Tag Archives: gardening

Henbit Edible, Prolific, Good for Bees & Hummingbirds

On Monday, on my way to Starkville to attend the Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi board of directors meeting, I saw a giant field of henbit. I immediately pulled over and took a photo, because this often overlooked and unassuming plant is quite important to bees, hummingbirds, and — should be! — humans.

Some farmers might look at this field and say, ack, weeds! But for pollinators, this field of henbit is the Promised Land! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Some farmers might look at this field and say, ack, weeds! But for pollinators, this field of henbit is the Promised Land! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

What a wonderful sight!!! For hungry bees, butterflies and hummingbirds this late winter, early spring “weed” is a godsend for its pollen and nectar.

At this time of year, when bees are foraging for pollen and nectar to stay alive, with their stores of honey from last year often depleted or dangerously low, henbit supplies needed sustenance.

Regular readers of this blog, perhaps, recognize that I’m something of a fanatic on this subject, as every year I urge farmers to please refrain from plowing under their henbit as long as possible, or spraying pre- or post-emerge herbicides. The bees will thank you!

In a few weeks, or now in some parts of the South, hummingbirds are making their way back north from the winter, and henbit provides an abundant supply of nectar for them, too!

It might not be a part of official farm policy to provide food for pollinators, but this humble little purple plant (a member of the mint family that tastes like kale) can be a tremendous food source.

Humans can eat henbit, too. The stem, flowers, and leaves are edible. It’s high in vitamins and you can cook it or eat it raw in salads, or make a tea from it.

According to naturalmedicinalherbs.net it has medicinal uses, including antirheumatic, diaphoretic, excitant, febrifuge, laxative and stimulant.

For more, see: http://www.ediblewildfood.com

So, if you see it growing in your garden and think, ack, what a noxious weed! Think again! This is a beneficial plant for pollinators that can spell the difference between life and death for some.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Still Too Early to Plant in Central MS

Everywhere I go, it seems, I bump into people who say, “I read your blog…. Have you planted your garden yet?” And I have to tell them: No, it’s still too early in central Mississippi.

Traditionally, down here anyway, the time to plant seeds was done by the moon, and around Good Friday.  I plan to plant the week after Easter, or the weekend of April 27 or thereabouts. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Traditionally, down here anyway, the time to plant seeds was done by the moon, and around Good Friday. I plan to plant the week after Easter, or the weekend of April 27 or thereabouts. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Traditionally, down here anyway, the time to plant seeds was done by the moon, and around Good Friday. For more than 30 years, I’ve always planted the week after Easter because we more often than not have a cold spell right at Easter, and I’m fairly assured that the crop will do well if planted afterwards.

This year, Easter is April 20. So, I’ll probably plant the weekend after, or around April 27.

The past two years, we’ve had warm winters, leading people to believe they can plant earlier than normal. (Although last spring was cold and rainy which didn’t do well for early planting.) Normally, April 15 is considered an early planting time. But the year before last, I probably could have planted in February and it would have done OK.

You want to plant as early as you can past the last frost, but not so early that the soil is cold and your seeds or plants just sit there and possibly rot in the ground.

Here’s a pdf frost chart for Miss.: http://bit.ly/f8QSAb.

For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

As you can see by the chart, it’s a gamble to plant this time of year. As the chart shows, on March 23, for example, for Jackson, MS, it’s 50-50 whether the temperature will drop to 32 degrees and 90 percent that it will go down to 36 degrees. It’s only 10 percent, though, to reach 28 degrees. How lucky do you feel?

Sure, we could have a warm month and  you would be fine. But we could just as equally have an ice storm. Or one killing frost between now and Easter (which often is the case).

I’d just as soon not take the risk of having to reorder all my seeds or worrying if my plants were stunted, and would rather wait a little a bit to plant. It’s true that organic growers want to plant as early as possible to get a headstart on the bugs; a luxury that people who spray poisons can avoid. But having the first tomato on the block is not that important to me; having a good, healthy stand of tomatoes is much higher on the personal scale of priorities.

Most seed packets specify the proper soil temperature for sowing. Some plants do OK in cooler soils; some don’t.

For an ATTRA quick list of U.S. organic seed suppliers, see: http://ow.ly/sSsEm

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Garden Has Too Much Compost? Or Not Enough?

Just finished reading a fascinating article on soil fertility by Jon Frank (ACRES USA, Dec. 2013) that notes that gardens can “abused” by too much compost. Is there such a thing?

Frank, owner of International Ag Labs, a private soil testing firm (www.aglabs.com) gives examples of gardens “abused by too much compost” and gardens with “neglected/abandoned soil.” (See illustration)

Jon Frank (ACRES USA, Dec. 2013) asserts that gardens can "abused" by too much compost. Interesting article. But I think most gardens are not in that category. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Jon Frank (ACRES USA, Dec. 2013) asserts that gardens can be “abused” by too much compost. Interesting article. But I think most gardens are not in that category. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Frank posits that if you want to have maximum nutrient density in your crops, then you should ignore humus (as it will sort itself out with proper mineral content), and should have:

— Nitrogen: manage by crop needs and conductivity;

— P and K: 200-300 pounds each, 1 to 1 ratio; increase K slightly for Potassium-loving plants;

— Calcium: 3,500-4,000 pounds per acre; calcium to magnesium ration from 7-15:1;

Conductivity: 400-600 micro Siemens/centimeter — and he gives amendments necessary to correct that (for more, see the article).

I say it’s a fascinating article because, honestly, after wracking my brain, I can think of few gardens that suffer from “too much” compost. I do remember one friend’s garden that I suspect was “too much.” The soil was so moist and rich that it probably could have served as a worm bed for all its amendments.

But even Frank notes that the solution to a garden “abused” by too much compost is simply to grow more without adding more. Maybe “abuse” is too strong a word for the issue of adding compost. Additionally, given the fact that it takes so much raw vegetative matter to create so little “black gold,” I doubt too many gardens are approaching the “abuse” stage.

Nonetheless, the figures Frank gives are instructional. Looking at the soil report I obtained for my garden from Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service (see earlier blog), I can see that there are some interesting figures that conflict with Frank’s interpretations.

Mind you, this garden is brand new; my landlady said the backyard was used as a garden many years ago, but not in the past 10 years or so. My test and the MSU interpretation vs Frank’s interpretation:

Phosphorus — 132 lbs per acre (MSU: high) – Frank says this is low and should be 200-300 lbs. I suspect that, with adding compost, that figure will rise;

Potassium – 156 lbs per acre (MSU: low) – Frank says this is just below the 200-300 pounds that’s ideal. Again, I suspect that compost will raise that.

Magnesium – 369 lbs per acre (MSU: very high) – linked to calcium by Frank;

Zinc – 97.9 lbs per acre (MSU: very high) – Not considered most important by Frank. That could fall, if I’m growing green manures (cover crops), which I expect to do;

Calcium – 3706 lbs per acre – Falls within perfect number for Frank and within the proper ratio to Magnesium he gives.

Everyone who has a garden/farm and pays attention to soil tests probably has his/her own ideas about what the proper ratios should be and how to go about fixing them.

MSU, in my soil report, for example, suggests 34-0-0 pre plant (high nitrogen) fertilizer and 0-0-60 (high Potash) fertilizer — synthetic chemicals. In my opinion, shared by most organic growers, such a course of action would burn the soil, killing earthworms and microbes that keep the soil environment healthy.

