Tag Archives: herbs

‘Naturescaping’ garden feeds body, soul

Feb. 24, 2012

‘Naturescaping’ backyard garden a way to feed body, soul

It’s time to consider which herbs you would like to plant in your organic garden for spring, or keep in little pots on your windowsill to add to foods you prepare.

When you put them in the ground, you can arrange them in a way that provides spice and flavor for food, as well as feeding your soul with inviting greenery.

A new book that can help give you ideas for shaping your yard is The Naturescaping Workbook by Beth O’Donnell Young and beautiful photographs by Karen Bussolini (Timber Press, $24.95).

One of the joys of backyard organic vegetable growing, whether for food or profit, is the variety of delights that can be discovered even in small spaces.

Naturescaping is an incredible guide for innovating in the garden, providing outlines for a variety of edible arrangements.

For example, it gives lists of edible trees, vines, shrubs, flowers and herbs, and shows photos of gardens in different arrays.

Another book that picks up where Naturescaping may leave off is Better Homes & Gardening’s new book: Herb Gardening (John Wiley & Sons, $19.99) and also just out in bookstores.

Herb Gardening gives astounding “plant by the number” garden plans that can provide any gardener with a spectacular display of herbs. It gives advice on herbs for different seasons, pairs that do well together, histories of where they come from and delicious-looking recipes.

Here is a Top Ten of grow-your-own culinary herbs for summer:

Basil

Thyme

Mint

Parsley

Hyssop

Bee Balm

Lavender

Sage

Dill

Coriander

I would add Stevia, a natural sugar substitute, and also warn that mint can take over your garden if you are not careful.

With these two books, a garden enthusiast could have a great deal of fun shaping, or reshaping, a diverse and edible garden that feeds body and soul.

Honeybee report: Speaking of bees, retired extension service apiculturist Harry Fulton warns beekeepers that the warm weather may be setting up their bees for hive failure.

He writes: “Bee colonies are consuming a lot of honey now because of the mild weather in January and early February, which resulted in early and unusual brood rearing. They gathered a lot of pollen then, which stimulated egg laying also.

“Consequently, please check to see if your bees have plenty of honey stores. They will not be gathering significant food stores until mid-March, unless you are in south Mississippi, where things will bloom earlier which produce nectar. There is some indication that fruit tree bloom will occur early, but do not let this fool you. Bees normally begin to ‘make a living’ by then, but this year is unusual. More cold weather could come, which will shut it all down.

“The general rule is that if bees have less than two full combs of honey, they should be fed immediately. They could need as much as 30 pounds (6 full deep combs) to get them through. For each full comb of brood emerging, it has been said that the bees need one full deep comb of honey/pollen stores. If they are not able to gather due to rainy weather or cold weather, then honey stores disappear quickly (one or two combs a week).”

Come see us: I’ll be speaking on Organic Backyard Market Gardening Saturday at the third annual Sustainable Living Conference by Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi at Eagle Ridge Conference Center in Raymond. For more information, see: 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.

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Organic flowers, fruit

March 25, 2011

Flowers, fruit can be grown organically, not just veggies

This weather has me all messed up plantwise. Everything I know about weather is topsy-turvey with temperatures now averaging 14 degrees above normal.

Usually, here in central Mississippi, we have a few warm days in March that get everyone excited about planting gardens, then a hard frost comes, and some folks have to start all over again.

But this year, it’s been hot in March. Our spinach, collards and other cool weather fall-planted crops are going to seed, yet I just can’t get myself to risk planting so early (before Good Friday).

Annette’s been busy in the garden, planting cool weather plants such as onions, garlic, herbs, peas, arugula, kale, chard, red salad greens, Asian stir fry mix, carrots and snow peas, and in the greenhouse getting tomatoes, squash, peppers, melons and other warm weather plants started.

We’ll probably set them out in the next couple of weeks (going by weather rather than calendar and hoping for the best. Remember, we have had ice storms before at the end of March!).

We have Wall ‘o Waters for the tomatoes (plastic rings that you fill with water to hold heat at night) and Agribon covers for rows if there’s a chance of frost.

Right now, if you’re going to gamble on the weather, treat it like the stock market: Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

Tips and reminders:

•Use certified organic seeds;

•Use OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute, approved garden or potting soil (Miracle Gro makes one called Organic Choice that’s sold locally, even at Walmart);

•Use ecologically sound containers, such as those from recycled paper (Peaceful Valley -www.groworganic.com – even sells a kit to make your own pots from old newspapers);

•Or, use reusable containers such as smart pots and grow bags (from recycled materials);

•Or, use pots that can be planted, such as “cow pots,” made from composted cow manure, or Coir (coconut fiber) that can be used instead of sphagnum peat moss, which is being depleted from the Earth (large-scale peat harvesting is not sustainable as it takes thousands of years to form the peat “bricks” that are harvested in just a week; look for companies with sustainable harvesting methods).

•Think: Sustainable!

Fruits, berries, roses … As stated previously, it was my honor earlier this year to be elected to the board of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, but I’ve found that quite a few of my colleagues are unaware they can easily “grow organic,” just as gardeners can.

One prominent grower in Mississippi told me that he would love to be organic, but “you can’t do it without fungicides.”

I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to say, and just stood there with my mouth open.

Obviously, there has not been enough information promulgated about organics in general or fungicides in particular.

Not only commercial fruit, berry and vegetable growers, but even folks who grow such temperamental flowers as roses can grow organically without damaging the environment, spreading or breathing toxic waste or poisoning the air, soil and water.

Now, Annette and I are what’s called “deep organic” (in Eliot Coleman’s terms) or purists, maybe: that is, we don’t use any chemicals, period. It takes a little bit more thought and effort (and occasional setbacks), to be sure.

