Taking advantage of our beautiful Autumn days

>> Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I raked up a bunch of leaves from our Peach, Pear and Cherry tree leaves and placed them on the four raised beds I use for vegetables.

I recently moved all four beds a little closer together to make room for a fifth bed, which will be built next spring (although the mood just might strike a little sooner, ya never know). And while I was moving them I expanded two of them from 4x4 footers to 4x8 foot.

This, along with the new 4x8 foot bed, will give me an additional 64 square feet of raised bed.

One of the 4x8 beds will be the new home of our raspberry patch (it was growing under the west side fence into the neighbors yard). I try really hard not to be intrusive across the fence although they said they were okay with getting free raspberry plants, I still don’t want to force them on them.

Since I had some spare time I decided to enclose my very informal compost pile. This first photo is from two years ago and as you can hopefully see it's on a cement pad (it used to be the home for a dog and his house) and measuring in at about 10 foot by 12 foot, I have plenty of room for the pile. I decided to enclose the pile because it was a bit difficult to manage. I used some scrap wood, 2x8 foot, 2x6 foot and some 1x1’s. Chicken is going to be stretched around it to hold everything in.


Expanding and snowing?

>> Monday, October 5, 2009

It’s snowing! Well, not real snowball, snowman, digging the car out, skiing type snowing. But it’s only October 5, for goodness sake.

I’m in the middle of expanding one of my beds to make room for a beautiful yellow rose bush one of my daughters is growing tired of. How can you grow tired of roses?

Oh well, her loss, my gain.

It’s going to be a bit out of place for awhile because the area I’m putting it in is full of drought tolerant plants. It won’t stay there for more than a year or maybe two until I get its permanent spot prepared in the front yard. That’s going to be a major undertaking.

Speaking of loss and gain, is there nothing sadder than a tomato plant that has been struck down by frost?

Well, maybe a pepper plant.

Oh well, now it's off to plan next years garden.


Done with Creeping, Ready for Leaping

>> Tuesday, June 23, 2009

According to the old garden adage: first year sleeps, second year creeps & third year leaps, my garden is about to leap. I’m not really sure what to make of this ‘leaping’ prediction but most of my plants survived winter, so, let the leaping begin.

At the beginning of the season there was a wonderful turnout of bulbs, (I just wish I had something like 1,000 more!). The daffodils put on their show and have since wilted away. The large wood hyacinths didn’t last much longer and when the new tulips burst forth they were center stage. I planted some new bulbs last fall that I had never grown before and I was, while not fully disappointed, I felt they could have done better.

Only a few Anemone Lord Lieutenant came up.

Camassia Quamash put on a good show:

Chionodoxa Forbesi Pink Giant did not do hardly anything, therefore I don’t have a

Iris Reticulata came up two weeks later than usual and didn’t last very long (of course these beauties never seem to last long enough). Here they are popping up behind Salvia East Friesland.

Ornithogalum Umbellatum did really well.

Here are some of the new tulips we planted last fall:

Cri de Coeur


I’m also pretty excited about all the vigorous growth from catmint, caryopteris (blue mist), lilacs, and groundcovers.

The catmint, Nepeta Walker’s Low, was the first to really get going (I love brushing against it when I’m weeding, the fragrance is amazing). Bees love it too.

Caryopteris Sunshine Blue started leafing-out on about the same day as the previous two years.

If I’m not mistaken, Dianthus Agatha and Desmond are a little larger this year, and photos confirm it.

Salvia East Friesland never disappoints.

Monarda Blue Stockings (bee balm) is leafing out, can’t wait to see it bloom again.

Clematis Jackmanii is really leaping this year.

Now, since the plentiful Spring rains have done their part to get everything blooming so beautifully, it’s time for me to do mine.


Grass Clippings: Toss ‘em or Mulch ‘em?

One perpetual question homeowners deal with is what to do with grass clippings. Of course some people don’t worry about it, they just throw all clipping into the trash which adds to the growing problem of methane gas buildup at our landfills. They either don’t have a garden or don’t want to deal with a compost pile. Or, they just have too many weeds in their lawn.

Now, I have to admit I am one of those guys who actually enjoys mowing my lawn. It only takes me about an hour and it is an opportunity to examine the entire yard to see where there are problems developing. Also, I can see where weeds are becoming a problem around the flower and vegetable beds.

This year the issue hasn’t bothered me too much but its about to. What I have done with grass clippings so far is to spread them over a couple new beds I’m developing. You see it takes about a year before any new bed is ready to be planted in, that is using the method I do. There are quicker ways. Anyway, during that year I pile up the grass clippings on the planned beds and let them break down on their own. Occasionally, I’ll add some garden soil, some vegetable matter from the kitchen and some nitrogen fertilizer. But it is beginning to get to the point where those beds are getting pretty deep. I have been piling clippings along the fence on the west side of my yard to help keep down the amount of trimming I have to do with the string trimmer. It works to a point, and it is beginning to look like maybe I should build a new bed along the fence. It would be a great place to grow some flowering vines and some peas and beans.

