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A quick organic kitchen garden

April 22, 2011

Here’s a quick and easy way to plant your organic garden

Today is Good Friday and Earth Day – you can’t do better than that for gardening: Traditional planting time and a way to honor the earth!

In honor of this day, I’m going to give a quick way to start an organic garden for those who haven’t a clue.

Doing this, I know I’m going to get some flak from serious, dyed-in-the-wool organic growers – or fellow “deep organic” gardeners, as Eliot Coleman calls those of our ilk. But when this column started, it was stated up front that it was for anyone interested in growing organic and especially novices.

So, here’s a quick organic garden, cheating a little bit:

•First, lay out what we’ve been calling the “Jim’s plot” – a 4-by-8-foot area in a sunny spot, or at least not total shade all day.

We set that size because it’s easy to make and easy to tend to and just about anyone can find the space for it, such as a spit of land in an apartment, condo, duplex or town home.

•Lay out newspapers in it about 5-8 pages deep. That’s to deter seeds and grass from the growing. The paper will decay after a season, but by then, the vegetation should have died and become humus.

•Outline the 4×8 plot with landscape timbers or treated lumber, to keep soil in.

•Now here’s the “cheating” part: Fill about halfway with Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Garden Soil. Note: I’m not endorsing this for any other reason than the fact that it is widely available (including most Walmarts), relatively cheap and is certified as organic with the Organic Materials Review Institute; if you can find another garden soil that’s OMRI approved, feel free to use it.

•Go around your yard, or a helpful neighbor’s or up and down the highway (if not sprayed with poison) and take a shovel full here and there and put it in the 4×8 plot. You will be amazed at the good soil you can find.

For example, behind the shed you may find where years of leaves have fallen and decayed leaving good, rich humus. Over there beneath the trees, use your shovel to scrape away the leaves and take some of that soil. Check ditches where the soil is deep and dark. A shovel full here and there will soon fill the 4×8 plot.

•Mix the soils and plant your tomatoes, or cucumbers or squash. Tomatoes will need 3 feet between the plants and something to climb (you can buy wire baskets at garden stores; I recommend 54-inch tall) or stake and tie. Same for cucumbers, so they can grow up and not out. Any squash or melons are going to sprawl beyond the 4×8 enclosure, if you plant them, so be prepared to mow around them.

•Dip the seeds or roots in a mixture of water and kelp meal and fish emulsion (available as organic fertilizer at garden stores, or online; see: http://www.groworganic. com) and give each plant a cup of the mixture to soak in.

•That’s it! The reason for the “store bought” soil is so that it’s quick and easy. It’s not great soil (which is why I recommend amending it with natural loams); but it’s adequate to get started.

Assumed in this is that once its planted, the gardener will now take it upon him or herself to learn more, and particularly to start keeping a compost bin for non-meat kitchen scraps and other vegetative matter such as tree leaves, old fruit, apple cores, grass clippings and the like.

The compost can start in a canister in the kitchen to be handy, then be emptied outside daily to a bin or box, and “turned over’ once in a while. It must be “cooked” properly or fully broken down before being added to the garden. Over time, you will take great pride in your compost, since you know that all the “inputs” there are “free” fertilizer and you are importing nutrients for your soil and, ultimately, you and your family through your plants, rather than exporting the fertility of your soil or trusting inputs to strangers and agrigiants.

Do not put raw vegetative matter into your garden as it will actually leech nitrogen from the soil that’s needed by the plants as it decomposes.

Happy Good Friday and Earth Day, everyone! What a great time to plant a wholesome, healthy, nutritious, organic garden!

Reader response: Is using cotton gin trash allowed in an organic garden?

It always makes me nervous when I hear people who grow organic saying they use matter from cotton fields, since so many chemicals are used in conventionally grown cotton. I personally wouldn’t do it for that reason.

I’m told, however, that my concerns are outdated, and that it’s usable (National Organic Program Rule 205.203(c)(3) Uncomposted Plant Materials, listed OMRI).

In the past, a concern with cotton gin waste was arsenic. The EPA outlawed arsenic acid as a defoliant in the early 1990s and now requires that all chemicals used on cotton be bio-degradable within two weeks. (Some producers grow organic cotton, as well, eschewing poisons.)

