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Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Earth-Dance Farms Plants the Way for Future Farmers

A catalyst for positive environmental, social, and economic change in the community, EarthDance Farms is an epi-center for ecological farming, gardening, ecological awareness, soil health and living an eco-lifestyle in the mid-western United States.

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Photo by Monica Pless

Founder Molly Rockamann has had a long affinity with the land after visiting the farm at age 15 with her father to meet the original farmers, Al and Caroline Mueller. Rockamann fell in love with sustainable farming and preserving wild spaces after spending time abroad working with farmers in the Fiji Islands, Ghana and Thailand. In 2005, she had an apprenticeship at the U-Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

Upon her return to her hometown of St. Louis Missouri, Rockamann founded EarthDance as a way of continuing the Mueller’s legacy and preserving the heritage of the land. They received 501c3 status with the help from The Open Space Council as their fiscal sponsor. Since 2009, EarthDance has operated an extensive training program for beginning farmers.

earthdance2

Photo by Monica Pless

Their mission is “to grow food, farmers, and community, one small farm at a time, through hands-on education and delicious experiences.” Their vision: “Organic farmers feeding the world. Communities caring for the land. Farms inspiring creativity.”

They certainly prove their values in the community as they provide access to fresh food and education to the surrounding neighborhood. EarthDance is in the heart of Ferguson, MO and has remained a space of diversity, inclusion and communication. Through the Practicing Peace Initiative “EarthDance is working to highlight the many ways in which food justice can translate into holistic peace-building and wider social justice movements. Programs include free Yoga Classes, Nonviolent Communication Trainings and Stress & Trauma Relief Workshops”.

This year, with permaculture at the heart of their new endeavor, EarthDance is transitioning to a permanent bed system. They are scaling down from 4 acres to 1 acre using intensive no-till management practices. According to Farm Manager Mateo Lebon, “Permanent beds will change our production practices significantly. Rather than tilling the soil after each round of crops, our permanent beds and their adjacent pathways will remain in the exact same spot. We are very excited about this change because there are so many benefits to shifting to a permanent bed system.  The benefits are:

1. Reduced compaction. With permanent beds we can remove the heavy tractor from our growing fields and thus lower compaction on the land
2. Lower weed pressure. By maintaining the same beds each year, we reduce our need to turn over the soil. The less we disturb the soil, the less weed pressure we should have as the years pass.
3. Better soil health. Allowing the soil ecosystem of worms, mycelium, and diverse bacteria to build structure with minimal disturbance = happy soil = happy plants!

It will be a steep learning curve as we adjust to this new system but we are really excited about the potential for positive change. Stay tuned for updates throughout the year on how things are turning out with our new crop mix and permanent beds.”

 earthdance

Photo by Monica Pless

EarthDance Farms is an amazing example of permaculture in action. According to Lebon, “Their farm site is a 6-acre site with 7,980 square feet of high tunnels, a 30-by-96 greenhouse, farmhouse office, a 36-by-40 harvest house, a 200-tree mixed perennial orchard planted on berms and swales with annual crops alley cropped between, along with pastured poultry, mushrooms, herbs, cut flowers, a small pasture, prairie, and mixed woodlot.”

This is such an exciting time to be a part of the good foods movement. There is a network of growers from around the world who are connecting via social media to provide a sounding board, a support system, a wealth of resource, all with the common ground of caring where food comes from and how it is grown. Now, more than ever, this network is growing as the need and desire for local fresh food is getting stronger.

This generation of eco-growers holds reverence for the father of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, as well as all of the permaculture educators that are making great ripples of change within their own communities. The presence of permaculture is becoming more and more prevalent in communities around the world as we have seen an influx in community gardens, farmers markets, food forests, urban farms, rooftop farms, and CSA farms painted throughout the landscape of cities and tucked away in the terrain of rural areas. Permaculture Magazine is a wonderful resource for stories of real change.

We rely on innovative farming practices being spearheaded by Rodale Institute and are continually being inspired by some of the legends in gardening such as Eliot Coleman, Will Allen Vandana Shiva, Winona LaDuke, John Jeavons, Joel Salatin and Louise Riotte. Mother Earth News is the mother-ship for all things sustainable and continues to provide endless resources for those who seek out wiser living.