Rather, what I intend to do is plant the seeds with a fish emulsion to provide nitrogen, then side dress (adding more natural liquid fertilizer) and foliar feeding after the plants are up. In addition, I plan to plant clover between the rows and on unused soil to build nitrogen for my fall planting.

I don’t know if this falls within Frank’s ideas or not; but I agree with his overarching conclusion that it’s the “pattern” of nutrients in the soil that’s more important than the figures alone. Visual symptoms of the plants themselves will tell you what’s going on with the soil.  And: “Your role as steward of the soil is to create the right pattern in the soil.”

I would say that I disagree on his view on humus; in my opinion, developing proper humus ensures better availability of nutrients, which is what he’s aiming at. You can’t build tilth with minerals alone; you must build humus to create the environment for plants to efficiently process available nutrients. Proper humus assures adequate water retention, oxygen in the soil, and ease of root and fungal growth. This is done by rotating crops, plowing under green manure, adding compost and soil amendments, as needed.

As he notes, plants grown directly above a limestone bed can show a calcium deficiency, but biologically available calcium is as much a product of good soil structure (in my opinion) as the ratio of other minerals that can be tested in the lab.

It may be a question of which end of the microscope you are looking through; the goal — and ingredients — remain the same. But soil structure, humus, tilth, are issues that a organic gardener/farmer can readily see and control. To ignore that end of the equation may be just as much a “neglect” or “abuse” of soils as any scientific test may reveal.

For the average gardener, what does this mean? Give your soil the love it richly deserves, using natural, sustainable and organic growing methods, and it will richly reward you with healthful, nutritionally dense foods.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Spin Composters Can Create Quick Compost

You may have noticed in looking at pictures of my garden in this blog that I have several spin composters, also called barrel composters, rotating barrels or compost tumblers. At least online, gardeners either seem to love them or hate them. I love mine.

Spinning or barrel composters aren't for everyone, but if done right, they can produce rich compost quickly for the small garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Spinning or barrel composters aren’t for everyone, but if done right, they can produce rich compost quickly for the small garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The reasons people say they don’t like them is because, they claim: 1) they smell; 2) they don’t hold much; 3) they get heavy when they get full, too heavy to spin. And more.

I would counter that spin composters aren’t the be all and end all of composting. They have their limitations and, once you realize those limitations, then they simply are another tool that is appropriate in certain circumstances.

I would say: 1) they don’t smell any more than any other compost pile if you have them correctly balanced “brown” and #green”; they hold half of the capacity of the container and, beyond that 3) they are too heavy to spin.

So, consider, if you have a 60 gallon composter, you can start with a minimum of 30 gallons of (undigested) compost, which will digest down to maybe a little more than half of that, 15 gallons — a good amount for a small garden. That’s a lot smaller than, say, a 4-foot by 4-foot fixed bin, but  it’s not a fixed bin. Presumably, you bought a spin composted for quicker compost and the convenience of having it close to the garden or moving it where you want it.

A spin or barrel composted can provide rich compost in 30 days if fed and maintained correctly. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

A spin or barrel composter can provide rich compost in 30 days if fed and maintained correctly. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I can attest that it makes good compost. I’ve had these for about four years. Mind you, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a fixed compost bin. Years ago, I had one compost bin  made from wooden pallets wired together that was about 4-foot by 4-foot that I used for about 15 years and it just got better and better. I also used to just dump stuff in it and forget it. That’s fine, too.

At our farm, we had one big bulk pile out near the field where we dumped all manner of matter to be composted from a dump truck. If you are growing several acres, that’s the way to do it. You can turn it with a pitchfork or turning fork or with a tractor, if need be.

But if you only have a garden or small plot, a spin composter works fine. We had these four composters next to two plots where we grew greens: one about 2,500 square feet, the other about 800 square feet. (Note: we did not broadcast the spinners’  compost across the plots, like we did composted horse manure, which we dumped by the quarter ton to build up the soil; but we did use it to build up the rows where we tilled and planted.)

We put those spinners out there behind the house so we could have a place to put kitchen scraps and yard waste from those gardens without having to walk out to the field for the big pile. They fulfilled their function perfectly.

What I do is keep putting stuff in one until it is about half filled; then put duct tape across the top with the date when it was sealed, and continue to spin it once a week while I start filling and spinning another one. That way, I know when it will be ready (in 30 days or more from the date on the duct tape).

Since I have four composters, when they are all going, they are staggered so that I always have some compost, if I need it. It doesn’t hurt if you go over long on it. If you’re too short, you’ll notice when you open it (it will smell bad, or like ammonia, or items in it will not be digested, or it will still be hot).

In the fall, you can go heavy on falling leaves for the spinners if you’re planning on letting them overwinter until spring. These spinners had leaves in them from last fall.

Mix “brown” and “green” materials about equally for best results.

Green materials are what the term implies: fresh stuff, like vegetable food scraps, grass clippings, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags or leftover tea.

Brown materials are dry stuff, like shredded paper, wood chips, old leaves, etc.

Don't throw out those old newspapers! Why waste space in a landfill? Tear the pages into shreds and put them in your compost spinner or compost pile! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Don’t throw out those old newspapers! Why waste space in a landfill? Tear the pages into shreds and put them in your compost spinner or compost pile! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Be careful what you put in them: nothing toxic (like sawdust from treated lumber or dead plants sprayed with poisons). Consider your compost bins like living beings. They are digesting material that you could not so that you can return to the earth the materials she produced to feed you and your family once again. It’s all a big Circle of Life.

Some advice: 1) err on the side of brown or dry, to avoid bad smells; 2) avoid manures. Yes, I know, manure (especially cow and horse manure) is great for the garden, but I personally would prefer to have it further from the house and also I would err on the side of caution in composting: longer composting time.

We always got our composted manure from a neighbor who kept horses; the manure was from a pile that had been mucked out the previous season: one full year of composting. (Note: If you are going be certified organic, there are specific rules that must be followed regarding compost, including records of ingredients used, turnings, and temperature readings outlined in Section 205.203(c)(2) of the NOP; rules regarding composted manures are quite stringent; for more info, see: http://tilth.org/certification/frequently-asked-questions/producer-farm-faqs).

Spinners are good for quick compost from household and common materials. Although some people say they can get good manure from a spinner in 15 days, I’d go 30 days minimum: raw compost can harm your crops, not to mention fail to digest weed seeds. Some people also suggest letting the first filling of the spinner sit for a week or so to allow it to heat up before starting to spin.

Thirty days is not gospel; it depends on the materials in the spinner (some items, such as limbs, may take longer), the ambient temperature outside (microbes that break down matter slow or even shut down in cooler temperatures), and the amount of matter to be digested, as well as whether it’s rotated properly, can affect the maturation of the compost. Moreover, materials may be too wet or too dry or clump up in the spinner (just keep spinning; it will break down; if too wet, add more “brown,” too dry, add more “green.”)

 

For bigger projects, if you have the space, in addition to the spinners, designate a back corner of the yard for longterm compost: such as tree limbs, manure, bulk waste.

Turn the barrel once a week, at least. It’s not the end of the world if you forget; but, presumably, you have a compost bucket in the house which you are emptying every day (to avoid smells, bugs, etc.), so presumably also you should be spinning your spinner, too.