But there are a number of weed, disease and pest control applications that are certified organic by OMRI that meet all National Organic Standards. They are easy to use, safe, widely available and affordable for hobbyists as well as commercial growers.

A sampling from just one catalog lists:

•Cease – a bacterium that eradicates powdery mildew, several leaf spot and soil diseases;

•OxiDate – a broad spectrum bactericide/fungicide that uses rapid oxidation to kill unwanted bacteria and fungi;

•Liquid Copper Fungicide – targeting diseases on grapes, vegetables, fruit, berries, roses, pine and cedar trees and more;

•Safer Brand Garden Fungicide – for fruit, vegetables, flowering plants and ornamentals;

•Plantshield – Fungicide protects roots, can be used for seeds, cuttings, transplants, and can be used as a drench or spot dressed directly for foliar-infecting fungi.

Mind you, these are just fungicides (addressing my friend’s concerns). You can find whole sections of natural, biodegradable, non-toxic products for a range of issues specifically for fruit trees, berries, vegetables, flowers and what have you.

These examples are from: Arbico, Box 8910, Tucson AZ, 85738-0910. Phone: 1-800-827-2847. (It even offers natural, plant-based, non-toxic bedbug killers).

So, it’s not as if the resources aren’t out there; they just aren’t being advertised or promoted by the agri-biz conglomerates.

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.

Weeds not ‘natural’

March 18, 2011

Organic gardeners befriend weeds, but they’re not ‘natural’

In previous columns, I’ve written about how weeds can tell a lot about the fertility of soil.

They can peacefully coexist in the organic garden, providing needed shade and helping to hold coveted moisture near valued crops in our steamy Southern and sometimes drought-plagued environment. (Just keep the roots clear so nutrients go to the veggies, not the weed.)

But, as Michael Pollan noted in his garden book, Second Nature, most “weeds” aren’t natural to the garden, either. Most are “invasives” from Europe, including St. John’s Wort, daisies, dandelions, buttercups, mullein, Queen Anne’s Lace, couch grass, sow thistle, shepherd’s purse, groundsell, dock, chickweed – even the Old West’s signature “Tumbleweed” (properly, Russian Thistle) that came from Eurasia, as did henbit.

In fact, Native Americans called plantain “Englishman’s Foot,” because it seemed to spring up wherever a European walked. (Which may have some truth to it, with seeds lodged in baggage and cracked leather boots.) Even the venerable all-American apple tree is an import.

But this seemingly unnatural plethora of garden invasives has a silver lining for organic gardeners. Many of these ostensibly tough and thorny “weeds” are considered delicacies by bugs that will in many cases choose them over the gardener’s greens, fruits and vegetables. That’s the key to attracting “beneficial” insects – those bugs that prefer your weeds and not your cultivated plants or that prey on those bugs that covet your plantings.

Reader response: I had just gotten off the phone with a local woman who was wanting info on how to build a “Jim’s Plot” 4X8-foot organic food and edible flower garden for her daughter at her new digs in Madison emphasizing herbs, when the mail came and, by gosh, a book arrived that she might find useful: Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hatung (Storey Publishing, 2011; $19.95). It’s a good book for a beginner, with common herbs and their uses (medicinal and otherwise), harvesting guidelines, unique challenges, how to prepare them, recipes and, of course, important here: all-natural care using beneficial insects and nontoxic treatment.

My beautiful wife Annette is the house herbalist and she makes herb teas, infusions, tinctures, and food for us daily. She gave it her thumbs’ up, too.

Herb Association, Anyone?: Speaking of herbs, it came up in conversation recently that Mississippi has no statewide herb society or association, which seems rather astounding, given the number of herb gardeners in the Magnolia State.

I’m wondering if there would be enough interest to form a Mississippi Herb Association for people who grow herbs, herbalists, commercial growers, foodies, stores, horticulturalists, state ag and extension officials, medicinal growers and gardeners to network, share knowledge, tips and information and, perhaps, seeds and cuttings.

If so, drop me a line (P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39205).

I’ll keep you informed as to how it’s coming along, if there’s any interest in it. It will take some volunteers and committed individuals to get something like this off the ground, but I’m game to do what I can to help out.

Reader response: I’m not knocking subsidies, per se, only pointing out inequities in the system and the fact that organic food is so “expensive” because it’s not subsidized by the taxpayer; you pay the full cost.

Subsidies are actually price supports to keep farmers from going out of business. The farmer is offered a price that is beyond his control, and the subsidies only apply when the price goes below a set point.

If there were no subsidies, even more farmers would go out of business and the big ones would probably buy them up.

So, doing away with subsidies doesn’t help the small or family farm, or help diversify crops (or benefit organics).

The bottom line in this is that the actual producers of crops (organic or “conventional”) are on the short end of the stick and kept on a treadmill of risk by the commodities players on Wall Street, the processed “food” giants, the chemical-seed-fertilizer oligarchy and the government programs these big players manipulate Congress to approve.

So if we want to change the system, we change our behavior by buying organic, locally grown foods first (and milk, fruit and vegetables, not processed foods) and support programs, politicians and retail outlets that promote this way of life.

Not coy about koi : A couple of weeks ago, the paper had a wonderful article about a family that raises the beautiful Japanese fish koi for sale ($15 to $150) for garden ponds. Dawn Barnidge, who operates Falling Waters Koi Farm in Raymond, can be reached at (601) 214-8887.

•Online: A great column in The New York Times by Mark Bittman explains how, contrary to the big ag chemical biz standard line, sustainable agriculture (organic or eco-farming) can feed the world: http://nyti.ms/fnWAn7

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.