Tennesseetransitions


Learning Lessons (the hard way)
September 2, 2014, 9:44 PM
Filed under: Growing Food, organic gardening | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been gardening for a long time now, but each season brings new lessons to my weedy classroom and this  summer of 2014 was no different. I thought I’d share them with you and then I’ll have a permanent record of them too, so that I can refer back to them in the coming years. (Sometimes I don’t ‘pass the test’ the first time and it takes me more than one lesson to ‘get it’). 

Lesson: Cleanliness in the garden is next to Godliness. I had planted two patches of basil-harvesting from one on Mondays and then the other on Thursdays-to donate to One Acre Cafe. The plants were beautiful and healthy…

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when seemingly overnight they began to yellow and wither in one patch…

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Then, sure enough, the problem spread to the other patch a few days later! Hmmm.. the basil plants in my own plot at the Community Garden were fine, other plots had healthy plants and my basil at home was beginning to resemble a small tree. What happened? I think I finally figured it out-I had  failed to sterilize my cutting shears with a bleach/water solution between uses! I began carrying a spray bottle of the mix in my basket to the garden each day and spraying it on the blades as I moved about the plot. I gave the almost dead basil a good dose of fish emulsion and stopped all cuttings for about three weeks or more. Eventually the plants recovered, but never to their original robust beauty.

Lesson: Shortcuts don’t always save time. I ran out of Epsom Salts to add to the final few tomato planting holes last spring and I was in too big of a hurry to stop and go buy some more, thinking it wouldn’t matter if I skipped it on those last two or three plants. It DID matter, a LOT! Those plants had blossom end rot on every single tiny tomato they produced; I’d eliminated that problem years ago when I’d learned about the egg shell/Epsom Salt combination.

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Lesson: Identify bugs properly.  For a couple of months I killed every one of these I could find…

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Finally I got smart and put 3 or 4 in a bottle to take to my nearest extension agent’s office. He promptly identified them as Pink Spotted Ladybugs, or 12 Spotted Ladybugs. Both adults and larvae are important aphid predators but also eat mites, insect eggs, and small larvae. Unlike most lady beetles, plant pollen may make up to 50% of the diet, WHICH MAKES THEM IMPORTANT POLLINATORS TOO!

Lesson: Comfrey doesn’t like full sun. I was given several perennial comfrey plants (thanks Barbara!) this spring and planted them on both sides of my house where nothing-NOTHING- was growing. I knew that they spread quickly and that’s what I was looking for because once established, they make really good additions to compost piles AND chickens love to eat them. I want to have chickens again next spring, after we return from a long trip in late winter, so I wanted to get the comfrey established this year. The plants on the shady north side have spread and flowered and done beautifully while the ones I put on the sunny south side have struggled, in spite of regular watering. Luckily, I plan to house my girls on the north side since they don’t like full sun either.

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Final Lesson: You can teach an old dog new tricks!

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Here we go again…

Are  you sick of my posts about gardening? If so, just hit delete today, because it’s really all that’s on my mind during these long days of spring. I’ve got lots more good topics for transitioning lined up for the near future, some I can barely wait to share with you, but today, it’s all about gardening.

Before we get started on this though, a little personal history and philosophy might be in order. I’m a Tennessee Master Gardener and the coordinator of my city’s largest (to date) and oldest community garden, but I’m hoping that (at least!) a dozen more communal gardens will be surpassing our size in the near future. I feel that growing food is a life skill like no other. Gardening can offer resilience in the face of adversity, whether that’s due to climate change, skyrocketing food prices, personal money hardships, or food sensitivities. It builds self-sufficiency, enhances my sense of empowerment, and oh yeah, provides me with great-tasting and healthy food. My garden offers me a respite from a life filled with the blur of technology, stress and diversions and actually serves as my personal sanctuary when I go to kneel at its’ weedy altar. Oh yeah, did I mention it provides me with great-tasting food?

