Organic Gardening

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

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8/28/2015

According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension bulletin Celebrate with Safe Salsa, salsa is one of the most popular condiments used in the United States. When you go to a Mexican restaurant, they even bring it to your table with chips while you are waiting for your order. Besides corn chips, you can use it on so many things, such as potatoes, eggs, and meat. We like to add salsa to our homegrown cowpeas.

Often based on tomatoes, peppers, and onions, salsa can vary due to the type of tomatoes and peppers used. Paste tomatoes will give you a thicker product, while the type of peppers chosen can result in salsa ranging in taste from very mild to very hot. There are other ingredients you can add to change the flavor. When making your own salsa you can decide just how smooth or chunky it is by how finely you chop the vegetables.

Canning Garden-Fresh Salsa in a Water Bath Canner

I am all for experimenting in the kitchen and when you are making salsa to eat fresh, experiment all you want — store the extra in the fridge, and use it within a week. However, if you are going to be canning salsa, there are some guidelines you need to follow to make sure you have a safe product.

These guidelines apply to canning salsa in a water bath canner. Water bath canning is safe for foods that are high in acid. Pressure canning is for low-acid foods. If you were to combine vegetables, with the resulting combination having a pH greater than 4.6, you would need to use a pressure canner and choose the length of time for processing according to the vegetable in the mixture that requires the longest time.

Water Bath Canning with Vinegar or Lemon Juice

As long as you follow a tested recipe, you will be good. The canning books are loaded with safe recipes and you will find some in Celebrate with Safe Salsa. Vinegar and lemon juice help bring the acidity to the level needed to use a water bath. The vinegar used needs to be at least 5% acidity (this is important).

Homemade vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon juice are not recommended because the level of acidity is not known. Unless, of course, you have a way of checking to make sure it is at least 5%. Bottled lemon juice tends to be more acidic than vinegar. You can substitute lemon juice for vinegar, but you can’t substitute vinegar for lemon juice.

Salsa is one of the easiest things to make from your garden harvest. Although I tend not to can as much as I used to, preferring to use fermentation and drying as my methods of preservation, as well as growing crops that store well on their own, I like having canned salsa as a convenience food. Most everything I need comes from the garden, except for the vinegar and salt. You can learn more about my salsa making at Homeplace Earth.

If you are into eating as close to home as you can, making salsa from ingredients from your garden and your farmers market can increase the variety of dishes on your table. Get creative and use it to add some zing to what you already eat.

Take a Local Food Challenge

If you are serious about local eating, you might want to join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and participate in the challenge coming up in October. It is a fun way to gauge how far you have come on your local food journey. With that in mind, make some salsa from ingredients as local as you can find them and enjoy the results!

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store) and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.com.


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.



8/17/2015

 

© Anastasia Cole Plakias, Brooklyn Grange Farm 

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ben Flanner, at the Missouri Organic Association Conference held in Springfield, Missouri, a while back. Ben Flanner is the Head Farmer and President of Brooklyn Grange Farm, a for-profit roof-top farm in New York City, New York. The Brooklyn Grange has sites in both Brooklyn and Queens.  Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Flanner is a transplant to NYC. Flanner has always had an affinity for gardening. Some of his most vivid childhood memories include gardening with his mother in Wisconsin. He would help her plant, weed, water, and harvest. She taught him how to cook, how to make pickles and how to preserve the bounty.  These life lessons he learned early on have made their way full circle back into his life time and time again. The time spent with his mother in the garden sculpted his life and he holds her in reverence for giving him those experiences.

An engineer by trade, Flanner had a fascination for the rhythms of big cities. After college, he spent five years at a desk job, however he was interested in a more physically active profession. . The yearning subsided when he was again embraced by the fresh air and sunshine he longed for on those tiring 9-5 work weeks stuck between four walls and fluorescent lights.

He became more and more intrigued by agriculture and desired to combine his formal training with his reclaimed passion for growing food. Upon his return to New York in 2009, Flanner co-founded the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, the very first roof top farm in New York at the time. Flanner is truly a pioneer in the roof top farm culture and continues to make new advances in energy efficient systems associated with roof top agriculture. His goal was to tackle some of the problems faced by the green roof industry for several decades including maximum efficiency for weight and water capacity. Traditionally, green roofs were planted with sedum, grasses and wildflowers. Flanner had a strong desire to grow a diverse array of edible crops. In 2010, Flanner helped to launch a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Between Kickstarter, private investment, and loans, the farm raised $200,000 to fund their initial green roof farm installation. With backers and ongoing support, Brooklyn Grange now employs eleven motivated and talented individuals to manage their farms, events onsite, and installations and maintenance contracts offsite. 

