Organic Gardening

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Carrot shapes

Carrot shapes are influenced by soil texture.

As you pull carrots out of your garden this fall, you can use the roots to get an idea about your soil's quality. You might have already noticed the differences in shape between carrots grown in different parts of your garden in year past. For example, did you ever dig up a bed of carrots and find that all of the roots had split and twisted into a jumbled mess? Sometimes, carrots curl around each other because you didn't thin the crop sufficiently. But splitting, gnarled carrots that aren't closely intertwined are generally a sign that your soil is either compacted or is full of pebbles and rocks.

Soil compaction

Compacted soil (on the right) lacks both the small and the large pores that allow roots, rain, and air to move efficiently through the earth. Often, a hardpan layer (darker brown in the drawing, but not distinguished by color in actual soil) develops just beneath the level that a plow or rototiller can reach.

What do I mean by compacted soil? Even though the earth seems solid when we're striding across it, as soon as you start peering closely at the dirt, you'll notice lots of air spaces between the grains. Unfortunately, it's relatively easy to mash your soil down so those air spaces disappear, a process known as compaction.

Simply walking on your garden soil can remove air spaces, which is why many gardeners create permanent aisles and beds, concentrating all of their foot traffic in certain sacrifice zones. Traditional tilling also creates compaction issues, especially if your soil is heavy or if you till when the ground is too wet or too dry. So your first step in dealing with compaction is changing your own habits so the problem won't come back.

What's next? You can physically fluff up soil with the broadfork, a tool that opens up spaces between soil particles without turning the layers of the earth. But before you rush out and buy expensive tools, I should tell you that moderately compacted soil often responds just as well to the action of biotillage cover crops like oilseed radishes. These deep-rooted plants easily push their roots through hard layers of soil, leaving biopores behind after they rot in place and increasing soil organic-matter levels in the process.

Okay, I know I just threw a technical term at you, but biopores are pretty easy to understand (and even to see in your soil). These large air channels start at the surface of the ground and run several feet into the earth, turning the openings into superhighways for soil-dwelling critters like earthworms. Meanwhile, biopores give roots quick access to other parts of the earth profile and also make it easier for rain to infiltrate deeply rather than running off during deluges. Finally, biopores promote faster carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange between the air in your soil and the air above, which helps encourage the aerobic microorganisms who do such good work decomposing organic matter and providing nutrients for your crops.

Side-view of a raised bed

The easiest way for a gardener to see soil-pore formation in action is to take away one of the boards supporting the side of a raised bed. You'll likely notice earthworm channels, smaller pores that follow roots, and the crumbly structure of good soil. Photo credit: Brian Cooper.

Biopores aren't the be-all and end-all of soil structure, though. In fact, much smaller channels between soil aggregates are just as important for healthy crops. These minuscule pathways do some of the same work as biopores, helping with air exchange and water management for example. But the smaller air cavities work a bit differently—rather than helping rain soak into the earth, mini-pores ensure that your soil can hold onto the falling water so all of the moisture doesn't drain away between storms. Small channels also allow water to move upwards from the groundwater into the root zone during droughts via capillary action, so they're doubly important for ensuring your crops find enough water to grow and thrive.

What can a gardener do to produce these essential, tiny channels between soil aggregates? The best solution is to add lots of organic matter and then beg your soil microorganisms to do the work for you. In fact, spreading mulches and other amendments directly onto the soil surface is like putting up a sign reading "Seeking earthworms—apply within." Worms will inevitably show up eat the tasty treats in situ, then they'll poop out high-nutrient castings deeper in the earth. And while moving between the two locations, the worms create—you guessed it—holes in the soil for roots and air to follow.

A third type of even smaller pore is created when minuscule soil particles are chemically bound together into aggregates, which range in size from nearly too small to see all the way up to several inches in diameter. These aggregates usually begin forming when roots or fungi increase in girth while thrusting their way through the soil, an act that pushes soil particles together on either side of the roots or fungal hairs. This slight compression of the soil is then cemented into more long-lived aggregates when microorganisms eat nearby organic matter and create gummy secretions to bind the soil particles in place. Next, calcium ions in the soil merge small aggregates together into larger particles known as peds.

