And So We Begin

Sept. 25, 2010

New organic gardening, food column a ‘how-to’ for average person

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

It’s a great honor to be asked to write this column, and I take it up as a wonderful opportunity to share.

A lot of folks kid me about my eating habits, joking that “he won’t eat anything that he hasn’t grown.” That may be exaggerated, but it is true that I prefer homegrown, natural organic foods, not touched by poisons of any kind, and preferably grown by me or my beautiful wife, Annette.

Therein lies the “organic” part. We operate ShooFly Farm in Lena, a small organic farm.

For years, I had grown my own gardens, basically following the way my father had taught me, as he learned growing up as a “dirt farmer” in Yazoo County back in the 1930s. It was long on chemicals and fertilizer with the expectation of bug-free, weed-free produce. I made stabs at growing organically in the 1980s and 1990s, but it wasn’t until I married Annette in 2005 that I learned that I had essentially been doing it all wrong for decades.

A tenured professor at Miami Dade College and committed volunteer at BeeHeaven Farm in Redland, Fla., she was all about organic and sustainability. Now, after five years of collaboration (we joke that she’s the farm’s C-I-E-I-O), I like to think I have my own degree of how-tos – and a great deal of how-not-tos.

This column is written for the average person to “grow organic.” We’ll take it step by step. We’ll look at issues regarding sustainability, eco awareness, seeds, crops, soil and food (including recipes).

Since this is a newspaper, here’s disclosure regarding my past and current affiliations:

Owns and operates ShooFly Organic Farm in Lena, with wife Annette Waya.

Former executive vice president, board of directors, Rainbow Natural Foods Co-op in Jackson (volunteer, unpaid position).

Sells produce to Rainbow and local restaurants (listed, Local Harvest; listed, Certified Naturally Grown; listed, Organic Consumers Association; listed, Make Mine Mississippi, Mississippi Department of Agriculture).

Currently, regional board member (volunteer) of Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi at Starkville.

Former volunteer positions at Mississippi Ducks Unlimited (state publicity chairman, state committee); Mississippi Wildlife Federation (editor, magazine); MWF Conservation Writer of the Year 1997.

Author, books on complementary and alternative medicine (Findhorn Press).

Now, let’s get started. First frost in central Mississippi is usually around Nov. 1, so folks need to get their seeds in the ground for a fall crop. Only a few plants will thrive with cold weather, and if the weather cooperates, you can have fresh, leafy veggies to eat before winter hits and, with luck, into the early winter.

A quick to-do list: outline a 4-foot-by-8-foot plot. (Call it, your “Jim plot.” We’re going to develop it with this column, so that by next spring, hopefully, it will be perfect for growing.) Make sure the spot has good exposure to the sun from the south.

If you have a tiller, till it up; if not, then spade it up, just turning over the ground one spade full at a time. Wet it, if you need to, since the drought has the ground hard. If that’s too difficult, just mow the area closely, leaving the grass clippings (that’s “green manure”), and work a shovel’s width in rows down the 8-foot length.

Mix in some composted manure (available at garden stores) or compost, if you have it. Buy some USDA Organic seeds (available at farm and garden stores, or online from http://www.seedsofchange.com/ or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, http://rareseeds.com).

Do not fertilize the soil! We’re going to grow these naked, for now (organic fertilizer is a future column). Good things to plant in Mississippi now are radishes, turnips, collards, mizuna, kale, chard, lettuces, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.

After you have worked in the compost, take your finger and run it down in a line as deep as your first knuckle. All the seeds are very tiny, but drop them one by one about an inch apart.

If you accidentally drop a few, don’t worry, you can thin them after they sprout. Cover up the little finger trench gently and water, and keep it watered until they are well up and growing.

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