Young farmers now have a network of support thanks to The National Young Farmers Coalition. At the forefront of the young farmer’s ecological farming movement are authors and farmers Jean-Martin Fortier and Curtis Stone.

Crystal Stevens is the author of Grow Create Inspire (published by New Society Publishers). She is a an eco-farmer, educator, permaculture enthusiast and artist along the Mighty Mississippi River near St. Louis Missouri. Follow Crystals adventures at Grow Create Inspire and follow her on Instagram @growcreateinspire. Read all of Crystal's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Keep a Seed Inventory

forms-Seed_Inventory

The new seed catalogs have arrived and you finally have time to look at them! There are so many things you would like to try, but you have seeds left from last year and the year before. What is a person to do? Take inventory, of course. Before you spend your hard-earned money on more seeds, learn what you already have and determine if they are still good.

The photo shows the heading of the seed inventory form that I use. At the minimum you could use a sheet of notebook paper to record the seed varieties, where the seeds are from, and when you received them. I have been gardening for a long time and realized that having a place to record more information than that is helpful. So, my form has space to add the germination rate, if necessary, or the days to maturity for each variety. That is what the column with no heading is for.

It is your inventory and can you do what you like with it. Sometimes I actually count the number of seeds to record there and other times I weigh the seeds. Sometimes I record that it is a packet or indicate less than a packet for the amount or I might write in “enough” or “plenty.”  Whatever it takes so you will know if you have enough to get through the gardening year.

The right-hand side of the form is for your shopping list. You could identify seeds you need to buy as you do your inventory and check the Do Buy column. When you are browsing the catalogs you can put in where you plan to buy the new seed, the amount to buy, and the cost.

It might be time to purge old seed from your inventory. If your seed is in the original packaging there will be a date on it that shows the sell-by date. The seed company has checked the germination for that lot of seeds and, unless indicated otherwise, it met the minimum germination rate required by law for the year it was sold. However, seeds don’t stay viable forever, especially if you store them in a not-so optimum location. On the other hand, the seeds in that packet you bought for this past season, or even a few years ago, may still have good, or at least acceptable, germination. To be sure, do a germination test on questionable seeds. If the germination rate is low, you could still plant heavily to compensate. Your inventory is the first step to deciding what to do with all your seeds. Get some more tips about seed inventories at Homeplace Earth.

Once you have done your seed inventory you can sit back and really enjoy those seed catalogs. You’ve identified what you need and what you don’t. However, buying seeds costs money and shipping costs are always increasing. By spending time assessing your seed stash you might consider saving your own seeds this year. You could start with a variety or two. It is one way of assuring fresh seed coming into your inventory and it will open up a whole new gardening adventure for you if you are not already a seed saver.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth. Read all of Cindy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Beat Bugs in Your Garden

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Attract predatory insects, such as ladybugs, to your garden by planting a range of flowers and cover crops so there’s something blooming all year round. You can also leave some biennial crops, such as onions or carrots, in the ground to flower early the next year. A handy selection of suitable flowers can be found in our Garden Planner.

Install bought or homemade bug hotels and let patches of grass grow a little longer. Leave dead wood in corners of the garden, and a few clumps of nettles as breeding areas for beneficial bugs.

Install a pond, large or small, for frogs and toads that will eat slugs and insects, and to provide a watering hole for insect-eating birds. Include trees, shrubs and hedges in your garden to provide nesting sites and food for birds.

Row cover barriers of insect mesh will exclude flying pests, such as aphids and carrot flies. You can also add barriers like this to a garden plan. Start by selecting “Garden Objects” in the “Garden Planner” selection bar, and then scroll through to select what you need.

Naturally, to install barriers, you’ll need to know what pests are heading your way and when. If you see any pests or beneficial insects in your garden, please visit www.BigBugHunt.com and report them to help build a pest early-warning system.

Learn more about controlling garden pests in this video.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Companion Planting: Why Vegetables Need Friends

companion planting

Lure in Pest Predators. Monocultures of vegetables are easy prey for pests. By growing flowers such as cosmos nearby, pest predators such as hoverflies (syrphid flies) will be drawn into your garden.

Deter Pests. Growing flowers amongst vegetables creates a patchwork of textures, smells and colors that will confuse many insect pests — they are literally thrown off the scent!