I have learned that leaving clippings on the lawn does not create thatch as was once commonly believed and since I regularly aerate the lawn the build up of thatch is not a concern. That whole cycle of returning nitrogen and other nutrients back into the soil appeals to me. Plus, its that many fewer bags I have to haul away from the mower. At one point last year I collected nineteen bags of clippings! Usually early in the season, but OMG, I was amazed. Typically its seven to nine bags because I don’t regularly cut the lawn on a set schedule, anywhere from 8-11 days. The taller grass helps hold moisture in the soil and it seems to be working.

My lawn has plenty of earthworms as illustrated by the activity of Robins and Starlings pulling them up.

A couple of years ago, I learned that you should not place grass clippings on a compost pile if you have fed the grass within the previous two weeks. What I do with these is spread them over a concrete pad near the compost pile for a couple of weeks to dry it and then they can go on the pile.

So, toss ‘em or mulch ‘em? I’m going to start leaving them on the lawn and see what happens. Near the end of the year I’ll see whether or not any thatch has built up and go from there. Now, about starting new beds, I may have to ask some neighbors for their grass clippings.


CAFOs Are Killing Us (NAIS Sucks)

>> Saturday, May 30, 2009

Susan Blasko is a cancer survivor twice over.
She now incorporates local farm fresh foods into her diet in her on-going quest for health.
She was selected at random to speak at the USDA Listening Session on NAIS (National Animal Idenification System) that took place in Harrisburg, PA this month.
Here is the complete text of her remarks.
The fact that I am here at all should be an indication to you that the truth is dawning at last on the general population.
For many years your department has been trying to force NAIS on us. What part of “NO” don’t you understand?
Yes, the eyes of the public are being pried open by the undeniable, inescapable truth:
that the aim of the National Animal Identification Scam is to put small farmers out of business so that big-ag can be the sole provider of the world’s food;
that the food your department approves is making us sick and sterile
are the origins of foodborne illness
that the USDA is fully prepared to use force to implement NAIS
blog it
Bravo! Ms Blasko hit them where they cannot ignore her. But they probably will anyway because someone is going to make money from the NAIS.

She speaks for millions when she lists the seven ‘inconvenient truths’. What the USDA and Ag Dept are doing in unconscionable.

I don’t know how many of you understand the dire situation our food system has been put in, but Ms Blasko’s remarks will gone a long way to informing you.

Please read, for a better understanding of how to protect your health and the health of your loved ones.

Ms Blasko says: ‘I am deeply troubled by what I’ve learned about NAIS. Not only is it expensive, intrusive, discriminatory, and deliberately hostile to small farmers; it is downright unconstitutional. Go back to the drawing board. Stand up to big-ag and industrial food processors’.


Agrichemicals Are Not Needed or Welcomed

>> Thursday, May 21, 2009

I read a commentary posted in Grist entitled “Agrichemical industry steps up pressure on White House organic garden”. The author compared the mafia’s infamous ‘protection scheme’ with an agrichemical company’s letter writing campaign to ‘entice’ Michelle Obama into using chemicals on the White House garden.

Okay, this is a bit of a stretch.

You can’t fault agrichemical companies for pushing their products because that’s what businesses do to stay alive. However, you can fault them for the tactics they use to sell those products: mis-information and the omission of relevant facts.

Despite the amount of data available warning of the toxic side effects of chemicals in the gardens, to humans, pets, soil and wildlife in general, far too many home gardeners are buying into the wrong-headed notion that chemical ‘protection’ is required to have a healthy and productive garden.

If gardeners would concern themselves with maintaining the health of the soil, which in turn promotes the health of the plant, there would be no need for chemicals. Pests don’t attack healthy plants.

In the gardening blogosphere we know the many benefits of using compost to feed the soil. There are tons of sites citing personal experience with its benefits, I am included in that number and urge everyone to participate and leave the chemicals on the store shelf.

Nature has a marvelous answer to harmful pests: beneficial insects. Using chemicals to rid the bad guys also kill off the beneficials.

Most chemical pesticides are petroleum based. Another good reason to avoid them.

Other ways to ensure a healthy garden is to allow for good air circulation. Overcrowding your plants allows them to stay wet longer which makes them more susceptible to fungus and other diseases.