Okay, that got a bit technical, but the bottom line is simple. Tiny air channels in soil form between soil aggregates, and soil aggregates form due to living things like roots and fungi doing their job deep in the earth. Larger pores form along earthworm channels, and yet more massive channels are due to the work of deep-rooted crops.

In the end, promoting healthy critters promotes healthy soil. And healthy soil means straight, unbranched carrots—gotta love it when you can eat your report card!

Personality Tests For Your Soil

Did you enjoy this excerpt from Personality Tests For Your Soil? If so, you can learn more easy ways to gauge the health of your garden earth in the ebook, on sale for 99 cents this week.

Anna Hess enjoys writing about her adventures, both on her blog at Walden Effect and in her books. Her first paperback, The Weekend Homesteader, helped thousands of homesteaders-to-be find ways to fit their dreams into the hours leftover from a full-time job. Hess is also the author of The Naturally Bug-Free Garden, Trailersteading, The Ultimate Guide to Soil, and several ebook-only titles. She lives with her husband in the mountains of southwest Virginia.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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.


“Harvest your mistakes” is one of the key principles of permaculture — the idea that we can at least learn from our choices, if not eat them in the garden and in life. I have been harvesting my mistakes this month, as the season winds down and the leaf mulch piles up. What have we learned this year?


1. Austrian Field Peas are an excellent summer mulch!

I planted the field peas right after bringing up the potato crop in mid August. They germinated quickly with light irrigation, put on considerable growth, and survived the rampages of one hungry bunny and four chickens before I fenced them off. For three months, they grew lushly — then we lost them to mini-slugs. However, three months of nitrogen-fixing cover crop, followed by a pile of leaf mulch, is nothing to sneeze at. I will do this again.


2. Mini-cloches work better on established seedlings than direct sown seeds.

I did a small experiment with my vining crops in the spring. I planted half of them in four inch pots and raised the seedlings on the potting bench, then planted them out, covered with a mini-cloche fashioned from a gallon vinegar or milk jug. The other half of the packet was direct seeded and placed under the mini-cloche.  The transplanted crops germinated more quickly, grew better, and were far stronger than the direct-seeded ones. I will stick with my old methods on this one.

3. Never say never.

After sneering at planters made from old bathroom fixtures for years, I was saddled with an old bathtub this summer. I had found it for free years ago and it was part of our outdoor shower—but, with the new greenhouse came a new old tub, bigger and better — so…after it sat in the ivy for a month, I gave in and hauled it to the back corner of the yard, behind the beehive, and filled it with soil. Next summer, it will hold bee-friendly bloomers, so that the honey bees have food close to home. Re-purposing.

4. Don’t brag in print!

Last spring, one of my MEN posts was about the beauty of my garlic bed. A month later, when I went to harvest the crop, it  had succumbed to a mildew that have invaded the Willamette Valley. The bulbs were tiny or non-existent. The tops all wilted and toppled over.  Although I do think it is still a good spot for the crop, I will never brag again before the harvest!

5. We're almost there in timing for fall crops.

Having harvested broccoli and cauliflower from my fall bed, I can say that my new timing system, involving four inch pots before the Summer Solstice and using a early potato bed for fall crops does work. However, early cabbages are more likely to head up than later ones: in my Territorial cabbage seed mix, cabbages number one and two have done well, while number four has failed, not just in my garden, but in the gardens of three friends as well.

Now that the season is over, I will spend some time by the fire, thinking about next years experiments and goals. First on the list — one day projects only!

Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at 21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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.



Nothing feels quite like being outside and working with your hands in the soil and with plants. The type of garden does not really matter; it could be a vegetable garden, flowerbed, fruit tree orchard, or water garden. It seems that the combination of being outside, personally connecting with nature, and seeing visible results from our work has a positive effect on us. But are there more benefits to gardening than simply making us “feel good?”

