Tag Archives: market gardening

Four-Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Sept. 26, 2012
Four Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Now that you are either tending or contemplating a fall garden for freshly grown, organic crops, you might consider four-season farming for year-round food. If the weather cooperates, it can be fairly easy—and can be done even in the urban setting of a small yard or next to a patio.

Today, because of industrial agriculture, we think that farming is all done out in rural areas and large tracts of land, but that actually is counter to historical fact.

In America’s cities across the land prior to the mechanization of farming following World War II, small plots of land were located throughout population centers—complete with chickens and livestock! This was common in most urban areas globally. For example, Paris at one time devoted 6 percent of land to food production and produced 100 percent of its fresh vegetables.

One of the more popular methods of growing during winter was to heap horse manure and then build an enclosed structure on top of it for growing. Called a “hot house,” the removable top kept vegetables protected from the elements while the decaying manure provided heat from below.

Today, horse manure in cities is no longer an abundant, cheap source of soil fertility. Moreover, for health reasons regarding soil and plant contamination, I wouldn’t recommend trying to recreate such methods using uncomposted manure as a heat source without thorough study of safe designs. However, modern urban farmers—as well as homesteaders, suburbanites and rural folks wanting easy access to homegrown food—can nearly match that production by using cold frames.

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. Just make sure to vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

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; just make sure it has southern sun exposure. Even a small frame can produce a lot of leafy vegetables if you correctly prune them: Pick old leaves first, in effect pruning the plant so that its energy goes into new leaves.

If you have more space, here’s another option using the same principle that can contain more crops. Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, work by using layers of plastic to trap warmer daytime air inside and minimize heat loss from the system at night. They don’t have to be big or towering affairs. You can bend plastic pipes over metal rebar spikes pounded into the ground and cover them with plastic.

Hoop houses can range from small tunnels—perhaps 3 feet tall and any length you prefer—to large edifices that you can make portable with wheels. You can even pull them with a tractor to rotate crops.

For more information on hoop houses, visit msucares.com/crops/hightunnels/index.html.

Growers in Mississippi who use high tunnels will be meeting to share tips at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association conference in Jackson Nov. 28-29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. For more info, visit msfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.com. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.msstate.edu

For winter growing info, read “Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long” by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, 1992, $24.95).

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.

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Micro-Farming

January 7, 2011

A new spin for organic gardening in the new year

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

A new year being the time to consider new ideas, let’s explore one that you might find intriguing: What if you could take your 4×8-foot organic “Jim’s plot” of a garden and make money out of it?

Over the years, various authors have explored commercially farming under 2 acres. (See Eliot Coleman’s books; also see Rebirth of the Small Family Farm by Bob and Bonnie Gregson; Acres USA, 2004, $12.)

Micro-farming is a growing trend, with millions of Americans trying market gardens. Without endorsing any particular method, some even have their own acronym: organic SPIN farming.

That stands for S-mall P-lot IN-tensive, or using a very small area to intensively grow plants for commercial purposes.

Your backyard could be an organic micro-farm or market garden.

As we’ve seen with this column, even a small space can produce a lot of produce. The key to success for anyone, though, is developing markets: What do you do with all this produce?

In a perfect world:

Our government would give as much support to small agricultural entrepreneurs (and consumers, and public health) to subsidize organic micro-farming as it does industrial agriculture.

Our state would be as zealous about nurturing sustainable self-sufficiency and public health through encouraging home growing (like Victory Gardens in World War II) as it is giving fat tax breaks to big industries.

Our universities and state ag infrastructure would be a phone call away to offer expertise and connect growers with markets and to walk them through the maze of government bureaucracy to obtain funds for business improvement or expansion.

But, utopia isn’t here yet.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce is moving in that direction, with its Farmers Markets initiative and sponsoring workshops around the state on small produce production and organic growing.

Private organizations, such as Rainbow Natural Foods in Jackson, and Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi in Starkville, are creating outreach programs and accessible venues for education and networking.

But these trends are still in their infancy in Mississippi, despite raging interest nationwide.

In many areas, CSAs are providing those markets.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture whereby people buy a “share” in a farm’s season and each week get a box of produce and/or fruit produced on the farm; or from ranchers, portions of beef, free-range chickens or eggs as they are available.

It works for the farmer because CSA members contract up front, for 20 weeks or so, and hence the producers’ high cost or “furnish” money is paid when it’s needed at the start of the growing season.

It works for the consumer because the CSA member receives a mix of healthy, organic produce picked fresh and at a lower cost than normally found.

Over the years, the Jackson area has had various producers attempt CSA growing, but with limited success.

While it’s a bargain to pay, say, $20 a week or so for fresh produce, for many people, that seems too high when it adds up to $400 or more up front to contract for a growing season.

Additionally, while, for the micro-farmer, a smaller subscriber list – say 6 to 10 people – may be sustainable in terms providing produce, variety may be lacking (for example, only radishes three weeks in a row; or no tomatoes until later in the season). Transportation costs with farflung subscribers is an issue, too, as well as total income such a small subscriber base provides.

To get around these issues, some CSAs in larger metro areas swap produce. Say, a person has a lot of tomatoes, while another has lots of carrots and yet another has mizuna. They might swap what they have in abundance for a more balanced box or bag on subscriber day.

Think about it. Your “Jim’s plot” could be the start of a family or church CSA.

If you join with a couple of other church or family members, deciding who will grow what, you can feed a neighborhood or a congregation! For the elderly or ill, this could be a lifeline.

No spin: This is how movements get started.

Annette and I will be at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers trade show in Natchez Jan. 13-14. Stop by. We’ll be manning the Gaining Ground: Sustainability Insitute of Mississippi booth.

Contact Jim on Twitter @OrganicWriter or @edibleprayers, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc