Getting a late start
I am not sure how, but more often than not, Spring finds a way of sneaking up on me. So yes, I am getting a late start, but that is okay. In the past, I have given myself a pat on the back for being ambitious and focused enough to get seedlings sowed indoors as early as February. Although this gave me a head-start on getting my plants that much closer to producing, it also meant a number issues to contend with. Issues that if not dealt with, could possibly negate the benefits having sown early.
- Plants sown early will outgrow their initial planters and need to be transplanted into larger containers. This requires time, energy, the acquistion of larger containers, and the extra space for 72 larger planters in my home where they will get ample sunlight.
- Sowing early means that the plants will physically be in my home for a longer period of time. That doe not sound like a big deal, however the danger of harm to any number of plants is imminent and real when there are two children and a dog in the house. My daughter recently decided that basil would make a good snack and reduced a plant that I had been growing all winter down to stems.
- I give away many fledling plants during the ongoing “thinning” process. If it is too cold outside for the plants to survive, then the “thinned orphans” that do not get new homes, then find their way to the compost bin. By starting later, I can put a good number of plants directly into my garden, that with proper shelter, can go on to join the collective of healthy productive plants.
I have a clear memory from childhood of the stacks of seed catalogs that flooded our mailbox and accumulated in bookmarked stacks on my fathers desk. Eventually, a list would coalesce, and an order sent to the seed company. I find that my process, 30 years later, is much the same as my father. Assess what worked the previous season, what did not, and look for some new experimental varieties to add to the mix. What is different, from what I was taught, observed, and practiced as a child, stems from one simple concept: we grow organically. The USDA organic regulations describe organic agriculture as:
the application of a set of cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. These include maintaining or enhancing soil and water quality; conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife; and avoiding use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.
Not Your Father’s Garden
What makes our organically driven system different from my father’s garden is that:
- We purchase seeds that are certified organic. Organic varieties have proven the test of time to grow and produce without the aid/corruption of genetic modifications and pesticides. We grow seeds that are appropriate for our zone and save seeds from the plants that do well. We then look for better choices the next season for varieties that did not fare as well. We also support the efforts of the Open Source Seed Initiative and Food Is Free projects by purchasing “Open Source Seeds” and sharing any abundances we produce with our local community. Both movements that are centered around keeping seeds patent-free, open sharing, and growing food within the community; please take a moment to check them out!
- We use homemade organic compost as a soil amendment/fertilizer. All organic waste from our home makes it way to the compost. We are thankful to our neighbors who contribute their organic yard waste (leaves and grass clippings) which then adds to the volume of our heap. As a result, we have have several yards of fresh organic compost each spring to add to areas of direct sowing and transplanting. The garden also reaps the benefit of a layer of mulch we add seasonally as required. The mulch serves four purposes:
- Protect the soil from erosion.
- Water retention.
- Continuous full garden composting.
- Weed suppression.
- We employ a no-till system of soil management. Rather than pull healthy plants that are past season from the garden, we cut them at ground level and let the root system compost naturally right back into the soil. No-till is also a more sustainable methodology in that it takes less time, energy resources, and physical effort.
No-till increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil, increases organic matter retention, cycling of nutrients, reduces or eliminates soil erosion, increases the amount and variety of life in and on the soil, and improves biological fertility making soils more resilient.
Our no-till approach also includes three huglekultur mounds. Huglekultur translated from German to English is “hill culture”. In its simplest explanation, it is a self composting raised bed. Material that would otherwise be composted conventionally is instead placed into the bed itself. Accordinging to Permaculture Magazine, “they hold moisture, build fertility, maximize surface volume, and are great spaces for growing fruit, vegetables, and herbs.” What I can attest to, is that no matter what I have planted in the three mounds that I created, I have received yields from my vegetables beyond expectation.
What is in store for 2016?
The 2016 growing season holds the promise of what we know works, what we like, and some experiments to add to the collective. Unfortunately, sometimes the things we like are also the favorites of pests. When we realize a loss due to pests (usually of the rodent variety), we plant those crops in an inner bed that has twice the security; this usually does the trick. In addition, we will over-plant on the outside of the garden, thus keeping the pests satisfied and at bay. Some of the things that grew well, but were pest favorites, are pole bean shoots, pea shoots, and beets. By planting an abundance of peas and beans we end up with the size crop we want, and only lose a fraction in the growing process. Once the plants are more than a foot tall, the rodents seems to leave them alone. Beets, on the other hand, seem to be an irresistible treat that never make it to our dinner table. After three seasons of trying every conceivable tactic to outwit the garden thieves, I opted to use the space where they grow for something else. Although I love Black Krim Tomatoes, I can not seem to get past an initial harvest without the plants falling prey to disease or infested with tomato hornworms. We have a healthy population of parasitic wasps every year that do their job well, but the destruction of the plant after the effort of getting it to produce does not seem worth the effort to perpetuate the cycle. The following is a list of the plants/varieties which we have grown in the past, have already sown indoors, or have at the ready for direct sow as soon as the threat of frost is gone:
- Two varieties of pole beans.
- Two varieties of sugarsnap peas.
- Two varieties of cucumbers.
- Two varieties of pumpkin (one for halloween and one for eating).
- Three varieties of mixed greens.
- Two varieties of peppers (sweet and hot).
- Four varieties of tomatoes (cherries, sauce, salad, canning).
New to our garden this year:
Later in the spring we will peruse the local nurseries that offer organic plants and add anything else that we find interesting or are in need of. By that time, the average temperature will be high enough to transplant those purchases directly into the garden. A fresh dose of homemade compost will accompany the transplants as they settle into their new home.
A hundred years ago, our neighborhood was a good sized apple orchard. There are currently about a dozen producing trees that have survived suburban expansion; one of them happens to be in our yard. In the past, we have left the apples to the deer, however this year we plan on keeping some for ourselves. What we keep will be an experiment that will be processed into butter, pies, and cider. I grew up with quite a variety of fruit bearing trees in the yard, enjoyed them, and as a result, plan to add some to the yard this season.
Chives, strawberries, thyme, and arugula are already showing signs of growth as days have become warmer. The only thing left uncovered is what mystery crops will rise from the ghosts of gardens past. Each season, I always let a number of plants go to seed or let the actual vegetable fall and compost directly into the garden. As June approaches, my garden inspections are less about weeding than figuring out which plants have naturally passed their genes on to another generation. I am always thankful for the tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and basil that find a way of self propagating themselves and adding to the bounty. Some of my most prolific plants each season are the self seeders. What grows in places that are too inconvenient for me to work around, I dig up, and transplant or pass on to neighbors.
Even though my gardens of the past have given me a great deal of sustenance through the growing season, this year I will be relying on them even more so as a vegan. What I reap will not be an addition to meals; it will be the meal. For the price of a quarter of a weeks worth of groceries (seeds) and approximately a half hour of harvesting/maintenance each day, I will be able to harvest the majority of my calories directly from the backyard. This will begin mid-June and last through to November.
I truly look forward to spending time in the garden this growing season and reaping the fruits of my labor. If you would like to learn more about starting your own organic backyard garden, veganism, or fitness, then connect via the contact form below. Happy gardening!
Below is a quick look at the indoor sowing process, the current state of my garden, and what the future holds.
2016 Organic Garden
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