In my opinion, some people get too uptight about compost. While it’s true that you want to err on the side of caution regarding manures, even the stringent National Organic Program standards don’t restrict adding raw plant material to your garden. If you’re just composting coffee grounds, newspapers, egg shells, leftover tea, newspapers and yard waste that you know hasn’t been treated with any chemicals, you should be fine. And spin composters can really help with that.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Taking a Soil Sample for Testing Step by Step

Following up on my previous post about testing for soil fertility: For those who don’t know how to take a soil sample, it’s real easy. Here’s a step-by-step walk-through with photos.

The process: Tale a shovel, small trowel or just a spoon and collect a soil sample, send it off with your payment to the soil laboratory you select, and in a few weeks, you’ll get your results. If you don’t have an “official” box, that’s fine. Just use any clean container. For example, I used a box that held cans of catfood.

To obtain a soil sample for testing, take a shovel or implement of some kind and put small amounts of soil in a clean box. Make sure it's not covered in turf grass; but only an inch or so below the roots, so the sample includes only topsoil, not subsoil. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

To obtain a soil sample for testing, take a shovel or implement of some kind and put small amounts of soil in a clean box. Make sure it’s not covered in turf grass; but only an inch or so below the roots, so the sample includes only topsoil, not subsoil. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Go around your garden and take a small amount and put it in the box. Dig below the rootline; you don’t want grass or turf or weeds in it; but just an inch or so deep, so you are getting topsoil and not the harder, more compact subsoil.
Go to another area and do the same.

Once you have put a few spades of soil from various places in the garden, mix them up, so the soil is uniform; pick out any rocks or grass or other debris. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Once you have put a few spades of soil from various places in the garden, mix them up, so the soil is uniform; pick out any rocks or grass or other debris. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Crumble it all up and mix it up and either take it to your local extension service office or send it off. Most states have a testing facility, usually affiliated with a university, university cooperative extension service, or a state department of agriculture or natural resources.

In Mississippi, the Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service Soil Testing Laboratory analyzes soil. It only costs $6 for a routine analysis. For additional information, see http://msucares.com/crops/soils/testing.html, visit your local county extension service office or write: Soil Testing Laboratory, Box 9610, Mississippi State MS 39762; or call (662) 325-3313.

Land grant universities nationally are dropping soil testing programs. So, if you are reading this in a state where it is no longer available, here is a list of commonly used private labs compiled by Colorado State University: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/crops/00520.html

Collecting a soil sample is required annually for certified organic growers; but if you’re not organic, it’s still a good idea to see what’s going on with your soil. As stated in my earlier blog, when I first started sending off samples in Lena, because we lived in a terrain with red clay and sandy soils basically only good for growing pine trees, the tests came back showing high acid in the soil, in the 5.0 range.

Over several years, amending the soil with tons of composted horse manure and growing cover crops year round to build up vegetative matter (called “green manure”) and balance out the acid soil, we managed to bring the soil to a neutral level: 6.6 pH. That was a huge success.

Additionally, by digging a soil sample each year before you plant, you also get a good idea of how your topsoil is doing. Each year, your topsoil should be thicker, the consistency of the soil showing better tilth, and the fertility of the soil greater. If it’s not, then you should address that with more soil amendments and crop rotation.

You want to add humus and composted material to hold moisture and build tilth, increase fertility and provide optimum conditions for microbial life.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Time to Start Work on Garden, Bees

For gardeners in the South, now is the time to at least start planning your garden this year; if you grow organic, or raise bees, it’s maybe even getting a little late.

Even though it's cold outside, it's time to start work on your garden in the South, if you have a new one or are expanding. Here, I ran a first pass over my backyard. I've moved to the city and am putting in a new garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Even though it’s cold outside, it’s time to start work on your garden in the South, if you have a new one or are expanding. Here, I ran a first pass over my backyard. I’ve moved to the city and am putting in a new garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Why so? If you’re a beekeeper, and you need to replenish a hive or start a new one, you should have ordered your bees in November. That’s sort of a traditional time to order, so that bee breeders can know what to expect. Moreover, if you wait until spring, all the available queens, nucs or packaged bees may be sold out.

That’s especially true of people who follow natural beekeeping, or keeping bees without chemicals; there are fewer commercial breeders. (And before you email me, I recommend two: BeeLicious in Hattiesburg, MS, and Beeweaver in Texas.)

Regarding gardening, it’s somewhat the same story if you’re an organic gardener.

You want to plant as early as possible after frost in order to try to get a leg up on the bugs. I usually start planting the week after Easter (in central Mississippi).

I’ve just recently moved to “the big city” — well, it’s a small city, population 1,400 — but it’s “big” for me after living in the country for the past 15 years. (You can read more about it in my newsletter: http://mad.ly/36ff64?pact=20069131533&fe=1)

With the permission of my landlady, I’m putting in a garden. I managed to get a first pass with my tiller on January 31, to break up the roots of the turf grass. I’ll give it another pass in a week or so; then, add compost and till it.

The proposed garden has good black soil. I'll have it tested by the state soil lab just to see what's in it. If you're an organic grower, you need to test your soil every year. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The proposed garden has good black soil. I’ll have it tested by the state soil lab just to see what’s in it. If you’re an organic grower, you need to test your soil every year. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Not sure what I’m going to plant yet. I’ll send off a soil sample to get it tested and find out what it needs, if anything. Regardless, I plan to build up the soil with compost and might boost it with “green manure” (a cover crop).

We’ll see….

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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Garden Plants

April 10, 2013

Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Garden Plants

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Would-be and weekend gardeners are flocking to stores this time of year with hopes of finding already-started plants to put in their gardens. Some of those offerings have been in stores for weeks and now look a bit bedraggled. Often severely marked down, are they really a bargain? What should consumers look for in selecting a plant?

First, choose plants that come from certified organic seeds, which were developed to grow in the home garden, not thousand-acre fields of industrial agriculture.

If not available, the second-best option is to choose heirloom varieties.

Heirloom seeds are called “heirlooms” for a reason. They are treasured because of the flavor, taste, size, color and other characteristics of the plants they produce that make them worth handing down.

Big seed companies are focused on developing hybrids or varieties they can patent. That ensures bigger annual sales because patented seeds must be purchased anew every year. Heirlooms are stable (meaning they produce offspring that resemble the parent), are open pollinated (meaning they are not artificially manipulated) and have at least a 50-year history as a distinct variety.

The giant seed companies go so far as to create genetically engineered seeds that cannot be found in nature. Such genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can contain genes from bacteria, viruses, insects and even animals inserted into their DNA.

GMOs are prohibited in certified organic. So, when purchasing a plant or seeds, you want varieties that are open pollinated (non-hybrid) and untreated (not dyed or contaminated by chemicals, such as anti-fungals), and marked as being either certified organic or heirlooms.

A few companies even sell certified organic heirlooms, but they are extremely rare.

List of Don’ts:

Don’t choose tall spindly plants or, conversely, stubby plants that are “woody” on the stems. Both are examples of plants that have exceeded their prime.

Don’t choose plants that have leaves that are spotted, off color or rimmed with white (examples of various rots, fungus or other maladies).

Don’t buy plants with obvious signs of insect or other attack.

Don’t buy plants that have weak root systems: Stick your finger in the pot; if it’s wet and the roots are rotting, that’s a difficult condition to overcome.

Don’t buy plants that have roots that are wound around the inside of the pot or sticking out through the bottom. To replant it, you’ll damage the root system, which also will retard growth.

Don’t buy plants that already have flowering buds or small produce on them. You may think you’re getting “a head start,” but in fact, you are getting a plant that has been stressed into fruiting. If you buy it, pinch off the flowers or fruit once it’s planted. That way, it can more efficiently allocate its resources.