Using natural repellants such as sprays made out of hot peppers, coyote or bobcat urine, rotten eggs, bonemeal, or bloodmeal (even castor oil) can make your garden unappetizing to herbivores. Reapply the repellents frequently, especially after rain.

What we need to do is write to Ms. Obama to congratulate her for her level-headed thinking by not using chemicals and remind her that farmers managed to feed this nation for decades without the ‘protection’ of agrichemicals.


Vinegar as weedkiller

>> Thursday, May 7, 2009

Here’s something interesting I want to pass along concerning vinegar as a weed killer. Vinegar can kill weeds but it’s not the same vinegar that you find in your kitchen. Kitchen vinegar is 5% acetic acid. To be effective against weeds, vinegar must be distilled to 10 to 20 % acetic acid. Such concentrated vinegar exists as commercial food-prep product—such as that used by pickle manufacturers. However it isn't labeled/bottled for home cooks and it isn't labeled as an herbicide.

There are a few gardening products using "horticultural vinegar" that are labeled for home use as an herbicide, but they aren't available everywhere (they must be registered state by state).

If you look for a vinegar-based herbicide at the garden center, make sure it is registered with the EPA, and follow the instructions carefully. Concentrated acetic acid can burn the skin and damage the eyes. Keep the area closed off until the spray has dried.

Finally, you may have heard that homemade concoctions using kitchen vinegar (5% acetic acid) do kill weeds. It's true to a short extent. 5% acetic acid can kill certain types of weeds when they are young. However it can also damage nearby plants, and it doesn't kill the roots, only the top growth. So perennial weeds will return.

As hard as it can be to accept, the most effective (and safest) weed control is hand pulling.

So, you can save your household vinegar for cleaning around the house and of course for cooking recipes. It seems pulling weeds by hand is still the safest way to go.


Spreading the Word on Growing Your Own

>> Thursday, March 19, 2009

LizM at Hyperlocavore has started a seed share program to get new gardeners started.

This is a great way to help spread encouragement for those who just don’t know where to start. Perhaps offering a few suggestions on when to plant and how to get the soil started would help.

Let’s instill in all of them the great joy we get from harvesting our very first tomato or raspberry.

Pick a newbie gardener on hyperlocavore.com and send them a mix of various seeds, flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables to help them get growing this season!

And then reward yourself for becoming a mentor to a new gardener.


Hidden Link Between Factory Farms and Human Illness

>> Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Excerpted from Mother Earth News:

You may be familiar with many of the problems associated with concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. These “factory farm” operations are often criticized for the smell and water pollution caused by all that concentrated manure; the unnatural, grain-heavy diets the animals consume; and the stressful, unhealthy conditions in which the animals live. You may not be aware, however, of the threat such facilities hold for you and your family’s health — even if you never buy any of the meat produced in this manner.

Factory farms are breeding grounds for virulent disease, which can then spread to the wider community via many routes — not just in food, but also in water, the air, and the bodies of farmers, farm workers and their families. Once those microbes become widespread in the environment, it’s very difficult to get rid of them.

This is particularly troubling because of the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant microbes, an inevitable consequence of the widespread use of antibiotics as feed additives in industrial livestock operations.

than 350 professional organizations have called for greater regulation of antibiotic use in livestock. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has declared antibiotic-resistant infections an epidemic in the United States. The FAO recently warned that global industrial meat production poses a serious threat to human health.

This article contains some very interesting and scary facts we all need to know.

I really am not of an alarmist nature, but I urge everyone to read this.


A Study in Contrasts: We are What We Eat?

>> Monday, March 16, 2009

A Study in Contrasts: We are What We Eat?


ALERT!! HR1105….Another Bill to Force NAIS

>> Thursday, March 12, 2009

Every Thursday for the past 6 Months, Government Officials have raided homes and businesses. Sometimes at gunpoint, sometimes with a warrant, and sometimes with nothing more then the burly bodies that intimidate those about to be oppressed.

The intent of these raids is to gain control of the distribution of such seemingly innocuous ‘weapons’ as raw milk, vegetable seed, cattle and other farm animals. It is nothing more than collusion between the FDA, Department of Agriculture and Monsanto to force small farmers out and to stifle organic farming. The result so far is to terrorize small farm owners and their families. It has also alerted those of us who are sensitive to any attempt by our federal government to control our actions and to force compliance with laws attempting to give up control of time-honored family-owned farming traditions. Once the family-run farm is ‘under control’ they will next cone after backyard gardeners.

Here in the US, Monsanto goon squads routinely trespass onto privately owned land, take samples of privately owned crops and then claim Monsanto’s frankenseed crops are being grown illegally, their patents have been violated. According to Monsanto, these are “unauthorized seeds”. Those two words are a harbinger of things to come and should give you an idea where all of this is headed.

