Organic Gardening

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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)

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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.”

To be continued...

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.

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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.


Pharoah Temple Cornerstone 

Over the last decades, many people in all parts of the world have come to recognize Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) as a vehicle for approaching land, food, labor, environment and community in a healthier way.

Now, in an era with increasing shadows of environmental catastrophe, it’s time to expand exponentially the CSA vision and reality. The opportunity is before us.

What is Community-Supported Agriculture?

CSA is a social and economic arrangement in which communities – neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, and so forth – willingly share responsibility with specific farmers for producing, delivering, enjoying and honoring the food that sustains them. The community supports the farm, and the farm supports the community.

In theory and generally in practice, the associations integral to CSA foster mutual respect. CSA has thus emerged as a dynamic pathway linking human beings and their communities directly in free-will association with nearby farms and the farmers who cultivate the earth on their behalf.

These farmers may rightly be regarded as our ambassadors to the earth. Rather than making war on nature, they strive to cooperate intelligently and thereby maintain respectful relations. They are making an important and positive difference in the world. Much more is necessary. Much more is possible.

CSAs as Cornerstones of Community

To a greater or lesser extent, each CSA establishes itself as a kind of cornerstone to anchor and orient the community that supports it. CSAs offer an approach to land and food that works economically and sustainably as a 21st-century model adaptable to a changing world.

Our civilization is now reckoning with profound disruptions associated with climate change, resource depletion and geopolitical instability. Of critical note, this year 30 of the world’s largest insurance companies, known for their conservativism, have established a formal coalition (SmarterSafer) to sound the alarm, and let people, corporations and governments know that we face increasingly extreme circumstances.

The transition may be perilous and costly for everyone. Meanwhile, Standard & Poor’s Rating Service – the world’s foremost credit-ranking company – has issued a report saying that the credit ratings of sovereign countries will be adversely affected by global climate change.

These hard realities are indisputable. Only the willingly blind can fail to see the necessity of embarking now on a vigorous, wholehearted journey toward sustainability for home, community, nation, and planet. We must respond to our circumstances, or be overwhelmed.

Both globally and locally, we absolutely require intelligent strategies to reduce our vulnerability, to build resilience, and to reckon with the increasing disruptions of climate change and our pervasive pattern of planetary pollution and resource depletion. CSA farms stand out as promising models, models with a noteworthy track record.

Find or Start a CSA Near You

Our survival requires not just the intelligent actions of individuals but also hundreds of thousands of communities of human beings who have had their inate intelligence awakened, and who thus realize the fundamental link between life and land. In this regard, Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) provides a useful and egalitarian model.

The online resource directory Local Harvest is helpful for many people who want to find an existing CSA, but community groups — neighborhoods, churches, clubs and workplaces — can cooperate to form the nucleus for the thousands of new CSAs that are needed.

Photo by Keith Payne, Wikimedia Commons: Cornerstone detail, temple of Pharoh Khafre, Nile Valley, Egypt.

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.


KU Student Farm 

For starters, what exactly does WWOOF even mean? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is an online resource which helps connect volunteers with organic farmer hosts. In return for volunteer help, hosts offer room, board, and the opportunity to learn about organic farming and sustainable lifestyles.

Volunteering abroad on an organic farm (or WWOOFing) can be a great way to learn more about organic farming, experience a new culture, forge lasting friendships, travel abroad on a budget, and gain valuable hands-on experience in sustainable farming practices from people who live, drink, breath, and (of course) eat organic. From produce to poultry, big farms to small gardens, cheese-making to pearl-diving; these are only some of the adventures that may await you!

This all sounds incredibly intriguing, but how exactly do you go about setting up this adventure of a lifetime? With some time, a little bit of research, ample planning, and the right expectations, getting yourself on your way to a great overseas farm experience is a breeze.

Here are some of the things that I have kept in mind as I’m gearing up to head out on my own WWOOFing expedition in France (and perhaps beyond).