A Big ‘Do’

Finally, if the nursery or garden center offers a “sale” so that plants with any or all of these maladies are offered with big savings, do keep walking! It’s no “bargain” to waste time on plants that are already half dead. Stressed plants invite bugs and disease if they don’t already have blights on their leaves or in their soil. Don’t buy trouble!

Buy healthy plants for a healthy garden. You’ll have enough to do keeping your garden a happy place without 
importing problems.

Build an Organic ‘Jim’s Plot’ for Earth Day!

Earth Day is April 22. What better way to celebrate than by creating a small organic food garden–especially one that can serve others!

Certainly, you know there are elderly people who would love to grow their own organic vegetables or herbs, or perhaps a kitchen garden, by their back door. Or teach a child how to grow food, instilling life skills like self-sufficiency.

Start by outlining a 4-foot-by-8-foot area and enclosing it in nontoxic materials, such as synthetic lumber or materials on hand such as concrete blocks. Or, simply mound up the soil as a natural boundary, or use cedar or redwood lumber.

In the plot, dig up the soil, 4 to 8 inches deep, using a tiller or shovel (if you’re elderly or incapacitated, enlist a hardy neighbor or relative to do the work). Add bagged soil (check that it’s approved for certified organic use) or dig from areas of the yard where leaves may have accumulated over the years to provide loamy soil.

Voila! You have your garden. Add plants, and start keeping a compost bin to add to the plot periodically and to build up the soil.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Certified Organic Seeds

Want to know if a brand of seed is certified organic? See the Organic Seed Finder website, hosted by 
the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies: organicseedfinder.org.

Are Your ‘Green’ Products Really Green?

Consumer Reports has an online resource for quickly looking up product labels using your smartphone to determine if a product at the supermarket is really “green.” You can search by product, category or certifier.

Visit greenerchoices.org/eco-labels.

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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Backyard: Prepare for Frost

Oct. 10, 2012

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Garden: Prepare for Frost

Some  folks may remember that first frost came early for central Mississippi last year, at the end of October. While frost is a pleasant milestone of  the
seasons for most people, it can be tragedy for fall gardeners. At  least, without precautions.
Commercial  growers use a lightweight, white material called Agribon to protect their crops from frost. It comes in different thicknesses for ever  greater
frost protection, some as much as 8 degrees below freezing.
You  can order it from any of a number of commercial suppliers online. A 50-foot by 83-inch roll costs about $20 at growerssupply.com.
Unfortunately,  if all you are trying to protect is 4-foot by 8-foot Jim’s Plot, that’s  something of a waste—unless you cut it up and give away what you
don’t  need to friends or neighbors. Get a smaller size (two 14×14-foot pieces for $39.99 at Peaceful Valley: groworganic.com.)
Urban  homesteaders are always looking for a cheaper way to use, reuse or repurpose what’s on hand, so they shouldn’t feel obligated to spend  money to protect from frost when it can be done for free. Such a route  is to use old bed sheets or a light blanket, just enough to keep the  frost off tender shoots.
The  main concern is that the covering must be light so that it doesn’t  crush the plants. If the weather is really cold, rather than just  throwing it on at
night, it should be white or translucent to allow some  sun to penetrate and hold heat if it’s left on during the day. (You  don’t want to smother your
plants.)
Some  farmers use Agribon as a seasonal cover that performs multiple tasks: keeping plants protected from frost; acting like a mini-greenhouse,  holding in solar heat for greater soil temperature; and protecting from  insects. They usually use the lighter weights of Agribon, rather than  the heavy, thick versions. It won’t protect much below 32 degrees, but  it does offer protection from a dip in temperature and/or biting winds.
That  should be enough for any cold snap we might get now. We normally don’t get a hard, killing frost until around the end of November to the first  of
December. As winter approaches, more intensive measures may be  required.
For  example, a simple way to keep winter greens from freezing is to simply take a few plastic soft drink bottles or milk jugs, fill them halfway  with
water, and put them between the rows of your plants. That passive  solar heating will keep the plants from freezing below the level Agribon  alone offers and especially if placed under Agribon with the plants.

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.

The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

Aug. 3, 2012
The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

A favorite of home gardeners—urban, suburban or rural—are tomatoes.
Yet, to be perfectly honest, it can be tough to grow perfect tomatoes,
especially in Southern climates.
Often,  the problem is uneven irrigation. Too much water, and you can get  fungal and root maladies. Too little and leaves wither, fruit fails to  develop or grows unevenly (with split skins, though some varieties split  more than others). Add high heat, and the plants can just shut down on  fruition.
Here are a few hints for growing tomatoes in problematic conditions.

Tomatoes Shut Down?
Mississippi’s  high heat and humidity play havoc on vegetable crops, especially  tomatoes. But you can extend the production of your plants by using an all-natural plant hormone, kinetin, that keeps blossoms from falling off  when the heat index soars.
The  active ingredient is kinetin, but it’s sold under a variety of brand  names, the most popular being Blossom Set Spray. It’s available at local  stores, or visit tinyurl.com/c5w98q5. (Cytokinins are OMRI-approved for organic
growing as a type of fertilizer.)
When  your tomato plants flower during high heat and humidity, just squirt a  little mist in each one. Essentially, the spray keeps the flower  attached long enough so that bees and other pollinators can do their job  fertilizing the
plant. And fertile flowers become tomatoes.

Blossom End Rot
Another  common tomato malady is blossom end rot. There’s a popular spray on the  market that is essentially just calcium chloride (available at local  stores). It’s not OMRI-listed, so I can’t recommend it for organic  growing.
However, blossom end rot is usually an indicator of a lack of  calcium in the
soil. You can remedy that by adding bone meal or egg  shells.

Tomato Blight
Unfortunately,  tomato blight pretty much spells doom to tomatoes. It usually appears  after heavy rains or toward the end of the growing season. In the South,  blight often isn’t a matter of “if,” but when.
The  best solution to blight is to rotate your crops; don’t grow tomatoes  where you had tomatoes the year before. That’s good advice for any crop,  not only to fight the various viruses and fungi that live in the soil,  but for insect control, as well.
Blight  can be treated, but it’s difficult. First, always wash your hands after  touching a blighted plant, and never put blighted plants in your  compost. Keep plants mulched and open so that air can pass between the  plants reducing humidity.
You can use some copper- or sulphur-based fungicidal sprays. Visit tinyurl.com/7f2j8yd for some examples on the Ohio State University website.
VeggieGardener.com also offers some homemade, natural remedies for plant maladies on this page: tinyurl.com/7l9ymw5.

Don’t overwater
Overwatering  is the cause of many problems, along with poor soil conditions. Just  water thoroughly every week or so and allow the soil on top to dry out.
Well-tended soil will hold moisture and stay springy (lots of “tilth”),  while poor soils will harden if dry. Work on your soil after you harvest  your plants by plowing under vegetation and adding compost. Work your  soil year round to
make growing in the warmest season easier.

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.

Irrigating The Organic Garden

Proper Irrigation Helps Keep Plants Disease Free

July 12, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere….