There are the obvious benefits of gardening which we all know about: gardens provide healthful food, they can be aesthetically pleasing, and they save on food costs. But Gerber (2011) points out that gardening has many overall benefits that we commonly do not think about from it reducing stress to improving the environment. Going further, some other not so obvious benefits include teaching patience as gardening is on nature’s schedule; as the saying goes, “watching a plant grow does not make it grow any faster.” ‘Unplugging’ and disconnecting from technology is frequently encouraged now. Creativity is encouraged through planning the layout of gardens and flowerbeds. Lastly, gardening provides a good form of exercise because it burns calories while strengthening and stretching muscles.

Researchers have found that there actually is truth to the idea of gardening being therapeutic. Studies have shown that gardening does more than makes us feel good or produces fruits and vegetables for us to eat.  Gardening, also known as horticulture therapy, has been used by occupational therapists to assist the elderly with dementia and promote the physical and social health of those with developmental disabilities.  As an occupational therapy student, I have learned that one of my professors successfully uses gardening to help veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Numerous studies have shown the positive effects of gardening as a therapy. In a preliminary study by Detweiler et al. (2015), horticultural therapy may have been responsible for reduced stress and depression, increased quality of life, and avoidance of substance abuse in veterans. Wang and Glicksman (2013) discovered a long list of benefits to older adults when they garden, including providing new learning, staying connected to their roots, socialization, and improving their well-being. Gonzalez and Kirkevold (2013) performed a review of studies to learn of the benefits of sensory gardens and horticultural therapy for those with dementia. The authors concluded that horticultural therapy may improve an individual’s sense of well-being, decrease troublesome behavior, improve sleep, reduce the number of serious falls, and improve the individual’s use of psychotropic medications.

Camic (2013) conducted a literature review of studies which used horticulture therapy as a mental health intervention. The results appear quite promising in reducing an individual’s anxiety and depression. Participants of the gardening therapy had also been noted to have improved emotional well-being, social interaction, and physical health, as well as the chance for career development.

Somewhat similar to Camic’s study, Park and VanLeit (2012) identified that adults with developmental disabilities often have cognitive impairments as well, which further complicates their treatments. These adults tend to have greater health risks than the general population, such as diabetes, sedentary lifestyles, and cardiovascular disease. The researchers performed a study on a gardening program for adults with developmental disabilities and saw an improvement in physical, social, and mental health as well as overall well-being.

While many of us garden for the simple pleasure of it, it is being increasingly used as a therapeutic treatment for those with disabilities. Horticulture therapy has been shown to assist those with physical, social, and mental needs.  It may not be the ‘cure all,’ but it has its place as benefiting many forms of disabilities. It appears that over time, horticulture therapy will become a more commonly used therapy for what ails a great deal of the population. For many of us, relieving stress, providing nutritious food, and receiving a sense of reward for hard work is enough of a satisfying accomplishment.

Photo by Fotolia/EduardSV: There are many benefits to spending time in a garden, even beyond having fresh, healthful produce!


Camic, P. M. (2013). Gardening as a mental health intervention: A review. Mental Health Review Journal, 18(4), 214-225. doi: 10.1108/MHRJ-02-2013-0007

Detweiler, M. B., Self, J. A., Lane, S., Spencer, L., Lutgens, B., Kim, D…Lehman, L. (2015). Horticultural therapy: A pilot study on modulating cortisol levels and indices of substance craving, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and quality of life in veterans. Alternative Therapies, 21(4), 36-41.

Gerber, J. (2011, March 28). 5 benefits of gardening.

Gonzalez, M. T. & Kirkevold, M. (2013). Benefits of sensory garden and horticultural activities in dementia care: A modified scoping review. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 23, 2698-2715. doi: 10.1111/jocn.12388

Park, H. & VanLeit, B. (2012). The meaning of gardening for adults with developmental disabilities. Special Interest Section Quarterly: Developmental Disabilities, 35(1), 1-3.