Courts have ruled that if Monsanto’s seeds sprout in a ditch near the uncontaminated natural crops of a farmer who refuses to grow gmo, the crop belongs to Monsanto along with fines and penalties.

The following is a list of those at the vanguard of this very under-reported war:
John Stowers Farm LaGrange, Ohio. Crime: They run a private, members-only food co-op.

Greg Niewendorp, Michigan. Crime: refusing to participate in the NAIS

Steve Hixon, Illinois. Crime: cleaning seeds

Paul-Martin Griepentrog, Wisconsin. Crime: refusing to participate in the NAIS

Democrats are submitting one bill after another in the House and Senate in response to the massive backlash against the National Animal Identification System, making sure that as one bill is exposed and opposed, another quickly takes its place. As farm and ranch groups respond angrily to the overt attempts to end family farming and ranching in favor of industrialized frankenfood factory farms, as Monsanto and other GMO developers gain ever greater ownership of food production and supply, USDA and FDA acting in concert with local law enforcement are raiding farms and ranches.

It was discovered that funding for these bills which have not even been passed, is already underway.

Today, Thursday of course, H.R. 1105 is awaiting assignment to Committee in the Senate. It stands poised to allocate $289 million to APHIS for the implementation of the National Animal Identification System. It also outlines the time frame to implement in 2009 the tracking of 33 species.

We as voters do not go to the polls to elect officials to represent Multi-National Corporations or Lobbyists paid by groups attempting to get their piece of the pie. We elect officials to protect us, the consumer.

If a dozen or more terrorists held two women, 10 children, toddlers and a baby hostage for six hours, the event would be televised nationwide and on the front pages of newspapers the next day. Unless, of course, the perpetrators are members of our federal government.

I find it very disturbing that our main-stream-media has chosen not to report these raids. The only way to learn of them is through blogs, websites, and word of mouth.

I write about this topic from time to time in an attempt to do my part in keeping as many people as possible aware of the progress that Monsanto and other GMO advocates are making toward owning all seed companies. In 2005 Monsanto’s seed/genetic trait holdings were primarily in corn, cotton, soybean, and canola. That year they purchased Seminis, the world’s largest vegetable seed company (see And We Have the Seed) specializing in seed for vegetable field crops.

Now their takeover of the vegetable seed sector continues, as they have announced the intent to purchase the Dutch breeding and seed company, De Ruiter Seeds. This purchase diversifies Monsanto’s seed holdings in vegetable field crops (Seminis) to “protected culture” fruits and vegetables (primarily tomatoes and cucurbits produced greenhouse, hothouse, etc). Analysts from Bank of America say that this gives Monsanto 25% of the world vegetable seed market, but I believe that this is a low estimate.

Meanwhile, Monsanto is taking many other steps to keep farmers and everyone else from having any access at all to buying, collecting, and saving of normal seeds:

1. They’ve bought up the seed companies across the Midwest.
2. They’ve written Monsanto seed laws and gotten legislators to put them through, that make cleaning, collecting and storing of seeds so onerous in terms of fees and paperwork that having normal seed becomes almost impossible.
3. Monsanto is pushing laws that ensure farmers and citizens can’t block the planting of GMO crops even if they can contaminate other crops.
4. There are Monsanto regulations buried in the FDA rules that make a farmer’s seed cleaning equipment illegal because it’s now considered a “source of seed contamination.”

Monsanto has sued more than 1,500 farmers whose fields had simply been contaminated by GM crops.

Still think they don’t have a plan to own every seed in the world?

Further Reading:
Everything you need to know about NAIS


Monsanto’s Position on Seed Patent Infringement

Who Own’s Your Tomato?


Let USDA Know How You Feel About GE Food

USDA is currently accepting comments on Genetically Engineered Food Safety. Let them know how you feel.


Goodbye farmers markets, CSAs, and roadside stands

>> Monday, March 9, 2009

Must Read!! The "food safety" bills in Congress were written by Monsanto, Cargill, Tysons, ADM, etc. All are associated with the opposite of food safety. What is this all about then?

As we face an unprecedented economic crisis, and it is hard to be sure what has value, one thing that always does is food. Which is why the corporations are after absolute control over it. But what obstacles to a complete lock on food do they face? All the people in this country who are "banking" on organic farming and urban gardens and most of all, everyone's deepening pleasure in and increasing involvement with everything about food.

Because human beings are by in large good and by in large incredibly resilient and clever, and left to their own devices - that is, free - they would handle this gargantuan financial stupidity the corporations brought us with NAFTA, CAFTA, GATT and all other globalized schemes (which they hope to eventually top off with CODEX). How? By being productive in real ways and locally. And farming is the solid ground under that. Farmers produce something of real value (something we used to take for granted), and from that base, businesses grow up. Local markets, local food processors, local seed companies, local tool and supply companies, local stores ... and an economy based on reality and something truly good for us, too, begins to grow.