9 Steps to Start WWOOFing Abroad

1. Give yourself plenty of time. This is the biggest tip I can give you. Before you even get started, you want to make sure to give yourself as much time as possible. When you’re cooking up an incredible organic experience overseas, time is the secret ingredient.

I’m all about spontaneity, but with a trip overseas, setting aside plenty of time to think about, plan, and set-up your trip can make a huge difference. Aim to start the planning process at least 3 months before you expect to arrive at your farm destination.

Also, if you’re for sure going to be going overseas and don’t have your passport yet, this may be a good time to go ahead and get that process rolling. Passports are pretty notorious for taking their sweet time to be processed. The sooner you get it, the better.

2. Ask yourself what it is that you want from the experience. Have realistic expectations. Are you interested in raising goats and making cheese? Perhaps you’d like to work at an eco-lodge and learn more about yoga and meditation. Maybe rainforest horticulture or sub-Saharan herding is more up your alley. The choices and experiences are nearly endless when it comes to WWOOFing. So to narrow down the possibilities and make your search more efficient, ask yourself some questions.

What are you the most interested in learning more about? Growing fruits and vegetables, working with animals, bee-keeping, self-sufficiency, permaculture, eco-lodges, spiritual retreats, making products such as cheese or jam, and the list goes on.

Are you wanting a very specific experience or a varied experience? This is important to keep in mind as some farms may specialize in one thing or bring you on to do a specific task, while others may herd animals, grow vegetables, raise bees, and make cheese and would be happy to let you participate in all of these activities.

Would you like to work on a farm alongside a large group of volunteers or at a place with very few volunteers?

What kind of accommodations are you looking for? Are you ok with sleeping in a tent for a couple of weeks, or would you rather have a room of your own with AC and running water?

Do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions?

3. Think about where you might like to go. How long. What season. Culture. There are literally thousands upon thousands of farms to choose from. To be honest, I was completely taken aback by just how many choices there were. Don’t waste the hours that I did perusing through every continent, every country, and every town. It was completely and utterly overwhelming. Let me walk you through how I would have done the process differently and leave you with a few tips.

Consider a region you would like to learn more about that provides you the best opportunities to learn about your interests. For me, I was interested in working on my French, so obviously French speaking countries are at the top of my list. I also wanted somewhere that I felt comfortable and assured that I could get around if I wanted, so I decided to go with France over the other French speaking countries.

I wanted to experience the Mediterranean, yet leave myself the option to travel north into the mountains, so I chose Montpellier. I then searched for farms near Montpellier on WWOOF France. Through this method, I was able to narrow my search down to three farms. Adapt this strategy to your own search and I think you’ll find that you save yourself hours of fruitless searches.

4. Register with the WWOOF site for the country of choice. Now that you have a pretty good idea of where you’d like to end up, it’s time to register with the WWOOF site for the country of your choice. My registration fee for WWOOF France was just over $25. After you register, you are given access to the contact information for participating WWOOF hosts in that particular country.

5. Contact the farms you are the most interested in. Ask tons of questions. This is super important and could make the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a torturous disappointment. In my opinion, it’s not possible to ask too many questions. Here is a list of questions, just to get you started:

Are their open volunteer opportunities for my availability?

How many hours will I be expected to work, how many days a week, and what days can I expect to have free?

What are my expected responsibilities? Will they vary?

How many people would I be working with?

How long would you prefer a WWOOFer to stay?

Are meals provided and are they shared? (This is also a good time to ask if they can accommodate any special dietary restrictions you may have and/or what a meal generally consists of)

What are my sleeping arrangements? What are my living arrangements?

Is internet available for WWOOFers to use? Is there cell phone service?

What skills can I expect to learn?

How do I get to your farm/lodge/home from the airport/bus stop/train station?

What should I bring? What should I not bring?

What questions do you have for me?

This is only a small sampling of the absolute infinite number of questions you can ask. The more questions you ask and the more answers you get, the better prepared you’ll be. Once you find a host you’re satisfied with and have locked in a stay be sure and let any other hosts that you contacted know that you will be staying somewhere else.

