stalk. Those hardy pioneer-type gardeners who like something new occasionally and have tried "oyster-plant" as the seed companies call salsify, realize that it is very worth-while to include this "weed" in the garden every year.

Chicory, of course, has been a favored plant in France for centuries, and the highly expensive witloof is a is a bunch of bleached chicory leaves. Chicory is mixed with coffee in Louisiana, and many people don't like coffee without it. It should be much more healthful than pure coffee.


Purslane is a favorite garden vegetable in Europe, and is used in salads and for potherbs. With its rather bland taste, it is much better mixed with something like radishes or cress.


Burdock is a much-esteemed garden vegetable in Asia, and seed can be bought from some seed companies in the U.S. The young, tender leaves, if boiled in two waters, are good spring greens. The young stems can be peeled and boiled, tasting much like asparagus. The roots of the first-year plants can also be boiled, then skin peeled, and served hot with butter. The root is claimed to have power to cure baldness, but we suspect that, even if it works in some caes, there would be many it would not help.


In soils with a hardpan, heavy clay or silt, not many plants have the power to penetrate to the lower layers, where soil nutrients are usually in better supply. The weed roots find small cracks, or push their way through by brute force, and bring up nutrients from where many crop roots can't reach. When the plant is decomposed, as in their use for green manure, the top soil becomes much more fertile. Furthermore, the channels opened up by the weed roots can be followed by crop roots, and also by earthworms. Earthworms are perhaps the most important single factor in the formation of good soil structure, and in changing raw organic matter to humus.

One author says that weeds accumulate those nutrients in which a particular soil is deficient. For example, weeds of acid soil like sheep sorrel and ribwort, are rich in calcium and magnesium. When the weeds decompose, and the nutrients become available for crops to use.

Any plant which is easy to raise, can be depended upon to raise a good crop every year, and which is tasty, can be sure of a welcome in my garden.

For instance, pokeweed, one of the tastiest plants, and one which is good to mix with more bland greens, seems to thrive as well in a garden as along a fencerow. It is one of the best for raising a good supply of succulent sprouts in the basement in the winter. It was used in pioneer days for ink, and Euell Gibbons reported having read a letter written during the Civil War with poke juice ink, which was still perfectly legible. He states that an analysis, comparing raw with cooked poke, showed that Vitamin C, and other nutrients, are not lost during the boiling for 10 minutes, and the subsequent draining; that is, not lost to a significant event.


Since it makes sense to me, to save labor and costs in whatever I do, I'm not inclined to pull those good, useful vegetables like dandelions, pokeweed, pigweed, lambs' quarters, ribwort, and purslane. I just mulch them along with the other vegetables, how around them when I hoe (which is seldom), and make good use of every one of them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Lengthening the Harvest Season"

(Ed. note~ Unfortunately the last page of this article is missing)

If I accidentally get to Heaven one day, I'm sure I'll be able to garden all year long. But none of the places in which I've lived, so far, have quite have had quite that long a growing season. So, since organic gardeners are supposed to be smarter and more independent than ordinary gardeners, I try to figure how to make the best of what we have (And actually, I like some snow and freezing weather in winter.).

Here near Idaho Falls, the winters are frigid enough to send many transplanted southerners and Californians home after one exposure. But I found I can carry many crops through the winter in good condition, even in the soil. With one decimeter (approximately four inches) of mulch (preferably of sawdust, so mice won't feel too welcome) I've harvested beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, even red and potatoes! Two decimeters is better for potatoes; they don't get so sweet that way. Oak leaf lettuce, spinach, and chard wintered well under sawdust, and provided the earliest possible green vegetables. And kale! This year I've seen two gardens, including ours, where kale survived a winter which was consistently cold (only one several-day thaw in January, and below 20F, frequently, with very little or no snow to keep the soil from freezing deeply) and still looks green and fresh, and is producing some very tasty and pest-free bunches of young leaves the last of March. I'm sure it would winter better under a light mulch. So I'll use sawdust on it next winter, then wash it off about March 25, and expect some delicious early salad. And I'll tie a yellow ribbon around the two most vigorous and tastiest plants, and let them go to seed.

Mulching takes work, but the benefits are many. What satisfaction to eat the tastiest possible vegetables, when others have to patronize the "stupor" markets. Even though we store some crops in the basement, they simply don't hold their flavor like those in the good earth. I suspect there is some connection between the actinomycetes, fungi, bacteria, organic matter, and other ingredients of good soil, and good keeping qualities and taste.

