This seasonal delicacy provides B and C vitamins, iron, and calcium, and can thrive almost anywhere in the US except Florida and the Gulf Coast where the mild, wet winters prevent its dormancy cycle. Give some thought to the placement of your asparagus bed, knowing it will produce well for over 20 years! Soggy soil will rot asparagus roots, so choose a spot with light, well-drained soil. Asparagus “crowns” are available from garden stores or, if you’re lucky, an experienced grower whose crowns have matured enough to divide (usually after about 3 years). The first season requires patience as you allow the plants to establish themselves with no harvesting. The next season, harvest for two weeks, the following for four, and thereafter for six weeks or until the emerging spears are mostly quite thin (less than half inch in diameter). The remaining spears should be allowed to fern for the remainder of the season, and the dried ferns cut down and chopped up to use as mulch.
Once the asparagus harvest is complete in late spring, the thinning shoots are left to sprout into ferns. The fine, thick fern display is a visual treat through the summer months, but the ferns may grow 5’ or more, producing a shade effect behind the bed. For this reason, asparagus beds are often located on the north side of garden plots.
Though its leaves are toxic, the stalks of this self-sufficient and humble plant provide spring’s first welcome fruit pies. Rhubarb does best in northern states where the average summer temperature stays around 75F. It will faithfully return year after year in an out-of-the-way corner of your garden, favoring acidic, well-drained soil and yearly supplementation with a good nitrogen source such as compost or manure. Don’t harvest any stalks the first year; the second season you may harvest lightly, and thereafter freely. If you know any local gardeners, one of them is sure to be able to spare a root crown or two to get you started enjoying your own rhubarb.
A perennial herb garden is a wonderfully compact asset to any yard or garden; many urban homes with no room for a full vegetable garden can still enjoy the beauty and flavor of fresh herbs in their landscaping or containers. Oregano, chives, and several varieties of mint can get aggressive with your garden space, so consider confining them in pots or a raised bed. Thyme, sage, lovage, and lavender are less aggressive with their roots. Some of the herbs familiar to North Americans, such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, bay laurel, marjoram, dill, and oregano are native to the Mediterranean region. These herbs grow best in soils with excellent drainage, bright sun, and moderate temperatures. Start with weed-free soil and mulch well; dinner preparation often begins with a pleasant stroll to this corner of the garden.
Growing persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) is a great way to enjoy something different in the garden. Early explorers to American valued this tree, as did Native Americans who used the fruit, which hung on the tree into winter, for food during the cold months. The tree is very attractive and valued for both its wood and its fruit. Bark forms in thick square blocks that resemble alligator skin. The wood is strong and resistant, used to make golf club heads, flooring, veneers and billiard cues. The fruit is sweet when left to ripen, and is similar in taste to an apricot. Growing persimmons is a fun and rewarding project for the home gardener. Learn more about persimmon tree growing conditions so you can grow these amazing fruits yourself.
Where Does Permission Grow? The American persimmon, also known as the common persimmon, is native from Florida to Connecticut, west to Iowa and south to Texas. Persimmon trees can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. The American persimmon can tolerate temperatures down to -25 F. (-32 C.)
How to Grow Persimmon Trees
You can grow persimmons from seeds, cuttings, suckers or grafts. Young seedlings that are one to two years in age can be transplanted to an orchard. The best quality, however, comes from grafted or budded trees. An important factor for those wanting to know how to grow persimmon trees includes the type and number of trees to plant. The American persimmon tree requires both male and female for fruit. The right persimmon growing conditions are not hard to find. These trees are not particularly picky about soil but do best with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. If you are interested in growing persimmons, choose a sunny spot that drains well. Because persimmons have very deep taproots, be sure to dig a deep hole. Mix 8 inches of soil and loam in the bottom of the planting hole, then fill the hole with loam and native soil.
Persimmon Tree Care
There isn’t much to persimmon tree care other than watering. Water young trees well until established. Thereafter, keep them watered whenever there is no significant rainfall, such as periods of drought. Don’t fertilize the tree unless it doesn’t appear to be thriving. Although you can prune the tree to a central leader when young, very little pruning is required with older growing persimmons as long as they are bearing fruit.
A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals make up the lower levels. This type of sustainable homestead combines aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening.
Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimics the relationships found in natural ecologies.
Canopy Fruit & Nut Trees
Some great native species in North America can be planted in your food forest. Try wild plum, persimmon, paw paw, pecan, hazelnut (filbert), and red mulberry.
Picture: Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) pioneered the alternating current power system most of us use today. Even so, his rival, Thomas Edison (1846–1931), is still popularly remembered as the inventor who gave the world electric power. Photograph by Sarony; engraving by T. Johnson, c.1906, courtesy of US Library of Congress.
1600 CE: English scientist William Gilbert (1544–1603) was the first person to use the word “electricity.” He believed electricity was caused by a moving fluid called humor.
1733: French scientist Charles du Fay (1698–1739) found that there were two different kinds of static electric charge.
1752: American printer, journalist, scientist, and statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) carried out further experiments and named the two kinds of electric charge “positive” and “negative.”
1780: Italian biologist Luigi Galvani (1737–1798) touched two pieces of metal to a dead frog’s leg and made it jump. This led him to believe electricity is made inside animals’ bodies.
1785: French scientist Charles Augustin de Coulomb (1736–1806) explored the mysteries of electric fields: the electrically active areas around electric charges.
1800: One of Galvani’s friends, an Italian physics professor named Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), realized “animal electricity” was made by the metals Galvani had used. After further research, he found out how to make electricity by joining different metals together and invented batteries.
1827: German physicist Georg Ohm (1789–1854) found some materials carry electricity better than others and developed the idea of resistance.
1820: Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted (1777–1851) put a compass near an electric cable and discovered that electricity can make magnetism.
1821: A French physicist called Andre-Marie Ampère (1775–1836) put two electric cables near to one another, wired them up to a power source, and watched them push one another apart. This showed electricity and magnetism can work together to make a force.
1821: Michael Faraday (1791–1867), an English chemist and physicist, developed the first, primitive electric motor.
1830s: American physicist Joseph Henry (1797–1879) and British inventor William Sturgeon (1783–1850) independently made the first practical electromagnets and electric motors.
1831: Building on his earlier discoveries, Michael Faraday invented the electric generator.
1840: Scottish physicist James Prescott Joule (1818–1889) proved that electricity is a kind of energy.
1870s: Belgian engineer Zénobe Gramme (1826–1901) made the first large-scale electric generators.
1873: James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), another British physicist, set out a detailed theory of electromagnetism (how electricity and magnetism work together).
1881: The world’s first experimental electric power plant opened in Godalming, England.
1882: Thomas Edison (1846–1931) built the first large-scale electric power plants in the USA.
1890s: Edison’s former employee Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) promoted alternating current (AC) electricity, a rival to the direct current (DC) system promoted by Edison. Edison and Tesla battled for supremacy and, although Edison is remembered as the pioneer of electric power, it was Tesla’s AC system that ultimately triumphed.
Just as electricity can make magnetism, so magnetism can make electricity. A dynamo is a bit like an electric motor inside. When you pedal your bicycle, the dynamo clipped to the wheel spins around. Inside the dynamo, there is a heavy core made from iron wire wrapped tightly around—much like the inside of a motor. The core spins freely inside some large fixed magnets. As you pedal, the core rotates inside these outer magnets and generates electricity. The electricity flows out from the dynamo and powers your bicycle lamp.
The electric generators used in power plants work in exactly the same way, only on a much bigger scale. Instead of being powered by someone’s legs, pedaling furiously, these large generators are driven by steam. The steam is made by burning fuels or by nuclear reactions. Power plants can make enormous amounts of electricity, but they waste quite a lot of the energy they produce. The energy has to flow from the plant, where it is made, to the homes, offices, and factories where it is used down many miles of electric power cable. Making electricity in a power plant and delivering it to a distant building can waste up to two thirds of the energy that was originally present in the fuel!
