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Garden Paths June 2015

June has been a hot moist month here in Virginia and everything in the garden has been thriving, including the weeds. It is expected that you need to take care of the weeds in your garden beds, but your paths should be on auto-pilot and not need as much attention. That can only happen if you have prepared ahead. If you don’t have grass paths that you mow, or something like white clover there that will get cut occasionally, you should have mulch on your paths. I’m all for managing your garden without a tiller, so I won’t be talking about that as a viable alternative.

I have noticed that the main reason some people have tillers is to till their paths. That wouldn’t be necessary if they had a green ground cover or mulch in the paths. A tilled path disturbs the ecosystem that is in the paths and when it rains, tilled paths are so muddy that, even if you could walk there without the mud sucking your shoes off your feet, it is not pleasant. Living ground covers and mulch keep the ecosystem in the paths undisturbed for the whole season. The beneficial insects and toads hang out there and the paths are firm and pleasant to walk on, no matter what the weather.

Grass could be an option for your paths, but I only have it growing in the 4’ wide paths that separate the sections of my garden and the perimeter surrounding those sections. Wire grass is rampant where I live and will creep into the garden beds. In that case, it is best to limit the areas where bed meets grass. Each section in my garden has 9 beds. The path between each of those beds is 1½’ wide and is either planted to Dutch white clover or mulched. Most of my 4’x20’ beds interface with the wider grass paths only on their 4’ sides. If you do have grass paths you have to leave room for the mower to get through. Also, you would want to take care that grass clippings aren’t blown by the mower onto your vegetables. You can save space in your garden by not having paths wide enough for a mower, thus not having grass there. I cut the white clover with my sickle.

My favorite path treatment is to plant Dutch white clover. The best time to plant clover is in the fall or the spring. You will find the tale about why I don’t have Dutch white clover in my paths this year, at Homeplace Earth. Long story short, I was busy elsewhere and didn’t get it planted at the proper time. That means that I’m dealing with weeds in my paths this summer. So, after a thorough weeding, I’ve resorted to mulching them. Leaves and grass clippings from your own property are the best things to use for mulch—as long as you haven’t been using any harmful chemicals on your yard. Our fall leaves have long since been used in other places, so grass clippings are my main mulch materials right now. Newspaper and cardboard are options for using in your paths if they don’t contain harmful chemicals. Long ago there was much talk about the safety of newspapers and they were finally deemed safe because the printers had switched to soy based ink, although the glossy pages were still unacceptable for use in gardens. Cardboard has been a common mulch material for paths, but things can change. If you are using these or other materials as mulch in your garden, I encourage you to check out the latest findings about their safety. Otherwise, stick with leaves and grass clippings or plant white clover.

Planning ahead for your paths can save you much work and time in your garden, allowing you to enjoy what is growing in your garden beds even more.

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.

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.


So after a week-long stay in St. Petersburg, Russia to participate in a small sustainability conference and four flight changes, I finally made it to Montpellier, France. My final destination is about 30 km (19 miles) away, near a small town called St. Martin-de-Londres. Now you’d think that making it from Montpellier to St. Martin-de-Londres would be a simple affair, however, I seem to attract small misadventures everywhere I go and this excursion happened to be no exception. So I figure we can start our WWOOFing adventure together with my little misadventure trying to get to the farm.

My flight landed in Montpellier at 7:40 PM, which I figured would still leave me ample time to travel 30 km down the road to reach my first farm. However, I was quickly realizing what I may be stepping into when I couldn’t find an ATM or currency exchange at the airport in Montpellier. After a brief conversation with the clerk at the information desk in the best French I could muster (which apparently still needs quite a bit of work), I found that the reason I couldn’t find an ATM was because there wasn’t one. So my first lesson learned is to never make assumptions. Well, I didn’t have Euros. I had tried to get Euros back home in Kansas before I left, but the rush of students from my university venturing out on their study abroad programs completely wiped the local banks of Euros. So my second lesson learned is to be sure and exchange my currency well in advance.