Plus it's good to know the vegetables aren't as risky to eat as those with various biocides on and in them. I once bought a pack of carrots which tasted so much like DDT I threw them away, and haven't bought store carrots since. Having lived in Arkansas when plants were spraying cotton fields, homes, highways, livestock, and people heavily; and having worked for a veterinarian there who used DDT by the handful in his dog pens, I know what DDT tastes like. Research by the California Fish and Game Department showed that carrots and other drops do take up insecticides, and concentrate them.

The mulch can be spade under in the spring, if you have good organic soil, or raked off to let the soil warm early, then used again during the summer.

Some crops survive without a mulch; like chives, garlic, cornfield cress, burdock, comfrey, parsnips, horseradish, and parsley. But if you want to dig root crops throughout the winter, without resorting to dynamite, it's wise to cover some of your plants.Otherwise, the ground may be frozen down one or two decimeters when you need them. We use stakes protruding three decimeters or more above the soil surface, so we can locate the rows under whatever snow there may be.

Location has a lot to do with length of growing season. In mountains, or even in foothills, it pays to determine which area experiences the lightest, and the fewest, frosts. You'll find frost pockets in low spots, whereas up slope, or near a small canyon, the more rapidly-moving air currents may make a difference of two or three weeks in the frost-free season. And you'll length the season for such crops as Jerusalem artichokes by planting some in the sunniest, earliest-warmed part of the garden, so it will start growing sooner. But- put some in the shadiest, coolest spot also. Mulch them both heavily in late fall, and those in the cooler spot will be about two weeks later to sprout in the spring. After they are actively growing, I've never found tubers till autumn.

Companion planting makes a difference, too. By planting pokeweed and Van Buren or Beta grapes just under the dripline of elm or apple trees (because these trees hold their leaves longer than such as birch or box elder), you increase their chances of surviving early and late frosts. However, since elm trees are tough competitors with the roots of domestic grapes, you may want to dig till your energy gives out (and hope you got to three feet at least), so you can put a sheet metal barrier between the roots of the two plants. Or if you have soft soil and lots of energy, you can cut both ends from a clean steel drum, and plant the grape or pokeweed inside it.

Borage in the everbearing strawberry patch leads to a larger crop, larger berries, and probably a two-week longer bearing season; perhaps for more reasons than just frost protection. Maybe borage just likes strawberries!

Experienced gardeners learn which crops are best-suited for their area. Apples, hardy apricots, some plums, and pie cherries are most dependable for fruit trees here, but if I . . . (Ed. note- the rest of this article is missing).

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Tale of a Cat

Lou Jonas
Bozeman, Mont.

In my Lone-Mountain days, in Montana, a neighbor rad the long-range weather prediction for the coming winter, and decided to spend it in Arizona. He asked me to look after his pet wildcat while he was gone. I promised to do so, thinking it would be very little trouble, and would let me get better-acquainted with wildcats, whose tracks I often saw in the timber, but seldom caught a glimpse of.

So I let the cat in the cabin once in a while to relieve her boredom, and give me a chance to psychoanalyze her. She proved to be an entertaining and friendly pet. I spent many pleasant hours relaxing, by watching Sheena prowl around the cabin and investigate every piece of furniture, every corner and "hidey-hole".

One night I felt lazy at bedtime, I left Sheena sleeping on the rug when I turned in, instead of returning her to her cage, as usual. That would have been all right if she had continued to sleep on the rug, or anywhere else, for that matter. To Sheena, night time was playtime. I was almost asleep when I sensed something whipping past my scalp. Then a set of sharp claws combed through my hair just a little too deeply for me to sleep well. That's the only night I ever slept with a blanket over my head, indoors.

Once she jumped up on my lap. The reason she got a chance to do this was that I was reading, and hadn't observed her intentions. I regarded her with a wary look, trying to fathom just what she was up to, but it's hard to brush twenty pounds of wildcat off your lap, since they have such an effective means of anchoring that they are almost irresistible, so I let her stay.

She always liked to soften cushion with her front paws before lying down. She did the same thing to my leg muscles, and I've yet to figure out how a soft cat paw can be so bruisingly hard.

The she eyed my long beard, with her head cocked first to one side, and then to the other. She must have liked it, because she smiled softly, and brushed her head against it in a loving soft of way. She patted it a little, but her claws were only partly extended, so there was very little bleeding.

