Organic Gardening

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

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Allow me to point out the obvious: to save seeds you first have to remove them from whatever vegetable, fruit, flower or herb you want to save. But how you effectively and efficiently remove seed isn’t always obvious. Or easy. Sometimes you have to get a bit creative. Eggplant is a perfect example.

Removing seed from eggplant is not an easy thing to do by hand, not like peppers or tomatoes. The seeds are tiny and imbedded in the thick flesh. Could you do it manually? Sure. Is a mechanical process better for efficiency and sanity? Oh yes. As long as it doesn’t damage the seed in the process.

This is the key consideration when harvesting any type of seed. You just have to pay attention when getting creative.

Seeds can be incredibly durable when mature. This is actually one way we tell the difference between mature and immature seeds with eggplants. Mature eggplant seed is rock hard when pinched between two fingernails; immature seed is soft, dents easily, and often pops like a little zit.

But mature dry beans are incredibly durable, too. And it required a bit of trial and error to keep them from getting cracked and damaged when threshing with the wood chipper. (Yup, threshing with a wood chipper.) One batch of Orcas went through beautifully. But the next batch of the very same bean got beat up really bad; we had to adjust the chipper in terms of speed and time-in-the-flails to minimize the damage.

Our solution for getting the seed out of the eggplants was a little hand-cranked food mill. Absolutely nothing fancy. And absolutely nothing originally designed for harvesting seeds. It took a fair bit of jiggering to figure out the best way to use the thing but once we had a system down, it made short work of the eggplant. No damage at all to the seeds. The resulting heap of eggplant pulp was dumped in a bucket of water, letting the mature seed sink and pouring off the rest. Just like with peppers and tomatoes.

The hand-cranked food mill is one of many creative solutions we’ve used to efficiently extract seed. And just one more example of the cool stuff we get to do on a small seed farm.

You can see videos of our seed extraction solutions – including the wood chipper as thresher – by visiting the original post at Boonie Adjacent.

Matt Kelly currently works with Fruition Seeds helping to sow, grow, harvest, pack and sell seed that is open pollinated, organically grown, and regionally adapted. He is a writer living in the Finger Lakes of New York, slowly turning his home into a self-sufficient, food-independent, backwoods place of his own. He writes regularly at Boonie Adjacent.

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.


Soil is a major component of the Earth's ecosystem, and without it we simply would not exist!

A newly acquired garden or an over-spent allotment can have poor-quality soil, making it more difficult to manage and use. Leading to potential problems for those wishing to grow a lush green lawn or plant some daffodils, crocus or hyacinth bulbs in the spring.

It’s not as difficult as you think to restore the soil to make it productive again.

Clear the Area

Cutting bushes and small trees back to the fence line is the first job on the list. It is vital that you don’t give the bushes and plants the chance to grow accustom with the soil. Each bush and tree is part of the cycle and prepares the soil for the next stage – stopping this happening will ensure the soil keep holds of all its goodness.

Shears should work fine on most bushes and shrubs, cut small growth straight across and as close to the ground as possible. For more stubborn branches, roots or trees either pull them out of the ground or hire/borrow a chain-saw, other standard gardening tools can assist you should you get into difficulty.

Rocks can hinder grow and mowing so it’s best to walk around your area and remove the larger visible stones from the area. Larger rocks might need more than just human strength to be removed so if you find large rocks pull out the spade and get digging.

Green Manure

Manure crops should be planted where you want your garden to be, even if you don’t plan on using your area for food, planting manure crops helps stimulate the soil making it easier for grass, food and plants to grow.

Some of the best Green Manures for all year round are rye, cowpeas, mustard, oats, alfalfa, clover, winter peas, and timothy. These return nitrogen to the soil along with organic material, and are a good choice for long-term soil development.

You must allow at least two to three weeks between ploughing under and planting. Green manure decays after being ploughed under; it returns to the soil all the nutrients it used while growing, adding vital organic matter, so all types of soil, from sand to clay, respond positively to this treatment.