Wang, D. & Glicksman, A. (2013). “Being grounded”: Benefits of gardening for older adults in low-income housing. Journal of Housing for the Elderly, 27, 89-104. doi: 10.1080/02763893.2012.754816

Susan O’Brien is an occupational therapy student in the master’s program at Utica College.



Last month, I wrote about Mistakes to Avoid When Putting New Plastic on Your Hoophouse.

Here are my recommendations on how to go about the task.

Planning the Plastic Installation Day

This job is best done in mild sunny weather, when the plastic will be dry and can stretch some but not too much. Arrange for a windless day to spread plastic – that is, less than 5mph winds, tops! If only breezy days are available, do the plastic spreading at dusk, when the wind drops. Or at dawn in summer, but not in cold weather.

Order the right size and type of plastic in good time. We use 48’ x 100’ Tufflite IV and Tufflite Dripless for our 30’ x 96’ gothic tunnel. Our plastic goes to the ground (no separate sidewalls). For the end walls we buy 24’ x 100’ for a double layer on each end. We use the wigglewire and aluminum channels (also called Polylock).

Get enough people committed. We like six people with good common sense, who are willing to take directions. It helps if some of them have done the job before. Consider having someone take photos of key stages, to make next time easier.

List of tools

• Tall stepladder and 2 pairs of shorter stepladders
• Small-nosed pliers and a flat-bladed screwdriver for each person and a pair of  bolt cutters (for the wigglewire)
• Tennis balls to tie into the edge of the plastic, and ropes to pull the plastic over the top. About 5 sets for a 96’ house. Use ropes long enough to go up and over to the other side – say 10’ longer than the width of your plastic.
• A sock and a plastic water bottle (to attach to the throwing end of the rope)
• Polypatch tape and scissors. Accidents will happen. Try to be gracious and forgiving!
• Utility knives to trim the plastic when you are completely sure it’s on right.
• For end walls, old drip-tape for battening (or buy actual batten tape, if you can’t get old drip tape), scissors, long staples and staple guns.
• For a 30’ x 96’ tunnel, at least 6 rolls of high quality duct tape. Stinginess doesn’t pay.

Step-by-step Instructions for Installing Plastic

1. Turn off the electricity to the inflation blower.

2. Loosen just the ends of the wigglewire with pliers (and a screwdriver to ‘pick up’ the ends) all the way round.

3. If you are keeping the inner plastic and only replacing the outer piece, remove each piece of wigglewire, extract the outer plastic, then tack the center few wiggles of each wigglewire back in the channel to hold the inner plastic. If replacing both pieces, simply remove the wigglewires, but don’t lose them in the grass.

4. Pull off the old outer plastic, and either roll it up as it is, or cut it into 10’ wide lengths for future low tunnels. If you might want to use it to recover the hoophouse in an emergency, don’t cut it now. If the grass is damp, see #20.

5. Detach the blower and jumper hoses from the inner plastic.

6. Remove the inner plastic and roll it up, entire or in pieces.

7. Put new high-quality duct tape over all the metal frame connectors.


8. Unroll the new inner plastic outside the hoophouse along one side, keeping the surface which will be on the outside (top) dry. There are different opinions about whether the IR (Infrared Reflecting)/Condensate Control inner plastic has a right side and a wrong side. When we bought Warp’s Flex-o-glas inner plastic in 2003, they told us the treatment is throughout the plastic, not a coating, so it doesn’t matter which side is up.

9. Mark the center of the new inner plastic while it is still folded, to help with alignment. Or use any manufacturer’s writing on the plastic to keep plastic roughly straight.

10. Tie tennis balls in gathered-up plastic along the long edge which is on top of the unrolled but still folded plastic.

11. Tie a plastic water bottle in a sock to the free end of one of the ropes and throw it over the top of the hoophouse. Adjust the amount of water in the bottle to give a suitable weight.

12. Untie the socked water bottle on the far side, bring it back and repeat with each of the other ropes.

13. Agree with your crew on a set of instructions, especially to call “Stop!” if everyone should stop while a problem is fixed.