I ventured out of the airport and into the pleasant Mediterranean sun. I take a deep breath. The air smells and feels like my childhood years in Florida and the evening sun was casting a warm, amber glow on everything it touched. There were taxis lining a narrow lane in front of the airport, but I cringed to think about how much a 30+ km taxi ride was going to cost. After a quick look around, I spotted a bus headed into Montpellier. Not having any Euros, I was hoping against hope that the buses here might take a card. They don’t. Luckily, the bus driver agreed to let me ride into town on the terms that I pull money from an ATM at our destination and pay the fare then. Now, this took a certain amount of trust on his part because the ATM is across the street from the stop, around and behind a building. I imagine that he must have had more than one person just never come back, and I base this assumption on his incredibly animated and energetic reaction when I actually returned with the bus fare. I’m telling you, he was genuinely excited. Arms flailing in the air he jumped up out of the driver’s seat, smiling and ushering me onto the bus. In fact, I can’t think of any other time that I have ever been greeted with such enthusiasm by someone I had only just met. Besides just his warm greeting, it was a good thing that I went back for another reason. I was under the impression that the bus into St. Martin-de-Londres was at the destination of the bus that just dropped me off. This apparently was not the case. The bus driver showed me the tram and explained to me in an energetic fit of charades how the tram worked, printed me out a 1 Euro tram ticket to get me on my way, and handed me a tram map with a smile.

Montpellier Alleyway Night 

It took me about 10 minutes at the tram stop to figure out how the whole system operated, decipher the map, and figure out which direction I was wanting to go. I wanted bus 108 to get into St. Martin-de-Londres, and bus 108 took out from the tram stop at Occitaine. After about 15 minutes on the tram I arrived at Occitaine. I got off and walked around until I found the bus stop and checked the posted schedule. It appears that the last bus of the day leaves at precisely 7:40 PM. It’s too bad my plane didn’t land at the bus stop. Well, at this point I’m thinking I’d better get a hold of my host family and let them know what’s going on if I can and in order to do that I need Wi-Fi. I’m also getting pretty hungry, having spent the past 19 hours subsisting off of airplane food and a granola bar that, after 4 flight changes, had returned back to its natural granola state. Surely, there has to be a place to eat nearby. Now here’s a piece of advice, if you ever find yourself in Montpellier and need to find Wi-Fi or something to eat, do not go looking for it around Occitaine. I’m telling you, Occitaine is a veritable food desert. I walked around for over an hour and found nothing. So after a fruitless search (and yes, that’s a shameless pun), I made my way back to the tram station, figured out how to use the tram ticket kiosk and bought myself another ticket.

I remembered seeing a lot of hustle and bustle at one of the stops on the way to Occitaine, so I decided to backtrack to where all of the action was. Two stops in on my ride back, I heard something unmistakable, loud, and familiar; it was two girls speaking English. I went up and introduced myself, hoping to acquire some knowledge of the local area. They were in Montpellier for a study abroad program, one girl from New Jersey and the other from Canada, and were only there for a few more days. They couldn’t help me with any hostel recommendations, but let me know that McDonald's has free Wi-Fi and that there was one that I couldn’t miss a few stops ahead. I’m sorry if there are any McDonald's lovers reading this right now, but I dislike McDonald’s. I especially dislike McDonald’s outside of the US. But it was already dark at this point and I was needing to get a hold of my hosts before they got too worried. So I got off at the stop they recommended and they were right; the yellow light cast by those golden-arches was a veritable lighthouse for lost and weary travelers. I may not have been lost, but I was becomingly increasingly weary.

Now, I didn’t care how hungry I was, I wasn’t going to begin my WWOOFing trip and exploration of sustainable food systems with a Big Mac, so I plopped down at an outdoor table and proceeded to sign on to the internet. Within moments I was descended upon by a 6’4”, burly, body-builder type with a serious face, stern voice, and a pointed finger signaling me scram. It took me a moment to understand what was going on, but after the initial shock wore off I realized what was happening; I was being bounced…from a McDonald’s. Apparently, at this particular McDonald's, they have an honest-to-goodness bouncer on duty to take care of the riff-raff wanting free Wi-Fi without purchasing something from the restaurant. At that moment, I was the riff-raff. Well, I don’t give up that easily, so I went inside and purchased a small bottle of water, went back outside, and since all of the outside tables were now taken, sat down on the sidewalk; my bottle of McDonald’s water clearly displayed. While I was no longer actual riff-raff, I now looked too much like riff-raff, so the McDonald's bouncer, who was clearly agitated, was insisting that I sit in a chair at one of the taken tables. Back and forth he ran, signaling for me to sit in the chair. I sat in the chair, with my bottle of water, and everything was good; except for my Wi-Fi connection. Apparently my computer does not like open networks and refused to look up anything; only giving me pop-up messages which read, “This is an unprotected network. Unauthorized access to your device is possible”. So I resorted to my phone browser. I sent my hosts Silvia and Stèphane a quick email explaining my circumstances and let them know I would be in St. Martin-de-Londres at noon the next day. I then did a quick search for hotels, which was largely unsuccessful, mostly because I didn’t have a proper map of Montpellier. It was a beautiful night and so I decided that I would walk around and look for a place to sleep, whether it was indoors or out.

