Organic Gardening

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

Add to My MSN


This is an excellent time of the year to start organizing and cleaning up area that you might not do any other time of the year. As long as the temperature is not freezing and no snow on the ground, there are many gardening tasks that you can accomplish to alleviate the spring rush.

The main reason to take advantage of this time of the year is because you can see what you are doing. No pests, no leaves on the trees or undergrowth and no  snakes. Got a wasp or hornet's nest hanging around? You can get rid of it without the chance of getting stung. Remove the briars and other assorted vegetation that is creeping on to your yard.  Trim tree limbs while trees are dormant. If you are in an area that garden debris can be burned, take the clean ashes and place them on your compost pile and turn the mound.

Cleaning Up Around Yard 

Starting a new garden? Layout the outline of the bed. One of the new gardens that we are planning is a drought tolerant garden. We have been moving the rocks for the border. Any material used will settle until planting time.

Clean and organize your garden shed. Get rid of those mismatched gloves, broken garden stakes and old garden tools that are taking up space. What about the garden pots and trays that you have been planning on using for the last five years- are they still there? Separate the good pots from the bad and call your local greenhouse. Ask if they can use them. We have gladly accepted various pots that our customers don't want any more.Take the unusable containers to the recycling center. Brush out the cobwebs in storage areas and start the year out fresh.

Check your equipment and do basic maintenance. Sharpen blades, change the oil, clean mowers, rototillers and any other equipment. If you know there is a problem with any equipment take it to the repair person. There is a possibility that they will not be busy this time of the year and can repair your equipment quickly, so that it will be ready for use. Everyone is very busy in the Spring, and it is very disappointing when you go out to work in the garden and your equipment won't start.

A little bit of time and energy spent this Winter will definitely pay dividends in the Spring.

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. 


Cherry tomatoes from our farm -- ready for customer delivery

The Discriminating Preservationists: Seed Saver’s Exchange

If you are just beginning to explore the tomato world, an exceptional place to look for new tomato varieties is Seed Savers Exchange. This non-profit has an online catalog populated with a carefully selected group of top-performing tomatoes. By extension, it is also a great place to look when you want to order a few excellent varieties for any crop.

Seed Savers Exchange also has a Yearbook for members, and in this yearbook you will find thousands of varieties of seeds offered by a diversity of members throughout the country. You can find many varieties that are not available elsewhere, and you can also find seed for varieties that were grown in a location near yours.

The fact that there are so many varieties listed by members in the Yearbook makes it that much more amazing that the varieties listed at the online store are so streamlined, with such across-the-board excellence. I would guess this is due to the fact that Seed Savers Exchange trials many varieties at their site in Decorah, Iowa, and to the fact that the folks running Seed Savers Exchange know a whole lot about tomatoes!

The Eclectic Tomato Addicts: Tomatoville

Once you get hooked by the diverse types of heirloom and other “Open-Pollinated” varieties of tomatoes, like those found at Seed Savers Exchange, it is very easy to get sucked into the rabbit-hole that is Tomatoville.

Tomatoville is an online community where one can talk about tomatoes all day and all night, 365 days a year. Perhaps more importantly, it is a place where people share and trade seeds for thousands of well-known and obscure tomatoes from around the globe. It is also a place to find countless opinions about tomatoes and tomato growing. There are many threads that compare and contrast all types of tomatoes. I have developed many friendships at Tomatoville, and it is one of the very first places I visit online, after sitting down with my coffee in the morning.

Multitudes of seeds swaps occur at Tomatoville; and while some are organized, others occur spur-of-the-moment when a member posts about needing a variety they can’t find anywhere else, or a variety everyone is talking about.

Many owners of small “mom-and-pop” seed companies are also members at Tomatoville, and these small independent businesses offer treasure troves of tomato varieties, many of them relatively unknown. A good number of the owners of these small seed businesses are not in it primarily for financial gain, which is all the more reason to support them. Many years ago, my first big order of tomato seed was sent to one of these small enterprises. In fact, it was a little company that did not have a stellar record when it came to sending out seed in a timely manner, or sending out uniform seed. However, the imperfect seed order I got from them, many years ago, was full of a number of varietal gems I never would have discovered had I not wandered off the beaten path of professional catalogs to order from that unique, small business.

