By Bernadina Lucia

What is phytomining? Basically, mining and mineral extraction through the use of plants, hyperaccumulators like Streptanthus polygaloides (milkwort jewelflower, which grows in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas), and Alyssum bertolonii to extract minerals such as gold and nickel. However, many minerals can be phytomined with many different plants. But first, how does it work?

In areas that are rich in certain minerals or pollutants, certain kinds of plants can actually extract the mineral or pollutant. In toxic areas, most plants will die, but certain kinds of plants can actually extract the mineral or toxin and store it in the tissues. Rice is a good example. In many rice fields, there are high concentrations of arsenic. Rice will actually absorb it. Unfortunately, most of these rice fields then go to humans, so it isn't all non-toxic roses. But, this can be used to our advantage. Chris Anderson planted jewelflower in plots on nickel rich ground in Southern California. When the plants here harvested, they had a relatively huge amount of nickel in their leaves, that could be extracted. In another test, it was estimated that 350 pounds of nickel could be extracted from a single acre of Alyssum bertolonii that was planted on nickel rich soil.

What else can be extracted? Zinc and cadmium, both necessary for electronics, are extracted and stored in the leaves of alpine pennycress, which is a hyperaccumulator that picks these minerals up in quantities that would kill other plants. Zinc can also be picked up by willows. In 1998 researchers Maria Greger and Tommy Landberg suggested that willows have the potential to pick up zinc, cadmium, and copper.

Aresnic is also picked up by sunflowers, and Chinese Break fern.

Lead: poplar, ragweed, Indian Mustard, and hemp dogbane all sequester lead in high amounts in their biomass.

Sugar beets and barley are both used to extract soduim chloride from fields salted by ocean flooding, and possibly salting by enemies.

After the Chernobyl indecent, sunflowers were used to extract Caesium-139, and strontium-90 from a pond.

In addition to purifying the salted Earth, phytomining is cheaper and more environmentally sound than conventional mining. However, it is less efficient, and more suited to slag heaps, as it cannot reach deep minerals. It also takes time for the plants to grow, and the process of extraction can create toxic by-products. As we know, there is no such thing as free lunch.!phytomining/cp58

No-Till Farming
By Bernadina Lucia

Tillage has been use as farm back as 3000 BC, to soften the soil for planting, and to discourage weed growth. But what if it isn't the best method? No-till is credited to Edward H. Faulkner, who wrote Plowman's Folly in the 1940s. Nobody gave it serious thought until after several chemicals were developed that researchers began to look into it.

They found that the no-till method improved irrigation and water retention. The soil ecosystem was much healthier, there were more disease discouraging bacteria. The pioneers of no-till include Klingman, North Carolina' Edward Faulkner; L.A. Porter New Zealand; Harry and Lawrence Young Herndon, Kentucky; the Instituto de Pesquisas Agropecuarias Meridional, 1971 in Brazil, with Herbert Bartz.

In addition to lowering water consumption, and improving soil health, no-till also reduces greenhouse gasses. Crops absorb negative gasses and diffuse it into the soil, especially carbon. 78 billion tons of carbon has been released into the atmosphere due to tilling. Can you imagine how much gas that is, that it weighs 78 billion tons? In addition to keeping carbon trapped, it also reduced nitrous oxide by 40-70%.

There are some flaws, too, without tilling, the ground stays cooler a few days into spring, pushing the harvest time later in the fall. Weeds can be a problem, too. How do you even get the seeds into the ground?

Some farmers solve the problem of weeds sprouting before their plants with cardboard. They cover their fields with cardboard that hasn't been printed on over the winter. It keeps the soil moist, and covered, so it's healthy for their crops, and it decomposes, leaving a layer of fertile soil for the spring. Some farmers use seed drills to shoot the seeds into the soil, but others find this excessive, and mix the seeds with soil and sprinkle them on the beds.

It's not flawless, but it's still formative. It's similar to hugelkulture, and has many of the same principles.

More information can be found here:,

Master Gardeners, Part I
By Bernadina Lucia

In our community, and in many throughout California, we have Master Gardeners, people who have trained in small garden techniques by the University of California, to help build community awareness for gardening. They write articles on gardening tips and pests, they volunteer at farmer's markets, workshops, they manage demonstration gardens, and answer the questions of the horticulturally challenged.