14. Slowly and evenly, pull the plastic up and over the top of the frame until the edge reaches the ground along the whole length on the far side. If the plastic gets snagged up on the framework, have someone (on a stepladder?) use the sweeping end of a broom or  a SnoBrum on a telescoping pole if you have one, to lift and push the plastic free.

15. Start at one gable end on both sides and work in a coordinated way to the other end, shimmying the plastic around until it covers the whole frame and is square. You won’t want ripples and waves across your hoophouse.

16. Using the middles of lengths of wigglewire, tack the plastic into the channel, at least once every 12’ down the length of the hoophouse, on the baseboards (or the hip-board, if you have roll-up or drop-down sides). Don’t pull the plastic too tight.

17. When all seems good, work in pairs to attach your jumper hoses and inflation hose. You won’t be able to access the outside after you put the outer plastic on. Be sure to start with under-size holes in the plastic and stretch them to fit.

18. Refit your manometer now or later, before turning on the blower. If later, be sure not to cut the outer plastic when you make the hole for the tubing.

19. Unroll the outer plastic outside the hoophouse along one side, keeping the surface which will be on the inside (down) dry. If the grass is damp, use the old plastic as a carpet, and unroll the new plastic on top. You don’t want to trap moisture between the layers of plastic. Additionally, water between the layers will cause the two pieces to stick to each other and it will be hard to pull the second one over.

20. Mark the center of the new outer plastic while it is still folded, to help with alignment.

21. Repeat the tennis balls trick until the outer plastic is in position. It won’t have any metal framework to snag on. It should be easier. Make sure it can’t snag on the ends of the wigglewire sticking out from the baseboard.

22. Allowing a little slack, or at least pulling on the plastic only enough to avoid wrinkles, remove the wigglewires one at a time, put the outer plastic in place, and tack both layers in the channel with the middles of the wigglewires. Pulling the plastic too tight can result in the plastic rupturing in cold weather.

23. Using stepladders as needed, fit the plastic into the channels at one gable end, starting at the peak. An occasional little pleat is OK and will give you some slack. Your goal is a bubble 6-12” deep between the inflated layers, once it’s all done and running. Set the wigglewires fully, using pliers to grasp the wire ends and tuck them into the channel. Mark the ends of the wigglewires on the plastic as you go, using a really permanent marker, to make them easier to find when it’s time to replace the plastic (again).

24. Starting at the finished end, work down each side, doing the final setting of the wigglewires along the baseboards/hipboards. Trim the wigglewire if needed at the far end. If you are doing this with just two people, start at one end, fix 3 bays on one side, repeat on the opposite side, and continue switching from side to side. With two crews you can do both sides at once.

25. If you feel confidant, trim the plastic now, all the way round, leaving a 6-12” border. If you think there could be a problem that might involve resetting the plastic, leave it overnight.

26. Turn on the blower in the morning and check every few hours, adjusting the air intake as appropriate. (Best not to turn it on at night and leave it, in case you over-inflate and stress the plastic.)

27. Tidy up and write any helpful notes for next time.

Pam Dawling lives in Virginia at Twin Oaks Community, an egalitarian, secular, income-sharing, work-sharing ecovillage established in 1967. There she helps grow food for around 100 people on three and a half acres and provides training in sustainable vegetable production for community members, practicing farming with awareness of ecology, finite resources and the future of the planet. Pam is the author of Sustainable Market Farming. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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.


Orange Jazz tomatoes 

Chasing the Premium Flavor Found in the Best Beefsteak Tomatoes

We started seriously growing heirloom beefsteak tomatoes over 15 years ago. From the first year, I was captivated by the incredible flavor that one finds in the best beefsteak tomatoes. That first year, we grew 40 different varieties with wildly different results. In fact, the difference in quality between the best and the worst beefsteak tomatoes, in our community garden plot, was striking.