People who jump into organic  gardening without any preparation often start off
on the wrong foot by  overwatering or not watering properly. They may have
stereotypes in  their minds that are hard to erase. One is the image of lawn
sprinklers  casting long arcs of water into the air, as is often seen in photos
of  golf courses.
While  watering with a sprinkler like that can work, it’s not the best way  and,
if done in the heat of the day or in the evening is an example of  how not to
water your garden and can even be self-defeating. While it  may give the
gardener the impression that he or she has “done some work  in the garden,” it
can be harmful for two reasons: First, during a hot,  sunny day, the water
mostly evaporates before it can soak in to the  plants’ roots where it can
actually do some good. Second, sprinkling  raises humidity in the garden, which
can create ideal conditions for  harmful fungal and bacterial growth, and
rejuvenate viruses in the soil  that can stunt or kill plants. The effect is
worse if you use sprinkling  techniques in the late evening; it allows fungi and
bacteria to grow  overnight and really “set in.”
If  you use a sprinkler in your garden, it’s best to use it in the morning  and
leave it running long enough so that the water soaks in. The garden  will then
have all day in the sun. Water on the leaves, plant stems and  the ground
surface will dry out as the day goes on, leaving the water  where it belongs, at
the roots.
You  will find that morning watering in this way can be a great delight.  Birds
use the puddles to splash in and wash themselves, pollinators will  flitter in
and out, drinking the precious liquid, and your plants will  seem to grow and
blossom before your very eyes as they absorb the  moisture and turn their leafy
faces toward the sun. It can be a  spiritual experience.
The  key is to not overwater. Once a week is plenty, and you may need to  water
less. To test whether your garden needs watering, stick your  finger in the
soil. If your finger goes in easily with a slight feeling  of moisture, it’s
fine. If it’s muddy, it’s too wet.
It’s  a careful balance. Plant roots need to be able to breathe in the soil.
That requires air pockets as well as moisture. You want your soil to be  light
and fluffy (have good “tilth”) with lots of organic matter, but  damp enough so
that earthworms can happy slither through, and beneficial  bacteria and fungi
can thrive. In organic gardening, your soil is  alive. It needs to thrive for
your plants to thrive.
Professional  gardeners, of course, have found more efficient (and often
expensive)  ways to water their crops. Some use garden or lawn sprinklers on
tripods  with timers so that they can soak a large area in a small amount of
time. By moving the tripods, they’re able to cover several acres. If  your
garden is the small, backyard variety, timers and tripods probably  aren’t
necessary.
Drip  and soaker systems are additional watering options for larger gardens.
Drip irrigation sends an even supply of water directly to the root zone.  It
uses less water because it doesn’t run off on the surface (carrying  precious
top soil with it) or evaporate as readily as water mist sprayed  into the air.
It almost eradicates mold or fungal concerns because the  drip tape or soaker
hose is in contact with the soil. In established  crop systems, gardeners often
will bury the hoses so they stay put,  about 4 inches deep, so they water only
the roots. Burying your soaker  hoses to keep them from freezing and splitting
is a good idea if you  plan to leave them out during the winter.
Unburied  hoses will give you the advantage of using them where they’re needed
most and removing them otherwise. But whether you bury your soakers or  leave
them above ground, you’ll need to be careful when you mow around  the garden, or till within it. With buried hoses, be sure to remember  (or mark) where you
buried them!
Soaker  hoses are available at most garden supply stores and online. Because
you want the water pressure to be low throughout your garden, keep your  hose
sections to no longer than 100 feet. If you need additional length,  connect
100-foot sections using garden hose splitters with adjustable  valves. That way,
you can adjust the flow in each section—open the  valves for highest flow at the
end, lowest at the beginning.

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.

Picking blueberries ….

July 6, 2012

Picking blueberries … (An iPhone odyssey)

Step 1: Look for a shady spot to pick berries!

There’s plenty of shade in the bushes, without getting all hot and bothered over it.

Step 2: Pick only the ripe ones!

Pick only the dark blueberries. Some will be so dark that they will appear to be “cloudy.” That’s perfect!

Step 3: Put them in your bucket and not in your mouth!

When picking, hold your container under the berries and some of the ripest will often just fall into it as you are picking.

Step 4: Take as much as you can eat, or feel like freezing for later.

Your arms won’t get as tired if you use a smaller container for picking and another for carrying. If you can’t keep from snacking, do it AFTER you’ve picked pretty much what you want, not before.

Next step? Go over the fig tree, and see if it’s ready to pick yet.

The figs on the tree (note round fruit pointing up in center) are still green, not yet purple when they will be ready to pick.

We’ll keep an eye on them. You can bet the birds are, too!

Happy picking!

Jim

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.

Fertilizing Your Organic Garden in Planet-Friendly Ways

Fertilizing in planet-friendly ways

May 18, 2012

Now that you presumably have your organic garden planted, whether in pots on an apartment balcony or a larger space, you will want to nurture it with fertilizers.

Contrary to what those promoting chemical farming may say, there’s a big difference between synthetic and natural fertilizers. Ammonia-based synthetic fertilizers kill microorganisms in the soil, kill earthworms that keep it aerated and fertilized, burn plant roots, and destroy humus. They can also poison drinking water, kill lakes and are even largely responsible for the giant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where there is no oxygen.

In short, chemical fertilizers “kill” the soil and do damage to the planet, too.

It’s no wonder that synthetic fertilizers are prohibited from certified organic farming.

Synthetic fertilizers have three main nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). When you look on the side of the package, it will say something like 13-13-13, which is the NPK content. This formula will cause your plants to look really great, initially, but after a few years, your soil will be hardpan and, essentially, dead.

Beyond NPK, there are 17 essential nutrients that plants need for healthy growth. Natural fertilizers provide these trace elements. How can you tell if one is missing? Here is sample of deficiencies:

• Magnesium, discoloration of leaves;
• Calcium, plant growth stops, blossom end rot;
• Sulfur, light greenish or yellowish;
• Zinc, thin, yellow leaves;
• Copper, wilting.

So, how do you fertilize your garden organically? Easy. For the long term, you can start by composting. Save anything but meat from your table, such as eggshells, vegetable scraps, fruit peels, coffee grounds and tea leaves.

You can compost these items in a pile outdoors, keeping it turned occasionally, or in a “spin” composter. After 60 to 90 days, it will be dark and crumbly and ready to add to the garden. Your garden is a growing medium and you want to treat it as a living being, nurturing it along. Increase and replace its fertility gradually, as it loses fertility by providing you with food.

So True!
Nice T-shirt I saw for sale at the Fair Trade Store in Fondren at Rainbow Plaza: “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.”

Chef to Plate
The High Noon Café in Rainbow Plaza is sporting notices that it supports the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America in its efforts to educate the public about food allergies. For more info, visit gluten.net.

Got an APP for That?
• Mother Earth News has a Grow Planner iPad App for $9.99 to help people plan their vegetable gardens, including specific crops for their regions and helpful rotations. Go to motherearthnews.com to download it.

• Want to know what chemicals are in your food? The Pesticide Action Network has a handy dandy online tool for that. Just click on the meat, fruit or vegetable item and it will tell you. Find it at http://www.whatsonmyfood.org

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.

Make organic garden an ‘open space, sacred space’

April 6, 2012

Make organic garden an ‘open space, sacred space’

“Every neighborhood needs a Walden Pond in their backyard, a place where people can be in nature and reconnect to themselves, to the land, and to each other.”