I knew Comedie, which seemed to be something of the town square and was still bustling even at night, was only one stop away, so I followed the path of the tram tracks to the square. After walking around the square, down the streets, and through the alleys I finally happened upon an open hotel called Abasun. It was cheap and I was tired. I booked the night, looking forward to a hot shower and internet access so that I could plan the next day. It was bad. Real bad. A cot, a toilet missing the seat, one of those shower heads on a hose but with nowhere to hang it, peeling paint, and holes. This may seem odd, but these are the kinds of things that I genuinely enjoy. I don’t know what it is, but it was so ridiculous that it was enjoyable. It was nearly midnight and I was beat. Between getting to the airport at 3 AM that morning, trying to do that awkward sitting/sleeping thing on the plane rides (you know, the kind where you wake up every few minutes because you’re drooling all over yourself and your mouth is wide open), and lugging my backpack around for hours, that cot was heaven. And as I awoke in the morning, the sun was filtering in through the open window, casting a beautiful slant of sunshine onto the soft, peachy tiles. The birds were singing outside in the mysteriously overgrown courtyard complete with a stone veranda, tropical trees, and vines. With a little finesse, I was able to rig the shower head in such a way that it worked acceptably well as a shower, and just as I was beginning to take a cold shower after waiting patiently for an honest three minutes for hot water, it began to warm. And I had my hot shower after all.

Sunshine Tile Warm Window 

After checking out, I wandered through the old alleys of the square; smelling the smells and watching the people. I found myself in front of a nice little bakery named Ortholan. The aromas coming from the small counter were so enticing that I couldn’t help but buy myself a simple little personal pizza on a flaky round of bread. I savored it as I strolled the streets, passing the time before catching the tram to the 11:30 bus.

I made the bus and by some stroke of luck, I got off at the right stop. Everyone must know the route pretty well, because there were no announcements, or signs, or anything that I could find to let you know what stop you were at. When I decided to ask the driver which stop I needed to get off at, behold, it was St. Martin-de-Londres; my stop! I picked a direction and started walking, in search of a café or restaurant that had Wi-Fi. I eventually came across a small sandwicherie near a roundabout, bought a panini, and sent Silvia a quick email. She responded right away and pulled up with a beaming smile and a warm welcome, just as I was finishing my sandwich.

I have the feeling that this is going to be a good adventure.

C’était une excellente façon de commencer une aventure!

What Did I Learn?

1. Don’t make the assumption that there are going to be ATM’s at the airport; especially if it’s a small airport. If it’s a possibility, exchange an appropriate amount of cash into the currency of your destination well in advance to your departure.

2. Try to schedule your flight to arrive earlier rather than later.

3. If a bus driver puts trust in you…prove them right. 

4. McDonald’s Wi-Fi isn’t really free…and some McDonald’s have the bouncers to prove it.

5. If you can, and it makes sense for where you are going, buy a Tracfone at your destination or upgrade to an international plan with your current cell service.

6. You generally get what you pay for at hotels.

7. The personal pizzas at Ortholan in Montpellier are really, really good.

And always look at the bright side; because adventure is seldom adventure without a bit of mis-adventure thrown in.

Read all of Russell's adventures (and misadventures) WWOOFing in France by clicking 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. 


Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future.

Read Part 1 of the Lonely Lane Farm Story.

After our brief homage to pigs, Mike, Patty and I returned to the subject of Lonely Lane Farm and the other significant change that took place following the move to marketing natural, sustainable meats.

The development of an on-farm meat processing plant. If that sounds like a pretty significant development, it should, because it is. But from Mike’s perspective, it’s all about vertical integration.

“We always had talked about being vertically integrated,” said Mike, “which for us meant that if we had a cow herd we would be producing our own animals and all of our own feed. So we were doing cow-calf all the way through finished product with all our own inputs. I thought we were vertically integrated. But when we made the switch to this market, the product goes directly from our farm to the consumer. And I realized we weren’t completely vertically integrated because we could raise a phenomenal product to a certain point and then we had to turn it over to someone else and see what we got back. And we did that for awhile.”

