Organic Gardening

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

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Threshing Carrot Seeds

Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, newly formed in 2014, held a six-day Seed School at Onsen Farm in Buhl, Idaho the first week of November. I attended as both a student and as a presenter on seed libraries. While we talked about seed libraries, Neil Thapar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center joined us through Skype to give an update on what is happening between seed libraries and state departments of agriculture that want to regulate them as they would seed companies. The seed library movement wants to be proactive on this front and he is working on wording for potential legislation that would clearly separate seed libraries from the state and federal seed laws.

Much happened during the week. What I don’t cover here you can find at Homeplace Earth. We had some hands-on seed threshing and I was happy that Casey O’Leary of Earthly Delights Farm had brought carrot seeds for us to thresh and winnow. I had some carrot seed to thresh back home and was wondering about the best way to do it. Casey had a lot more seed heads than I did and you can see in the photo that we used the stomping-the-seed-heads-in-a-tub method. I’ll put mine in a crock and use my sauerkraut stomper for that job, or I could just rub the seed heads between my hands. Once threshed, carrot seed needs to be separated from all the chaff that accompanies it. It is amazing how much you can clean it up using screens of various sizes. Winnowing in front of a fan helps finish the job. When first threshed, carrot seeds appear to be surrounded by little hairs. Abrasion, such as rubbing it with your hands or putting it into a container with rubber balls and shaking it, will remove that. We rubbed some with our hands, but not extensively, and I see that the carrot seeds that I gleaned from that project are relatively smooth. For home use, you don’t have to worry about that extra step. If you were selling seeds or putting them through a seeder, it might be a consideration.

Although there was plenty of time in the classroom, we were outside another day to harvest Glass Gem corn grown by neighbor Wayne Marshall. It was interesting to see the variety of colors that showed up on those ears. We were not very efficient pickers, but we had a lot of fun. It is rather slow going when you take the time to strip off each husk to admire what you’ve found. Wayne also has a blue flour corn project going on and we enjoyed seeing the genetic diversity he had in those ears. Genetics, selection, and breeding were among the topics discussed in the classroom.

Saving seeds is something anyone can do. You can be as exact as you want to avoid cross pollination, or you can let things cross just to see what happens or to seriously work with the resulting diversity to breed something unique to your garden. Through Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, Bill McDorman and Belle Starr teach one-day and six-day versions of Seed School and in 2015 they will be embarking on a teacher training program. If you aren’t already, I hope you become a seed saver. Learn all you can wherever you can and share what you know with others.

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at

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.


If you think it's important to prevent Monsanto and other corporate giants from controlling the seed supply, you may want to consider donating to Organic Seed Alliance. Here is a short video about the work they do.

Organic Seed Alliance is a 501 (c)(3) that advances the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed. We believe seed is part of our common cultural heritage – a living, natural resource that demands careful management to meet food needs now and into the future. We accomplish our mission through research, education, and advocacy.

The seed industry has quickly consolidated. Intellectual property practices (e.g., patents on seed) stand out as the leading cause, where much of our commercial seed is now owned and managed in the hands of a few transnational firms. This control has stifled innovation in plant breeding, and creates barriers to improving the availability, quality, and integrity of organic seed.

OSA works to address consolidation through regional seed networks that result in transformative change at the national level. Our collaborative research emphasizes diversity, ecology, and shared benefits. Our education builds the base of knowledge necessary for stewarding seed and enhancing diversity through on-farm innovation. And our advocacy promotes the benefits of organic seed while simultaneously confronting threats.

Today, OSA has a ten-year track record that establishes itself as the leading organic seed institution in the U.S. Each year we educate thousands of farmers and other agricultural community members, conduct professional organic plant breeding and seed production research, and advocate for national policies that strengthen organic seed systems.


Ever wonder why we need added vitamins and minerals beyond what we get through our food? Over the decades, the food we eat has gone down in nutritional value as the soil has gone down in fertility. Truly, we are what we eat. The nutritional value of what we grow is part the type of vegetable it is and a whole lot of what the plant is “fed” from the soil in which it grows.

It really all starts with the soil. Plants grow to the lowest constraint. Like people, plants need a balanced diet with beneficial microbes, minerals and nutrition.