The first UC Master Gardener program was in 1980, in Sacramento. Since them it's spread to over fifty counties, including our own. In 2014, there were over 20,000 trained, and 6,048 active Master Gardeners across more than 50 counties. They donated more than 385,260 outreach hours.

Though the Master Gardener program has only been recognized as a state program since 2002, for more than one hundred years UC advisers have helped communities to address economic, agricultural, nutritional issues, and natural resources.

Would you like to become one? Residents of Plumas and Sierra county can apply for the Plumas County Master Gardener program. You don't even need any prior experience, though it would be useful. What they're looking for is someone with a strong volunteer ethic and the desire and capability to make a long term commitment to their community. The course costs $150, but you get trained by UC specialists in botany, composting, integrated pest management (IPM), soils, water management, entomology, plant pathology, fruit and ornamental tree culture and sustainable landscape practices.

After that you are required to spend 50 volunteer hours the first year, and 25 each year after.

The Master Gardeners contribute a lot to our community in terms of educating and volunteer hours. They should be held in high esteem, along with the local farmer.


Genetically Modified Foods Trigger Celiac
By Bernadina Lucia

In 2013 the Institute for Responsible Technology released a report proposing a link between genetically modified food and gluten disordered. There are currently nine GMO crops being grown for commercial use: soy, corn, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and alfalfa.

These have been engineered to tolerate Glyophosate, which is a weed killer that has been proven to cause birth defects, cancer and Autism. The Glyophosate levels are very high at harvest. GMO corn and cotton are also engineered to produce the insecticide Bt-toxin. Bt-toxin punches holes in the cells of organisms that consume it. Including humans. Bt-toxins are linked to leaky gut, which doctors see in most gluten-sensitive patients.

“Glyphosate is a patented antibiotic that destroys beneficial gut bacteria. An imbalance of gut flora commonly accompanies Celiac Disease and other gluten-related disorders.” -Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at MIT.
I don't usually like the appeal to authority method of writing, but in this case, it isn't a celebrity with an opinion, she is a scientist, who knows what she is talking about.

U.S Department of Agriculture,

Environmental Protection Act records, medical journal reviews, and international research all find that GM foods are connected the these five intestinal problems that trigger or worsen gluten intolerance:

1. Intestinal permeability
2. Imbalanced gut bacteria
3. Immune activation and allergic response
4. Impaired digestion
5. Damage to the intestinal wall

Gluten-sensitive people who cut GMO foods from their diet as well as gluten quickly improve and recover. While there is no cure for gluten-intolerance, the best thing people can do is avoid gluten and GMO food, and they can avoid the many health problems that come with an intestinal system that's out of whack, such as vitamin deficiencies, skin problems, mental disorders (the gut plays a huge part in serotonin levels), and intestinal cancer.

Plumas Sierra Community Food Council

By Bernadina Lucia

Monday, Fed 22- The Plumas Sierra Community Food Council met and discussed the future of food in Plumas County.

There are some items on the agenda that need to be mulled over, to decide if they will be efficient, and productive. Gleaning is one such project, that has been successful in the past. Last year a group of gleaners went from farm to farm picking up the excess harvest, and taking it to food banks. The gleaning effort was put together by the PSCFC, Plumas Farm Guild, and Public Health.

The most interesting item on the agenda was the SNAP-Ed Integration Work Plan. Basically, it's a three year work plan, which would start October of this year, through 2019. If the grant is written. It hopes to establish SNAP assistance for the populations of Plumas and Sierra with low food security, and it hopes to bring garden beds to long-term care facilities for senior citizens. This will improve nutrition, and provide activities for them.

There were also reminders for local fundraisers, the Veterans Fundraiser on March 31st, and Racing Extinction, which will be shown on Earth Day.

The next meeting will be March 21st.

The Guild

By Bernadina Lucia

The Plumas Farm Guild is a Plumas county organization of farmers, designed to further sustainable growing practices in Plumas county.

They also organize events like seed tours, and many of the farmers are involved in other projects, for example, Laura Rodriguez of Follow Your Heart Farm is organizing a fundraiser. On March 31st, at the Townhall Theater in Quincy. Two movies will be shown: Ground Operations, a film about war veterans improving their lives through farming, and Terra Firma, which focuses on three female Iraq veterans.