So say Tom and Kitty Stoner, founders of the TKF Foundation, and its Open Spaces, Sacred Places program that supports having natural oases in cities, neighborhoods and businesses.
Today, Good Friday, is traditional planting time in central Mississippi. Given the oddly warm and even hot weather, it seems late to plant, but it’s not. The best time is just starting.
Planning your garden is part of the fun, as well. You, too, can make your organic garden a welcoming place for others, or for rejuvenating yourself. That’s what gardens are all about, in my view anyway. They feed the body and the soul.
Over next to our spring/fall garden plot, I have a reclining chair. During warm weather – even winter, if the sun is out – my beautiful wife Annette can frequently find me there, looking out over the rows and spirals of plants in the garden.
In sunny weather, I watch the bees buzz from flower to flower while laden with pollen like they’re wearing waders. I watch the butterflies in their arrays of yellows, oranges and blues, flit here and there. And the birds drop from the sky to alight, eying bugs in the soft soil. We are serenaded by their birdsong.
Sometimes, I take a book to read. Sometimes, I just hold the book in my lap, transfixed by nature’s unfolding tableau.
According to the Stoners’ website, http://www.opensacred.org, an Open Space, Sacred Space has four elements: portal, path, destination and surround. Each is self-explanatory, with the Stoners concluding: “The Sense of Surround ensures that the visitor is safe within the sacred space, until his or her return to everyday life, retracing steps on the path and moving back out through the portal.”
The wonder is that these oases can be built just about anywhere, or everywhere. Perhaps, wherever the heart yearns for peace and a place that helps reveal the joy that resides within.

Reader response: What liquid organic fertilizer do you recommend? How can it be applied?
I don’t recommend any brand, but to get transplants and seeds started we usually mix kelp and fish emulsion or blood meal.
You can take your seedlings and dip them in the mix and plant them, to give them a boost. Or dribble it around the roots for a topical dressing. Later, you can spray the kelp as foliar feeding.
Check local garden stores’ organic sections. If they’re OMRI approved (www.omri. org), they should be fine.
If you are vegan and don’t approve of using animal products, you can use mineral mixes with the same elements. Just read the labels or go online.
Bottles of fertilizer are pricey, but they also go a long way; you don’t have to apply very often.

Reader response: I heard someone say “plants can’t tell the difference between synthetic and organic fertilizer.” Is this true?
Well, if you believe what the chemical companies tell you, that’s true. But if you call yourself an organic grower, no way!
First: Synthetic fertilizers are banned in the National Organic Program. You cannot be certified organic and use them.
Second, using synthetic fertilizers also is an affront to the basic philosophy of organics. Organic growing is from the soil up, not the chemical applicator down.
Ammonia- based synthetic fertilizers kill microorganisms in the soil, kill earthworms that keep it aerated and fertilized by their natural processes,they burn plant roots and destroy humus.
They weaken plants’ resistance to disease; which works out great for chemical manufacturers because they then can also sell chemical insecticides, fungicides and other poisons.
That’s in the microcosm: your own backyard. In the macrocosm, they poison drinking water, kill lakes and cause waterways to choke with weeds; they even are responsible for the giant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where there is no oxygen.
You can’t throw harsh chemicals on the soil and not expect consequences – in our food, yards or planet.

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.

Worms (in the garden) something to brag about!

Worms (in the garden) something to brag about!

March 16, 2012

Not long ago, I was attending a conference and overheard someone say, “Yeah, I’ve got worms.”

Now, most folks might find that a bit disconcerting. After all, having worms is something that one normally doesn’t brag about. Unless you’re an organic farmer!

Properly, raising worms is called vermiculture. It is the process of using worms to decompose organic food waste and turn it into a nutrient-rich material for a garden.

Turns out, vermicompost is not only some of the best fertilizer that can be produced – having the proper pH and essential nutrients for healthy plant growth – but it’s easy to produce.

You can grow worms without muss or fuss in your apartment, by using common plastic bins found at Walmart, Target and other discount stores. Gaining Ground – Mississippi Sustainability Institute has an article and video explaining how: http://www.ggsim.org/volunteer/projects/o-gardens-occupy-your-lawn/lesson-three.

Essentially, you start with your bin and add bedding material: shredded paper, peat moss, coconut fiber, wood chips or manure. Add a couple handfuls of soil to add “grit,” helping the worms break down food particles. Add one pound of worms (red wigglers preferred) that you obtain online or from a bait shop. Then, start feeding them food scraps (about one pound per day). Don’t feed them: garlic, onions, citrus, meat, dairy or bones.

After four to six months, collect the castings and fertilize your plants. If you end up with too many worms, you can give them away or release them in your garden. You can also keep your worm bin outside when it’s warm.

Worm science: For more on the science of vermicompost, see: http://www.news.cornell. edu/stories/Dec11/Vermicompost.html

Soil testing: If you haven’t already sent it off, now is a good time to get your soil tested. By testing soil fertility, pH, etc., you can determine exactly which amendments are needed to produce the food you want to grow.

For example, in our little farm, we have red clay soil at the top of the hill, rather compacted “played out” soil at the middle, and dense clay soil at the bottom of the hill. I take a sample from each. In response, we’ve calculated strategies for each: lots of mulch, compost and vegetative matter for the hill; growing soil building cover crops for the middle; allowing buffer areas to soak up moisture at the bottom.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service Soil Testing Laboratory analyzes soil. It only costs $6 for a routine analysis. For more information, see http://msucares.com/crops/soils/testing.html, or visit your local extension service office or write: Soil Testing Laboratory, Box 9610, Mississippi State MS 39762; or call (662) 325-3313.

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.

Getting started growing organic food easy as 1-2-3

March 2, 2012
Getting started with growing organic food easy as 1-2-3

Think growing organic food is difficult? If you have a wheelbarrow, garage and driveway, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1) Presumably, your garage doesn’t get below 32 degrees. If so, go to the garden store and buy a couple of bags of organic potting soil (Miracle-Gro makes OMRI-approved Organic Choice for certified organic gardening; it’s usually available at Walmart);

2) Put your bags of potting soil in your wheelbarrow; plant your organic or heirloom seeds by punching them through the plastic bag into the contained soil and lightly water (don’t overwater, or make soggy);

3) During the day, if temps are warm, lightly water or mist the soil and wheel the wheelbarrow to a sunny spot in the driveway; at night, wheel it back into the garage.

Within days, you will have plants sprouting, and in about 4-5 weeks, they will be ready to put into your 4-foot-by-8-foot organic “Jim’s plot.” Or, if you keep them pruned, they can produce right there in the wheelbarrow!

See, one, two, three. Who says organic gardening is hard to do?

Reader response on feeding bees: A woman called to question last week’s item about beekeepers needing to feed the bees. While not a “beek,” she wanted to know if she could help, too, adding that she had found where some bees had drowned in a container while apparently looking for water on her patio. Some observations:

First, bees require lots of water and if they don’t have a place to land (such as a leaf) in a pond or other water source, many can drown trying to obtain it. During drought, it’s a good idea to offer bees a water source, and it can be done by putting gravel in a baking pan (in shade) and filling it with water so that the bees can stand on the rocks and sip.

Similarly, one can pour a mixture of organic sugar and water in the pan to feed bees (mix sugar into warm, not hot, water until it won’t absorb any more to make the syrup). Beekeepers have specially designed feeders for their hives that release sugar water, as needed, by the bees. It’s important to keep the sugar water fresh, so it doesn’t spoil, just as you would do with hummingbird feeders.

Note: Do NOT give bees honey. While honey is safe for humans, each bee colony has its own viral load of diseases specific to that hive; bees, for example, in natural (or organic) hives without antibiotic treatments by the beekeeper could be killed off by being fed honey from treated bees. Even “raw” or organic honey can transmit diseases that the bees may not have.