Electricity and electronics
Electricity is about using relatively large currents of electrical energy to do useful jobs, like driving a washing machine or powering an electric drill. Electronics is a very different kind of electricity. It’s a way of controlling things using incredibly tiny currents of electricity—sometimes even individual electrons! Suppose you have an electronic clothes washing machine. Large currents of electricity come from the power outlet (mains supply) to make the drum rotate and heat the water. Smaller currents of electricity operate the electronic components in the washing machine’s programmer unit. These tiny currents control the bigger currents, making the drum rotate back and forth, starting and stopping the water supply, and so on. Read more in our main article on electronics.
The power of electricity
Before the invention of electricity, people had to make energy wherever and whenever they needed it. Thus, they had to make wood or coal fires to heat their homes or cook food. The invention of electricity changed all that. It meant energy could be made in one place then supplied over long distances to wherever it was needed. People no longer had to worry about making energy for heating or cooking: all they had to do was plug in and switch on—and the energy was there as soon as they wanted it.
Another good thing about electricity is that it’s like a common “language” that all modern appliances can “speak.” You can run a car using the energy in gasoline, or you can cook food on a barbecue in your garden using charcoal, though you can’t run your car on charcoal or cook food with gasoline. But electricity is quite different. You can cook with it, run cars on it, heat your home with it, and charge your cellphone with it. This is the great beauty and the power of electricity: it’s energy for everyone, everywhere, and always.
We can measure electricity in a number of different ways, but a few measurements are particularly important.
Photo: You can use a digital multimeter like this to measure voltage, current, and resistance.
The voltage is a kind of electrical force that makes electricity move through a wire and we measure it in volts. The bigger the voltage, the more current will tend to flow. So a 12-volt car battery will generally produce more current than a 1.5-volt flashlight battery.
Voltage does not, itself, go anywhere: it’s quite wrong to talk about voltage “flowing through” things. What moves through the wire in a circuit is electrical current: a steady flow of electrons, measured in amperes (or amps).
Together, voltage and current give you electrical power. The bigger the voltage and the bigger the current, the more electrical power you have. We measure electric power in units called watts. Something that uses 1 watt uses 1 joule of energy each second.
The electric power in a circuit is equal to the voltage × the current (in other words: watts = volts × amps). So if you have a 100-watt (100 W) light and you know your electricity supply is rated as 120 volts (typical household voltage in the United States), the current flowing must be 100/120 = 0.8 amps. If you’re in Europe, your household voltage is more likely 230 volts. So if you use the same 100-watt light, the current flowing is 100/230 = 0.4 amps. The light burns just as brightly in both countries and uses the same amount of power in each case; in Europe it uses a higher voltage and lower current; in the States, there’s a lower voltage and higher current. (One quick note: 120 volts and 230 volts are the “nominal” or standard household voltages—the voltages you’re supposed to have, in theory. In practice, your home might have more or less voltage than this, for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because of how far you are from your local power plant or power supply.)
Power is a measurement of how much energy you’re using each second. To find out the total amount of energy an electric appliance uses, you have to multiply the power it uses per second by the total number of seconds you use it for. The result you get is measured in units of power × time, often converted into a standard unit called the kilowatt hour (kWh). If you used an electric toaster rated at 1000 watts (1 kilowatt) for a whole hour, you’d use 1 kilowatt hour of energy; you’d use the same amount of energy burning a 2000 watt toaster for 0.5 hours or a 100-watt lamp for 10 hours. See how it works?
Electricity meters (like the one shown in the photo above, from my house) show the total number of kilowatt hours of electricity you’ve used. 1 kilowatt hour is equal to 3.6 million joules (J) of energy (or 3.6 megajoules if you prefer).
You can measure your energy consumption automatically with an energy monitor.