Brooklyn Grange Farm now umbrellas two functioning rooftop farms which encompass 2.5 acres. The farms combined harvest above 50,000 lbs of organically-grown vegetables, herbs and flowers per year. They grow a myriad produce including tomatoes, peppers, chard, kale, mixed herbs, cucumbers, turnips, radishes, and many other items.

In addition, they operate an apiary, home to upwards of 30 honey bee hives that are managed naturally. These hives are located on various rooftops throughout New York City. Brooklyn Grange also has a line of hot sauce. They sell thousands of bottles of their signature hot sauce at their farmers markets, to local chefs, and online.

 

© Anastasia Cole Plakias, Brooklyn Grange Farm

Brooklyn Grange Farm is a farm which uses only hand methods to create permanent raised beds. They aim for as little soil disturbance as possible to prevent erosion and for the benefit of the microorganisms in the soil. They use a high nutrient compost with a light weight stone. Their seeds are purchased through FedCo seeds, Johnny’s, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Kitazawa seeds. Their success has relied in part by a consistent analysis of what works best- the crops that are the most drought tolerant, crops with the best yields, best economics. For example, their gourmet salad mix and arugula are easy to grow and maintain, they offer a high yield and an excellent economic return. The success of the farm has also been determined by using the best possible equipment.

They use tried and true small hand tools and seeders that have been endorsed by experts in the field such as the Johnny’s 4 way seeder, the stirrup hoe, a metal rake, and hand held weeding tools. They also do a great deal of hand weeding to maintain beds.

 

© Anastasia Cole Plakias, Brooklyn Grange Farm

Brooklyn Grange has an amazing community outreach program geared toward budding farmers, foodies, and children intrigued by the thought of being on a roof top farm in the heart of the city. They offer regular community days. Yoga session are schedule weekly on the rooftop farm. They host a weekly roof top farmers market. They host a plethora of workshops which range in topics from Beekeeping, to Cheese Making, to Fermenting.

Flanner also teaches off-site workshops and consults on topics including farm planning, finances, and crop planning.

Brooklyn Grange is a field-trip destination for over 10,000 urban youth since 2010. One of Flanner’s greatest joys is witnessing their eyes light up when they first step foot on the rooftop farm. Once they have a look around, they seem to be in sheer awe of the seed to table connection.

Future projects include more roof top farms on more roofs throughout the city. Flanner wants to gaze out at a sea of green when he’s standing on the roof top at Brooklyn Grange Farm, whether the green be vegetables or other types of green roofs. His goal is to continue to grow great produce, while training and inspiring more farmers and good eaters, ranging from high school kids, to young and inspired adults, to college students, to middle aged professionals who wish to transition to into farming, to retirees. Anyone can grow. Doing what you can with the space you have to make it as great as possible is the mantra Flanner refers back to in his daily life. “Rooftop farming has been a great opportunity to create two and a half acres of green space in densely populated New York City. It allows us to grow beautiful vegetables, flowers and herbs while engaging our community into the local foods movement. People have become so far removed from their connection to food. Brooklyn Grange Farms inspire healthier and ecologically sound food choices to those in our community.”  


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.



8/14/2015

The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement. Read Part 1 of the Minto Island profile.

Our Minto Island Growers duo admit they already have cut back on some of the native plant and timber-oriented operations they originally inherited. But because those endeavors always were the least labor intensive, their load hasn’t lightened all that much. And they are realizing that labor – the cost of it – will be one of the primary factors that shapes the way their farm evolves.

What many people outside the farming industry fail to understand is how much CSAs depend on low-cost labor. For farmers just starting out with a few acres, a little training, and a dream, labor cost is not a priority because they’re happy to simply recoup the cost of their seeds and inputs, put food on the table, and make their lease payment. They’re doing the work themselves and most realize going in that they’re not going to be able to pay themselves a salary during their early years. Growth changes the equation. Labor and the true cost of doing business have an ever increasing influence on how a farm operation evolves.

“In order to keep all these things afloat and have it make sense – and I do think it can make sense – we need to find the right combination of factors that will keep key employees committed to the farm long-term… people who can help manage each component of our operation,” said Chris. “We’ve had great help from family, certainly. And several key employees have been here awhile now and helped manage things, but they’re moving on, and when they do, it will be difficult to start that cycle over again. We just don’t have enough time to do everything.”