She laid her head alongside mine and purred, and her beautiful white teeth closed gently over the lower part of my ear. I did some rapid calculating, trying to figure how I could disguise the loss of half an ear, in case she decided she liked the flavor. The suspense finally got to me after a long moment, and I gripped the nape of her neck, figuring I should at least try to save part of my face. She relaxed immediately, retracted her claws, and went limp. If you ever need to wrestle a tiger or lion, perhaps you should try this same hold.

I described her as gentle, with a sweet disposition. Well, she was, but remember, men, how entrancing it is to be dining with a charming, soft-voiced, liquid-eyed young lady? Imagine being out with on like that who turned into a werewolf when the waiter put a rare steak on the table! And envision her ears flattening back against her head, and her pupils narrowing, and a threatening snarl issuing from her lips. This is about the way that I was affected the first time she complained of being hungry, and I handed her a venison rib. Fortunately, she was smaller than I, and not rash enough to attack a hermit who snarled some himself, upon occasion (Maybe she just didn't like venison ribs). Should I have offered her tenderloin?

Sheena wasn't fond of dogs. Once a lost Australian shepherd came to the cabin, and poor, half-starved beast hung around for a day or so, absorbing all the grub I could rustle for him. When Sheena came near the cabin while I was feeding him, she must have become jealous, because she suddenly spit, growled and jumped all at the same time, giving the dog a solid thump in the ribs with her forepaws. The dog gave a roaring bark, apparently warning her that if she wanted trouble, that was the best way in the world to get a bellyful of it. He didn't deign to look straight at her, but continued to concentrate on making friends with me (My respect for Australian shepherds zoomed to new heights. The Aussies I had known previously had been quite timid.).

Once Sheena got loose and strayed away from home. Being domesticated, she wasn't adept at catching food for herself, and I was worried about her welfare. Next morning a neighbor half a mile away called and reported that the cat had been on his back porch. I pocketed a chunk of venison and rushed to his place. I was trailing her through the timber and talking, telling her how beautiful she was, when she recognized my voice and came running, delighted to see me, and relieved to be with her good friend again, and especially interested in the venison. Getting her home was a problem. I was skeptical about the wisdom of carrying her, so I decided to let her walk, and try to coax her along with me. We passed a neighbor's house, where the Weimaraner dog barked, and Sheena delivered a hearty wallop to my leg with both forefeet. This was probably an effort to get me to climb a tree, or to run, so we could escape what she considered our common enemy. Or she could have been rattled, and hit the closest animal she could find.

In late March, Sheena became restless, as though she had an important engagement somewhere. She escaped from her cage one night. I trailer her over the melting snow for a half mile, and then lost the trail. Since she had been traveling in a quite straight line, she must have been primed for some far traveling, with a more compatible friend driving her onward. There were plenty of mice that winter, so she had a fine chance to learn to hunt, before she starved, and I evidently had less appeal than a male bobcat.

I don't know if our paths ever crossed again, but when I see a medium-sized cat track in the timber, I can't help but wonder if Sheena was fortunate enough to escape hounds and hunters, and if perhaps she dimly remembers a human who was once a trusted friend.

Does she ever watch me as I pass by the spot where she crouches, almost completely invisible behind a small fallen limb? Does she ever have an impulse to come running up to me, only to be held back by some ancient fear?

Sheena was a good pet, but wild, and how else should a wildcat be?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Newsletter-From Virginia ,1969

Broad Run, Virginia
4 Jan, 1969


We have a crowded schedule, as usual, so will try to write four letters at a time; perhaps that way we can write to all our friends.

The job is interesting; it is nice to get paid for doing what I used to do for fun. We are making a complete inventory of the natural areas of the U.S. and its trust territories, and helping to establish criteria for a "natural area" which we hope will be acceptable to all ecologists. We are also making a list of the research which has been, and is being done on natural areas. We will establish a system for storage and retrieval of data, sometime soon.

I have a very good boss; Gene Wallen, a real go-getter, with a background in oceanography. The other scientists in the department are first raters, also; Helmut Buechner, Lee Talbot, Ray Fosberg, to name some. Lee Talbot is now in India, working on the Gir Forest, and in Ceylon afterwards. I get out in the field often, and really admire these hardwood forests. There are quite a few species of oaks, and red maple and and pignut hickory are common. There are also several species of pine, including the Table Mountain Pine, which is not very widely distributed. It was interesting to see witch hazel blooming this fall, and interesting to see the many species of ferns. We flush wild turkey occasionally, and bob white quail, white tail deer, cottontails, and gray squirrels are common. the mockingbirds, cardinals, bluejays, and titmice stay here all winter.