Early on, it didn’t really matter to me that over two-thirds of the beefsteaks I grew were quite mediocre, flavor-wise, because the flavor of the best varieties made everything worthwhile. Northern Lights, Red Brandywine and a few others were very good. But, by far, the best-tasting beefsteak tomatoes in our garden the first years were 'Cherokee Purple' and 'Black Krim' – two varieties that taste similar in many ways. In fact, the major difference, in our experience, between the two varieties, was that the 'Cherokee Purple' plants produced more than 'Black Krim'. Which is why, early on, 'Cherokee Purple' became our standard “black” tomato.

The smoky, complex sweetness, and velvety flesh of 'Cherokee Purple' was truly eye-opening, and it fueled our general love for “black” tomatoes. Since then, we have tried and enjoyed many more. Over the years, however, other characteristics have continually elevated 'Cherokee Purple' above the other beefsteak tomatoes grown on our farm.

'Cherokee Purple' shows good disease resistance under moderate disease pressure; and it produces early for a beefsteak variety. So when most plants in the field are going down with disease, 'Cherokee Purple' plants often manage to produce more quality tomatoes, and better quality tomatoes, compared to other beefsteaks. It is certainly makes sense that countless lists of top tomatoes include 'Cherokee Purple'.

A Great Beefsteak Tomato Must Consistently Produce High-Quality Fruits in a Wide Variety of Situations

Another important factor that makes 'Cherokee Purple' great, is that many have found it to be less affected by adverse growing conditions, when compared with other beefsteak varieties.  When beefsteak tomatoes are over-watered, through over-irrigation or through unavoidable heavy summer rain, the resulting tomatoes taste watery and their texture becomes mealy.  In our experience, 'Cherokee Purple' tomatoes are less affected by overwatering, and also less affected by other adverse conditions, including cold nights at the end of the season.  In our experience they consistently produce high-flavor tomatoes with excellent texture under a variety of conditions that reduce fruit quality in other varieties.

These days we grow a relatively low percentage of beefsteak tomatoes at our farm.  This is because we have found that it is easier to consistently produce smaller tomatoes with excellent flavor.  We have also found that the losses associated with bruising and uneven growth are much reduced with smaller tomatoes.  However, we always make room for 'Cherokee Purple,' and a handful of other exceptional beefsteaks – including one that we developed, called 'Orange Jazz.'

'Orange Jazz' Tomatoes are the Best Beefsteak Tomatoes We Have Created

Although we are most well-known for our Artisan Cherry tomatoes, we have also been breeding beefsteak tomatoes – like 'Orange Jazz' — on our small farm. Up until this year, we have not formally released any beefsteak varieties, although we have been continuously tweaking and adjusting many almost-completed varieties for the past five years.

During this time, 'Orange Jazz' has emerged as the best new beefsteak variety in our collection. It is an open-pollinated (true-breeding) variety that was bred by first making crosses between heirloom parents; and then by careful selection, over time, for plants with exceptional combinations of characteristics.

It takes approximately seven generations of selections to go from a hybrid cross to a new true-breeding line, and for us, these selections have occurred on our farm and in winter populations grown in greenhouses and in the winter fields of a collaborating small farm in Mexico.

Like 'Cherokee Purple', 'Orange Jazz' has an excellent flavor profile that is also somewhat unique. The flavor of 'Orange Jazz' is remarkably complex for an orange tomato, with hints of stone-fruit that are quite different from anything else we have tasted. 

'Orange Jazz' fruits also have relatively few seeds and an interior texture that is consistently smooth, with no white “core” in the center. The slightly flattened shape of 5-inch diameter fruits is also consistent, and the shoulders of the fruit are small, which results in more tomato slices per fruit, compared to many other beefsteak tomatoes.

'Orange Jazz' Tomatoes were Bred under 'Rough' Field Conditions , in the Presence of Common Diseases

I am not the best organic farmer. In fact, I am probably below average by many measures, including disease management. In the past 10 years, there has been a good dose of early blight, verticillium wilt, powdery mildew and other tomato diseases in our fields.  While we have lengthened crop rotation intervals, and changed some of our growing techniques to improve our production, these diseases are endemic to our fields and represent a constant challenge to the tomato plants growing in our fields. While the presence of disease is a challenge for us as tomato growers, it is also an opportunity to select for disease resistance in our breeding projects. 