Saying all a vibrant, robust vegetable plant needs is NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) is like saying all a person needs is carbs, fat, and protein. Those things are needed to survive, but you need much more to thrive. Life is much more complex than three compounds!

When we think of the bouquet of the vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy, where do we think this comes from? We can’t get it from osmosis! We have to get these from what we consume.

I read a book recently by Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer called The Intelligent Gardener; Growing Nutrient-Dense Food that does a nice job of giving all the details about how minerals affect the tilth of the soil and the ability of the soil to support healthy, robust plants. Steve is the guy that founded Territorial Seed Company.

The minerals and nutrients we should be concerned about are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), sodium (Na), phosphorous (P), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), boron (B), Zinc (Zn), cobalt (Co), selenium (Se), silicon (Si) and molybdenum (Mo). There are also other trace minerals that plants and our body needs. It is a good idea to include Azomite or kelp to your garden each year to supply the additional trace minerals.

Steve recommends getting a detailed soil analysis at the get-go. For those just beginning to work with re-mineralization of the soil, he recommends Logan Labs for the testing. You can get all the information you need on collecting the sample and sending them off to Logan Labs. Steve recommends the standard sample test. At the moment the cost is $25.

When you get the results, Steve has posted a soil worksheet that you put your results from Logan Labs and it calculates for you what you need for amendments to get your soil super charged for growth and nutrition. It uses an acre as the basis. For those of us doing small space gardening, just divide the number of square feet in your garden by 43,560. This will give you the pounds you need to add to your garden for each mineral on the spreadsheet.

It gives a summary of how to put your soil in balance with a worksheet at the end to enter the results from Logan Labs to calculate exactly what you need to add to your garden to get minerals at optimum levels. He recommends going slow so as to not get any minerals in excess in your garden. It is a lot easier to add minerals than take them away!

I also liked this spreadsheet for general vegetable growing guidelines from Logan Labs that gives information about each vegetable type's mineral needs. This can be handy if you are focused on one type of crop that you want to maximize your yield.

For most of us backyard/flower bed veggie gardeners that grow a variety, Steve’s spreadsheet is the way to go. You can also do side dressings of amendments specific to certain veggies to give them a boost. I do this for my fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

If the whole spreadsheet thing is just more complicated than you want to worry about, Logan Labs provides a service for giving you what you need to add to your garden. There is also a listing on the Soil Analyst web page. You can use an online calculator from Erica that costs $9.50/year, unlimited usage. All you have to do is input the numbers from Logan Labs and it spits out the amendments you need.

As you prepare your bed in the spring, you should add fertilizer. For a balanced organic fertilizer, here is what Steve recommends from his book for 100 square feet of garden space:

• 2 quarts oil seed meal (soybean, cottonseed, or canola seed meal)
• 1 pint feather meal
• 1 pint fish meal
• 1 quart soft/collodial rock phosphate or bonemeal
• 1 quart kelp meal or 1 pint Azomite
• 1 quart agricultural gypsum

Once you get your soil in balance, you can keep it that way by recycling back what you take out by composting and using a balanced fertilizer.

We get a NutrEval test done yearly that gives a report where your body’s nutritional deficits are. After getting our garden soil supercharged for peak production and optimum nutritional value, I’ll be tracking my NutraEval results to see the improvement in my body's overall nutrition.

For more idea's on small space and container gardening, check out Melodie's blog, Victory Garden On the Golf Course.

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.


Gulland Forge Broadfork At Mother Earth News FairAs with almost any gardener, I have a few tried-and-true favorite garden tools. My love of garden tools is so well-known among my friends and family, that my husband and I received a hoe and a hand-weeding tool for our wedding. (Yes, I know, I have great friends.) Below is a short collection of some of the tools I own and use, and can recommend whole-heartedly for those lucky green thumbs on your holiday shopping list who could use a new toy tool in their gardening supply kit. All of these tools are made by small, family-owned companies in the U.S.