We're very close to apple orchard country, as well as peach and apricot country. Christmas trees aren't so plentiful as they are in the Gallatin Valley.

Most gardeners here try to get their potatoes planted by March 17, and the rest of the garden correspondingly early. There isn't much of a selection in the supermarkets now.

We had two measurable snowfalls so far; the first was a few inches, and melted soon. The second measured about 12 inches, and then a 40 miles an hour wind blew for 2 or 3 days. It seemed ironical to be more solidly snowbound in Virginia than we ever were in any of the Rocky Mountain States. We only have one drift between us and the county road, but it is about 200 yards long, and two to five feet deep. So we borrowed a microbus, and are driving out through the field. After the plentiful fall rains, I would say that the ground water supply should have been restored; last fall many springs went dry here, and there was a very poor crop of acorns, and the black walnuts were quite small, many of them unfilled.

I didn't do any hunting this fall, and we miss the supply of venison which we normally have. However, I have made friends with a lot of good hunters, so I will probably hunt next year. I intend to use the bow for deer; I should be able to get a turkey, also.

We had a husky Kirby-style 7 lb. 6 oz. boy; that completes the team. He weights about 14 now, at almost 3 months. The other kids are doing well. Kandy is in 2nd grade, and Jamie in 1st. The schools are totally integrated, and I guess they both have colored teachers. The schools do seem rather hillbillyish, so I don't mind keeping them out of school to take them to museums and the zoo, and other interesting places. This country is about like living in a history book, with so many battles having been fought nearby, and so many important people having been born here.

I'll close here, and wish you the best.

Vaya con Dios,

Director, Center for the Study of Natural Areas

Control of the Packrat

(From a school paper, written 1961)

The various species of rats included in the genus Neatoma are interesting, and some of them are quite handsome, but their business operations are usually one-sided. Their nuisance rating is high when a hunter misses his wrist watch or eye glasses, and discovers sign pointing to a "packrat", or "woodrat", as the thief.

As long as the woodrat dwells at a distance from human habitation, he is an innocuous and interesting animal. When he favors a ranch cabin with his presence, he can contaminate grain and other foods, especially if they are carelessly stored, in such containers as burlap bags. His habit of collecting such interesting objects as jewelry, silverware, and socks causes many humans to develop a definite antipathy toward him.

This rodent may be easily captured by taking advantage of his natural habits, such as his custom of traveling close to walls, and running behind objects where possible, due to his protective instinct for remaining near to cover. A length of stove-pipe laid parallel to the wall, with a size 0 or 1 steel trap set inside, is almost certain to result in a catch the first night.

Another effective location for a trap is in a flat cake pan, with rolled barley or oats completely covering the trap. The constantly-roving rat is easily caught here, also.

A different method of control is with the use of a flashlight and firearm. This can best be illustrated by relating the following anecdote.

Wes Darling is a cattle rancher in central California. On roundup one fall, he and his brother slept in the cabin which Wes maintains on his summer range. Their slumbers had been disturbed by the gnawing and rustlings of a pack rat which had his homestead under the cabin.

The second night, Wes bedded down with a flashlight and a loaded 12-gauge shotgun nearby. When the rodent entered the cabin and began its nightly investigation of the kindling pile, Wes snapped on the light and fired as he caught the rat in the beam. The rat and the charge of shot left the cabin together, boring a new hole as they went. The event was somewhat complicated by the sudden awakening of Wes' brother (who is a detective sergeant). He leaped from his bed, stumbled over the bed where Wes slept, and turned the stove over as he fell to the floor. Apart from such domestic perils, this method has more disagreable and lasting effects, if there is a woman dwelling in the building who dislikes holes in the walls of her home.

If the house is built with log walls, and replacement panes are readily available for the windows, the preceding method may be varied, as was once done on the Gros Ventres range in Wyoming. Ralph Lerocq and five other punchers were on fall roundup, and had just moved into the cabin which had been built for such use. A bushy-tailed woodrat attracted their attention through most of the night, and they decided to rid the premises of his presence. Since each carried a pistol for romantic reasons (they were no more efficient with a handgun than most other cowboys), they planned to use these to solve their rat problem. The end of a wooden apple crate was propped in such a position that it would fall and block the entrance to the rathole when the supporting stick was jerked away by means of a string, the other end of which was taken to bed by Ralph.

