Monday, May 28, 2012

Top 100: Fungi

This is the first of a series of posts that will cover the "Top 100" forest garden plants taken from volume 1 of the Edible Forest Gardens books. We will start with the fungi and work our way up to the trees. In Anastasia book 4 chapter 14, Vladimir mentions mushrooms briefly.

Russians are accustomed to eating mushrooms - well boiled, fried, marinated or salted. Anastasia eats them in their dried, natural state, without any processing. One time I was travelling from Moscow to Gelendzhik by car for a readers' conference. The whole trip I lived on mushrooms Anastasia had given me.

We now take a look at the 4 species of mushrooms listed in the "Top 100".

Shiitake - Lentinula edodes
Many farmers and gardeners in our region grow shiitake mushrooms. Their cultivation is fairly simple and reliable. Shiitakes will grow on logs or stumps. Their rich flavor and firm texture make shiitakes a popular gourmet mushroom. Many Asian cultures also consider them medicinal. (image above)

Oyster Mushroom - Pleurotus ostreatus
Oysters grow easily in a variety of substrates. Cultivators usually grow them on logs or stumps, but they can also grow in compost piles, straw mulch, or almost any carbonaceous material. They are voracious decomposers and are even used to clean up and digest toxic oil spills. Their gourmet flavor does, in fact, resemble that of oysters.

Chicken-of-the-Woods - Polyporus sulphureus
Chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms provide exceptional quality food. They exhibit a Day-Glo orange color and actually do taste just like chicken. Chicken-of-the-woods grows best on stumps but can also grow on partially buried logs. (image below)

King Stropharia - Stropharia rugoso-annulata
King stropharias are large, gourmet mushrooms. Their flavor resembles that of potatoes cooked with wine. Stropharias are well suited to cultivation in straw or wood-chip mulch—in fact, they commonly pop up uninvited in bark mulch used for landscaping. When overmature, the caps can exceed 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Mahabharata (book 1.LXIII)

Satyavati sat at the back of the boat with both hands gripping the single oar. Her rowing was mechanical and her gaze was fixed on the opposite bank of the Yamuna river. Her passengers sat at the other end of the boat, occasionally looking back at her with disgust in their eyes. She was used to it now, having lived with it for her entire life.

When she was a child, the other children constantly bullied and tormented her. She had no friends, and even adults would approach her with smiles that turned to nausea once they got near. She lived in complete isolation, with only her fisherman father for support.

At night, her grief was often overwhelming and she sobbed uncontrollably, but her father was always there to console her. Putting his arm around her shoulders, she would rest her head against him and listen to his soothing voice, "Don’t lose faith... God will find a way."

She should have been married by now, but felt there was little hope of that ever happening. To occupy herself and help out her father, she began rowing travellers across the Yamuna. She kept a tin for fares at the other end of the boat, so travellers would never have to come near her. However, first time customers always made that mistake, like the people currently in her boat, for she was stunningly beautiful by appearance.

When the water became too shallow for rowing, Satyavati pulled her sari up between her legs and tucked it in at her waist, then jumped out and pushed the boat the rest of the way up onto the bank. Her passengers disembarked, raising two coins in the air for payment. She pointed to the tin, they deposited the money and hurriedly went on their way.

She walked over and picked up the tin to count her earnings, when a man spoke from directly behind her, "Can you take me across?"

She turned and looked up at him smiling sweetly at her. He was tall with a darker complexion, and thick long hair. He wore the simple clothing of a Rishi with a tika on his forehead. She continued to look up at him, waiting for his expression to sour; when it didn’t, she became perplexed and asked, "Can you not smell the foul fish stench emanating from my body?"

"At the moment, your beauty is flooding all of my senses."

Satyavati was taken aback and didn’t know how to respond, as this was the first compliment she had ever received. The Rishi Parasara then asked again, "Can you take me to the other bank?"

Still disoriented she agreed absentmindedly. Parasara sat in the middle bench, facing her as she rowed, then after a short distance said, "Make love to me."


"Make love to me."