Broadfork. These tools are essential for loosening garden beds without destroying the soil structure. My personal favorite comes from Gulland Forge, where the broadforks are handmade with ash handles and welded metal tines. You can choose from three sizes, depending on your needs and preferences. Mine is the original size, and I’ve been putting it to the test for three garden seasons so far — it shows no sign of wear or tear. Larry Cooper, the owner of Gulland Forge, provides excellent customer service, too (see photo). Price: $185 to $225 (plus shipping).

Shovel. I don’t have the body weight to easily sink a shovel blade into the ground, so a nice, weighty shovel that can keep a sharp edge through several sessions of use is important for my garden efficiency and digging satisfaction. The shovel that’s stolen my heart is a “D” handled shovel with a rounded blade that came from The American Garden Tool Co. The shovel is rust-resistant and has a 5-year guarantee against breakage.  You’ll find other shovels of the same caliber from this family-owned tool company, along with a variety of other quality garden products, including some nifty ratcheting pruners.  Price: $81 (plus shipping).

Hoe. I keep an array of garden hoes around for various weeding and bed-prep chores throughout the season. I found all three of my favorites from Rogue Hoe. A family operation out of Missouri, each hoe is handmade with heads crafted from recycled agricultural disc blades. Of special note: the 65VW, which has a triangle blade on one end of the head and a solid, three-pronged rake on the other; the 75G for weeding in delicate spaces, such as around just-sprouted seedlings; and the 55F, for when you have some serious bed- or row-shaping to get done. Price: $35 to $40 (plus shipping).

Photo of Larry Cooper of Gulland Forge and me, holding a new model of my broadfork from his company at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Pa.

Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. When she's not working at her desk, she's likely digging in her garden, whipping up a treat in her kitchen, or pounding down the local running trails. Connect with Jennifer by leaving a comment below.


Zucchini Blight In The Garden 

Let's face it. Blight on our beloved plants is a bad thing. Every year gardens suffer from the "blight effect" on tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. This fungal infection sits in the soil, but soon makes itself evident in the wilted and miscolored leaves and fruit. If left alone, the disease can prevent plants from flowering and maturing altogether.

Instead of spending next summer doctoring sick plants, what if you were to take a few preventive steps now? What if you could save those juicy tomatoes for sauce and forget about tossing them out to rot? Here are 5 easy steps I encourage everyone to take before next year's garden even begins to sprout.

5 Steps to Preventing Blight in Your GardenPepper With Blight In Garden

Invest in soaker hoses. Blight thrives in wet, humid conditions and can spread quickly through excessive watering. Overwatering our plants from above is like asking for trouble. When a mixture of moisture and dirt have made contact with the leaves, the bacteria seems to grow overnight. Invest now in soaker hoses or drip irrigation to keep foliage dry and direct the water to the roots instead.

Keep a journal. It's important to always journal what you planted where. Crop rotation is key when it comes to fighting blight. If you've had blight in the past, the disease can remain in the soil. You will not want to grow new veggies of the nightshade family in the infected place for 3 – 4 years if possible. Other vegetables that are not affected by blight, however, should grow fine there. Just rotate the rest.

Take notes before, during, and after each growing season. Design your layout strategically. Plan for plenty of space between plants, so they can breathe and dry appropriately.  Study companion planting books, like Carrots Love Tomatoes, during these winter months. It's one of my favorites. Now's the time to plan ahead. By next spring then, you'll be ready to start sowing immediately.

Start your own seeds. This one may be a little easier for me since I work around seeds all day anyway, but you can start your own seeds too. It's not hard and it's very rewarding.  Plus, this way you guarantee the seeds have come from a reliable source you trust. The health of your plants will rely on you and you'll be able to grow and monitor them in organic conditions.

Clean out the garden. Last year's debris will be next year's haven for feeding bad diseases and bugs. Any infected plants you had this season will need to be removed and preferably burned. Don't toss them in the compost pile or you will breed the bacteria there as well.

Feed the soil. Because the root of the problem lies in the foundation, so does the solution. Every time I have forgotten this step, I've paid the price. The Ozark hill I live on is famous for its rocky, clay soil.  That's why I've had to learn the necessity of composting and adding organic matter to supplement every plot. Feed the soil first. Then reap from it next year.

Don't let blight beat you. It can be prevented, I promise you. Follow these simple steps now and save a complete harvest later.