When selecting breeding lines to move forward, general plant vigor is one of the most important traits we select for, after flavor. The vigorous plants we select from a diverse breeding population are vigorous because they are better able grow rapidly and/or because they are better at resisting the diseases and pests that can slow growth and weaken plants.  Thus, over time, continued selection for plant vigor results in the selection of varieties that are often generally good at resisting diseases too.

'Orange Jazz' has benefited from our selection for plant vigor and the variety consistently produces well, compared to most other beefsteaks we have grown, including many with bona fide disease-resistance traits.

'Orange Jazz' has Done Well in Other Places, Too, and it is Now Generally Available

Once we have pretty much finished a variety and it “breeds true,” the next step is to have it tested by gardeners and growers throughout the country. We have a broad group of collaborators who grow our “finished” varieties using their methods in their environments. Their overall feedback on 'Orange Jazz' to date is that it grows vigorously and produces well in a wide variety of conditions. That said, it is still susceptible to common leaf diseases like early blight and leaf spot, and good growing practices that reduce the spread of fungal and bacterial diseases are definitely recommended.

More information about our varieties and our Collaborative Membership program can be found on our Artisan Seeds facebook page. 

'Orange Jazz' is now available through our online store, and we expect that a number of other seed companies will start selling 'Orange Jazz' seed over the next year

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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 have access to downed hardwood logs and a tractor, this is a super easy raised bed design. At House in the Woods Farm in Maryland, we grow beautiful herb gardens in these raised beds. 

Logs frame this raised herb garden

Using the tractor, Phil dragged fallen hardwood logs from the woods. They were old, sitting in the woods for a long time already, but the hardwood lasts a really really long time. Phil cut the logs to size, a rectangle six feet by ten feet is nice, or a square. Then he brought a few scoops of compost in the tractor bucket and dumped it into the bed. A little raking and you are good to go!

Phil dumped compost with the front end loader right into the bed, but use what you’ve got. If you are making a soil blend from purchased materials, add 2 to 1 peat to compost or topsoil.

We used black locust and maple hardwood, but white oak would work too. Tulip poplar would rot too quickly.

We didn't worry about the grass underneath our bed. Our bed was deep enough to keep them from emerging. If your logs do not create a very deep bed and you think weeds could come through, a layer of newspaper could do an ounce of prevention. Layer newspaper on the ground before filling the bed with soil.

Creeping Thyme fills a hollow spot

Our log has some hollow spots. Our farm volunteer, Denise, filled the holes with soil and planted Creeping Thyme in them. The thyme patches look lovely and add interest to the frame.

Thank you to Denise Corte, who plants and maintains these herb beds on our farm.

Photos by Ilene White Freedman 

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the House in the Woods blog, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to House in the Woods website.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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.


Rick Reddaway

The recently developed incubator program at Headwaters Farm gives new farmers a four-year period to kick off their new farming career. The objective is to use these four years as a springboard to help them advance their agricultural business model. Rick Reddaway, owner of Abundant Fields Farm and member of the incubator’s inaugural class of 2013, is nearing the completion of his second year in the program. And according to Rick, the first two years flew by pretty fast. It is now occurring to him that his final two years will probably speed by as well.

He feels fortunate to have two years left to continue building his markets and to identify a property where he can keep his nascent operation growing. Change has been a constant for Rick and his wife, Heather, over the past several years. As such, this latest seismic shift should be something they can weather.

A little more than three years ago, Rick was working as a project manager for a manufacturing company. But even though his career was on the rise, his happiness wasn’t. He and Heather longed to return to a life outside the city, enjoying country life and gardening or farming… something similar to the way they both had grown up.