Then Mike stumbled into another opportunity that opened the door to what turned out to be a long but fruitful journey. Without realizing what we was setting himself up to do, he managed to negotiate his own processing space in an existing meat processing facility by agreeing to assist them with some USDA planning requirements.

“That really helped us,” explains Mike, “because we were actually processing our own meat in that facility one day a week. Learning how to do it, and learning everything else that went along with it. We went on that way for awhile, but before too long, we realized that we were going to need more control and the ability to expand our operation if we were going to make it work. Either we needed to fully commit to the processing side or get out of farming. For us, it needed to be an all or nothing deal. Simple as that. So that took us in the direction of looking at processing facilities.”

The Klofts’ search for a processing plant included both existing facilities that were closed, with the possibility of reopening, and those still operating, but with owners nearing retirement. But after a couple near misses, they finally settled on converting buildings on their farm and creating their own plant. From that point, the focus was on determining what all needed to happen to get from point A to point B.

“Fortunately we’d been working in this area for awhile and we had built a pretty good rapport with the USDA inspectors,” said Mike. “I was able to call them and ask them what they were looking for in a facility. I mean, I can read the regulations, but I really wanted them to come out and walk through the space with me to see if what I was thinking would actually work.”

Mike and Patty weren’t overly reassured when the visiting inspector couldn’t visualize a plant working the way Mike explained it. He admitted that the plan sounded right, but the best response he could come up with was to just try it and see how it goes. Undeterred, the couple recruited family members and began converting an old dairy barn into a meat packing house.

Now if you’re wondering what the term family farm really means, here’s a good example. The principal players in the construction of what would become Century Oak Packing were Mike, his father, his uncle, and Patty. Plus, there was a cousin who just happened to be an engineer. And long story short, they got it done. The USDA came in; the facility passed scrutiny; and the Klofts were assigned a USDA inspector. Now they run the packing house five days a week year-round, providing employment for a crew of local community members and a retail meat-cutting capability for surrounding farms.

Now that the meat processing is running smoothly, both Mike and Patty are happy about being able to spend more time farming again, because that’s what they love the most. Both are open about the fact that they always wanted to continue life on the farm.

“For me personally, I always wanted to farm,” said Patty. “I just didn’t know exactly what form it would take to be honest with you. But after Mike and I started dating, I knew I could do this for the rest of my life. And now with our son, we want to make sure he gets to grow up in a similar way. He loves being outside, watching the animals, splashing in the creek. That’s country life.”

And though he doesn’t say so explicitly, I have to believe Mike already holds out hope that someday he will turn the reins of his farm over to his son, John.

“I will say that’s one thing about the farm we’re on,” Mike shared, “that beginning with my grandfather, they’ve always seen it as being a steward for the land for their own generation. Doing whatever they can do to improve the soil, the environment, the quality of life… everything they’ve got for the next generation that’s coming along. My grandfather did that for my dad and was willing enough to turn the reins over and let him go the route he wanted to go when the time came. And my dad did the same thing for me.

“I think that’s where we lucked out, because a lot of people aren’t that fortunate with successive generation farms. You know, sometimes a generation will get stuck in what they do and think that’s the only way to do it. They don’t realize that situations change and markets change and that you have to adapt. They don’t take the long-term view and try to make decisions that strengthen what they have rather than only trying to get bigger or just going for the money right now. So I’ve had a good example to learn from, and I feel like I’m really lucky that my dad told me, ‘I picked what I did for my generation, now you pick what you do for your generation.’”

It’s easy to believe that Patty and Mike are going to do whatever it takes to make sure young John has the same opportunities they’ve had.

Order your copy of Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon's New Farm Movement.

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Lonely Lane Farm near Mt. Angel, Oregon is home to Mike and Patty Kloft.

(Middle) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike and Patty worked with family members to convert an old dairly barn into a USDA-inspected meat processing facility.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike and his facility manager at work cutting meat from the Kloft's farm and those of their neighbors.

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.



Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future.

Mike and Patty Kloft and their one-year-old son, John, are a young family working hard to save their way of life and continue along the path of their forebears. Their home is a traditional family farm. The kind that’s disappearing at a breakneck pace. And they are traditional farm people. The kind you might have met twenty or forty or even sixty years ago.