Many of the farms produce food found in Quincy Natural Foods, and in restaurants. The guild is steadily working to have more locally produced food in the community.

Master Gardener, Part II
By Bernadina Lucia

So, you've decided to become a Mater Gardener, or maybe you're just curious. Other than 50 hours of volunteering, what does this entail?

After applying, if you are accepted by the local UC Cooperative Extension office, you will be given 50 hours of training over a 16 week period. The cost of the program and the materials is $150, which is not a lot. You pay $3 per hour of training. The training is provided by the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The topics you will be trained in include:

  • Introduction to Horticulture
  • Soil and Fertilizer Management
  • Water Management
  • Plant Propagation
  • Plant Pathology
  • Insects
  • Weeds
  • Safe and Sustainable Pest Management
  • House Plants
  • Lawns
  • Woody Landscape Plants
  • Home Vegetable Gardening
  • Grapes
  • Berries
  • Temperate Tree Fruit and Nut Crops
  • Citrus
  • Avocados
  • Landscape and Garden Design
  • Poisonous Plants
  • Diagnosing Plant Problems

This may seem daunting, but this is a huge amount of knowledge you will gain, all of it will be useful in the world of gardening. After this, you must complete 50 hours of volunteer work that year, and 25 hours for each subsequent year. After the second year, a master gardener must also complete an additional 12 hours of education.

Once you have become a Master Gardener, you will make a difference in your community because you will be able to:

Promote environmentally responsible and sustainable horticultural practices

Reduce fertilizer and pesticide pollutants

Protect water quality and promote water conservation

Compost green-waste,reducing landfill materials and improving air quality

Detect and manage invasive species

Raise wildland fire protection awareness

Here's where you can get started:


Food Security and Distribution in Plumas and Sierra
By Bernadina Lucia

It doesn't matter how much food is grown, here or anywhere, it won't do anyone one an owl's pellet worth of good unless it gets to people. Food security, as defined by the Community Food Security Coalition, is “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.”

It's an admirable goal to try and bring food to all the people of Plumas and Sierra counties, but how do we go about it? What are the factors that keep people from their food? How do the farmers benefit?

The Plumas-Sierra Food Council is focusing on three areas:

Increasing the financial viability of local food producers. There's no food to distribute if there aren't farmers, and PSFC's goals are for local food resilience, so locally produced food is central.

Increasing access and affordability to food, especially to low-income populations. What good is food if nobody can get to it?

The next step is educating on food and food preparation. Now that you have your locally grown food, how the heck do you cook purslane and kohlrabi?

One factor for hunger in North California is lack of money. They simply can't afford food. In a 2007 survey of low income households in Plumas and Lassen, 30% of adults had gone for at least one whole day without food in the previous year because they didn't have money for food. 14% of children had gone at least one whole day without food in the previous year because of lack of money. Simple proximity to food sources is another factor. According to the USDA Food Environment, 8% of people in Plumas county have low access to grocery stores, and 88% of people in Sierra County have low access. These figures include all citizens, but many of them are without cars, or are low income. There isn't much PSFC can do to treat poverty, which is the main problem. All they can do is try to treat the symptoms.

The PSCFC would like to see people eating locally grown and produced foods. But, with the exception of food banks, how can hungry Joe and Jane afford locally produced, organic food? It's a lot more expensive than Wonderbread's cheap cousin and some hotdogs that may or may not contain meat. Why does PSCFC want everyone eating expensive food? Well, in 2009 in both Plumas and Sierra Counties, the adult obesity rate was at 26%. A little over a quarter of each county's adult population is overweight. It could be genetic factors, some people with genetic background tend to pack on a little more. It could be age related. Older women tend to get on the husky side. Maybe it's health related, and caused by thyroid problems. Still, the biggest determining factor is food. White flour and fat make you fat. People think the poor of America are well nourished because they tend to be overweight. Actually, many are malnourished, and suffer from vitamin deficiencies and health problems, such as diabetes.

The farms want to increase local consumption too. They can't control their pricing too much, they have to make back the cost of the plants, the water, the time they invested, and any other expenses. The hope of many farmers is to break even. However, with more customers, they will be able to afford to plant more. At a certain rate, they're able to easily break even. It's called economy of size. When you order a certain amount of seeds, for example, it's cheaper by unit than a smaller package of the same seeds. When you have steady buyers, you can lower the price, because you know your produce will be purchased, so you don't have to overcharge to break even.