Various commercial cotton byproduct soil amendments are composted, also, which makes me feel a little better. It’s really up to the individual how “picky” you want to be about your garden, your food, your body. (I’m very picky!)

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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‘Traditional’ planting time

April 15, 2011

‘Traditional’ planting time no longer set in stone

Next week marks Earth Day and Good Friday – both major events for gardeners (aside from religious and social reasons).

Good Friday is the traditional day central Mississippians have planted seeds in their gardens.

Some old-time gardeners plant by the moon, which means they plant while the moon is waxing, not waning; in which case, you’re a bit late as Monday is full moon. You would have to wait until May 3 (new moon) to “plant by the dark of the moon” with it waxing again – which could be a good idea for plants that like hot weather, like okra.

When is the right time to plant? Nowdays, there are so many hybrids that can be planted at various times that it’s hard to tell when the right time may be. For example, when I was young, farmers would want to get their corn in the ground by April 15 so they could avoid pests later on and still have time to plant soybeans and/or cotton.

The rule of thumb for cotton and other summer crops was that the soil temperature would be right when folks stopped sitting on buckets to fish and instead sat directly on the ground. (If your bottom didn’t get cold, it was warm enough to plant.)

Nowdays, though, I see folks planting corn in the middle of May; and a lot of folks don’t plant by the moon, or Good Friday.

And have you tried to buy corn that’s not genetically modified? A friend and I have been trying to find old traditional, local varieties to plant, without much luck.

Pioneer, which used to be a widespread variety here is no more, unless it’s GMO (which is banned for organic).

Mosby Prolific Corn (introduced by J.K. Mosby of Lockhart, Miss., in the 1800s), which used to be widespread, is now a rare heirloom that, as far as I can find, is not available locally in bulk seed.

We should be conserving local heirloom seeds, not allowing them to be bought up by multinational ag giants, to be modified genetically or discontinued and allowed to go extinct. Genetic diversity in plants is something we owe to future generations and it doesn’t belong to anyone, much less as a patented monopoly.

Normally, I would plant the week after Easter, since we here in central Mississippi usually have a cold spell then. But the temperatures have been well above normal and Easter is late this year.

So, we’ve been planting, really, since mid-March. Up so far are peas, onions, shallots, various greens, lettuces and chard. We’ve also been planting: tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, nasturtiums (edible flowers) and various other plants. Because of the heat, some of our plants, such as radishes and salad mizuna, just bolted. They bypassed maturity. The weather got them confused!

You want to plant as early as possible, being mindful of the number of days listed on the seed packages for maturity. For example, if you plant April 15 and it says on the package “90 days,” that means its average date to bear fruit will be July 15.

We’ve found that, growing organic, the later you plant, the more problems with insects and weather. So, if you plant May 15 in that hypothetical plot, fruition will be Aug. 15, which is also usually quite hot in Mississippi and often a time of drought.

Lots of varieties wilt in temps above 100 or won’t bear fruit and treated water can stunt microrganisms in the soil which further stress plants, leading to insect problems and disease.

So, plant as early as you feel you comfortably can.

Remember: Organic! A Reminder on planting: If you’ve got your 4-by-8-foot Jim’s plot up and running, that is, having put compost in it all winter, you should be able to disc it up easily with a shovel.

Remember to use certified organic seeds or heirloom varieties and no synthetic fertilizers.

When you’re ready to plant, cover each seed or roots with fish emulsion and kelp (there are dozens of trade names, check with your local garden store) as fertilizer, mixed with water; it should be plenty of a boost, along with any amendments you have already added like compost, and/or pellets of dolomitic lime or greensand.

Earth Day: Big observances are planned in Starkville and Oxford:

•At Starkville, Mississippi State University’s Earth Day and ECO Week are in the works. The main event will be the Earth Day Fair on Thursday, since the campus is closed for Good Friday. Green Starkville, MSU ECO and the Students for Sustainable Campus are teaming for this event.

For more information, see: http://www.greenstarkville. org/earth-day-2011.

•Oxford, the University of Mississippi and Yokna(patawpha) Bottoms Farm are celebrating Green Week today through April 22.

For more information, see: http://www.mississippigreenweek.com and http://yoknabottoms.com.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.