He’s crazy! she thought, but not wanting to offend him, searched for excuses instead, "Where? In this boat? With people watching from either bank?" She had stopped rowing, but continued to hold the oar, while the boat began to drift.

Parasara closed his eyes in concentration and in a matter of seconds, the clear sky became overcast and a thick fog descended on the river. Satyavati was in awe, but at the same time started to panic, "Wait! Wait. My family’s name will be sullied and my virginity lost. Please. Please don’t persist... I beg of you."

Parasara opened his arms to the fog that encircled them. "You have witnessed my abilities, so have no fear. I will restore your virginity and no one need know what we’ve done. I will even grant you one wish beforehand, anything your heart desires."

Satyavati filled with hope, which she quickly quelled, for she knew disappointment would be far too painful. She steadied herself, then asked, "If it pleases you to do so, all I ask is that my body emit a sweet scent, rather than the vile one it now has."

"So be it."

She held her breath tensely, too afraid to breathe. At first, Parasara didn’t realize what the problem was, then said, "It’s alright... breathe," and she did. Tears of joy poured from her eyes and her heart filled with gratitude as she looked upon the smiling Rishi. She dropped her oar and threw herself on him, bowling him over, frantically kissing every part of his face, uttering "Thank you" again and again between every kiss.

As they lay on the boat bottom and her kisses slowed, she then remembered what he had wanted in return and proceeded to satisfy him with all of her heart.

As they finished their lovemaking, the boat came aground on a small island in the middle of the Yamuna. Parasara led her from the boat and told her she had conceived a child that would be born shortly. Before she could object, she found herself with a swelled belly and in labour.

The baby boy that was born continued growing miraculously until he was an adolescent. After taking a moment to examine himself, he materialized the clothing of a sage then greeted his parents with joined palms.

Satyavati lay on the beach exhausted as this sage Her son! told her he would go and live in isolation practicing ascetism, but that if she ever had need of him, all she had to do was think of him and he would appear. With that he dematerialized from her view and was gone.

Parasara then told her that their son was named Dwaipayana (island born), but kept from her that their son was also Vyasa (the compiler). Parasara then proceeded to restore everything to as it was before he had interrupted her rowing: the clear sky, their position in the river, her strength and virginity.

It suddenly all felt to her like some strange dream that had never happened, and she would have convinced herself of that, were it not for her new wondrous scent.

As they approached the opposite bank, Satyavati saw a group of men jostling there. When they arrived, Parasara bid her goodbye with a smile and a wink amidst the farmers, merchants and other male villagers vying for her attention. What she didn’t know was that her new scent didn’t only extend a couple feet from her body, but extended for a yojana (eight miles) and also had a seducing effect on all men.

One merchant had just outbid the others for the right to row her across the river when a majestic man appeared from the trees. The sun glinted off his golden armour catching everyone’s attention.

He was tall with broad shoulders; muscular and handsome. It was King Santanu of the kingdom of Hastinapura, standing in the kingdom of Chedi. Satyavati immediately recognized him, as did many others, for he had made a public address at their capital a few years ago to announce an alliance with their king, Uparichara. The entire kingdom had turned out, including her and her father, for Santanu was famous throughout the eastern world.

Through peaceful alliances he had brought his governing principles to dozens of kingdoms, creating prosperity and happiness for people everywhere. Respected by men and adored by women; boys imagined being him, while girls dreamed of marrying him, but Satyavati had never entertained such thoughts... until now.

As Santanu approached her, all of the villagers cleared a path. When their eyes met, she immediately knew what was coming. He took her left hand with his right; then covering it with his left, he bent down on one knee and with deep adoration asked, "Will you marry me?"


1. Derived from: Adi Parva, Section LXIII, p. 127.

2. Santanu's proposal: Adi Parva, Section C, p. 215.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Edible Forest Gardens

In Anastasia's vision of a Home she provides a brief explanation of how to grow an edible forest garden, and with just that information one could be grown. However, for those looking for a detailed reference, you need look no further than the "Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)".

The author, Dave Jacke, has also set up a web site with plenty of information to get you started. Here is an excerpt introducing his vision.

Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees form an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruits swelling on many branches—pears, apples, persimmons, pecans, and chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy. They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other lesser-known fruits, flowers, and nuts at different times of the year. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies. Others act as soil builders, or simply help keep out weeds. Here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbors with fruit hanging through the foliage—hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. Their bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky. This is an edible forest garden.

What is Edible Forest Gardening?
Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodlandlike patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems. You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden. If designed with care and deep understanding of ecosystem function, you can also design a garden that is largely self-maintaining. In many of the world's temperate-climate regions, your garden would soon start reverting to forest if you were to stop managing it. We humans work hard to hold back succession—mowing, weeding, plowing, and spraying. If the successional process were the wind, we would be constantly motoring against it. Why not put up a sail and glide along with the land's natural tendency to grow trees? By mimicking the structure and function of forest ecosystems we can gain a number of benefits.

Why Grow an Edible Forest Garden?
While each forest gardener will have unique design goals, forest gardening in general has three primary practical intentions:
  • High yields of diverse products such as food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, 'farmaceuticals' and fun;
  • A largely self-maintaining garden and;
  • A healthy ecosystem.
These three goals are mutually reinforcing. For example, diverse crops make it easier to design a healthy, self-maintaining ecosystem, and a healthy garden ecosystem should have reduced maintenance requirements. However, forest gardening also has higher aims.

As Masanobu Fukuoka once said, "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." How we garden reflects our worldview. The ultimate goal of forest gardening is not only the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of new ways of seeing, of thinking, and of acting in the world. Forest gardening gives us a visceral experience of ecology in action, teaching us how the planet works and changing our self-perceptions. Forest gardening helps us take our rightful place as part of nature doing nature's work, rather than as separate entities intervening in and dominating the natural world.

Where Can You Grow an Edible Forest Garden?
Anyone with a patch of land can grow a forest garden. They've been created in small urban yards and large parks, on suburban lots, and in small plots of rural farms. The smallest we have seen was a 30 by 50 foot (9 by 15 m) embankment behind an urban housing project, and smaller versions are definitely possible. The largest we have seen spanned 2 acres in a rural research garden. Forest gardeners are doing their thing at 7,000 feet (2,100 m) of elevation in the Rocky Mountains, on the coastal plain of the mid-Atlantic, and in chilly New Hampshire and Vermont. Forest gardening has a long history in the tropics, where there is evidence of the practice extending over 1,500 years. While you can grow a forest garden in almost any climate, it is easiest if you do it in a regions where the native vegetation is forest, especially deciduous forest.

Edible forest gardening is not necessarily gardening in the forest, it is gardening like the forest. You don't need to have an existing woodland if you want to forest garden, though you can certainly work with one. Forest gardeners use the forest as a design metaphor, a model of structure and function, while adapting the design to focus on meeting human needs in a small space. While you can forest garden if you have a shady site, it is best if your garden site has good sun if you want the highest yields of fruits, nuts, berries, and most other products. Edible forest gardening is about expanding the horizons of our food gardening across the full range of the successional sequence, from field to forest, and everything in between.

In Volume One: Vision and Theory, there is a list of the "Top 100" forest garden plants, so over many future posts I will present a description of all of those plants.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Mahabharata (book 1.I)

Om! Having bowed down to Narayana and Nara, the most exalted male being, and also to the goddess Saraswati, must the word Jaya be uttered.

The sage, Sauti, had been travelling for many days when he caught sight of his destination: the forest of Naimisha. Deep in the forest he found a group of sages sitting and conversing. He approached them with joined palms, and they invited him to sit with them.

The Rishi with the longest white beard then asked, "O Sauti, where hast thou spent the time? Please tell us in detail."

"I have just heard the Mahabharata composed by Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, and recited in full by Vaisampayana at the Snake-sacrifice of the royal sage Janamejaya, the son of Parikshit. I then journeyed to Samantapanchaka, where the battle between the children of Kuru and Pandu was fought. Then, anxious to see you. I have come into your presence."

The normally serene Rishi betrayed some excitement as he said, "The purana, Mahabharata, is the most eminent narrative that exists, gleaned from the four Vedas. We are very eager to hear it."