“We can’t do it all and do it well,” added Elizabeth. “We’re not managing things as well as we could, so we’re losing money and losing time. We make it work. Honestly, I think we do an amazing job for how much we have going on. But we’re feeling a tinge of burnout, I think.”

Chris added, “Sometimes we’re reluctant to say that to people because there’s a tendency still to romanticize farming a bit and believe that we’re living the dream. And a lot of the time we are living that dream, but it’s really friggin’ hard.”

“We do feel blessed,” continues Elizabeth. “We’re still really stimulated by what we’re doing. We’re both fascinated by the art of growing a diversified farm. But I think no matter what, even if you have that, if you’re doing too much, it just doesn’t work at the end of the day.”

“I think part of it is that in the beginning it was easier to juggle everything because the volume in all of the sectors was lower,” Chris commented. “And each one now – farm stand, food cart, farmers market, CSA – all of them have grown to the point where it’s getting harder to manage.”

Elizabeth and Chris essentially have been overwhelmed by their own success and need to come to terms with that. So now they’re trying to discipline themselves and really keep track of costs. Then attribute those costs to the appropriate sector, because that information is needed to make smart business decisions. Figure out the production costs of mint and just mint. Parse the cost of vegetables, but not just vegetables… vegetables as they relate to CSA costs, farmers market costs, farm stand costs. Plus, they’re trying to be sensitive to the human costs of too much pressure.

“When I think about what I love most, it’s still growing vegetables,” said Elizabeth. “Whenever I’m out on the tractor or looking at the crops, that’s when I’m happiest. With the pure art of growing food. That process is incredibly satisfying.”

It’s that irreplaceable sense of satisfaction that keeps these two earnest and intelligent young people moving forward and focused on their organic farming future.

“We understand that we need to take a hard look at what all this takes,” said Chris, “whether it’s the marketing or what you’re growing or adapting our farming techniques to outside forces. But I’m pretty confident that we have the resilience to adapt. And I guess I don’t question whether or not we’ll be farming here for the rest of our lives because I’ve internalized the fact that it’s assured.”

“I don’t think any other work could be as satisfying or as enriching,” added Elizabeth. “It’s just a matter of finding a little more balance and making decisions that work for us rather than just doing things because we feel that we have to do them. Which is where we started out. I mean, we’re thankful for all the opportunities that have come out way. But I think it’s really easy in agriculture to believe that this work is so important that you’ll sacrifice anything to make it work. I now realize that is not the truth for me personally. I need personal balance. Because the joy you feel doing the work is reflected in what you produce. I want to bring more of the joy back into it. I think we’ll find that.”

And with all of the growing pains and challenges they face, Elizabeth and Chris still would encourage other young people to give farming a try.

“I would say don’t romanticize it, but don’t be afraid to try it,” said Chris. “A lot of people are farming organically and sustainably and they’re making it work, so it is possible. It’s important to recognize whether you’re feeling fulfilled, because if you’re not, then you’re going to run out of energy. But at the same time, it’s good to know that there’s always next year. And it’s amazing and humbling to know that our business is completely at the whim of natural forces. It feels true to the reality of things, of the world. It just feels real.” 

Get your copy of Planting a Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement today!

Photo Credit: (Top) by Lisa D. Holmes. Elizabeth Miller and Chris Jenkins inherited a significant infrastructure when they took over Minto Island Grower, which carries both benefits and challenges. (Middle) by Lisa D. Holmes. CSA operations require a significant investment in labor to get the product to the customer. Growing wonderful row crops like these is only half the battle. (Bottom) by Lisa D. Holmes. U-pick blueberries provide a product with significantly lower labor costs. And who doesn't love Oregon blueberries? 


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.


8/13/2015

 

Yes, the commonly used name for our beloved, early spring, native wildflower Sanguinaria canadensis is "bloodroot." This makes perfect sense, as a break in the surface of the plant, especially the roots, reveals a reddish, bloodlike sap. Bloodroot was once used as a dye and as an herbal remedy by early Native Americans. Sanguinaria canadensis is native to every state in the U.S. and to every Canadian province east of the Rockies. Consequently, it's considered hardy down to Zone 3.

Planting Bloodroot

And what an easy plant it is to grow! Bloodroot is best planted in average, well-drained soils in part to full shade. It will also do fine with some sun, and seems to grow just as well in drier soils.

The large, multiple, pure-white blooms atop 6-inch to 12-inch plants will grace your garden in early Spring and, after a couple of years, you'll have a colony of self-sown seedlings around a plant that has grown into a very substantial, attractive clump.

The genus Sanguinaria is a member of the Papaveraceae (Poppy) family and is a close relative of plants in the genera Macleaya, Papaver, Meconopsis, Stylophorum, Chelidonium etc.