6. Buy your plane tickets. There’s not much more to be said about this one.

7. The little things…with big impacts. Now it’s time to do the little things that make a big difference. Check with your health insurance company to inquire whether you are covered while travelling and what your coverage is. If you’re not covered, you may look into purchasing travelers insurance.

Also be sure and let your credit card companies know where you will be travelling and during what time frame. This will lessen the chances that your credit card will be accidentally flagged, leaving you without access to your account.

Don’t forget to pick up a plug adapter for the country you are visiting and remember that plug adapters are NOT voltage adapters. If you are travelling to a country which uses a different voltage than your own, you may need a voltage adapter as well.

Add international coverage to your current cell phone plan, unless you plan to buy a Tracfone overseas.

If it's an option, it may be a good idea to exchange some cash into the currency of the country that you are visiting. I've learned the hard way that there are not many ATMs or places to exchange currency readily available at your destination.

8. Pack for where you’re going. Keep in mind where you are going. What will the temperatures most likely be while you are there? Is there anything that your host is willing to provide? Is there electricity? Obviously, you don’t want to pack swimwear to the desert or a hairdryer to somewhere with no electricity. I found the most effective method was just to ask my host what I should and should not bring.

9. Celebrate and get ready for an incredible experience. Sit back and bask in the awesomeness that is soon to be yours. Be sure and tell all of your friends about it, perhaps inspiring them to WWOOF abroad, in which case you can share all the ins and outs of putting together a successful experience of their own.

Also, be sure to follow my future blog posts as I WWOOF through France for the summer. I look forward to hearing from all of you as you work towards your own incredible experiences abroad!

Now, as they would say in France, “Bonne chance et bon voyage!”

Photo by Katrina McClure



I love growing carrots and I love including them in our meals and snacks, plus my chickens enjoy the carrot tops. The best, crunchiest, sweetest carrots I have eaten are always homegrown, which is why I enjoy including them in both my spring and fall gardens. Growing carrots is usually pretty easy as long as I remember to be patient.

As I have done for several seasons, I grow a few different varieties of heirloom carrots – Muscade, Parisienne, Purple Sun, and St. Valery – for varying sizes and colors. This year I planted about six square feet of raised-bed garden space with these assorted carrots.

In my experience, and the seed packet directions, carrots take a really long time to germinate – somewhere around 21 days give or take. Along with this long germination time, the seeds need to be kept moist but not soggy. They do not like to dry out at all, yet they will rot if kept too wet. In addition, once they do sprout, growth is really slow to start, but at some point – a couple of weeks or so – they begin growing like crazy. Finally, after about three months, I can begin to harvest these tasty roots.

My garden soil is a mix of standard raised-bed mix with lots of compost and chicken manure, which holds moisture well, but also drains well. I feed the carrots and other veggies every three or four weeks with an organic fertilizer – currently a fish emulsion and seaweed blend, and I spray them with a solution of Epsom salts and water (1 teaspoon Epsom salts to 4 cups warm water). Once actual growth is happening, I mulch the carrots with straw, and water once a day on warm days (80 degrees F and higher), and every other day when temperatures are cooler.



This year’s spring-planted carrot yield looks like it will be enough to keep us in fresh carrots for much of the summer. One of my favorite ways to enjoy carrots is to sauté them along with other garden veggies such as snow peas and zucchini. I was also able to process about 24 cups of sliced carrots for the freezer, which will be used in the fall and winter for soups and stews.


Procedure for Freezing Carrots

1. Wash carrots and trim off the ends; no need to peel.

2. Cut carrots to desired size, but be consistent.

3. Bring a stockpot of water to a boil.

4. Place carrots in boiling water.

5. Return water and carrots to boiling and then set timer for 3 minutes.

6. After 3 minutes submerge carrots in cold water to quickly cool them and stop the cooking process.

7. Put desired amount of carrots into freezer containers, Ziploc bags, or food saver bags.

8. Place in freezer for later use.

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