Some flowers, such as marigolds, actively repel pests such as whitefly while attracting beneficial bugs. They’re ideal for growing alongside tomatoes that are prone to attacks.

Suppress Weeds. If beds will be empty for a spell between crops, sow a flowering cover crop to suppress weeds. Some, such as phacelia and buckwheat, also attract beneficial bugs and help improve soil structure. Low-growing, non-invasive flowers with dense foliage or broad leaves, such as marigolds, can also be used to help suppress weeds between rows of vegetables.

Annual and Biennial Flowers. Many annuals and biennials — which complete their lifecycle within one or two years, respectively — grow quickly and can be sown alongside vegetables or separately in their own bed, or can even be used to grow a stunning miniature wildflower meadow. Many, such as poppies, foxgloves and calendula, will propagate themselves by self-seeding from one year to the next.

Perennial Flowers. Perennial flowers grown near the vegetable garden will reliably attract beneficial bugs to help pollinate edibles and control pests.
Popular perennial flowers include astrantia, helenium, hollyhocks, monarda, and penstemons. Perennial herbs such as oregano and fennel also produce flowers that attract beneficials.

Plan Your Flowers. Our Garden Planner includes a selection of suitable flowers to grow alongside your vegetables. Clicking on the information button of a particular flower in the selection bar displays a panel providing full growing instructions and suggested companions. They can easily be added to your plan, and the accompanying plant list shows you when all the plants in your plan can be sown, harvested…or admired!

Learn more about companion planting in this video.

Get More Tips With These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Two Raised Garden Beds Types: Traditional and Modular

Modular Garden Bed Joint 

The benefits of raised bed gardening are well known and embraced by those who appreciate structure and organization. The ability to bypass non-ideal soil conditions, maintain good drainage with proper moisture retention, creating a contained yet accessible growing environment, and protect against weeds and pests means higher yields and less headaches for the modern gardener. Depending upon your skill level, construction know-how, or time availability there are different approaches you can take to readying your growing area. Below is a quick 101 on two design methods: Traditional (DIY) and Modular Kits.

Traditional Garden Bed (DIY)

Traditional Raised Garden Beds utilize wood boards attached together with screws or nails to make a rectangular frame.  The frame is then filled with soil and planting commences.

To construct the traditional garden bed frame, you will need the following tools and materials: Tape measure, marking pencil, saw,  hammer or screwdriver/drill,  nails or screws, and enough board length to make your desired raised garden layout. Cedar wood is generally used due to it’s longevity and natural resistance to insects. You’ll measure the boards and mark them to be cut at your desired length, saw the boards at the marks, position the boards in your desired layout and carefully nail/screw the corners of the layout together making sure not to split the board ends. 

Expanding

If your gardening aspirations exceed the confines of your current garden bed, you can expand your bed by carefully dismantling one end of your garden by removing the nails or screws from two corners, adding additional lengths of board with a backing board or anchor post for the new board ends and now open old board ends to attach to, and then reattaching the end board to the now larger garden.  Note: Be careful when removing nails or screws from boards and then reattaching them. The wood will have a higher chance of splitting.

Are Traditional Raised Beds Right for You?

While certainly an attractive technique for a handy DIYer, traditional methods can be cumbersome to time-strapped gardeners or those who are not super handy.

If you fall into the latter categories and don’t want to a spend a few hours designing and constructing or you struggle with constructing in general, entrepreneurial spirits have prevailed at making raised bed gardening easier and more accessible for you.  

Modular Garden Beds (Gardening ‘Lincoln Logs’)

Modular raised garden kits feature boards (typically cedar as well) that are pre-cut and designed to slot together by hand with connecting pins that slide into the boards holding them together. This design forgoes the traditional need for a saws, hammers, drills, screw or nails, reducing assembly time to minutes. Due to the plug and play design, a litany of layouts can be created in short time by simply adding more boards and/or stacking them to created deeper sections.

Expanding

Expanding modular raised garden beds is a quick task. Gardeners simply pull out the connecting pin mentioned above, this is done by hand hand but may need some persuading if the wood of your modular bed has shifted, and additional boards are slotted into the now open end of the garden bed.  (if these sound like gardening ‘Lincoln Logs’, then you have the right idea!). After sliding board ends together the connecting pins are slid back into the pre-drilled hole on the top of the board ends, holding everything together firmly. So no cutting, screwing/nailing, or anchor posts to be concerned with.