Growing up on a family farm in the 1950s afforded me many opportunities to meet just such people, and after spending a couple of hours with Mike and Patty, I realized I could just as easily have met them back then. Their farm is their life. It defines them and influences every thought they have. And one of the most important aspects of their approach to farming reflects their approach to family… how do they make what they’ve been entrusted with even better for the next generation? That’s a question which lies at the very heart of sustainability. But it’s how you answer it that really matters.

Mike and Patty grew up less than three miles apart in the countryside near Mt. Angel, Oregon. Mike’s family started their farm in 1939. Patty’s dates back to 1890… same family, same farm all that time. There’s a lot of history packed into those years. But times change, and by the year 2000, as Mike was coming into his turn at running the farm, he was wondering if there was going to be any farm to run.

“Things had gotten to the point where we just weren’t making enough money to sustain everyone anymore,” said Mike. “My grandfather started out with a dairy, and then in 1985 they sold their dairy herd and just ran beef cattle. That worked well enough for awhile, but after about fifteen years, we knew it wasn’t going to last. I was going to college down at Oregon State studying ag around then, and I was wondering if I was going to have to get out of farming.”

Fortunately Mike signed up for a class about world foods and the cultural implications of international agriculture which was being taught by OSU Small Farms program director Garry Stephenson. I don’t know how much Mike remembers about international agriculture, but he clearly recalls a conversation he had with his professor.

“After class one day Garry and I were sitting around talking, and I told him I wasn’t sure what I should do about our farm because we weren’t bringing in the amount of money we needed,” said Mike. “I was out of ideas, but he asked me to tell him what we do. So I explained it and he was like, ‘well,  it sounds like you’re raising everything sustainably.’ And I had never even looked at it that way, but it was true. We were and always had. We just didn’t know we should be marketing it that way.”

As Mike lays it out, his family always had run a sustainable farm focused on producing healthy, quality products. For them, that meant controlling all of their inputs by producing them on the farm.
“We produced our own livestock, our own feed, our own bedding… everything was right here,” Mike explained. “We used no hormones, no antibiotics, no animal byproducts. We’d always raised our own GMO-free feeds. Garry pointed out that we were obviously passionate about it, or we wouldn’t be doing it that way, and he was right. Turns out it was more a matter of us finding the market that fit our farm than it was trying to change our farm to chase some other market. I actively promote that approach to people now, and I know Garry does the same. So that’s how we got started in the sustainable farming market, and by 2001 we were able to get into our first alternative grocery stores.”

Over the following ten years Lonely Lane Farm continued raising sustainable beef, getting it processed at Mt. Angel Meat Company and selling to stores, a few restaurants, and direct to consumers at farmers markets. But that doesn’t mean there were no changes on the farm, and Mike would probably say the first big change was the most important. It all started innocently enough while preparing for a farmers market.

“Patty’s dad was raising pigs for us,” said Mike, “and I was talking to him one day and said we needed some extra help at the farmers market. So he said he’d check to see if any of his girls wanted to help. Patty’s older sister wasn’t interested, but Patty said okay, and that’s actually how we got to know each other.”

Patty explains that she’s about twelve years younger than Mike so they’d never really had an opportunity to get to know each other until they started working together.

“We were talking about that last night,” said Patty, “how it was nice to work together and become good friends before we started dating. Then after a few years, we decided to get married.”

“You stumble on something good,” adds Mike, “and you’re lucky you do.”

I’m sure a part of the personal compatibility of Patty and Mike can be attributed to their shared values, because Patty comes from the same type of farm as Mike. The only real difference is the fact that Patty grew up on a hog farm, and it’s something she likes to talk about. For the majority of our interview Patty let Mike do most of the talking until I asked her about pigs – what breeds they raised – and she perked up.

“They’re actually a mixture,” she said. “For a long time when I was growing up as well as raising fat hogs we also did a lot of 4-H. And it seemed to us that they were kind of into colors. So we actually bred for color. To do that we just changed our boar out every year and picked a different breed. So we have everything in there from Spotted Poland to York, we did Hampshire, Duroc. We always kept our own sows but over time we ended up with quite a mix.”

I shared with her that growing up my family raised mostly a hampshire-yorkshire-duroc cross, but that a friend of mine raised Berkshires. And she responded in a way only a true farm girl could… “They are such pretty pigs. I always liked Berkshires. We had some of those around, too.”

Click here to read Part 2.

Order your copy of Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon's New Farm Movement.

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike and Patty Kloft, owners of Lonely Lane Farm and Century Oak Processing, with their son, John.

(Second) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike Kloft's father still lends a hand on this three-generation family farm.