We need to get 100% behind the Slow Food Movement, the locavore movement, farmers markets, local farmers, seed banks, heirloom varieties, open pollinated seed varities, fresh milk, fresh eggs, vegetables stands, and freedom. Let your friends know that it's all on the line right now with those "fake food safety" bills brought to us with well-planned evil and more of it to come, by Monsanto, Cargill, Tysons, ADM, etc.

Send a message to Congress.

We need millions to be fighting this. Contact Eli Pariser at MoveOn moveon-help@list.moveon.org to tell him MoveOn is badly needed.


Chickens Manure Biodegrades Crude Oil

Need another good reason to grow your own chickens?

It is an unlikely application, but researchers in China have discovered that chicken manure can be used to biodegrade crude oil in contaminated soil. Writing in the International Journal of Environment and Pollution the team explains how bacteria in chicken manure break down 50% more crude oil than soil lacking the guano.


Happy Birthday!

>> Thursday, March 5, 2009

Today marks the two year anniversary of this blog.

And this is what I woke up to. I love winter’s ability to ‘clean’ the air and paint such beautiful landscapes, but I will be happy to see it gone.

It looks like all the celebrants are enjoying themselves. Great turnout! Party On!

I dumped steer manure in the veg beds and turned it all in yesterday. I was planning to start Pea seeds today. The sun is shining brightly so most of this snow will be gone later today and I can follow through on my plans.


Homemade Cloches for Seedlings

>> Wednesday, March 4, 2009

While looking for ideas on setting my seedlings out early, because frankly I’m getting crowded out of my own home, I found several sites with some handy ideas for cloches.

First one comes from Gardeners’ World. Photo from Gardeners’ World. Make your own cloches to use as handy home-made devices to keep your seeds. Made using hanging baskets and secondary glazing film, they resemble traditional Victorian bell cloches but cost a fraction of the price. The film will be strong enough to last a few months and is easily replaced if it does break.

Here’s an ingenious DIY from Allotment and Vegetable Gardening. While walking to work MisterPlough of Edinburgh, Scotland saw in a carpet shop the plastic matting you can get to protect carpets and thought - that'll work!

This one comes from You Grow Girl. Photo from You Grow Girl. If you're willing to sacrifice a little beauty for a fully functioning device that is not only as cheap as it gets (as in free), but will go the distance, then the plastic bottle cloche is the way to go.

I love the ingenuity of home gardeners. As they say Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

Happy Gardening.


Advice to Overhaul Food Safety System Goes Unheeded

>> Sunday, March 1, 2009

It seems various studies conducted since 1949 have called for the integration of all federal food safety activities into a single, centrally unified framework. In 2003 the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council issued Scientific Criteria to Ensure Safe Food that again highlighted needed improvement to achieve a science-based food safety system.

In 1998, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council issued the report Ensuring Safe Food from Production to Consumption, called for integration and overhaul.

Food borne illnesses plagued consumers long before the FDA’s existence. The FDA dates to 1906 out of the Food and Drugs Act and was primarily concerned with regulating domestically produced and distributed foods and drugs.

Many say the FDA is being stretched to its limits, and the increase in the number of food safety issues bear this out. There simply are not enough inspectors to adequately protect us. Yet the FDA keeps claiming that everything is just fine. President Obama, along with the rest of us, is not buying it. In his own words: "I think the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch them, so we're going to be doing a complete review of FDA operations," Obama told Matt Lauer during an interview broadcast on NBC's "Today" show.

The major reason why this broken system has gotten so broken is because it polices itself. In fact, the Peanut Corporation of America, responsibility for the latest salmonella outbreak claims it was considered in top shape by private investigators.

One of the private inspectors “gave the plant an overall superior rating,” the peanut company’s statement said. “The other rated the plant as ‘meets or exceeds audit expectations (Acceptable-Excellent) ratings.’ ” How could this be? Very shortly after these glowing reports eight people died and 600 others were sickened by product coming from this very same plant.

Reports from ex-employees tell of filth, a roof that leaked rain water which drained all the filth from building materials on its way into the building. Holes were reported in the peanut bags which were obviously caused by rats.

This salmonella outbreak is just the latest, and it represents the full-scale breakdown of a patchwork food safety system.

Some members of Congress are calling for and writing laws to split the FDA into two separate entities. In my opinion this is just a band-aid. Something to give the appearance that Congress is addressing the problem. What needs to be done is to hire more inspectors, develop a more comprehensive program and schedule of inspections and give the FDA the ability to immediately halt operations.

