Tag Archives: mississippi herbs

A quick organic kitchen garden

April 22, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.