This post is simply my way of sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years with other gardeners that might be struggling to get their own pots and plots in good shape right now. There are lots of good gardening advice online, so if I don’t cover your question in this short post, you can find the answer somewhere on the world-wide web or in a good gardening book at the library. Or post your questions in the comments section at the end, maybe I’ll have an answer.

Q: How far apart should I plant my (fill in the blank)?

A: If you have rich soil that has adequate amounts of a plant’s needed nutrients, count on them growing well. Read that as large. Space accordingly. A big ole’ heirloom tomato plant that’s growing in a well-maintained raised bed that’s filled with rich homemade compost and lots of organic matter can easily grow to 3′ wide and 6′ tall! If your soil isn’t so good, it won’t grow that large and  you might get by with spacing them 18″ apart. I’ve seen gardeners that plant tomatoes and peppers 3-4″ apart! I apologize for the quality of this bad picture, but I want you to look closely at this: there are twelve, count them, TWELVE tomato plants in that little bitty bed!

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The spacing in my cabbage patch shown below is good on the left side with four plants, but too close on the right, which has five plants and shows the fourth one almost lost! These were ‘early’ small cabbages. Had they been a later, heavier variety, I would’ve only planted one row of them down the middle.

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Tomatoes and squash like a lot of air circulation, as that keeps many of the diseases that they’re susceptible to at bay.  Try to visualize a full-grown August tomato plant when considering how far apart to set them out. However, if we’re talking about carrots, go with 1″ apart thinning to 2″ when they’re up and recognizable. Squash on the other hand need 2-3′ all around to produce well.  These next two pics show how much room I give them. Both beds will be completely covered soon with the zucchini and yellow squash vines! You’ve got to visualize how big the mature plants will be!

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Like carrots, green beans and peas are planted closely, about 2″ apart, again, depending on the variety you’re planting. Read the back of the seed package if all else fails. If your seeds are old, plant thicker than normal, and if they all come up, just thin to an appropriate distance apart. In the pic below, the beans were planted 2″ apart, but birds and rabbits have done a pretty good job of ‘thinning’ for me.

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The sugar snap peas below were planted very closely around the edges of a square bed and as  you can see are flowering well now. I set the tomato cage in the center for the peas to be supported by, knowing that by the time the tomato needs the space, the peas will be history. Once the tomato fills the cage and is growing well, I’ll plant basil around the edges where the peas were…these three are good companion plants because the tomatoes need a lot of nitrogen and the peas are ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants, which means they can literally pull it from the air and store it in the soil for use by the next crop. Basil and tomatoes are not only compatible when eaten together, the sharp smell of basil deters pests from the tomatoes when they’re grown together. How cool is THAT?

 

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Q: Why are my young plants turning purple?

A: Did you plant the purple variety?  Likely because your soil is low in phosphorus or because the soil temp is still too cool.

Q: Why are my plants turning yellow?

A: It’s usually caused by a nitrogen deficiency. Fish Emulsion is a good organic source of nitrogen. While young plants are growing feed every week, moving to every two weeks later in the season.

Q: Why do I have huge green plants but no broccoli heads?

A: Too much nitrogen is generally the cause of overgrowth with no fruit set.

Q: Nothing seems to be doing well this year

A: A simple test kit can go a long way towards helping you decide what your garden soil needs or doesn’t. Even though they’re inexpensive, share the cost with a friend or neighbor or two. You generally only need to test once or twice to determine your soil’s Ph and then again after making any needed adjustments, but the kits have enough solution to do it over and over. If  your Ph isn’t in the correct range no matter how rich your soil is, the plant roots won’t be able to draw the nutrients from that soil to help them thrive.

As I’ve written all of this I realize that gardening is kind of like beekeeping… ask 10 people how to do something and you’ll get 10 different answers but maybe this will be of some help to you dear readers. I believe that growing and eating locally grown foods, in season, is the single best thing one can do to improve their health, their personal economy, and the environment. Plant something, ok?