Oh, if you'd like to know more about Vampires and you don't get HBO to watch the show True Blood, you can go to the Real Vampire Directory and learn more.

Pest-Proof and Perfect for Companion Planting

By the way, Sanguinaria canadensis is 100 percent deer-proof, rabbit-proof, squirrel-proof, mole-proof, vole-proof, chipmunk-proof, well ... nothing seems to bother it. There's a whole host of companion plants that Bloodroot is right at home with, such as Arisaema, Jeffersonia, Uvularia, Hellebores, Hepatica's, Ferns and, well, just use your imagination.

I've been building a good stock of these super-easy to grow plants to share with you and now is the perfect time to plant them to ensure that the roots have plenty of time to develop before winter.

What you receive when you order bloodroot are 5-to-7-year-old bareroot rhizomes that have flowered for the last 2 years. They're ready to plant for a spectacular bloom next Spring. The rhizomes arrive wrapped in moistened, long-fibered, un-milled sphagnum moss. This biodegradable material is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and a very useful material to recycle. To order from Sunshine Farm and Gardens, just fill out the order form.

I welcome you to come visit the gardens here and see thousands of "Bloodroot" and Gazillions of other plants, including 6 acres of "Lenten Roses" in full bloom this coming spring or anytime that you'd like, just call or email me first to make sure that I'll be here to show you around.

By the way, many thanks to my friend Peggy Cornett for the bloodroot image, hers was so much better than mine.

If you have any questions, would like to chat about bloodroot or any other plant that Barry is offering, send an email to his personal email address. Barry’s entire "Speakers Portfolio" is now on line, so, if you're looking for a dynamic, entertaining, educating speaker for your Master Gardener Group, Garden Club, Civic Organization etc, you can peruse it here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



8/12/2015

From the first oregano plant I put in the ground two decades ago, I’ve been hooked on growing and using herbs. An herb garden close to the kitchen door enhances the landscape and provides color, texture and taste to summer recipes. A sprig of mint in tea or lemonade livens up drinks. They seem fresher and embrace a summer of hammocks and comic books. Trout stuffed with fresh rosemary and grilled with olive oil and sea salt could replace the hamburger as a cookout staple. Aromatic basil for homemade pesto. Feathery dill to flavor your pickles. Pungent chives for salads and garnish… I could go on and on.

When you love herbs and become spoiled by stepping out to the garden for a leaf of this or a sprig of that, the end of summer looms like a giant rainless cloud on the horizon. How do you save these herbs so you can use them all through the winter?

1. You can pot them up and put them in a sunny window. These are lovely and will satisfy both your love of culinary herbs and your need to poke around in soil.

2. You can preserve your herbs through drying. The fact is, for many dishes, dried herbs are preferable to fresh. Rosemary, for example, can be pretty chewy if the little needles aren’t dried to a nice crisp snap before you use them for grilled rosemary potatoes are rosemary-garlic bread.

Solar Drying for Sun-Kissed Herbs

Let’s say you have oregano, sage, rosemary, basil and thyme that you don’t want to watch wither on the vine when autumn winds begin to blow. My favorite way to preserve their color and flavor is simply to clip sprigs of the herbs and lay them out in a single layer in a stainless steel roasting pan aimed at the sun. You can also use baking sheets, but a roasting pan provides a little more edge in case a gust of wind comes along. You will be amazed at the amount of heat generated and beware: you may need hot pads to move the pan after it has been lounging in direct sun.

I’ve tried drying herbs in a low oven and it worked. Sort of. They got dry. But I thought the color and flavor were not as vibrant as with sun drying. It also seems silly to have the oven on for two hours when there is a perfectly good sun outside just waiting to work its magic. I have resisted acquiring a dehydrator because I just don’t want another piece of equipment on the kitchen counter. Or worse yet, another gewgaw gathering dust next to my espresso machine and Panini-maker in the pantry.

Saving Thyme

After allowing your herbs to dry in the sun for a few days, simply check on them for dryness. They should be crumbly, aromatic and not at all sticky. Rosemary takes a day or two longer than thyme or oregano. When they are dry, simply slip the herbs off the stems and put them in a jar with an airtight lid. I use regular canning jars and add a label with the herb name and date.

 

That’s all there is to it.

You can read more of Dede's published features in her blog archive on MOTHER EARTH NEWS and at Dashboard Communications.


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. 