One interesting idea comes from a blog called ‘Dad Talk’ and I immediately found it to have some merit. Create a Citizen Food Corps. To add another layer of inspections. The CFC would be made up of concerned Americans, trained in safety and inspection at the hands of whatever food agency emerges from the ashes.

The key to success of would be to allow unannounced inspections to food plants around the nation complete with photographs. This is our food, we have the right to be able to walk into our nation’s kitchens, as it were, and inspect what we are going to eat. Such transparency would quickly draw attention to problem food makers. Companies that receive a bad report or refuse access to CFC inspectors would face immediate investigation by professional food regulators.

The corporate upside to being inspected more often would lead to a renewed trust in America’s food supply. This alone should be motivation enough for this idea to take flight.

The number of people who have died from trusting food processors is unacceptable and preventable. We have been calling for something to be done for decades. Dont you think something should finally be done about it?


Are We Doing First Time Gardeners a Disservice?

>> Friday, February 27, 2009

I would like to see everybody have their own garden. Every yard, every apartment balcony, every city rooftop, every city park needs to be overflowing with natures bounty tended by knowledgeable dedicated gardeners. But, not everyone wants to and not everyone who wants to has the confidence to get started. This is where those of us who write garden blogs or gardening websites need to be diligent about presenting as much accurate information as we can and not paint incomplete pictures that will likely lead to failure or less than desirable success.

In my travels through cyberspace I come across many sites giving ‘tips’ on “How to Start a Garden”. Most list the basic considerations involved in creating a successful garden, whether for flowers or for edibles: color coordination for a flower garden, sunlight requirements, annuals or perennials, and focal point.

There are a few other considerations that don’t usually get mentioned, such as: soil type, when to plant, when or how often to fertilize, what fertilize to use. And then there’s the question of going organic or chemical.

I don’t fault these sites for not mentioning these other considerations, they can get quite involved and the site most likely does not want to invest that much time in these issues. But an injustice is being done by presenting the act of growing nature as a one weekend affair of walking out of a nursery or big box store with plants in tow, digging a hole and expecting those plants to perform year after year. And it is especially callous to paint this image for the sake of selling potted plants. There is quite a bit of work involved in having a successful and productive garden. And one of the most basic and most important steps in attaining a healthy garden is knowing what type of soil you have to work with.

Soil type: The majority of homeowners are not blessed with ideal gardening soil. The easily workable soil you see on televised gardening programs does not occur naturally. This soil type is known as loam, and is the result of mixing composted material with the natural soil which, in most parts of America, is clay. You can grow almost anything in clay, typically clay holds abundant nutrients for almost any plant but getting clay to release those nutrients while providing reasonable drainage are the two major problems with working with clay. These problems are not insurmountable. With dedicated attention, and lots of compost, clay will provide you a beautiful and productive garden.

The third soil type is sand. This soil presents the exact opposite problems of clay: too much drainage and very little nutrients. These problems can also be overcome with compost.

Compost can be purchased or made in your own backyard with cheap, readily accessible ingredients.

You can attain perfect loamy soil in one year’s time if you are willing to remove a lot of your existing soil and replace it with a lot of composted material. Most of us don’t have the money to do this. And the natural soil-type will return if you don’t keep up with it on a yearly basis. Ideal soil takes years to create. In the meantime, while building your substandard soil, you can grow whatever you like by digging individual holes for each plant and filling the hole with store-bought loam. This is going to be a pricey proposition as well, but it will get you started.

The bottom line is that you cannot just plop plants in clay or sandy soil and expect them to survive.

The special attention you give them, year after year, is going to make all the difference between healthy productive plants and brown lifeless twigs.

One important lesson I have learned is to buy from nurseries and not big box stores. Some people can walk into a Home Depot, Lowe’s or Walmart and find a plant that will perform quite nicely in their yard. It is rare that you can find a knowledgeable garden-type person in these stores. Plant tags are getting better about passing on important information but it is usually pretty general if given at all. If you are knowledgeable enough to recognize stressed plants (and know to stay away from them) and if you are confident enough that you can bring them back from otherwise certain death then I wish you much happiness with your choice and ability. But let me interject this thought, nurseries are struggling because they don’t have a very high profit margin due to all of these aforementioned box stores cutting into their trade. So if you can see your way to patronize them for your gardening needs instead, they, and the rest of us, would be most appreciative. By the way, I am not in any way affiliated with any garden nursery. I do not sell plants. My interest is in having local nurseries available to find healthy plants and knowledgeable employees that cannot be found in big box stores.