Learn more about Savanna Kaiser and her family's seed company at

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.


Peppers Growing In The Garden

Despite the invigorating air outside and the warmth of the woodstove inside, it’s sad to see the last leaves and needles drop from our trees. Yesterday, I picked the end of the peppers – a handful of red cherries and jalapenos. The plants are done, yellow, and tired. 

I shouldn’t complain. The chill here in Boise, Idaho, is less then our neighbors to the north are experiencing and has come far later than in a normal year where we can see frost on the pumpkins as early as mid-October. Nonetheless, winter points a shivering finger to the months ahead and I already miss my sweet chocolate cherry tomatoes, ripe and warm from the late August sun.

As squirrels skitter in the crisp leaves in the backyard, it’s a good time to survey the summer’s garden, taking note of what worked well and what I might change in the year ahead. It won’t be long before it’s time to start seeds again. And this year, I am wintering over lush pots of rosemary and parsley. In future blog posts, I’ll let you know how they’re doing.

Do you have a sunny, southeast facing window? If you still have herbs growing in the garden, why not try gently digging them out of the ground and potting them up?

As for end-of-the-season vegetables, the Mother Earth News website is full of recipes and ideas on ways to prepare, preserve or freeze them. I plan to pickle the peppers I picked yesterday. There’s nothing like canning fruits and vegetables to help carry summer through the cold months ahead.

In my next Mother Earth News blog post, I’ll include the simple pickled pepper recipe I’ve been using for several decades. Simple, delicious and packed with the sweet memory of summer.

Garden Harvest Of Fresh Jalapenos 

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.


The Food is Free Project was started with just a handful of seeds in one front yard in Austin, Texas. It began after founder John VanDeusen Edwards read a line in a gardening book that said something to the effect that sharing the knowledge was a vital step in gardening. He resonated strongly with that line and it inspired him to take a leap of faith and start a front-yard free garden. Within one year, over half of the houses on his street had Food is Free garden beds in their front yard. John sparked a food revolution in Austin, Texas, teaching people of all walks of life how to grow and share food. It instantly became a cog for motivation for friends, neighbors and aspiring green thumbs.  The project has reached over 190 cities around the globe. It has become an open sourced idea free for the taking because of the profound inspiration it has given to thousands of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities all around the world. Their presence on social media is growing everyday, reaching more and more people around the globe. The concept behind the Food is Free Project is simple: build a raised-bed front-yard garden with reclaimed materials such as heat treated pallets. Paint a sign on the box that says Food is Free. Fill it with soil and plant it with seeds and transplants. Share the harvest with friends, neighbors, strangers and passersby. Repeat the process time and time again.

The Food is Free Project was founded by John VanDeusen Edwards (center in photo), who transformed his front and backyard into a teaching farm and resource center. The Food is Free Project is home to three aquaponic systems, twelve chickens, a rooster, two mini pet pigs, a fish pond, a hugelkultur spiral garden, an outdoor kitchen, community composting, a tool sharing program, and free workshops and classes on cooking, preserving. Food is Free Project raised beds are built onsite with the help of families, friends and volunteers. Children love coming to the farm to see the animals, witness how food is grown, and playing with worms in the compost pile. The Food is Free Project has installed several Food is Free beds throughout their community, including one for Habitat for Humanity. They encourage community involvement, the mentoring of children, engaging in conversations with neighbors and bringing life back to neighborhoods.

Recently, an unexpected hefty cash offer was made to the landlord of the property that John and the Food is Free Project Teaching Farm reside at. Those making the offer would demolish the farm, pave over it and develop condos. John and everyone at Food is Free Project is devastated and heartbroken. They have spent 2 years building the soil, planting perennials and fruit trees and inspiring the community in so many ways. They need our help. They have launched a crowd-funding campaign and are asking for community support to establish a new permanent location for the Food-Is-Free Project Open Source Teaching Farm

Their visions for their future site include hosting international visitors and training leaders from all over the world to engage and inspire their own communities. They plan to film the progress of the evolution of The Food is Free Project which would include sharing blueprints, how to videos and gardening tutorials on their website.

Photos courtesy of Food is Free Project

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.

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