Redefining Prosperity (and a Spring Recipe)

There’s nothing I love more than spending time with my family and gardening. I’ll be going to Ohio in a couple of weeks to watch my granddaughter graduate from high school, so in the meantime, I’m getting my garden in. This is consuming my days, not leaving me with much time to write, which is why blog posts will be scarce as hen’s teeth for a while. There’s always much to do: weeds to pull, seeds to plant and water, beds to mulch and so on. For me, this time spent on my knees at my weedy altar will pay off all year in the form of lower food bills and many, many meals on my table. Growing food is like printing my own money. And if that’s not reason enough, last evening, right at dusk, I spotted a male and female American Goldfinch sitting on the top of nearby tomato cages and suddenly, all my tiredness and the worries of the world simply slipped away…

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This week we’re enjoying bushels of fresh spinach, along with lettuces, broccoli, kale and cilantro. I’ve finally mastered the secret to cilantro: I let it reseed itself so I don’t have to monitor and water and baby it like I did when I was planting it myself. Once you get it established you can treat it like a perennial.  Soon we’ll have  bok choy, new potatoes and sugar snap peas and strawberries to go with our daily salads, all the while continuing to eat the canned, dried and frozen foods from last year’s harvest. Tonight for supper we’ll enjoy a dish that we love when we have the needed ingredients growing in the garden-I’ve included the recipe below-(I added some leftover Italian turkey meatballs to simmer in the sauce-yum!) and corn on the cob I had in the freezer. That’s it below. The next picture shows how much food can be grown in a very small space-less than the footprint of a compact car in fact. That bed has 40 heads of garlic, 8 heads of cabbage, 10 bunches of cilantro, 6 heads of broccoli, and enough spinach to make me give it away by the bagful. Soon it will all be harvested and will then be filled with peppers and tomatoes and more.

 Potatoes with Spinach in Cilantro-Red Chili Sauce  IMG_0342

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 large tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish brown and smell nutty, 5 to 10 seconds.

Immediately add the garlic and chiles. Saute until the garlic is lightly browned and the chiles blacken, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle in the turmeric, the carefully pour in the water. Stir to deglaze the pan, releasing any browned bits of garlic.

Add the potatoes, tomato, cilantro, brown sugar and salt. Stir once or twice, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fall-apart tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the spinach, a couple of handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes per batch.

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This blog is all about finding new measures of prosperity in our lives. Many folks define prosperity by how much money they make, how big their house is, or how new their car is. I adopted new measures of prosperity when I went through my mid life crisis 15 years ago and began to simplify my life. Now,  my personal measure of prosperity is based on how much food I can grow, along with having no debt and owning a car I may never replace. Life is good, very, very good.



Downtown Farming

Most of my readers know that I live downtown and am excited to be a part of the urban revitalization that is taking place in my community. For two years, the very premise of this blog has  been about finding ways and means that will enable us to transition, gracefully if you will, to a lifestyle that is more sustainable, resilient and fulfilling than the one that we find ourselves in today. It’s about re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. For me, the good life involved moving from our acreage in the country to an urban area with high walkability, a nearby community garden, and where I can work alongside my neighbors to help ‘be the change I want to see’. What I discovered this afternoon is all that.

Housed in an old brick bakery just behind the Farmer’s Market, on the corner of Buffalo and Cherry St is ‘DOWNTOWN FARMING’, a great new store for organic and hydroponic gardeners. I know this isn’t a great picture, but wait ’til you step inside! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was raining like crazy outside but the worn wooden floors and brick walls were as warm and welcoming as Kyle’s smile was. The store been closed for 2 hours when we arrived, but the shopkeeper, Kyle, opened the door and invited us in like we were old friends when he saw us peeking in the windows. He told us about all the products that were for sale; many familiar, some new and strange, but he also shared with us the owners’ mission: to be an integral part of this urban community while advocating the growing of sustainable, local, organic food. There were bags of organic worm castings, soil mixes, and fertilizers, along with the fans, lights and other components to put together your own hydroponics system. In fact, we took pictures to show you what they had growing there, at the tail end of the most vicious winter we’ve seen in recent history:

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A 5 foot tall blooming sunflower, along with fully grown peppers, lettuces and tomatoes were all growing there in the confines of those brick walls!

