Tag Archives: organic gardening

Back into the Garden

Cabbage
I bet you were starting to think that there wasn’t much ‘garden’ left in this Sonoma Garden, weren’t you? Well now that all the other to-do list chores have been caught up on, we were able to plant a few things for fall which I’ll be sharing with you this week. The first thing to note is that if all works out well, we are going to be having cabbage coming out of our ears soon. We’ve planted both red and green cabbage, all starts from our favorite nursery, Sonoma Mission Gardens. We haven’t had great success with cabbage in the past, it just hasn’t formed very well. But being the gardening masicists that we are, we are trying again.
Cabbage

We’ve also grown some Napa Cabbage from seed. This is the first time we’ve grown that so I’m anxious to see how it works.
Napa Cabbage

And while this isn’t cabbage, look, the raddiccio is actually starting to form! We planted these seeds quite a while ago, maybe six weeks ago or so?
Raddiccio
I was starting to feel pretty ho-hum about the progress of our yard at the end of summer, but now that we’ve pulled out all of the old, ugly stuff it’s rejuvinating to get some new happy green growth back.
Update: Carrie asked for some cabbage growing tips so I thought I would share some things that we’ve read. Now mind you we are not cabbage experts, so we are learning from this too. Cabbages like a sunny spot with well drained soil. They are also heavy feeders and heavy drinkers, so be prepared to give them ample nutrients and water. Heavy mulching is also a good idea. While the cabbages are still young you can interplant them with lettuce and radishes since they have such a short growing period. Where as cabbage takes anywhere from 60-180 days to mature depending on the type you are growing. If you want to read more, check out Mother Earth New’s article.

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Filed under 1, Growing Challenge, Leafy Greens, Seeds, State of the Garden

How to Grow More Vegetables…Part Three

As promised, today I’ll explain about how this Grow Biointensive way of planting as explained in How to Grow More Vegetables can improve your garden. As I mentioned this style of gardening has been rediscovered and studied for over thirty years by Ecology Action, up in Northern California. But it’s originally the ancient 4,000 year old Chinese Biointensive way of farming which is patterned after nature’s own intensive biological plantings.

Scott and I figure, if its worked for the Chinese for all those years, it might just in fact make our garden a better place. And while we don’t follow the method exactly, we add a little bit more of the method’s theologies every year. And it has improved our garden greatly. The man who initially brought this method to attention in the States, Alan Chadwick, wisely said, “Just grow one small area, do it well. Then, once you have got it right, grow more!” So, let’s learn this method already, okay?

Here are the components:
Deep Soil Preparation. This is the most important part. Loose soil structure enables the roots to grow deep down in the soil and a steady stream of nutrients can flow into the stem and leaves. Double digging your soil is admittedly back breaking, but it can be done is small steps and the benefits last for years and are certainly worth the effort.

Composting. “In nature, living things die, and their death allows life to be reborn.” (See, Compost really is proof that there is life after death!) Composting is an important way to return carbon, nitrogen, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, phosophorus, potash, and trace minerals back to the earth. These elements are all necessary to maintain the biological cycles of life that naturally exist. So ahead make that compost pile, it’s easy!

Close Plant Spacing. Nature doesn’t grow it’s plants in long, spaced out rows, why should we? We waste a lot of space growing things so far apart.

Companion Planting.
This is a fascinating subject to explore. It’s one of our favorite garden explorations. Basically, you want to grow things together that will enhance each other, such as beans and cucumbers.

Plant Carbon-Efficient Crops. Planting your garden in about 60% of the growing area with seed and grain crops will produce large amounts of carbonaceous materials for compost and provide significant amounts of dietary calories. Have you ever thought about growing crops for not only your consumption, but also to return back to the soil? That’s a new one, isn’t it? But a great one.

Plant Calorie-Efficient Crops. Remember, this methodology is taught to show people how to grow their entire diet in one 4,000 square foot plot (a vegan diet of course). So thinking of planting the most calorie rich vegetables is important. You want to plant about 30% of your garden to potatoes, burdock, garlic, and parsnips which produce a large amount of calories for your diet.

Open-Pollinated Seeds. Use these to preserve genetic diversity.

A Whole, Interrelated Farming System.
This Grow Biointensive food-raising method is a whole system and it’s components, when used all together create high yields that nourish not only yourself but the earth.

Cool system, isn’t it? What I’ve written about is only a taste of what you find in the actual book, How to Grow More Vegetables. Its full of incredible information on starting from seed planting with lunar cycles, charts like you wouldn’t believe, and diagrams of how to lay out your garden. Step by step illustrations on how to start small and eventually grow a plot into a 4,000 sq. foot self sufficient garden of Eden, or Garden of Eatin’ as it were.

I can’t tell you how much you need to read How to Grow More Vegetables. Add it to your Amazon wish list or check it out at your local library. You’ll love it too!

Read Part One & Part Two.

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Filed under books, Compost, Soil

Beans and Cucumbers like each other

Summer Beans
After reading Carrots Love Tomatoes, the past two growing seasons we’ve been experimenting with companions planting. We already have our carrots planted with our tomatoes and now we are trying beans and cucumbers together. Beans, as with most legumes (like our winter fava cover crop), draw up nitrogen from down deep in the soil, brings it up and fixes it as little white nitrogen nodules to their roots. You don’t have to fertilize beans, in fact they really don’t like being fertilized, because they can do it themselves.

Cucumbers on the other hand are heavy feeders and like a lot of fertilization. But we’ve read if you plant them along with plenty of beans, the beans fertilize the cucumbers without you having to do a thing. We like that ‘not having to do a thing’ part, a lot! And so far, its worked. We have both more beans and cucumbers than we can eat and both plants look happy and healthy.