Just give them sugar water.

Need bees? Smart beekeepers order their bees in November for spring delivery. There are still a few beekeepers with bees to sell; one “natural” beekeeper (without chemicals) is Beelicious Honey in Hattiesburg. I saw the owners recently and they have a few orders left. For details, visit http://www.beelicioushoney.com or write info@beelicioushoney.com or call (601) 447-4658. You will have to pick up the bees in person.

Aldo Leopold showing at Millsaps: On Tuesday, Millsaps is showing Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time, the first full-length, high-definition documentary film made about the legendary conservationist.

Although probably best known as the author of the conservation classic A Sand County Almanac, Leopold is also renowned for his work as an educator, philosopher, forester, ecologist and wilderness advocate.

For tickets, call (601) 974-1130. Tickets are also available at the door. Admission is $10. For additional information, visit http://www.aldoleopold. org/greenfire.

Ag Day: National “Ag Day” will be observed Thursday at the Mississippi Farmers Market on High Street in Jackson, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Speeches and fresh, locally produced food will be the highlights.

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.

Foraging for ‘Farm-aceuticals’ a healthy pastime

Foraging for ‘farm-aceuticals’ provides a healthy pastime

With warm weather playing “hide and seek” with winter, lots of  “weeds” are popping up, but don’t be quick to pull them up from the  organic garden, as they can provide “farm-aceuticals.”
According  to renowned herbalist Susun Weed (Healing Wise, Ash Tree Publishing,  2003, $17.95), here are a few “weeds” with medicinal properties:
•Chickweed (Stellaria media) dissolves cysts, tonifies the thyroid and aids in weight loss.
•Daisy (Bellis perennis) relieves headaches, muscle pain and allergy symptoms.
•Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) relieves gas, heartburn and indigestion.
•Dock, also called yellow dock, curly dock and broad dock helps “all women’s problems.”
•Plantain, also called ribwort or pig’s ear, speeds healing, relieves pain, stops itching.
•St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) relieves muscle aches, is useful with shingles, sciatica, back pain and headaches.
For details, see: www.matrifocus.com/BEL07/wisewoman.htm.

Reader response: Are genetically modified foods really a problem?
I’ll answer with a couple of quotes from Food Inc. by Eric Schlosser:
•”Animal  genes and even human genes are randomly inserted into the chromosomes  of plants, fish and animals, creating heretofore unimaginable transgenic  lifeforms. For the first time in history, transnational biotechnology  corporations are becoming the architects and ‘owners’ of life.”
•”With  little or no regulatory restraints, labeling requirements or scientific  protocol, bioengineers have begun creating hundreds of new GE  ‘frankenfoods’ and crops. The research is done with little concern for  the human and environmental hazards.”
•”An increasing number of  scientists are warning that current gene-splicing techniques are crude,  inexact and unpredictable – and therefore inherently dangerous.”
I  think that sums it up: It’s unregulated, possibly unsafe for humans,  certainly a danger to the environment, morally questionable, and likely  to make developing countries even more dependent on hand-outs or subject  to starvation.

California may vote on GMO: Polling shows  80 percent of California voters support labels on GMO  foods. And they  are starting a petition drive to put it on their Nov. 6 ballot.
Organic and food safety interests will be watching; it’s likely, as goes California, so goes the nation. For more, see: http://organicconsumersfund.org.

Come see me: I’ll be speaking Feb. 25 at the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute  of Mississippi conference at Eagle Ridge Conference Center in Raymond  on Organic Backyard Market Gardening. For more information, visit www.ggsim.org

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.

‘Edible forest’ can supplement organic garden

Feb. 3, 2012

‘Edible forest’ can supplement veggies for organic produce
When we think of “organic” or growing food, we naturally think of veggies. But with February tree planting time, what about “edible” forests?
Next Friday is Arbor Day in Mississippi (each state selects its own date to coincide with the best planting time).
Why not plant a fruit or nut tree?
Why not incorporate your plantings as an “edible arbor” alongside, around and through garden plots?
Mississippi farmers and homeowners have been growing blueberries for years. But edible forests may include apples, pears and other fruit-bearing trees. Some are adaptable to Mississippi’s hot, humid climate.
Some fruit trees don’t do well in the South because they require a certain number of “chill hours” or temps below 45 degrees. For example, apples are best suited for the northern third of the state, but some root stocks can be planted statewide.
For additional information on preferred fruit varieties in Mississippi, see Fruit and Nut Recommendations by the state Extension Plant and Soil Sciences Department, online, at http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p0966.pdf.

Plant chestnuts: There’s something of a movement under way to replant chestnuts across America, too.
There probably aren’t too many people who remember when chestnut trees lined many boulevards in the United States – before they were virtually wiped out by an Asian fungus called chestnut blight.
But they may be coming back.
The American Chestnut Foundation is promoting the planting of new trees.
According to Paul Franklin, TACF director of communications in Asheville, N.C., at one time, the American chestnut stretched from Georgia to Maine. An estimated four billion trees were lost to the disease during the first half of the 20th century.
“We will need to plant a lot of trees if we are to eventually restore the American chestnut to its former range,” TACF President and CEO Bryan J. Burhans said recently.
The American chestnut grows quite large – up to 100 feet tall – with a wide canopy. It’s good for meadows, Franklin says, and excellent for wildlife, including deer, turkey and bear. There are also Asian-American hybrids that are smaller.
For more, see the TACF website, http://www.acf.org, or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (www.sfiprogram.org), or read the chestnut planting guide:
http://www.acf.org/pdfs/resources/GrowingChestnuts_BMP.pdf
Or write The American Chestnut Foundation, 160 Zillicoa St., Suite D, Asheville, NC 28801; Phone: (828) 281-0047.

“Edible Forest” in Jackson: The Mississippi Urban Forest Council is a state leader in promoting “edible forests.” An example of an edible forest in Jackson is at Wells United Methodist Church, see:
http://www.msurbanforest.com/edible_forest.html.

Fruit and Vegetable Growers: I was recently elected president of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the statewide nonprofit for commercial growers.
While most of the state’s produce farmers are not organic, I think it reflects a commitment by the state’s growers for environmental stewardship and recognizes organics as a viable option.
It’s a great honor, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to serve small farmers, the backbone of the state’s agricultural community.

Note: I’ll be speaking on community-supported agriculture at the Urban Forest Council’s Conference Tuesday at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. For additional information, see: http://www.msurbanforest.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.

Don’t have much space for organic garden? Grow up!

Jan. 21, 2010
Don’t have much space for organic garden? Grow up!

Folks who live in urban areas or apartments may sometimes feel left out of the grow-your-own organic food movement.
Don’t! In addition to community supported agriculture, where churches, civic groups, neighbors and/or farmer/entrepreneurs often offer urban gardens, it may only take a little ingenuity to be growing wholesome, nutritious food.
For example, pots or buckets on apartment balconies (even on high rises) can offer great spots for winter greens or summer tomatoes.
For those with no yard to speak of, like a town house, if you have a garage, you can plant in a wheelbarrow and simply roll it out during the day and back in at night.
But one of the most creative compendiums of ideas for the garden challenged is a new book: Vertical Vegetables and Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces by Rhonda Massingham Hart (Storey Publishing, $16.95).
Although the book is mostly devoted to small plots, that is, people who have a few feet of actual ground to work with, it also gives ample instructions on other ways to grow in small spaces, such as using hanging pots, buckets and pruning techniques.
It also gives good tips for varieties of plants, seeds and soil requirements.
Primarily, though, it emphasizes a fact that many folks may have overlooked: “Every square foot of garden space comes with a bonus 6 cubic feet or more of usable growing space above it.”
Maybe for some folks in urban or cramped quarters now is a good time to start planning for spring with a new outlook.
In other words, it’s time to get vertical and grow up!