We bought a package of sage seeds from Seeds of Change but they also had a full rack of heirloom seeds from Sow True Seed Company, from nearby Asheville, NC. I could see this store becoming  a wonderful replacement for the recently-moved Mize Farm and Garden store, minus the poisons. They had growing pots and trays for sale, but could use some tools and a few more familiar gardening needs to fill that niche easily. I hope you’ll pay them a visit, support their early efforts and let them know what you’d like to see them stock. I think they’re ‘all ears’ and might be willing to fill the empty spot in our hearts and gardens that Mize once occupied. ‘Downtown Farming’ indeed! Those two little words embody the very essence of this blog.

                           Store hours: Monday-Friday 10 AM to 6 PM

                           Saturday 8 AM to 2 PM

                          Closed Sunday and Monday

                          downtownfarming.net

                          downtownfarming@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Frugal Friday: March 7, 2014

I’ve had lots of opportunities to save money lately. Some by sheer luck, some because of diligence on my part. I’ve learned that normally though, the best way to ‘save money’ is to not spend it to begin with, and that’s always my first line of thinking. I’ve also found it to be true that if I will wait a day or two before buying something, I often realize I didn’t need it after all. Or, if I wait LONG ENOUGH, often the very thing I need comes my way anyway. From a swatch of turquoise fabric to repair a pillow sham to  an electric heater that I needed in my cellar to keep pipes from freezing, planning ahead and being patient always pays off. Of course, sometimes opportunity knocks in the most unexpected ways and places and I have to ‘listen’ to hear that knock when it occurs.

Monday: Got my teeth cleaned at the local dental hygienist school. My dental insurance only pays for two cleanings a year. Because I have a tendency towards gum problems, I’ve found that if I have mine cleaned 3-4x a year, that really keeps the problems minimized. The dental clinic at the school will clean them twice a year, and for seniors, it’s free. They’ll also take x rays for free, then make copies for me to take to my regular dentist for $20. To top off that sweet deal, they always send me home with a ‘goodie bag’ that has a new toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a box of floss in it. Sometimes there are samples of mouthwash, specialty brushes or coupons for toothpaste too in the bag as well. Because I’ve been getting my teeth cleaned so regularly for years now, (even though I begrudge having to go) I haven’t had to have any other work done at all. Prevention is the best medicine, that’s for sure. If you live near a university, check out the services they offer. I’m able to ride my bike to the college, and my dentist is so close I don’t bother, I just walk there. Savings: Good Dental Health?=Priceless!

Tuesday: Speaking of the local university: Michael and I volunteer for the School of the Arts in order to earn free tickets to the event of our choice each spring and fall. We like to deliver the posters for those events because many of them are close enough by that they can be delivered while on our daily walks to the nearby businesses. Sometimes we’ll usher too, allowing us to see a show that way. Many of these events are followed by a free buffet of fruits, veggies and hors d’ oeuvres (did I spell that right?) that we’re invited to enjoy. Savings: Most tickets to these events are $15-$20 each. Date Night of Music/Film/Presentations and food=Priceless!

Wednesday:  I’m cooking multiple things together more and more often, to save time and energy. This week I again filled my clay cooker with recently-harvested carrots, parsnips and brussels sprouts, along with some leftover cubed chicken, and tossed it all with about a quarter cup of needs-to-be-used Italian dressing and some fresh sprigs of rosemary. Cooking the dish at the same time Michael’s home-made bread baked saved an hour of electrical usage, and provided us with two delicious meals! 

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Thursday: My favorite nearby farm and garden store held a ‘moving sale’ recently, and just like with ‘moving’ yard sales, things were marked down to rock-bottom prices. We snagged bags of organic soil amendments for 75% off!. Savings: Home-grown organic food-You guessed it-Priceless!