The only issue we’ve found with planting these two together is that cucumbers like a little more water and beans like a little less water. We’ve done our best to accommodate both by focusing our water on the cucumbers and it seems to be working.

If you haven’t read Carrots Love Tomatoes you should give it a try. It has really helped us.

Also, A Sonoma Garden is featured in this week’s Home Preserving Blog Carnival. Go see what other home preservers are doing.

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Filed under Companion Planting, just picked, what we've learned

quick shots in the weekend garden


The cherry tree is in full blossom…

The peas are up
..and the peas are up!

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Filed under Fruit Trees, Sprouting, What's Blooming

compost

Compost

I mentioned the other day that I would talk about our compost pile. Or should I say ‘piles’. We use the pile approach as opposed to putting it in a bin. I think because it’s easier, we have the room for them and it makes them so much easier to turn. We put our kitchen scraps in it, our grass clippings, leaves and any other weeding and pruning we do. They say a good compost pile should have a ratio of 25 parts brown, carbon-rich materials (such as dry leaves, straw and wood chips) to 1 part green, nitrogen-rich materials (such as kitchen scraps and grass), but we are more relaxed than that. We’ve never been very scientific about our ratios and we seems to come out with a good mix.

We usually have three piles going. One that is finished compost, like the picture above, one that is actively composting, and another one to throw new materials into. In the fall as the leaves drop, Scott will just mow over the leaves, to break them up before adding them to the pile, this helps them to start composting faster instead of matting up and turning sour. You know when your compost isn’t actually composting when it smells. A properly behaving pile shouldn’t smell at all because the complex arrangement of organisms of worms, bacteria and insects will keep it breaking down naturally.

Now that spring is here and we are preparing the beds, we keep a custom made (by Scott) wood frame with wire mesh over the wheel barrow to sieve out any big pieces before we wheel it to it’s intended bed. Using our compost and supplimenting with some mushroom compost we’ve purchased (we have a big yard!) has greatly improved our soil. When we first moved here, our soil didn’t retain moisture at all, but now I think we’ve got it at an ideal stage. It holds moisture long enough for the plants to soak it up, but without being muddy and clay like. Perfect for growing.

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Filed under Compost

animal, vegetable, miracle

more food for thought

Before I would have normally thought twice about buying that green bell pepper that my husband requested from the store yesterday, I mean, I know they are out of season and this poor little pepper was carted all the way up from Chile via precious fossil fuels just to add a little life to our potato hash. But after finishing Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” last night, I feel really guilty.

We have always tried to eat with the seasons because we grow so much of our own fruit and veggies, but sometimes, like last night, you just have to have a bell pepper in the middle of March. Barbara and her industrious family of four commited to an entire year of eating locally and therefore in season. It was a very inspirational read, especially right at the beginning of gardening season. It’s one of those books that makes me want to immediately get out and start tomato, zucchini and basil seeds. Right now! Alas it’s a bit too early for us to do that. Maybe in the next couple of weeks.

Her casual and friendly writing style made me want to go visit her and walk through her garden with her. Meet her chickens and see her new turkey chicks. Her visit to the Farmer’s Diner in Vermont makes us daydream of opening such a restaurant here in Sonoma.

This quote by her husband Stephen is really eye opening:

Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We’re consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen – about 17% of our nation’s energy use – for agriculture, a close second to our vehicular use. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are not the machines, but so-called inputs. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, and in their manufacturing. More than a quarter of all farming energy goes into synthetic fertilizers.

But getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion’s share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food.

A quick way to improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it. More palatable options are available. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.

Steven L. Hopp

I don’t know if we’d be able to commit to a eating locally exclusively, but it sure makes me think. Think about finding meals that will accomodate whats in season, taking a second look at there the fruit is grown that I’m putting into my winter shopping bags, and of course it inspires me to garden!

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Filed under books, what we've learned

favas & vetch as cover crops


Every fall we plant a new cover crop. Why plant something we can’t really eat? Because not only does it make our otherwise brown winter garden green, but it’s quite beneficial to the soil. Cover crops hold down soil from winters erroding rains, they build up nutrients in the soil, and come spring they provide plenty of material (called biomass if you want to talk like a pro) for composting.

Each year Scott tries a different combination of cover crops to bring new nutrients to our soil. This year it was fava beans and purple vetch.

What I find pretty amazing about using cover crops is that when you pull up the roots you can actually see the little balls of nitrogen that have formed on the roots. Here’s the roots of the fava beans, do you see those little balls attached to the roots?
Fava Roots
What is also amazing is the immediate action of that added nitrogen. Our fava bean patch and lettuce patch became interplanted at one end and the lettuce that was growing amidts the favas was about three times larger than the lettuce growing on it’s own. I wish I had taken a picture of it before our chickens found it and made themselves a salad lunch.

One thing new we learned this year about growing fava beans as a cover crop is that you should till the crop under before the plant has created beans because the nutrients are then brought up from the soil into the making of the beans. Previously we had waited for the beans to form so that we could eat them ourselves. This year we’ll most likely till the majority of them and eat a few of them. They are too tasty to till them all!


Our chest high favas also make for great exploring for little ones:
Chasing Chickens through Fava Beans
Here is the purple vetch
Vetch
and it’s roots
Vetch Roots
Vetch actually gives a bit more nitrogen to the soil, but it grows in a more matted form so it’s hard to do interplantings if you wanted to do those like we did (inadvertently with the lettuce).

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Filed under Cover Crops, what we've learned