The Archiver: Tatiana’s Tomato Base

One beloved Tomatoville resident of particular note is Tatiana Kouchnareva, who is the founder and owner of Tatiana’s TOMATObase.  Her TOMATObase is a fascinating online encyclopedia of tomato varieties, and Tatiana is very resourceful and thorough in her efforts to track down and catalog information about tomatoes. For example, if you go to her page for the Iraqi variety Al-Kuffa, you can find out basic information about this uncommon variety, as well as information about where to find seeds, photos of the variety and also the history of the variety in North America. Seed for many of the varieties described in Tatiana’s TOMATObase are available at the site, and purchases directly support her excellent work.

The small farmer’s seed company: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

While hobbyists and gardeners may have the luxury of choosing tomato varieties based on flavor, looks, or even history -- farmers need to also concern themselves with traits like production and disease resistance. As a small farmer, the seed company I have learned to trust for their farmer-friendly selections is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. To me, they have always seemed to be nimble enough to find and offer excellent new varieties, while not losing sight of the need to stick to varieties that will perform well. The last thing a small farm needs is a fabulous tasting tomato that produces only a small number of tomatoes, or only produces for a very short time late in the season. My experience has been that Johnny’s Selected Seeds varieties perform well under specific conditions. For example, they have an excellent lineup of greenhouse tomatoes with resistance to the diseases common to the greenhouse.

Disclaimer: I am a tomato breeder, and I have a long-term contract to cooperatively breed new tomato varieties with Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This relationship certainly makes me biased when recommending seed companies. However, it is worth pointing out that I am working with Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in no small part, because I was a very happy customer who originally approached them, with requests that they trial varieties that I had bred (the Artisan Cherry Tomatoes).

Our Tomatoes: Artisan Seeds

I breed tomatoes on our small farm in Sunol, California. Some of the tomatoes I have bred are shown in the photo above. Although most of the varieties we have released are sold by well established seed companies, like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, we do sell some of our unique varieties directly, particularly when they are not sold elsewhere. One current example is the tomato Spike. We released this tomato locally, primarily via plant sales, a number of years ago. It is a tomato that is not particularly well-suited to farming, since the fruits ripen (and soften) so quickly that it can be hard to harvest, transport and sell fruits without losing a lot to bruising. However, Spike has fantastic flavor, and it’s modest plant size, and good productivity, make it a great home-garden variety.

We currently also have a very exciting program where we release our new varieties to collaborating members 1 year in advance of general release. This program is of particular interest to true tomato addicts, and to small farmers that use unique produce to attract, and excite, customers. We view this program as a type of win-win barnraiser program for both us, and our collaborators.

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.


My new book, Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement, spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile, which has been excerpted from Planting A Future, features one of Oregon’s oldest and most successful biodynamic farms. Read Getting to Know the Farmers at Winter Green Farm, Part 1.

Cattle relaxing at Winter Green Farm

“We were really naive about how to make it all work,” said Jack Gray. “We were pretty grounded in the environmental movement and we had a lot of things in our head. But within a couple of years we got rid of the draft horses. When we looked at the prospect of becoming a viable farm and actually making some money, we realized we had to do something different. As we looked around, we noticed that a new environmentally friendly, alternative form of agriculture was just starting to bud a little bit, so we tried to get involved with that.”

So they began attending the early organizing meetings of Willamette Valley Tilth (which would evolve to become Oregon Tilth). They also participated with another local effort called the Organically Grown Co-op (now Organically Grown Company) which was in the process of kicking off. As they ventured out, what they discovered was that many things involved with food and agriculture were starting to change. Diverse activity everywhere. So many possibilities.

Which brings us back to that meeting with Wali and Jabrila Via. Two couples, both convinced they could accomplish more by working together with someone else than they could do alone. There was no intention to do a deal when they all sat down. They were just two families getting together to share ideas and maybe ask for a little advice.

Wali recalls, “We just came over to talk to them and after awhile they asked if we would consider working here, and we thought that sounded like a good opportunity so we said okay. Then we worked here and we did a contract with them that first year for vegetable starts. That’s my recollection of it, and that was 1985.”