Friday: My nearby IGA grocery store closed last Friday, but I’ll use this example for today. I went in on the last day they were open, searching for a bargain, on foot. I ended up calling Michael to come pick me up and to bring some of my cloth tote bags because I got many many bags of food at 75% off! I spent $35 so that same stuff would’ve cost about $140. Savings: $105! I’m not happy about this though-I’d lots rather have this small hometown grocery open and within a 6 minute walk of my back door. The closing of this store leaves me and everyone living within a 4 mile radius living in a food desert now, forcing US to drive to the nearest store, or to catch a bus. I could go on and on about the issues this raises, but this post is not about that so I won’t go there-for now.

Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”

Elise Boulding  from the blog http://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/



Hope Springs Eternal

Last Saturday our temperatures here in NE TN were a perfect promise of spring, so I got to my plot in the community garden and spent a very pleasant hour or so turning under the green manure crop of Crimson Clover while adding some organic amendments to the soil. The next day’s rain was the perfect finish. Now it will have a couple of weeks to break down before I plant ‘spring things’ there. It’s a rare fall that I get the planting of my winter cover crop timed perfectly so that it will fill in, without going to seed, before the cold weather fully hits, but I managed to last fall. Remember this?

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The now-brown quilt of clover served as a natural cover through the winter, and will now finish its’ part in the garden’s life by adding nitrogen-rich organic matter to my slowly improving soil. I added blood meal, rock phosphate powder and homemade compost to the bed and then tilled it all under. I plan to try a no-till method in some of my beds this year, in hopes that the earthworms will drag the compost and other amendments down deep to the plants root area where it’s needed most. I vowed when I started these beds from scratch last spring that as soon as the clay was broken down I’d stop tilling. I hope that time has come, for using a tiller is not sustainable and my goal is to garden productively without using fossil fuels or the pesticides and fertilizers that are made from them. I’m still not there, this picture proves it, but I do hope to be some day soon.

diggin' in for spring

In the meantime, I’m babying my starts of onions, kale, chard, cilantro and parsley that are growing on a make shift book case-turned-plant-rack.

Veggie Starts

They’ll get transplanted to 4″ pots, slowly hardened off, and tucked into the prepare beds by the end of the month, along with potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli-all ‘cool season crops’ too. After many satisfying meals this winter using our stored, canned and frozen fruits and veggies it will be wonderful to once again have fresh foods to add to the table. While I wait for the lettuce, peas and strawberries, I’ve started sprouting seeds in the kitchen to give us ‘something fresh’ right now. Sprouting is easy-peazy- something even I can’t mess up!

The winter was really tough on the fall-planted kale, chard and lettuces. The ‘polar vortex’ ripped the plastic off both hoop houses the night it blew in and all that survived was the spinach. This picture was taken on December 17th, when those things were holding some promise for spring:

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All that’s left of that promising bed are the spinach plants, (lower left) which are still too small to harvest. Hopefully, not for long.

In writing this post, I realize how many times I’ve used the word ‘hope’. My garden is always full of hope, if nothing else. I hope the seeds will sprout, I hope for a bountiful harvest, I hope the food we grow will nourish us and I hope that by showing you, my reader, how much can be grown with so little time, space and energy that it will inspire you to try your hand at growing something this spring too. All indications are that we will definitely see rising food prices as the year goes on. We already are actually. Hoping that won’t happen isn’t enough for me though. In a world where I often don’t feel I have much control over much of anything, growing my food empowers me like nothing else does! Right along with filling my pantry and my belly, gardening fills me with peace of mind and the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the world, I’ll always have the knowledge and skills to provide for myself and others. Hope really does spring eternal in the garden!