CFSC's definition of food security is that it is through a sustainable system, and contributes to the community being self-reliant. That goal can't be achieved without local food producers.

Resources: Plumas-Sierra Food Council Strategic Plan (link)

By Bernadina Lucia

Often times, the most efficient way to make plants grow is to mimic nature. Nature doesn't like straight lines, it doesn't like the domination of just one plant, and it doesn't like waste. When a tree falls in the forest, it begins to rot. First, the bugs, microorganisms, and the fungi get to it, and work on decomposing it. Then, depending on what kind of tree it was, some decompose quicker than others, it will begin to recognizably decompose after about a year, depending on the circumstances. When it decomposes, the microorganisms and fungi are turning it to soil. Smaller plants will begin to grow on it. Over time, it decomposes fully, and becomes fertile soil, which will nourish abundant new life.

We can reproduce this in our gardens. It's called 'hugelkulture'. It's a German word, that means 'hill culture'. Hugel culture is one of the 'no-till' methods. No-till is surging in popularity, it doesn't disrupt the delicate soil food web, leading to healthier, more disease resistant soil and plants. In healthy, undisturbed soil, the plants and the positive microorganisms work together. The plants exudate nutrients for choice microbes, and in turn, the microbes become large and healthy, and kill negative microbes and bacteria. The positive, well fed microorganisms release minerals they can't process, which are in turn absorbed and used by the plants.

When making a hugel bed, you first put down one or more logs, fir is preferable for quick results, and will become soil much quicker than any other wood. Don't use any of the following: Black locust (won't decompose), black walnut (juglone toxin, discourages plant growth), old growth redwood (heartwood will not decompose and redwood compost can prevent seed germination).

Next, layer on branches, manure, straw, wood chips and leaves, then for the final layer, a mixture of topsoil and manure. Soak thoroughly. The hugel bed will retain and release water, heat, and nutrients as it breaks down into prime soil. A straw bale hugel bed will break down quickly, but retains much more heat and water than it's wood counterpart. It's basically the same set up as a normal hugel bed, except you use a straw bale rather than a log. Your hugel bed will be ready for planting after it is completed. Plant according to the season.

It's a better method than tilling in many ways, but like all methods, it does have some flaws. Some plants shouldn't be planted on a hugel bed until it's rotted down. Potatoes, and other root vegetables require more soil. Planting the same plants in the same spot year after year is also unadvised. Nematodes and other negative creatures will get used to certain organisms. Rotate plants every year. Hugel produces as much, and more, in some cases, than traditional tilling does, while setting up good soil, which will benefit you in the long run.

Groundhog Day
By Bernadina Lucia

Saturday the 6th, at the Courthouse in Quincy, we celebrated Groundhog day. There were a number of stands from local businesses and organizations, everything from a chili tasting area with numerous vendors, the proceeds going to the Chamber of Commerce, to CCHI collecting signatures. There were also cottage industries, high-school clubs and PAWS animal shelter. Sitting behind the Southern Accents catering truck, safe from the blare of disco, Fish Taco played folk music for hours. Unfortunately, they didn't draw half the crowd they were worth.
There was an entertaining bachelor auction, and the appropriate libations. The proceeds will go to funding more community events like Groundhog day.

Speaking of groundhogs, our guy, Chuck Wood the Groundhog, and his adorable translator Margaret, say we have six more weeks of winter. Whew! Thanks Chuck!

By Bernadina Lucia

If you saw one, you'd think the Turkin was either a grounded vulture or a very badly neglected chicken, because of the lack of neck feathers. You may wonder what purpose of a bird without neck feathers is, but they were bred for ease of killing, as feathers can hinder a blade. Turkins are also known as Turkey Chickens (though they aren't related to turkeys) and naked necks.

Turkins are medium sized birds, weighing about six pounds for cocks, and four to six for hens. They come in a variety of colors, but black is the most common.  They also lay a fair number of brown eggs, and are dual purpose birds.

Despite being one of the ugliest chickens in existence, some people keep them specifically for breeding. They are bread with silkies to make showgirls. Showgirls are characterized by an extremely fluffy body, no feathers on the neck, and a huge puff of feathers on the head. Basically, they're like a poodle after it got a haircut.

Photo credit: Turkin from  and showgirl from