Tag Archives: maria thun

Playing odds of last frost can be risky

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Just about every day, I hear of someone who just couldn’t wait until planting time to start digging in the ground and planting a crop for summer. Let me reiterate: We may be in the South, but it’s still too early to plant!

If the soil is too cold, seeds won’t germinate properly resulting in sickly plants, disease and insect damage. It’s not enough to simply plant past last frost; plants need a good start. That’s why even if the temperature turns prematurely warm, as happened last winter, planting now is so risky. Even with such “tricks” as using frost cover (sheets of Agribon or old blankets over seedbeds or early seedlings when its frosty) and passive solar heating (plastic jugs painted black and containing water to heat up in the day and retain it during the cold nights), a sharp cold snap can knock back and mortally wound your crop.

That’s why you want to be careful in playing the odds of “last frost,” to minimize potential damage.

For a lot of gardeners in Mississippi, planting time is around the first week in May. But there’s a caveat to this, too. For organic gardeners, it pays to plant as early as possible, to get a jump on the insects. Waiting until May could be inviting insect damage.

So, the best time to plant for organic growers (who don’t use insecticides) is sometime between last frost and before the insects go full bore. Traditionally, here in central Mississippi, folks used to plant seeds on Good Friday, which this year is March 29. To be cautious, I’ve always planted a week after Easter, as we sometimes have a frost the week after Easter, this year observed March 31. That’s kind of late.

As you can see from this frost chart for Mississippi (http://bit.ly/f8QSAb), the percent probability of a freezing temperature (32 degrees F.) for Jackson is:

March 7 — 90 percent;

March 23 — 50 percent;

April 8 — 10 percent.

For today, there’s a 50 percent change of a temperature of 28 degrees, according to the chart. Naturally, those numbers change the further north or south from Jackson in the central part of the state, as shown by the chart. For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

Planting By The Moon & Stars

In the old days, gardeners would plant by “the signs” — the moon and stars.

The best guide is by the late Maria Thun, who died last year. Her work is being carried on and, now in its 51st year, her North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2012 (Floris Books, $13.95) is available from Steiner Books: P.O. Box 960; Herndon VA 20172-0960; (703) 661-1594; or http://www.steinerbooks.org.

Thun’s guide is detailed and considered something of a bible for natural growing by biodynamic farmers (those who follow the natural rhythms and Earth-based soil amendment methods of founder Rudolf Steiner). It shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning, and harvesting various crops, as well as working with bees.

Wondering Why Your Seeds Won’t Germinate?

In order to sprout, seeds require a minimum temperature. Even if we put them in little cups in the windowsill, they may still fail to sprout if there’s cold air seeping in. Some require 85 degrees to sprout! Here’s a chart: http://www.heirloomseeds.com/germination.html

Some people buy or build seed heating tables or mats with hot water circulation. You can do it yourself using plywood and lightbulbs. Here’s a DIY project from Mother Earth News: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/seed-incubator-zmaz78mazjma.aspx#axzz2LBiT8MoA

Whatever you do, don’t use heating pads or electric blankets, as you will be watering your seeds and can cause a potentially hazardous electric shock.

Jump Start on Weather? Use a Cold Frame

Simply stated, a cold frame is a box similar to a 4-foot by 8-foot “Jim’s plot” but has a removable, clear glass or plastic top. Consider it a mini-greenhouse.

Cold frames can be simple DIY projects, such as planting between a few square bales of hay and recycling old windows or shower doors as the removable tops. You can also purchase pre-made kits from local garden stores or online. You can build a cold frame anywhere; make sure it has southern sun exposure, and vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

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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Planting by the ‘signs’ so old, it’s new again

March 30, 2012
Planting by ‘the signs’ so old, it’s new again – and timely!