It wasn’t all roses though. After their years farming in the Deadwood community, and another five years working to build a life on their own farm, Jabrila didn’t want to leave it all behind. Turns out there was a silver lining waiting to be discovered.

“I believe the thing that really changed us over to doing something different was that Wali never got to see his kids,” says Jabrila. “I didn’t want to come here at first, although I’m very happy here and it’s my life, but I didn’t want to leave our farm in Deadwood. I loved our life there. But when the girls woke up that first morning here and they asked ‘where’s Dad?’ I said ‘look out the window.’ And he was out there harvesting cauliflower and they were like, ‘is this where he works?’ and they ran out and saw him, and I was like, okay, okay, I’m over myself.”

Thus began a partnership that would yield one of the best loved organic farms in Oregon, as well as one of the few biodynamic farms of any size. That’s not surprising when considering the spiritual and idealistic roots these four farmers share. For those who aren’t familiar with biodynamic practices, it kind of takes an organic commitment and kicks it up a few notches.

A biodynamic farm is viewed as one holistic organism. To the extent possible, no external inputs are brought in. Instead, all inputs such as fertilizer and compost are generated on the farm, which means that both plants and animals are raised in harmony, and all of the farm’s processes are intricately connected. A healthy piece of earth is home to a diversity of plants, both those we call crops and those we call weeds. Both insect pests and insect beneficials have their role to play. The soil needs to eat and drink and breathe to become supple and strong.

There’s a complex science behind biodynamic agriculture that was founded by a man named Rudolf Steiner. But if you just sit back and think about it, a biodynamic farm is pretty darn close to the classic, old-time family farm with cows and pigs and chickens and goats and grains and vegetables and fruit and pastures and all the rest of it. Throughout history those farms managed to produce food as self-contained operations that were handed down through the generations. They didn’t depend on chemicals, poisons, or even organic imports being brought onto the farm the way modern industrial agriculture does. They depended on healthy soil and diverse natural ecosystems. And anytime those principles were cast aside, the land perished and became barren.

That’s one of the truly beautiful things about Winter Green Farm. It has taken an idealized notion and, through science, management, marketing and dedication, has translated that notion into a commercially viable agricultural reality.

Basil to supply Winter Green Farm's pesto business

Another important part of the Winter Green Farm story is that it has served as a training ground for hundreds of future farmers and contributors to the organic agriculture industry. Some for just a season or two, but others stay for many years. Two of those long-time employees recently became the third couple to join the farm’s ownership group. After fifteen years of commitment to Winter Green Farm, Chris and Shannon Overbaugh became co-owners in 2009.

Chris and Shannon exemplify the approach that Jack believes works best for people who want to become farmers.  “You really have to work for other farmers first,” he explains. “Learn and see what it takes, and then build a plan from that. A lot of people are homesteading these days, and homesteading is great, but that’s not really the best way to break in to farming anymore. Also, I think there’s a lot of potential for cooperative farms, but the main thing is that there’s just a lot more to learn about organics now than there used to be. Less margin for error. More professionalism is required. It’s one thing to grow it, but it’s another one to produce a product that you’re able to consistently sell.

“And I suppose that it’s important to keep an open mind. In the long run I think agriculture will just keep evolving. Commercial agriculture has definitely moved in the direction of organic. And unfortunately, organic has moved a bit in the commercial direction. To a certain degree, it may need to. But the question of scale is a central issue. Can you really scale up organic and have it work in the same way… the holistic way it should work. Large farms do have some incredible advantages economically, but in terms of where things should be going… I’m a firm believer in local, and that’s not going to change.”

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

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Cattle provide vital nutrients for Winter Green Farm's sophisticated biodynamic compost operations.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. In addition to providing a wide range of organic vegetables for CSAs, farmers markets, and wholesalers, Winter Green Farm grows basil (shown here) for its pesto operation.

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. 