Unfortunately this isn't a one-time project for those of you with a vast amount of clay or sand in your soil. You must continue with this process to ensure the decaying process continues. For the most toughest of soils it can take up to five years to prime!

By reclaiming your soil you should be able to grow anything in less than optimum conditions. Even for those growing foods, strong soil can produce quality produce!

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.


 Messy Compost Pile

Tired of tumblers, piles and turning? Composting doesn't have to be hard. It doesn't require any infrastructure. It's a simple, natural recycling method. If you hate rules and ratios... this post is for you.Easy composting only has two steps.

Ready? Let's compost!

Step 1: Find Some Organic Matter

An avocado skin? Great. Moldy baked beans? Wonderful. Old bills and non-glossy junk mail? Sure. Eggshells, tea bags, cardboard, citrus peels? Yep. It makes sense to keep a small trash can with a tight lid in my kitchen. Anything compostable goes in there. But kitchen scraps aren't everything: there's a pile of ways you can grab more materials to compost. For instance, when you’re pruning trees or dealing with fallen oak limbs in the yard, don’t drag them to the side of the road for disposal or burn them in a pile.

If you have a picnic in the yard with the children, use uncoated paper plates. Then save them… along with whatever uneaten food the toddler leaves behind. If you feel like working a little harder to gather organic matter, you’ll find opportunities everywhere. When you have a potluck dinner at church, help clean up at the end and throw all the napkins and food scraps into one container you can then take home. Check with your local coffee shop and see if you can pick up grounds from them. See if you can get boxes of expired produce from your local grocery store or farm stand. Gather cardboard from alleyways.

Ask your local feed store if you can sweep up the straw and alfalfa that falls to the ground from their bales. (I’ve gathered a lot of material this way.) Ask your neighbors to dump their yard waste at your place. Collect shredded documents from work. Pick up bags of leaves by the side of the road in fall. Ask local tree companies if they’ll drop their fresh-chipped “waste” in your yard.

If you want maximum fertility on your little piece of the earth, collect everything organic you can find. All the time. And then, my anarchist friend, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Throw It On The Ground

Once a week or more, take your kitchen-scrap trash can to a place that needs fertility, then dump it. Do the same with your yard waste, dragging it to wherever the soil looks a bit sad and throwing it on the ground.

What’s this look like in practice?

Well, fruit trees and shrubs need fertilizing, right? Normally you’d give them a hit of chemical fertilizer now and again through the year. Instead of doing that, just drop organic matter on the ground around them. Pretend the tree’s root zone is a big, rough compost pile. Chop up some sticks, throw down some paper plates, spatter rotten salad greens, throw some spoiled fruit… it’s easy and fun. You can also put hunks of logs near the bases of your trees and along the edge of pathways and gardens to act as bunkers for fungi and other beneficial organisms.

Don’t worry about making everything neat and tidy – nature doesn’t! If it really bothers you to have things looking a bit rough for a while, keep a little pile of mulch on hand. When you dump coffee filters or office papers and other ugly debris, cover it with mulch so it can decompose without offending your eyes (or the eyes of the fascists at Code Enforcement.)

If you'd like compost to end up in your vegetable garden, just dig a trench and bury it or throw organic matter on a bed you'll be using next year. I did that with a couple of my beds and it worked great. The next year you just rake the non-decomposed material off the top and plant. 

Compost bed

Organic matter and the soil: that's all it takes to make easy compost. Sure... it's messy. But so is dear Mother Nature.

Where was I? Ah yes. Easy composting. The anarchist "method" of composting works, it's simple, and it's natural. Now get out there and start chucking stuff on the ground!

David Goodman is an avid naturalist, gardener, writer and teacher as well as being the creator of, a daily gardening site. Want the most food for the least work? Then click the link and start reading - and for more seriously crazy composting and off-grid gardening tips, grab a copy David's survival gardening audiobook, Survival Gardening Secrets.

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.


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.

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