The "boys" retired in good spirits, having packed in enough food and drink to keep them this way. The principal actor in the scene made his entrance soon, and when assured of this by the direction of the sounds, Ralph jerked the string, and the intrepid punchers, reckless of any danger from their prey, left their beds with drawn six-shooters. They lit the lanterns and began the execution. After some near misses, the rat realized his unpopularity, and began an earnest search for exit holes. He forsook the floor in favor of the ceiling joists. Splinters flew, and shooters were more in danger than the target, because of their larger size and greater numbers.

Having found no way of leaving through the roof, the woodrat dropped to the floor once more, the jumped onto a chair and ran across the table. A full gallon can of syrup was resting there, and was centered by a .38 special slug. The eventual demise of the prey was anti-climactic. Perhaps the most important qualifications for this technique would be a fairly high intellect and a masterly skill in handgunnery.

Slowly, humanity is accepting the fact that the most efficient way to control woodrats (and all our other animal neighbors) is to use preventative measures, such as properly-constructed buildings, and vermin-proof storage. If such natural controls as gopher and bull snakes, screech and barn owls, and weasels are allowed to live in some measure of security, they are quite willing, even eager, to control rodents.

Since woodrats have proven to be adaptable to general laboratory use, and may assume great importance some day soon, it behooves mankind to act in a mature way in his "packrat" control. They may be means of conquering some vicious disease, some day very soon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Favorite Pets in Our Family Were Blondie and Dagwood!

(Ed. note~This story dates from the 1950s, with Dad's first wife Frances. I believe he was in California at the time.)

We made pets of all the farm animals and also of many of the so-called wild ones of our state, but when someone gave us us a pair of baby badgers, well. . . that was a challenge. Everyone said that a badger just couldn't be tamed.

Google Images

Calling my new infants "Blondie" and "Dagwood", I took them into the house and put them down. There is no prettier animal than a wee, soft-coated badger. Two light stripes run from their nose over their head to their neck. They are most beautiful when startled, or angry. Then they seem to just "blow up" and spread out about twice their width and every hair is standing on end. The hissing sound they make at this time, seems to be a whistle.

The little fellows took off when I put them down on the kitchen floor and visited every room, looking things over. At last they decided it was nap time so, tucking their heads under their furry coats, they fell asleep in the clothes closet, a pair of old felt slippers for their bed.

We fixed a house for them out in the shade, and knowing they great diggers, placed rabbit wire under the house and pen. They would sleep most of the day, and we let them out in the evenings to play.

We could pick them up any time when they were small, but after they reached two months old, it seemed I was the only one they trusted. I could call to them and they would come as fast as their short little legs would go. Then they would come to a very quick strop, blow themselves up, and hiss. I would pick them up and stroke their soft fur, all the while talking to them, which they seemed to enjoy.

None of the others in the family could do this. If they tried, those sharp little teeth quickly put a stop to friendship between man and beast. Never once did Blondie or Dagwood bite me.

When they were about three months old, I started to shoot gophers for them. These they would shake to pieces before eating. They had been eating table scraps and cooked rolled oats, but were very particular as to just what kind of food was fir for their royal highnesses.

Take beans, for instance. These would be sniffed at, rolled about, and then a hold would be dug and the beans buried and patted down beneath a layer of dirt.

Blondie was as sweet as she could be and gave up a lot for Dagwood. He was the aggressive type, and tried to be the big shot. He was sometimes mean to her and would slap her around now and then. But once in a while, she had enough of his nonsense. Then the fur would fly. Rolling over and over, they would squeal at each other until one was winner. Then the loser would go off into a dark corner, cover up its head and sulk for a while, looking like a small brown puff-ball.

We had the pair for over a year, then having to move to the city, we knew our pets we thought so much of would have to go back to the prairies. We would not give them to anyone for fear they would be mistreated. It was spring, so we took them to the far north pasture, where the gophers were plentiful, and turned them loose.

Dagwood took off at his highest speed and started digging, but Blondie just stood by my feet. I almost cried at that, but soon she saw her "better half" almost out of sight in a hole, and curiosity got the better of her. Off she went, and when we last saw them, the dirt was flying from the new "diggin's". I hope they were happy and perhaps by now there are several little "fuzz-balls" in that little home on the prairie.