8/10/2015

 

Is your kale patch looking like a breeding ground for Japanese beetles? A gardening friend was looking for organic solutions to this problem. I surprised him with my response: mow it down. Not the most assertive kind of pest management, but sometimes it does not make sense to fight. Come August, it might just be time to let go of your kale patch. Kale is a lovely spring crop, with a mild flavor and full, tender leaves. It is good to us in early summer too, replacing clipped leaves with young new ones at an impressive rate. It makes you feel like it could keep going all season long. You start to rely on your kale patch, expecting it to always be there for your green smoothies and kale chips. By now though, the plant is mature and losing its ability to fend off the pests. With a weakened over-the-hill plant, the pests are able to dominate with an infestation. As for your kale, it was good while it lasted. But nothing is that easy for long. Except maybe chard.

Chard will go through the summer hot months like nothing changed. We grow a chard called Perpetual Spinach. Confusing, right? My opinion: It is wrong to name a chard variety “spinach”, as if nobody noticed it is chard. Isn’t that like using the word “butter” in the name for your margarine? It should be illegal. There is valid inspiration — it is a chard that is more delicate than usual, more like spinach than the average chard. But do not be misled, it is not spinach. It is chard. Granted, a spinach-like chard that keeps going and going. Thus, entitled Perpetual Spinach. Most years, our chard patch will prevail to cover the month of August between kale plantings.

So if your kale patch is looking like a breeding ground for Japanese beetles, consider mowing it down and planting a new fresh fall crop. We plant trays and then transplant seedlings. But you could start the seeds directly in the ground too. Do this in early August for a September crop. You will have young tender kale leaves in September that will take you through the frost and beyond. And meanwhile, eat chard.  

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 House in the Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to House in the Woods.


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. 



8/5/2015

 Cabbage in mulch

The Willamette Valley, usually known for it’s darn near perfect summers—dry, breezy, in the eighties with cool nights—has seen two serious heat waves this summer. One came at the end of June, the second at the end of July. Both were problematic for crops, as they came right when many young transplants were settling into the fields. My own small scale fall and winter garden went in about four days before the second heat wave. How could I keep them alive in the blazing afternoon sun when their roots were not reaching deep into the soil? I mulched. First, I worked all of the residual mulch from the early potato crop into the bed. Then I nested each start in a base of straw mulch laid over the ground and soaker hoses. They all came through. Mulch. Straw, leaves, winter cover crops, cardboard or woodshavings … it’s useful stuff. Placed neatly around the base of young plants and later worked into the soil, it has a multitude of benefits.

1. Mulch keeps the weeds at bay. If the garden bed is thoroughly weeded before the mulch is laid down, the organic matter keeps new weed seeds from sprouting as quickly by blocking the light. And, when they do sprout, they are often more loosely attached to the soil and thus easy to pull.

2. Mulch maintains soil tilth and fertility. Mulch and compost alone will not provide all of the nutrients hungry plants need, but they do harbor many microorganisms that aid in nutrient exchange. Organic matter also holds water longer, which can reduce both run-off from a sudden rain and the need for frequent watering. Finally, it can protect soils from compaction during a winter of steady rains.

3. Mulch keeps water where it belongs, in the soil, not on the plants. If you use soaker hoses, covering them with handfuls of straw before the watering season begins helps keep the water on the ground, and in the garden bed, not in the pathway or on the plants. This reduces water waste and helps with plant health by not spreading diseases.

4. Mulch keeps the roots of you plants cool—twenty or thirty degrees cooler on mid-summer afternoons—by providing shade. Slide your hand under a mulched bed and then lay it on the path between the rows and notice the difference! When the weather is hot, this temperature differential can make the difference between a healthy plant and one that is covered by aphids or flea beetles.

5. Mulch helps control garden pests, both by keeping the plants healthier and by providing slow release nutrients to the garden. A healthy plant does not send out distress signals which call in destructive insects. Although some pests can lurk under the leaves, I have found the benefits outweigh the costs.

6. Mulch keeps the garden tidy. There are few things more satisfying than looking over a well-mulched garden, healthy green veggies poking up from under a blanket of new straw or leaf mulch, knowing that everything is right with the field.

It is late in the season to mulch summer crops, but it is the time to start looking around and considering ways to collect and add mulch to the garden beds for next year. Do you need to add another hoop to the compost area to collect leaves and allow them to rot down over the winter? Would a cover crop on several beds provide some early season mulching material? Is there a source of straw, or used bedding material, nearby? Keep your eyes open. Mulch — often free — is everywhere!

With great thanks to Nate at Sunbow Farm, who has been on a serious mulch study all summer long. 

To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog at 21st Street Urban Homestead.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 












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