For Rick that childhood took place on fourteen acres in West Linn, Oregon. To his dad, it was a hobby farm, but to Rick, it was just a farm… the place where he first learned to garden and tend animals. Heather grew up in Sandy, not far to the east of where they live now at Headwaters. Her parents gardened on three acres there and still do.

Most likely, for both Heather and Rick it was the lifestyle they remembered best. Life in the country “digging in the dirt” is how Rick describes it. They wanted to give their new son a childhood like the one they both had, and every farmers market they walked through honed that desire more poignantly.

kale ready for market

“We didn’t want to continue to live in the city, and I had reached the point where I just couldn’t sit at a desk anymore,” said Rick. “So we talked about it and decided to make the leap. We moved in with Heather’s parents and they set aside a quarter-acre plot for me to get started growing vegetables.”

Rick didn’t waste any time getting started. As soon as they moved he started planting, and he applied to several farmers markets. The Montavilla Farmers Market said yes, providing him with a sales venue. Fortunately, Heather’s mother was willing to act as his mentor, imparting her decades worth of experience and helping him develop a planting plan… the first of many new skills he would discover he was lacking.

“I had gardened before, obviously, but that mostly consisted of planting some seeds and growing enough food to satisfy myself,” explained Rick. “Planting enough to fill an entire season at a farmers market and growing produce that will satisfy shoppers was a whole new thing. In hindsight, I’m sure I could have benefited from doing an internship or working on a farm for a year or two. In fact, I’d probably recommend that to anyone else just getting started, but I’ve always been the type to just jump in and do it. There’s some pain involved, but it’s good pain.”

It was at the Montavilla market where Rick met fellow farmer Rowan Steele, who helps his wife, Katie Coppoletta, run Fiddlehead Farm. Rowan also manages the Headwaters Farm incubator program. Rowan saw enough promise in the work Rick was doing to suggest that he apply to join the first set of incubator farmers at Headwaters.

Rick saw an incubator program as a good opportunity, but to transition from the quarter-acre plot at his in-law’s house to a formal business incubator meant he would have to stop shooting from the hip and start getting organized. Step one was writing a legitimate business plan.

abundant fields farm sign

“I had never done a business plan,” Rick confessed. “But now I had to because I was applying to start a business. I mean there was some crossover with my project management work. There are processes that have to happen, but now I had to apply that thinking to farming. In the beginning, I guess I was too caught up in the dream to think that way. I just thought I would go start planting a bunch of stuff and sell it. But as the idea of farming started to become the reality of farming, I was encountering logistics that hadn’t occurred to me.”

After his application and business plan made the cut, the next step in the incubator process was the interview. “They were throwing questions at me, and that reinforced the seriousness of it, but I felt okay about the interview after it was over. And then I got the invitation to join the program. Man, I was ecstatic.”

That was how Rick’s incubator experience began. To sweeten the pot, he also was chosen to live onsite at Headwaters and act as the property caretaker. He actually was the only program farmer to apply for that role, but regardless, he sees it as a plus. He, Heather and their young son, Brenner, live on the sixty acres with low rent a trade for work that ranges from helping with construction projects to making a daily walk around the property to check on things.

“My boy loves those daily walks,” Rick said. “He calls it a walk down woolly bear lane because we’re always seeing those little woolly bear caterpillars everywhere. We wanted him to have a chance to grow up in the country, and right now he has a sixty acre backyard.”

At least for two more years anyway. What happens after that remains the question that simply won’t go away. The answer will probably involve money, which Rick admits in spite of the fact that he’s steadfast about the fact he’s not traveling this path for the money.

“What I’m doing now directly touches other people. That matters. And digging in the dirt makes me happy. But I understand we have to make enough to keep it going.”

To be continued...

This profile is excerpted from Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon's New Farm Movement. Get your copy now.

Photo credits: All photos by Lisa D. Holmes. (Top) Rick Reddaway, owner of Abundant Fields Farm. (Middle) Kale: a staple of Oregon vegetable growers. (Bottom) Abundant Fields logo and a lucky horseshoe Rick found when digging.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging 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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