Sauti continued, "Some are now already teaching this history, and others, in like manner, will hereafter promulgate it upon the earth."

As they spoke many more Munis and Rishis gathered around to listen. Once they had all settled in Sauti began his story.

"The son of Satyavati, the noble Dwaipayana Vyasa, had finished this greatest of narrations and began to consider how he might teach it to his disciples. Then in a sudden flash of light, Brahma appeared before him."

Surprised, Vyasa joined his palms and bowed before him, then asked, "O divine Brahma. I have composed a great poem, that explains the nature of existence and non-existence, birth celestial and human, asceticism, the art of war, and the nature of the all-pervading spirit. For such a work, no transcriber can be found on earth."

Brahma replied, "I know of your anxiety and have come accordingly. I know thou hast revealed the divine word in the language of truth. Let Ganesa be thought of, O Muni, for the purpose of writing down this poem." And with that Brahma vanished.

Vyasa sat in meditation and in no time at all Ganesa appeared before him. With bowed head and joined palms, Vyasa then asked, "O guide of the Ganas, be thou the transcriber of the Bharata which I have formed in my mind and will presently dictate?"

Ganesa replied, "I will become the transcriber of thy work provided thou art able to dictate continuously without pause or hesitation."

Vyasa thought for a moment, then said, "Agreed, but you must first fully comprehend what I dictate before you write it down."

"Om!", came Ganesa's terse acquiescence.

Sauti continued, "O Muni, no one is able to this day, to penetrate those closely knit difficult slokas. Even the omniscient Ganesa took a moment to consider, while Vyasa would avail himself of this interval to compose many more stanzas in his mind.

"In former days, the celestials placed the four Vedas on one side and the Bharata on the other and weighed them in the balance. And as the latter weighed heavier, being esteemed superior both in substance and gravity of import, it became known in the world from that day as - The Mahabharata!" (great Bharata)


1. Derived from: Adi Parva, Section I, p. 1-5, 15.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More Than Entertainment?

I'll start this post with a quote from "Conversations with God" for you to consider.

So go ahead now. Ask Me anything. Anything. I will contrive to bring you the answer. The whole universe will I use to do this. So be on the lookout. This book is far from My only tool. You may ask a question, then put this book down. But watch. Listen. The words to the next song you hear. The information in the next article you read. The story line of the next movie you watch. The chance utterance of the next person you meet. Or the whisper of the next river the next ocean, the next breeze that caresses your ear—all these devices are Mine; all these avenues are open to Me. I will speak to you if you will listen. I will come to you if you will invite Me. I will show you then that I have always been there. All ways.

Fictional movies, books and television shows in a few select cases have given me a sense that they have a broad spiritual message for humanity. So if you have not yet completely given up on these sources of entertainment, then I have some recommendations for you.

The movie "Avatar" contains the subtle message that planets are living beings, to be respected rather than exploited. This is perhaps the most important message that people entering the Golden Age will need to understand. The book "The Hunger Games" contains the subtle message of how to survive the end of civilization. If the Founders are correct, millions will face the same situation as Katniss in just a few years time, but rather than face it with despair, Katniss shows how simple hunter/gatherer skills combined with bartering can enable you to survive. In that vein, I plan to start a series of posts on wild edibles in the near future. Finally, the television show "Avatar: The Last Airbender" contains the subtle message that higher spiritual beings take birth on occasion to restore balance to the planet. The sequel "The Legend of Korra" also looks promising.

To reach a wide audience, these messages are then wrapped in a highly entertaining package filled with action, adventure, romance and drama. Presented as harmless fiction, the message enters the subconscious of the audience without them fully realizing what has taken place - a shift in consciousness. This strategy has likely been used since ancient times, and can even be seen in the great mythological epics from cultures around the world.

In India, one such mythological epic is know as The Mahabharata, which contains plenty of action, adventure, romance and drama on the surface, but at its heart contains one of the greatest spiritual scriptures in the world: The Bhagavad Gita. So starting shortly, I will begin presenting my interpretation of that epic story in the hopes of creating a highly entertaining package with a subtle spiritual message hidden within.