The Takeaway

Compared to traditional raised garden methods modular garden beds are usually more expensive, however this added cost is to be weighed against time and effort saved for assembly and future versatility.

If starting a raised garden is on your to-do list but you aren’t confident in your carpentry skills or thrilled with the idea of bending over planks of wood, consider a modular raised garden kit. If you’re a confident DIYer and then traditional methods should suit you fine. Whichever your preferred method, at the end of the day what matters most is that you get out and grow!

Bryan Traficante co-founded GardenInMinutes in 2013, turning a passion for home gardening and innovation into a family-owned venture to make starting a quality garden, easier. Bryan and his family invented the Garden Grid watering system which combines square-foot planting principles with ground-level adjustable irrigation and no complicated assembly. They also craft tool-free, modular garden kits  and provide time saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook and Twitter, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

7 Questions to Answer Before You Build a Greenhouse

Homegrown Tomatoes And Lettuce

Who doesn’t want a plateful of nutritious, fresh food each day?  Many consumers realize that growing their own food and owning a greenhouse may offer year-round vegetables and fruits by extending the growing season in even the coldest of climates. Build.Sow.Grow recommends you consider these seven points to lead you to a successful greenhouse construction.

What is Your Solar Exposure?

The very first thing to consider is the sun’s annual path on your property to determine if you have adequate daily exposure to the sun and southern sky.  A passive solar greenhouse needs good southern exposure without extensive shading from trees or nearby buildings.  The primary resource for heat and light in any greenhouse is the SUN. Without proper sunlight, you will be spending way too much money and resources on auxiliary heating and lighting.

Passive Solar Greenhouse INterior

What are Your Property Restrictions?

When building within a neighborhood, you may need to consider HOA design guidelines and covenants or city and county property setback regulations. Some of their parameters may include matching your home’s exterior finishes, size limits, property setbacks, and number of structures allowed on your lot. On a recent greenhouse build, Build.Sow.Grow had to present before a design review board which required matching the siding, exterior colors, roofing materials and finishes of the existing home to receive approval. The results gave a very unified look to the property.

Will You Need a Building Permit to Build Your Greenhouse?

Another important step is to determine if you need a building permit, which are typically mandatory when a structure reaches a specific square footage size.  For example, in Gunnison County, Colorado structures under 120 square foot do not require a permit.

If your greenhouse requires a building permit, a licensed structural engineer will most likely need to engineer and stamp your plans. It also means you will need to hire licensed trades people for systems such as electrical and plumbing as their work would need to be inspected by the proper building authorities.

What Size Greenhouse Would You Like to Have?

After checking for possible size restrictions, take into account:

a. the number of people for which you’ll be growing food,

b. the variety of foods desired,

c. the types of plants to be incorporated (fruiting shrubs or trees will require more space), and

d. the desire for a dual-purpose space.

What is the Purpose of Your Greenhouse?

Determining the intention of your greenhouse is essential to the design process. It can be a season extender or a year-round growing site. Botanical options can include seed starting, food provision, and flower growing. Beyond the obvious cultivation of plants, aquaponics, vermiculture and composting operations may also be incorporated. If attached to a building, excess heat can be vented inside to provide extra heat and humidity in cold, dry months. Build.Sow.Grow’s latest greenhouse is being used as a home office and reading retreat. Ideas for other dual-purpose functions include a spa space, yoga platform, sleeping loft and meditation room.

What is Your Time Commitment?

Maintaining any garden inside or out, requires a certain amount of maintenance. Involving family, friends or neighbors in the greenhouse garden is a fantastic way to distribute tasks, bring people together and “share the wealth” of your homegrown food.

Many of the daily greenhouse tasks such as watering, venting, lighting, and fan control may be automated to give owners more independence and ease.

Two Children Working Community Garden 

What is Your Budget?

Of course, everybody would love to have an unlimited budget to build the grooviest greenhouse around, but rarely is this the case. A $5,000 budget or less will allow for a more basic structure like a hoop house or small prefab polycarbonate unit. These are typically used as season extenders, unless you live in a milder climate.

