Reading the north

Teaming with Nutrients, by Jeff Lowenfels
Alaska Bouldering Guide, by Todd Helgeson, David Runatake and Kelsey Gray

Teaming With Nutrients: The Organic Gardener's Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition

By Jeff Lowenfels; (Timber Press, $24.95; e-book, $11.99)

The blurb: Just as he demystified the soil food web in his groundbreaking book "Teaming With Microbes," in this new work Jeff Lowenfels explains the basics of plant nutrition from an organic gardener's perspective. Most gardeners realize that plants need to be fed but know little or nothing about the nature of the nutrients involved or how they get where they need to go. "Teaming With Nutrients" explains the role of both macronutrients and micronutrients and shows gardeners how to provide these essentials through organic, easy-to-follow techniques. Along the way, Lowenfels offers accessible lessons in biology, chemistry, and botany to give readers the key to understanding proper plant nutrition in healthy, productive organic gardens.

Excerpt: Although gardening is all about growing plants, many gardeners don't understand how nutrients actually get inside plants so they can grow in the first place, or how nutrients contribute to growth (and better flowers, tastier vegetables, healthier trees) once inside. By understanding how fertilizers work, how they get into plants, and what they do thereafter, you won't have to rely on someone else who is only guessing what your plants need. You will know something about how fertilizers work and whether what you are paying for is worth it. Information is power.

Knowing how fertilizers work should also make you a more sustainable gardener and help the planet. Take nitrogen, for example. The production of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers is a very energy -- intensive manufacturing process. More than 5 percent of the world's natural gas production is used to make these fertilizers. Less than 100 years ago, all of the plant -- available nitrogen in the world, except for a tiny bit fixed during electrical storms, was produced by microbes. All of the nitrogen in your body was naturally produced, whereas today half of your nitrogen comes from synthetic sources. In addition, the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers causes severe pollution. Gardeners use three times the nitrogen per acre that farmers use. This results in excess nutrients that are washed into waterways and harm aquatic ecosystems.

Using plant-essential nutrients the proper way will help head off some serious environmental disasters already in the making. Manufacturing nitrogen so that gardeners can waste it in prodigious amounts is not our only problem. The world is about to reach the peak of its ability to produce phosphorus. The precipitous decline in availability of this key nutrient has led some to predict that there is less than 50 years' worth remaining. Gardeners had better use sustainable practices, or we will really test the Law of the Minimum with regard to essential plant nutrients. This is important stuff.

Alaska Bouldering Guide

By Todd Helgeson, David Runatake and Kelsey Gray; (Nomad Publishing, $30)

The blurb: Warning! Climbing is an inherently dangerous sport in which severe injuries or death may occur. Relying on the information in this book may increase the danger. When climbing you can only rely on your skill, training, experience, and conditioning. If you have any doubts as to your ability to safely climb any route/ problem in this guide, do not try it. This book is neither a professional climbing instructor nor a substitute for one. It is not an instructional book. Do not use it as one. It contains information that is nothing more then a compilation of opinions about climbing in Alaska. These opinions are neither facts nor promises. Treat the information as opinions and nothing more. Do not substitute these opinions for your own common sense and experience.

Excerpt: Chris Terry bouldering along the Seward Highway c.1998: "It was routinely waking up at 4 a.m. on a workday simply to drive two hours each way to explore the woods and locate new boulders. To prep them, scrub off moss and clean holds simply to be able to save time on days when it was not raining! Much of the time, this was a project that Todd and I suffered through, and yet we never complained. Instead we were always excited, even giddy, to have found even one new potential problem to climb, and we anxiously awaited the chance to come back to it when the weather was cooperative.

It was the excitement we all shared for any piece of climbable rock, and most notably the fact that many of our new problems were laughably short... This brings to mind the famous "one move wonder boulder" in Hatcher (Pass... and many unsung "classics" at Wiener Lake that any other normal person would walk past or step over. It was jealously guarding certain projects, and then feeling guilty about it afterwards, understanding that something essential was lost in not immediately sharing them with your friends.

It was the degree of competition between all of us to find and climb the hardest problem, the way we pushed each other to train like fiends, holding each other to a higher standard than we even had for ourselves. It was the agony of spending hours or days on a certain problem only to have Todd send it right away by employing his famous "trick beta," usually involving some kind of ridiculous heel hook. It was constantly being made fun of for not knowing how to use my feet, my stubborn determination to avoid seeing anything other than the most contrived sequences... It was being so obsessed with good friction that we sometimes ignored winter and instead brushed off snow, dried holds on projects and had to sit in running vehicles between burns in order to avoid frost-bitten fingers.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News