(Third) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Cattle have come in from pasture to eat. All feed is sustainably grown on the farm.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Silos and hay sheds are common sites on traditional family farms.

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.



On 18 March 2015, I wrote Intercropping: Companion Planting that Really Works. In that post I talked about planting spinach with peas, and chard with lettuce or scallions. Here I’ll write about vegetable crop combinations that work well for later spring and early summer plantings. In the near future I‘ll write about undersowing winter cover crops in summer vegetable crops.


Interplanting Lettuce and Peanuts (or Tomatoes, or Peppers)

Interplanting, or relay planting, is a version of companion planting where the second crop is planted while the first is still growing. Lettuce can be interplanted with a slower crop to increase the productivity of an area and provide better habitat for one or both crops. Cultivation is reduced, and the relay planting allows maximum use of the space. Examples include sowing or transplanting warm-weather crops such as peanuts, tomatoes or peppers into the center of beds of lettuce at the transplanting stage, or one month or more after direct seeding.

We have had great results sowing a row of peanuts in the middle of a lettuce bed. The timing is a little tricky, so try it at least twice before deciding whether it suits you. We are still fine-tuning this one! We sow the peanuts April 29–May 12 (around our average last frost date) into the middle of the bed with lettuce transplanted on April 22–May 15. The ideal seems to be to plant regular size lettuce transplants (not overgrown ones!) on the same day you sow the peanuts, or up to two weeks later. We use romaine lettuces and small Bibbs for these plantings, not large spreading leaf lettuces. Back when we sowed peanuts in an empty bed, the slowly emerging peanuts got lost in weeds and the slow-growing unusual seedlings were hard for some of our newer crew to distinguish from the weeds. 

We hoe our lettuce beds to kill the weeds, and as long as we remember that the peanuts are there and don’t hoe them off, they do well. In hot springs we have had shadecloth over the whole bed for the lettuce, and the peanuts come up very nicely. In cooler springs we use rowcover. The lettuce grows faster in cooler, wetter springs than peanuts do, so if necessary, we harvest the inner rows of lettuce a bit earlier than we might have expected, before the peanuts get swamped. All the lettuces are harvested before the peanuts grow large, leaving the peanut canopy to fill out the space.

If you’ve done research into whether companion planting works or not, you’ll have found that it’s usual that the yield of one or both crops is lower than it would be if it were grown alone. From my experience I can say that lettuce and peanuts do well together. I’ve read research that has shown that interplanting of transplanted lettuces and tomatoes does not delay the date of first tomato harvest, or reduce lettuce yields. But lettuce sown immediately before tomatoes are transplanted will have a significantly lower yield, as the tiny lettuce seedlings cannot compete with the fast-growing tomatoes. The timing is critical.


Intercropping Okra and Cabbages, Okra and Cucumber

Usually we transplant our okra, sowing on April 15, using soil blocks or Winstrip 50-cell flats. Okra grows slowly until hot weather arrives. We sometimes take advantage of this and its upright growth habit to transplant it into a bed of early cabbage. We transplant cabbage in two rows along a 4' (1.2 m) bed on March 10 and the okra in a single row down the middle on May 11. At first the cabbages are relatively small and the okra uses open space in the middle of the bed. As the plants grow, we remove any outer leaves of the cabbage that might overshadow the okra. Finally, in late May and early June, we harvest the cabbage and leave the okra to grow to full size. This method saves space and efficiently uses our time to help two crops with one weeding.

I have read of intercropping cucumbers and okra, giving each plant 3 ft2 (0.3 m2). Again, this uses the very different growth habits of sprawled cucumbers and tall okra to get more crops from the same piece of land. Good soil fertility is needed if the two crops are not to stunt each other.

Some say interplanting corn with big vining squashes deters raccoons and other critters, but I think it deters crew too! If you are interested in Three Sisters Planting (dry corm, winter squash and pole beans for drying) see the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Guide  and Carol Deppe’s book The Resilient Gardener.

Some of this material is excerpted from my book Sustainable Market Farming.

Pam Dawling manages the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at Sustainable Market Farming, Pam's blog is on her website and also on Sustainable Market Farming Facebook.