If you live in a harsher climate, such as the mountains or the northern part of the country where access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables is bleak, especially in winter, a more substantial investment will be needed to grow year-round. A good starting price for a highly energy efficient four-season greenhouse is $20,000. If your budget is more, you have the options of investing in a larger greenhouse or automating the systems within the greenhouse.

Build.Sow.Grow is keeping tabs on the new microloans that the USDA is dedicating to beginning urban farmers which can help finance new greenhouse projects. This article will provide you with information on the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) microloan program. Contact your local USDA office to find out more information.

Feel free to contact Build.Sow.Grow at BuildSowGrow.com if you would like some guidance with any of the above points. We are happy to assist with everything from designing your next greenhouse, to guiding you through your HOA, city and/or county regulations, to building a superior greenhouse with your specifications.

All photos and drawings by Dustin Kujawski - Build.Sow.Grow.

Kara Holzmiller is the founder of Build.Sow.Grow., a company built on her desire to design and build the most healthy, low impact, efficient living spaces and the production of nutritious food grown locally through all seasons. For the last two years, she has also been a builder, project manager, designer and office manager of SmithWorks Natural Homes, a green building company in Crested Butte, CO. Find Kara on Facebook and her website.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Tennessee’s Oldest Town Brings Foodies and Agriculturalists Together, Part 1

Jonesborough Farmers Market Tennessee

Street view of the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Karen Childress and staff

Tennessee’s oldest town, Jonesborough, is nestled in the northeast corner of Tennessee. Founded in 1779, the small vibrant town with a population of around 6,000 is commonly known for its National Storytelling Festival. In recent years however, Jonesborough is being recognized for local food initiatives which have enhanced the local economy, conserved natural resources, and provided learning opportunities to residents. Some of these initiatives include creating a farmers market, hosting farm to table dinners, and developing a store that also doubles as an educational classroom.

Though Jonesborough is small in size, the number and variety of farms, along with small specialty businesses drove the need for a facility where vendors could congregate to sell their products.

The initial groundwork for the Jonesborough Farmers Market was laid by farmer Heather Halsey, Curtis Buchanan, Karen Childress & Melinda Copp in 2007. Through a fundraiser organized by Childress and a $750 seed donation, the group was able to bring the Jonesborough Farmers Market to fruition.

As for Childress’ motivation for getting the Jonesborough Farmers Market started, she said, “A new farmer started selling her produce in our neighborhood, and my neighbors and I started talking about the potential for a market in Jonesborough. We were all interested in a true producer-only market, as there was not one in the area. We believed we had the community support to pull this off, and we took it from there!”

In May of 2008, the Jonesborough Farmers Market opened for business with eight vendors. One year later, the market became the first in the area to offer an online ordering system during the off-season market. Vendors simply list the available products, customers order, and the orders are delivered and paid for at a specified location.

The Jonesborough Farmers Market has had a consistent base of 35 vendors since 2010, with an additional 28 part-time vendors. Excitement escalated as the first two certified-organic producers participated in 2012, which increased the variety of products including pork, chicken, beef, duck, goat, and lamb. It’s much more though than just the products available at the market, it’s the entire experience people are enjoying.

Jonesborough TN Farmers Farket 

Mural advertising the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Karen Childress and staff

Debbie Ball, the Marketing Director of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Market Development Division, says, “Farmers markets play an important role in the social and economic development of local communities. When consumers buy directly from the farmer, their dollars stay in their community, strengthening the local economy. Farmers markets provide a place for communities to not only shop but to gather, share ideas, and promote the healthy lifestyles movement.”

She continues, “The Jonesborough Farmers Market is a great example of a community coming together to strengthen their local economy and build connections between the farmers and consumers.”

In recent years, communities have embraced the Saturday morning routine of going to the farmers markets. These markets have grown and developed into community centers, providing a place to not only purchase goods, but also connect with people.

“Our farmers market really is — somebody calls it Jonesborough’s front porch — it’s a real place you go and see your neighbors, see your friends, have a cup of coffee. It’s like a big party that you don’t have to do anything for but show up,” Childress said.

The Office of Sustainable Practices at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation was created to advance a culture of sustainability across the department, state government and with our various partners through an action-based approach. Conserving resources and using energy wisely makes sense on a basic level: It saves money and positively impacts our health and environment today and for future generations. Connect with the Office of Sustainable Practices on its website.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.