If you are fortunate enough to move into a home with an established garden then count yourself lucky. Otherwise, expect to add compost and/or composted materials, ideally, each fall but spring works too.

You can find good information on the internet and the many wonderful garden blogs it has to offer, and if you keep in mind this one very basic thought that when you feed the soil you will provide your plants the very best possible chance they have of meeting your expectations whether they be vegetables or flowers.

If we don’t get first time gardens started properly with accurate and complete information then we are selling ourselves short. The larger the gardening community grows the better the chance we have of guaranteeing seed diversity, of maintaining healthy eating habits, of educating our children as to where food comes from and the part we all play in nature, and of providing habitat to wildlife that our spreading population is destroying.


Seedling Update Week 3

>> Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Radish sprouts are 22 days old today. Just 8-13 days from being harvested. They are taking quite well to the bright sunshine through our south facing living room window.

Lettuce Little Gem is also 22 days old, just 23 days from harvest. Plenty of time to pick out a nice vinaigrette. Topped with a few homemade toasted croutons and shredded parmesan-reggiano and, oh my goodness my mouth is watering already.

Here’s a delight I wasn’t quite sure was going to work out. King Edward Tulips I had discovered hanging in a bag in the garage mid-January. I thought I would give them a try instead of letting them hang around. I didn’t really notice the markings when they were in the ground last year. This is the first time I have ever forced bulbs. I am pleasantly surprised.

Discovered some Crocus Four Color growing beside a stepping stone. This is a complete surprise. I planted these a couple of years ago about 12 feet from where they sprouted. I am at a total loss as to how they got here but they are very welcomed. If memory serves there should be some dark blue, lavender striped and a mixed lavender and yellow also.

Truly a day full of pleasant surprises.


Contentious Law Penalizes Gardener for Using Offsite Kitchen Scraps

>> Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms in Los Angeles, California, was cited because of a law on the books that states that “composting material must be generated on-site unless it is placed in a vessel that controls airborne emissions”. What this means is that in Los Angeles you can only legally compost what you produce on your property unless your compost bin is a “commercially approved” device.

I wonder how this affects Starbuck’s program of giving away used coffee grounds to anyone who asks.

Kolla had established a relationship with a local restaurant to fill a garbage can she provided each week with their vegetable scraps, which she would then haul to her half acre urban farm and add to her own compost bin. Sounds like a great relationship. Food scraps and the methane gas they produce via composting, are kept out of landfills and Kolla gets to make rich organic compost for her garden. It’s a win-win.

This illustrates what environmentally conscious individuals are striving for, a closed loop, reducing carbon emissions by keeping everything local, and reducing the amount of waste sent to local landfills. But the current letter of the law in Los Angeles states that if you take grass clippings, orange peels, or fallen fruit from a neighbor, you are in violation of the law and could be cited and fined.

This law needs to be rewritten to reflect the spirit of a time honored practice of recycling nutrients back to the earth in a manner in which they will do the most good. Gardeners and environmentalists have known of this practice for years, we need to educate our law makers.

This is also another example of local bureaucracies interfering in what happens in our backyards and defies common sense. Here’s the original LA Times article in full length detail. An official from the local waste management board stated that he’d like to see the law changed, but intending to change the law is still a long step from tangible changes. Also, bear in mind that your city may have a similar law on the books and that your current composting activities may violate the law.

If this outrages, or even mildly upsets you, you should be aware of the other areas that the government is trying to intrude on the activity in your backyard. Read here about efforts to track every backyard chicken in America with the USDA’s proposed NAIS. And on a positive note about government interventions, read here about Maryland considering a ban controversial food dyes.

Further reading:
National Animal Identification System
U.S. Court, FDA: Raw Milk Like Toxic Waste


Vegetables are less nutritious than in past

>> Thursday, February 19, 2009

How many of you home gardeners think fruits and vegetables we find at the supermarket have fewer nutrients than what we grow at home? Without even peeking, I’m pretty sure all of you raised your hands.

Those vegetables and fruits at the supermarket are grown by big agriculture and those of us who grow our own avoid supermarket produce as much as possible.

A report in the February issue of the Journal of HortScience, says produce in the U.S. not only tastes worse than it did in your grandparents' day, it also contains fewer nutrients - at least according to Donald R. Davis, a former research associate with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. Davis claims the average vegetable found in today's supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago.

Davis does admit the science of testing has improved over the years, and earlier results may not have been as accurate as they are today, and many of these vegetables travel quite a bit further today before they are put on display at our local supermarket, meaning they are older before they reach the consumer.