Photos by Wren Vile (lettuce), Kathryn Simmons (okra)

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.


betsy and luke with onion harvest 

When school is out for the summer, family schedules move into a different mode. For some, that means keeping their children occupied with summer camps and other programs. I propose that you use this summer to find meaningful work around your homestead for your children. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just regular and useful to your household. When our children were growing up they had to give me an hour of their time each weekday. They worked in the garden with me, helped with canning, and sometimes cleaned the house. The photo shows our two youngest helping with the onion harvest. Granted, that photo is from 1992, but the concept of having your children work alongside you is still relevant today. You can find out more about what I had my children do at Homeplace Earth. They still had time to go off on their own and use their imaginations to keep themselves entertained, which I believe is a necessary skill for everyone to develop.

If you think you need to make garden work more interesting to your children you could put them in charge of certain areas of your garden. In addition to weeding, mulching, and picking, they could help with record keeping. Have your child(ren) record the actual harvest and see how it compares to your expected harvest times, if you have worked that out ahead. My Plant /Harvest Schedule will help with that or it could be recorded on a calendar. That record would help you plan for next year. If you are working with the How Much To Grow worksheet that is available in my book Grow a Sustainable Diet, or a similar worksheet that you have designed, you would want to record the weight of your harvest for at least some of your crops. Having a young helper take charge of that would definitely make them feel useful and needed.

Maybe you are not so seriously into gardening to be keeping many records, but you still have to eat. Your children can be part of meal planning and preparation. I admit, it does take work on your part to oversee these activities, but you will find that, given the chance, children can do lots of things on their own, especially if you believe in them. Giving them the chance and believing in them are two things essential to success. Also, whether you are digging potatoes or peeling potatoes together, the conversations you will have in the process, of that otherwise mundane work, can be wonderful.

Anything coming from the garden can be their challenge for the day to incorporate into a meal. There are cooking shows galore on TV that can inspire them, as well as videos and websites in the Internet. (I’m trying to keep with the times here—my children were raised before computers and the Internet were a regular part of our lives.) Our recipes come from cookbooks on our shelf, but I hear that the younger generation looks recipes up on their computers as they need them. A trip to the library with your children might be in order to find more resources about whatever questions come up in your activities in the garden, kitchen, workshop, or wherever you are working together this summer.

Don’t have a garden this summer? That is an opportunity to seek local food elsewhere and there seems to be farmers markets everywhere these days. You and your children could get to know the farmers, what they have, and how they grow what they sell. Our youngest child (Luke) turned 13 the summer a farmers market opened in our town and I was one of the farmers there. Luke really liked pickled banana peppers and grew his own crop of banana peppers to sell. To increase sales he pickled peppers and made them available as samples and would rattle off the recipe to interested buyers. Sometimes I think they bought them as much because they enjoyed his passion for what he was doing, as well as needing banana peppers.

If you have children at home, this is the time to find something useful and meaningful to do together. It is an opportunity to discover, and enjoy, each other's passions. Your children will gain skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives and you will create a bond that will stay with you forever.

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.

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.


Farm Land

On Farmers Markets and Luck

As I drive up to the farmers market, I put my game face on. Here we go. This time I’m selling out. I’m gonna sweet talk some old ladies with some killer recipes, wink at middle-aged men when their wives aren’t watching, and tell the new mommies how good our food is for their special little angels who have just put half-eaten popsicles on my lettuce and spit out my broccoli at other customers. I will do it all with grace and poise and I will sell every single thing.

I’m doing well, the market is in full swing and I've got them eating out of my dirt-laden hands. I've avoided jaw drops at my prices with some sustainability education and I've navigated the neediness of a particularly grumpy woman hell-bent on spreading her condition. I've had my fair share of dedicated supporters, feeding my soul as I continue the march to noon and even a few people who throw in an extra dollar as a thank you.

Sweet victory is in sight and it happens: “Oh my gawwwd! I would LOVE to be a farmer. That must be the most peaceful, perfect life. You are so lucky!”

Lucky? I do my best to stop my involuntary twitching eye, crazy face and bite my tongue. “Oh yes, we are so lucky.”

It’s true enough, my husband and I have been pretty lucky. Starting a small business that has, for the most part, served as a sufficient cushion for our wellbeing during a time when our trade isn't seen as necessarily essential. Two landless, wannabe farmers finding a path, finding support, and tirelessly plugging away at managing farms, jumping the hoops to buy a piece of land, advertising our wares, and educating the population has definitely benefited from some serendipity and luck. Luck isn't what got us through excess rains that flooded our fields and washed away our nutrients. Luck didn't seed, transplant, trellis, and pick all of these tomatoes. Luck is certainly in the picture, but is not the picture itself.