Good Friday – April 6 – is traditional planting time. Some people go by the calendar when they plant, some by how the weather feels. Like now: It’s
(freakishly) warm, right?
But the old folks used to take into account the moon and stars.
Maria Thun, who lives in Germany and has been putting her guide together since the 1950s, is the internationally recognized expert on this, known in
biodynamic farming circles as the voice of planting by “the signs.” Thun’s guide is published in 18 languages.
Such calculations can also tell the best time to work with bees, Thun contends. As the bees live in darkness in their hives, their rhythms are along
the lines of root crops, which have their own cycles she calls “root days.”
The best time to plant flowering plants is on “flower days,” she says, when the ascending moon is in Libra, Gemini or Aquarius. Fruit plants grown from
seed such as beans and tomatoes are best planted or tended on “fruit days” when the ascending moon is in Leo, Sagittarius or Aries. Cabbages, lettuces and the like are best tended on “leaf days.”
Thun’s guide for 2012 shows this week to be a good time to plant, with leaf days Sunday and Monday; fruit days late Monday and all day Tuesday; and a
partial root day Thursday.
From April 8-14: Partial root and flower Sunday (Easter); partial flower and leaf Monday; leaf Tuesday; partial leaf and fruit Wednesday; fruit Thursday and Friday; and root Saturday.
The Best Southern U.S. transplanting time is April 11-25.
Her North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2012 (Floris Books, $13.95) is available from Steiner Books: P.O. Box 960; Herndon VA 20172-0960; (703) 661-1594; or http://www.steinerbooks.org.

Worms not so icky, huh: My column on earthworms was a big hit.
A caller said his late wife used to order worms through the mail and sprinkle them around her garden. It was less messy than raising worms, he said. You can buy red wigglers by the pound at bait shops, or order them online. (Here’s one place we have bought worms: http://www.unclejimswormfarm.com/. You can buy 1,000 for $18.95 plus shipping.)
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has a web page devoted to vermi-composting: http://bit.ly/HmxboE .
The “Worm Woman” lives on: Although Mary “Worm Woman” Appelhof died in 2005, her writings live on: http://www.wormwoman. com.
World Wide Worm Web?: For all worms all the time, commentary, forums, etc., see: http://www.wormdigest.org.
The definitive book on worms: The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart – a New York Times best-selling author, no less – with 213 pages on worms, just reissued in
paperback: Algonquin Books; $12.95.

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.

Secret to winter greens in the picking

Dec. 9, 2011

Secret to perfect organic winter greens is in the picking

The secret to growing perfect organic winter greens is quite simple: In addition to good soil, and keeping plants covered when it’s frosty, is to be selective in picking.
It’s tempting, when looking at a profusion of greens, to just pick the biggest leaves, but that’s ultimately self-defeating. Greens such as mustards, collards, lettuces and various brassicas, grow from the center out. Consequently, the older leaves are on the outside.
If you look carefully at your greens, say your collards, you will notice there are probably several wilted or unhealthy looking leaves either close to – or lying on – the ground and are still connected to the plant. Pull them off.
Just toss them away, so they decompose back into the soil, but not so close as to keep bugs that aid in their decomposition near your plant.
Go through your patch and start picking from the bottom. Some of these leaves will be perfectly fine for eating. Others won’t, but that’s OK. We’re wanting to get back on track with keeping plants healthy and thriving.
Think of it as pruning a plant, like a rose bush or other ornamental. You are carefully removing leaves that sap the vitality of the plant. Remember to pick using your thumbnail and first finger, pinching off the leaf cleanly. That helps the stem to quickly heal, allowing the plant to put energy instead into new leaves.
You will quickly find that in previous pickings you probably overlooked most of the leaves on the outside of the plant. That’s OK. Greens are quite resilient.
What will happen once you remove old or diseased leaves from the outside and bottom of the plants and continue to pick the leaves from the outside, is that the plants will put their energy into producing new leaves from the center even more vigorously.
If all goes well, you will notice the greens are growing tall, thick stalks, and the leaves from the center are growing more quickly and are larger than before. The plant is getting more established (going down, up and out) and is concentrating its energy on producing leaves – food for you!
If you’re lucky, the plants will continue to produce into spring before warmer temperatures prompt them to bolt – or produce flowers and seeds for regeneration.
This way of picking greens is not the way big agricultural outfits do it. They plant the plants, then when they reach a certain size, they just cut them all down. That’s why you see stalks as well as leaves when buying greens in the grocery.
But if you want to have sweet, tender, prolific greens all winter, be selective in picking: a leaf here, a leaf there, thanking the plant for providing you with nourishment. The plant will reward you, gladly!