And the beet goes on…

My beloved grandmother died 10 years ago today, at the age of 100. She taught me a lot of things growing up; from useless nonsense like: “Never wear white shoes after Labor Day”,  to priceless information on how to cook vegetables and raise “Food”…

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But this Southern girl had never eaten, nor even seen, a parsnip, until I married my London-born husband. Nor did I care to. His love for this carrot-like root vegetable prevailed however, and now I love them as much as he does. So much so that I now plant them in my fall garden. Much like cool weather greens, parsnips ‘sweeten up’ after a few hard frosts. Since we recently had some nights down in the teens, I figured that was cold enough to sweeten them, so I walked down to my plot in the community garden today and harvested some of the parsnips and carrots I’d planted there last August. Aren’t they beautiful? They look good enough to eat, huh?

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I harvested 5 pounds of those fat, stubby carrots that grow so well in the fall, and 3 pounds of the parsnips, along with some ‘spring’ onions too! None of these veggies were protected in any way except for a 2″ ‘blanket’ of shredded leaves, proving that you don’t have to use expensive greenhouses or heavy cold frames or even plastic covered hoops for these cold-hardy varieties. As an experiment though, I decided to leave some of them in the ground because I’m curious to see how they fare after being in the ‘deep freeze’ we’re expecting next week-temps are predicted to be -4 Monday night! I’m hopeful they won’t freeze and get mushy but the only way to find out is to let them be. I’ll post later to let you know how they fare. I couldn’t bear to lose a single beet though so I harvested all of them.

Even though this time of year can certainly cause the window of locally grown foods to narrow considerably, there are still many fresh foods that can survive winter growing conditions or can be stored fresh without any or much preservation. Last week I took the fourth cutting of broccoli side shoots since the main heads were cut in early October and harvested 2 fresh heads of cabbage at the same time. Brussels sprouts look like they’re surviving with the sheet of plastic I put over them around Thanksgiving. I’m harvesting kale and parsley from my hoop house twice a week, but I’m pretty sure I lost my Swiss Chard during the recent cold night when the wind took the plastic off the hoops that covered the plants. That happened a few years ago, and even though the plants looked completely dead I left them in the ground, and because they are biennials, they literally came back to life the following spring in a beautiful flush of growth! I’m hoping for the same this time too, because I failed to save the seeds from those plants that reinvented themselves in spite of the odds, but you can be sure I will this time if I get a repeat performance. I did notice that the tiny spinach and bitter greens that were in that same hoop house didn’t seem to be bothered too much by the unfortunate exposure so I fully expect to be eating them by late February. 

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I went to the grocery store today and noticed price increases in canned beans, tomatoes and milk. I suspect that may be due to the continuing severe drought in California. It’s been said that our next wars will be over water instead of oil. Those of us lucky enough to live in a place with an annual rainfall of 52 inches don’t have to worry too much but that could change tomorrow. I like knowing that I can grow fresh food year round with very little irrigation necessary, but a few rain barrels under the downspouts is still a good insurance policy! But there’s been no increase in the costs of my beans and tomatoes-in fact, I want to show you the last four Longkeeper tomatoes I have been waiting on to ripen-we ate fresh tomatoes in our salads the day after Christmas and I suspect these last ones will fully ripen in the next week or two… note to self: plant earlier next summer so we’ll have enough to last through more of the winter.

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Starting the new year with boxes of locally grown apples and tangelos from Florida, white and sweet potatoes that still have our garden’s dirt clinging to them, baskets of butternut squashes, garlic and shallot bulbs, and all the other canned, frozen and dried goodies that I’ve put up and written about in the pages of this blog gives me a sense of gratitude and comfort. Having the skills needed to provide yourself with good food, regardless of winter storms or droughts, regardless of Peak Oil or ruined Fukushima nuclear reactors, will hold you steady all your life. No doubt I’ll suffer some losses to this extreme cold snap that’s headed our way-probably my beautiful rosemary bush or some of the fruits and berries that were planted last summer. But it’s not the end of the world, and the setbacks continue to teach me new lessons that were begun by my grandmother 60 years ago. The BEET goes on.

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