A Day in the Life of a Young Farmer

I think about a typical day on the farm. Get up, do livestock chores. How many different kinds of poop will I get to wear today? We move our animals on pasture every single day, which means I wear a lot of poop. The fences are an electric netting material and are secretly treacherous. I have witnessed the netting claim the dignity of many an individual attempting to move it or climb over it. It seems like if you are sure to be careful, it is even more likely that you will land on your face.

Next we evaluate the moisture levels of each growing space on the farm. Monoculture has us viewing agriculture as this step-by-step process to be followed. This plus this equals yields. On a sustainable farm, we dream of things being that simple. Our land is diverse; its curves and micro-elevations have us constantly reworking our systems.

This field gets shade at this time, therefore these lettuces will be okay but these tomatoes need to go somewhere else. When the land is too wet—which it commonly is in our scenic valley tucked into the North Georgia Mountains—we cannot work the soil. If we are forced to, we will be planting into clodded soil that loses nutrition and structure, which makes for a bad seed bed and a potentially uneven crop.

Gardening Flowers 

The Farm To-Do List

Finding the areas in the garden that are sufficient to work in is next met with what is actually on the to-do list. Ah, the farm To-Do List. This anxiety-ridden piece of paper is a game of Tetris that you cannot win. Before you know it, you are writing more on the back, in the margins, desperately seeking more paper to hold all of the information your tired brain is refusing to contain.

It can never be completed in one day, the list never shrinks. No matter how many hours of labor you dedicate to trellising, weeding, planting, pulling, and/or entering your meager numbers into Quickbooks, the list slowly continues to grow. You have to make peace with the fact that you are always behind, even when Mother Nature is cooperating.

After harmonizing what needs to happen with what can happen, we are called to check in with the fertility of the farm. Do we need to make more compost? Is the pasture presenting weeds that are alerting us to potential compaction such as thistles and wild eggplant? Are the beds we are planting into holistic in their arrays of nutrients so that our crops can easily fight pests and disease without water soluble fertilizers and pesticides? The dynamics of a sustainably managed farm are an incredible balancing act.

Instead of treating the soil like a medium and pouring over the plants the nutrients necessary to make plants grow big and green, we have to manage the soil in such a way that the plant can fend for itself. As sustainable farmers, we have to start with health and diversity from the ground up. We aren’t really managing livestock; we are managing the health of the pasture to ensure healthy livestock. We aren’t growing crops; we are facilitating an ecology that will in turn produce healthy plants.

Beyond the stressors on the mind, there are those on the body. While we navigate these conditions, constantly tuning into the rhythm of our farm, we are also utilizing the strength of our own bodies as the mechanization for the whole system. If there is a hole, or a hundred holes that need to be dug, we are going to do it. Farming is the ultimate Cross-Fit. We avoid using our tractor for much more than preparing land and this means that our muscles themselves sculpt the landscape and build the infrastructure necessary for an abundant season.

Just when our minds and bodies feel like they’ve reached their limit, we add marketing, sales, and bookkeeping to the list. What needs to be sold at market this week before we miss our harvest window? How will we convince the customers at our market that kohlrabi is an exciting thing to try?

One rainy market can throw us off our mark and we spend weeks trying to sell extra to catch up for the loss. We don’t get a weekly paycheck, in fact we get paid far less by hour than we should. We rely on the support of our community through markets and CSA programs and it comes with some serious hardships and sacrifices.

Darby Farming 

Reflections on Sustainable Farming

After I get over the initial shock of someone telling me my handmade lifestyle was manifest in the womb of simple good fortune, I let it roll off my shoulders. In more ways than I can count I am indeed lucky.

To rise every morning as the sun slowly paints the valley in varying degrees of gold while the rooster sounds in the distance is nothing to take for granted. Hearing the spring peepers every April and seeing the magical displays of the pre-summer fireflies nourishes my spirit and makes me more whole as a human being.

While we may toil away at this hustle to make ends meet, we are lucky to be entangled in an ecosystem as stewards, enhancing the soil for the health of the whole system and holding hands with the forces of creation. We are dedicated to the instructions of Wendell Berry when he asked our generation to lead by example. It may not be the easiest way, or offer the most economic reward, but it is work of the greatest importance.

Protecting a piece of land by sharing and eating healthy food grown naturally and marked by the consciousness of two sentient beings is a pretty ideal way to live our lives. I guess I couldn’t get much luckier than that.

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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