Great book, just out: I recently received one of the best garden books I’ve read this year: The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm by Peg Schafer(Chelsea Green; $34.95). It’s subtitle tells why I like it so much: “A Cultivator’s Guide to Small-Scale Organic Herb Production.”
Not only does the book give great descriptions and photos of herbs, but short histories of them, ways to grow them, good companion plants, medicinal uses (not limited to Chinese medicine but Ayurvedic and other), along with garden tips and recommended reading.
Schafer writes that she became a commercial herb gardener by accident, literally. After a minor auto accident, she started having acupuncture to help her heal and taking Chinese medicinal herbs. But she found that the holistic approach was not only healing her physical injuries but other longterm issues. Her acupuncturist suggested she grow her own herbs, since she found them so healing, and so she started out as a “backyard farmer.”
That developed into the 10-acre Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm of Petaluma, Calif.
The book is the fruit of her knowledge, so to speak. It’s a great gift.

Foodies, online: Just out: If you want to impress your foodie friends with a truly unique holiday gift, try a gift basket of Muir Glen Reserve tomatoes. Yep, a “reserve” canned tomato! Each year chosen in secrecy, produced under a chef, hand picked, hand sorted, organic California tomatoes with limited amounts offered during the holiday season. ($10 plus $5 shipping.) Check it out: http://www.muirglen.com

The 2012 North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar by Maria & Matthias Thun is now available for those who like to plant by the moon.
This original biodynamic sowing and planting calendar is now in its 50th year. It shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning and harvesting various plants and crops, as well as working with bees. Great gift for gardener who has everything. Price: $13.95
It’s available from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association: http://bit.ly/uOCs7B

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.

Reach for the stars when planting

Aug. 8, 2011When planting, go ahead and reach for the moon and stars

Cool winds may not be blowing, but now is the time for home organic gardeners to start thinking about their fall gardens.
Yeah, it’s hot, and humid, and the garden may be weedy, but if you want to have fall and perhaps winter greens this year, it’s good to start planning and preparing.
A good time to start actually digging and planting will be Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 3.
Until then, you can start figuring what you want to grow, ordering seeds, starting them so they’ll be ready to plant, and perhaps laying out a map of what goes where.
Last year, for example, we planted: collards, red kale, mizuna, purple mizuna, spinach, rainbow beets, rainbow chard, orange chard, red mustard, red turnips, purple top turnips, golden turnips, white turnips, red lettuce, red romaine, bibb lettuce, iceberg lettuce, hong vit radish, french breakfast radish, red cabbage, purple carrots, orange carrots, radiccio, broccoli and arugula.
Most of the leafy items made it into December (with a little help from Agribon, or row covers meant to counter frost). We also had cold frames that we later planted with carrots, lettuce and chard. Cold frames, simply put, are glass enclosures that can be opened during the day and closed at night during cold weather.
Ours produced throughout the winter and into spring, until they bolted, or went to seed.
Expertise: For many folks, planning how to plant according to the moon and stars – like the old folks did – is a concern. But it’s not information that’s handy anymore.
A good guide is The North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2011 by Maria and Matthias Thun (Floris Books, $13.95).
While some folks might say they would never plant by “astrology,” it should be pointed out that the biodynamic guide is not based on the thousands-of-years-old constellations in the sky per se, but in their rising and setting, or sidereal astronomy. People who follow biodynamic farming, based on the early 1900s theosophical agricultural philosophy of Rudolph Steiner, swear by planting by
the moon and stars.
Maria Thun is an authority on biodynamics. Her annual sowing and planting calendar is published in 18 languages and is in its 49th year. It’s the “real deal” for a “farmer’s almanac,” based on knowledge like the old folks used, as opposed to the kitschy ersatz version sold in convenience stores.
According to the biodynamic calendar, Sept. 4-5 are good times to plant leafy vegetables.
The calendar is available from: SteinerBooks, Box 960, Herndon VA 20172-0960; phone (703) 661-1594.
Fresh in Madison: Check out the Livingston Farmers Market, just outside Madison at the corner of Mississippi 22 and Mississippi 463. Hours: 4-8 p.m. each Thursday.
Vendors, contact Lisa Kuiper atlisa.kuiper@livingstonspringsfarm.com.
Organic key to future? According to CareerBuilder.com career trends, No. 3 of 10 Jobs of the Future is organic farmer! See:http://on-msn.com/nsec5n.

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.