Just like the general population of humans, today’s vegetables are getting larger. But this doesn’t mean we are getting more nutrients. Most of this increase in produce size is in “dry matter” (90% of which is carbohydrates) spurred along by soil chemistry. Perhaps some of this “soil chemistry” is getting into out bodies and this is what is helping us to all ‘super-size’ our bodies. Scary thought. Also, selective breeding is favoring larger vegetables but for some reason they just are not getting a proportionate increase in nutrients. My feeling is that it is because of all the chemical fertilizers used to increase the farmers productivity.

In the good ole days, everything had to be fed with organic matter because the ‘miracle’ of chemical fertilizers didn’t appear until just after WWII.

Another factor concerning the use of chemically increasing the size is that vegetables are grown faster today, allowing farmers to get their produce to the consumer quicker. The downside to this is the vegetables are not given enough time to absorb nutrients. These are the vegetables whose seeds are being selected to grow the following years. Before long, the nutrients have been selected out.

These arguments backup the necessity to grow organically and to select and save heirloom seeds.

Monoculture farming practices - another hallmark of the Big Ag industry - have also led to soil-mineral depletion, which, in turn, affects the nutrient content of crops.

More than three billion people around the world suffer from malnourishment and yet, ironically, efforts to increase food production have actually produced food that is less nourishing.

Fruits seem to be less affected by genetic and environmental dilution, but one can't help but wonder how nutritionally bankrupt veggies can be avoided. Supplementing them is problematic, too: don't look to vitamin pills, as recent research indicates that those aren't very helpful either.

Further reading:
The Incredible, Edible Front Lawn
Saving Seed
Saving Seeds
Why should we save seed
Heirloom Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange


Garden Looking a Bit Ragged? Why, Yes. Thank-you very much.

>> Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My neighbor (a non-gardener) told me the other day that my garden looks a bit ‘ragged’ and ‘unsightly’. I must admit, I agreed with him. And when I told him that the ‘messiness’ was intentional he gave me a bewildered look.

So, with a bit of a self-satisfied smile, I explained that wildlife can make use of all sorts of garden debris for such things as food and nesting material for birds. I didn’t tell him that rodents also use the unsightly litter for their own purposes because I didn’t want to freak him out by thinking I was raising neighborhood pests. Remember, I am talking to a non-gardener.

Then he said to me, “Well, everyone else around here cleans theirs up before winter sets in.” To that I said, “So, that’s why all the birds come to my yard in the winter.”

I took him over to the Caryopteris to show him the empty seed pods that the finches and sparrows have been feeding on.

After showing him all the natural nesting material and shelter provided by

the catmint

…the cosmos and butterfly bush

…and the zinnia, I told him I’ll just chop the rest of it up and throw it on the compost pile so none of it is wasted.

These plants also provide the additional dimension of movement when the winter winds blow. Plus, seeing a bunch of plants covered with snow is a lot more interesting than looking at snowdrifts piled up against a straight fence.

After our little tour, I asked if he might be interested in starting a garden and he told me it just seems like too much work. I decided right then that I would invite him over to help with a few ‘light’ garden chores this spring. I’m thinking maybe weeding duties might be a bit too much for him, so I’ll ask him to help plant a few seedlings.

Who knows, maybe there’s some hope for him after all.


Popping up and Ready for Spring

>> Monday, February 16, 2009

Just took some photos of bulbs poking through the snow and winter mulch.

Tulip Saxatilis, planted 10 last October 15 and now 8 have come up so far. They actually first sprouted two weeks ago on Feb 2, but I just got around to photographing them. These came from John Scheepers and are supposed to be the earliest tulips of the season. They certainly have a big head start over all the other tulips in this bed.

Hyacinth Woodstock, planted 10 of these on Nov 10, 2006 and right now I can count 18. This year, after blooms die back, they will need to be dug up and separated. I have a couple places in mind for some of these beauties so they won’t get so crowded.

Aster Snowdrift is a groundcover that was planted in October 2007 and stayed green all winter, even under 15” of snow at one point. Pretty hardy, I’d say. There are two here, even though I started with four. Two didn’t make it through the first summer.

These Dianthus Desmond have done real well here in the front of the house. They were planted in October 2007 and stayed green over winter too.
Photo: Dianthus Desmond 09-02-16.JPG


Plant baby pictures!

A few more of the seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago have sprouted.

Thunbergia White-Eyed Susie (Black-eyed Susan Vine).

Sweet Pea Mammoth Mix and Flowering Navy Blue

Also, an update on the Radish and lettuce. Notice the dark orange 'tube' along the right side? That is a strip of flypaper. I had a bit of a problem with root gnats (due to over watering the seedlings) but this is taking care of the problem. Lovely.

This Cyclamen obviously likes this space. It’s on the north side of the room with a large window to allow lots of sunlight in. The sun doesn’t touch the plant though. I like this shade of purple (lilac).


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