Paula Deen’s larding it on: I’m disappointed that Paula Deen, who has made a fortune showing people how to cook fried foods, didn’t take the opportunity of announcing her Type 2 diabetes this week with a change of lifestyle.
She could have made an impact in diabetes prevention.
Instead she announced her illness saying that she’s actually had it for three years – and was unapologetic about her role in promoting unhealthy diets, saying that people should eat what they want. The point seemed to be her having inked a contract with a pharmaceutical company for an insulin alterative drug.
But why not eat a healthy diet to help prevent diabetes to begin with?
Taking her at her word, Deen achieved fame promoting unhealthy diets and now indeed must bear personal responsibility for her choice. She now will also be an example of what not to eat.
Mississippians, listed as having the most obese people of any state and suffering all the ills of poor diet – diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, joint problems and reduced physical mobility – should take note.
A balanced diet and moderate exercise can do wonders.

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.

Occupy Your Lawn with an Organic Sustainable ‘Yarden’

Jan. 6, 2012
Occupy your lawn with an organic, sustainable ‘yarden’

Now’s a good time to map your organic, sustainable “yarden,” while the cold winds blow.
What do I mean by “yarden?” By that, I mean a place in your yard for a garden that you may not have considered before.
Not too long ago, a neighbor told me: “I’d love to grow some greens, but I just don’t have anyplace to put a garden.”
It just so happened that I drive by this person’s house every day, so I pointed out that he had some plots set aside for flowers next to his house, next to his garage and even out front next to the road.
I suggested he transition one of those into a garden.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.
That’s a yard + garden = yarden.
It’s easy to create 4-foot-by-8-foot “Jim’s plot” garden, as regular readers know. But it’s even easier to transition a flower garden into a food yarden.
Usually, flower gardens have a tremendous amount of organic matter already in them from years of the flowers’ leaves composting themselves or successive years of added mulches, making them perfect for food production.
It’s sustainable because from here on out, you can continue to build up the soil with compost and alternating crops to replace minerals lost in vegetable production, and organic because you will no longer be using chemicals.
I will give a caveat: If you have sprayed poisons such as herbicides and insecticides on it, you will have to wait longer to transition the space into a food plot to ensure all harmful chemicals have broken down.
This is quite common on a larger scale in transitioning from “conventional” farming, and it’s officially three years’ wait before a plot can be certified organic.
If such a transition is needed, consider the plot a “wild area.” Let varieties of plants do double duty by enriching the soil and attracting pollinators, such as planting clover or buckwheat to entice bees and butterflies.
That way, you will be beautifying the neighborhood, feeding the soil with nitrogen, and helping other gardens and wildlife while you wait to plant food.
Otherwise, if you haven’t been using harsh chemicals, you’re ready to go! Just figure out what veggies you want to grow.
Now is the perfect time to consider spring planting, as the new seed catalogs start arriving.
With the rising interest in homesteading and food security (ensuring there is food on the table), it’s smart as well as fun to provide or supplement one’s own food.
The Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi actually has a program called “O Gardens! Occupy Your Yard” to guide people how to produce one square meter of food for a family.
See:www.ggsim.org/volunteer /projects/o-gardens-occupy-your-lawn.

Cold weather tip: Half fill a few empty plastic two-liter cola or gallon milk bottles and toss them between the rows of your plants during freezing weather. Especially if painted black, they will absorb the sun’s heat during the day, and
release it at night, raising the bed’s temperature.

Food Safety Sellout: While Americans were celebrating the holidays the FDA quietly dealt food safety a blow by declining to clamp down on antibiotics for farm animals.
The need is there. As Tom Philpott reported in Mother Jones magazine, last spring researchers tested beef, chicken, pork and turkey from supermarkets in five cities. They found staph aureus, a food-poisoning bacteria that can cause serious diseases, in 47 percent of the samples. Half were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.
The FDA on Wednesday took a more timid step of limiting some livestock uses of cephalosporins, like Keflex, which consumer advocates called “a first step.” The goal should be to stop routine and indiscriminate bulk feeding of antibiotics to
livestock to reduce the production of disease resistant strains that endanger humans.
The New York Times’ Mark Bittman blames funding cuts by Congress.
Read more by Bittman: http://nyti.ms/v29WxU
And Philpott: http://bit.ly/suc3Us

Mark your calendar:
•I’ll be speaking on Community Supported Agriculture at the 21st annual Urban Forest Council Conference Feb. 7 and 8 at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. The conference is titled Green Communities – Good Health.
Keynote speaker is Dr. Kathleen Wolf of the College of Environment, University of Washington. Details: http://www.msurbanforest.com.
•I’ll also be speaking on Organic Backyard Market Gardening Feb. 25 at the third annual Sustainable Living Conference by Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi. The conference is titled: Saving Dollars, Making Sense, to be held at Eagle Ridge Conference Center at Raymond. Details: http://www.ggsim.org or (662) 694-0124.

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.

Soil Brings Season’s Blessings

Dec. 23, 2011
Our soil gives us organic blessings with each meal

Science cannot replace art or religion for the same reason that you cannot loosen a nut with a saw or cut a board in two with a wrench.
– Wendell Berry

Growing plants is more art than science, and if you ask the people who actually grow food for a living, or at least a portion of it, most would probably admit that faith and prayer trump both.
Yet, somehow, nationally and even internationally, we’ve allowed science, or at least the science that’s bought and paid for by the deep pockets of agribiz, to dictate not only our farm policy, but the food that’s produced.
Who does not wonder at the turn of the new leaf? The new bud? The fresh fruit on the vine? Each is miraculous.
In my view, producing food for others that’s fresh from the ground, without poisons, but fully laced with thanks and gratitude, is one of the highest callings of humankind.
Too bad we’ve relegated agriculture to an adjunct of government subsidy and the role of farmer as an invisible maker of ingredients for “food products.”
Thankfully, we can grow our own foods, organically, and share them with family, neighbors and friends.
It is, and should be, a “calling,” recognized with wonder and gratitude.
Our soil gives us organic “thanks” with each meal, as the fruit of our labor is turned to nourishment for our bodies, and shared in the most intimate ways with our loved ones.
What is more intimate than taking food into our bodies? Or turning the sweat of our labor into sustenance? Or so taken for granted?
These are ideas worth pondering at this time of giving, when we humbly give to others, in love and joy. The beauty of healthy food, nutritious food, grown by our own hands, or lovingly provided by another, is beyond the bounds of science, as Berry says.
The rational mind can be deluded by any plausible argument. But it takes faith and wonder, neither objectively measurable, to come up with heart-felt well-being. Such a recipe is the basis of a good life, whether “rich” or “poor,” as materially measured.
So, we give thanks at Christmas, and each day, for the abundance and life our Creator gives. And we enjoy the bounteous blessings of the food we grow and share.
It is art and religion in one: organic in every sense, as encompassing seed to succulence, the grower and grown, shared by all within the sphere of both.
Many blessings in this time of cheer!
Merry Christmas, to all.

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.