The Missouri Organic Association (MOA), a non-profit all volunteer organization, is gearing up for its 2015 Annual Conference on February 5th, 6th and 7th at the University Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, Springfield, Missouri. This educational conference will be the 6th annual regional conference hosted by the Missouri Organic Association with participants gathering primarily from the four-state region. According to Baird, the conference has evolved into a regional conference with approximately 60 percent of attendees from Missouri and the remaining 40 percent of attendees residing in Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma and other states. Participants are comprised of farmers, ranchers, scientists, health officials, and consumers who want to learn more about the foods they produce and eat.


Sue Baird, Executive Director of the MOA welcomes everyone to attend. “This conference is not just for farmers and producers… Anyone concerned about independent food sources, the rising health issues in our children, supporting sustainable family farms, environmental issues and solution-based philosophies of biological and organic growing practices will have something to gain from this conference,” Baird says. The Missouri Organic Association was just named in the 2014 Good Food Org Guide presented by Food Tank and The James Beard Foundation. According to Food Tank, The Good Food Org Guide is a definitive Guide which highlights nonprofit organizations that are doing exemplary work in the United States in the areas of food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity, and food justice.

Baird has been involved with the organization for 15 years and has served as the Executive Director for the past 5 years. Under her leadership, the MOA has been a conduit for educating thousands throughout the region on food related topics, and growing and producing organic, natural and sustainably produced crops. Baird says, “The mission of the MOA will always be to provide local, organic and sustainable family farms with the tools they need to run successful farming businesses; and secondly to educate the general public about why they should support local farmers.”

The MOA Conference will consist of over 54 Hands-on Workshops focused on organic and sustainable production including: Grain production, Livestock production, Vegetable production, High-tunnel small fruits and vegetable production, Sustainable living skills, Culinary and medicinal plants, and a whole lot more! Meet and learn from 70 plus vendors! For anyone wanting to know more about the GMO issues, the GMO Plenary is a must attend full day panel workshop! It includes some of the nation’s leading experts: Dr. Don Huber, “GMO’s and Glysophates Effects on our soil and health” and Robyn O’Brien, “A Call to Action- Our Future, Our Health; Jim Gerriten, “The Effects of GMOs on the family farms”; and Edwin J. Blosser will be discussing the “Spiritual Truths about GMOs”

St. Louis area speakers include Mark Brown of the Gateway Garlic Farm, EarthDance Farm, and yours truly (Crystal Stevens) along with my husband Eric Stevens of La Vista Farm. Mark Brown will be teaching the workshop entitled, “Garlic for Health and Wealth on the Farm”; EarthDance Farm will be discussing “Propagation and Production of PawPaws”; and my husband and I will be co-teaching, “Growing and Using Medicinal Herbs,” along with individually teaching “Vermiculture 101”, “Fermentation 101”, and “DIY Natural Household Cleaners”.

The full 3-day Workshop and GMO Plenary agendas are available for viewing. Check theMOA Conference Agenda for more information.

The conference price is $175 for all three days and a single day pass is $75. An Early Bird Special discount is available until January 15th, which includes a Buy 1 registration at full price, Get the 2nd registration at half-price. After the Early Bird deadline of January 15 is over, the Buy 1- Get 2nd at half-price will disappear and all ticket prices increase by $20. Go to the MOA Conference website to register. Hotel reservations are available at a special MOA Conference block price of $79(+tax) per night at The University Plaza Hotel, Springfield, Mo. Be sure to mention the MOA conference block.

Fun-Filled Three Days

Thursday includes choice of educational sessions. Thursday evening includes the MOA Expo 2015 Grand Opening as well as a “Savor the Flavor”Reception Dinner in which attendees are invited to taste the flavors of MOA Farmers, Retailers, Microbreweries and Wineries. Thursday also includes the MOA Live Benefit Auction to help fund the MOA Conference.

Friday includes choice of educational sessions as well as the GMO Plenary with Robyn O’Brien and Food Policy Workshop.

Friday evening attendees will enjoy the MOA Cochon15 & MOA Top Chef Challenge, featuring St. Louis Chef- Josh Galliano of The Libertine and Springfield Chef- Wes Johnson of Metropolitan Farmer butchering pasture based hogs.

The MOA Top Chef Challenge 2015 will feature St. Louis Chefs- Rex Hale (The Cheshire) and   Wil Pelly of In Good Company & Sanctuaria. Also featured in the lineup will be Kansas City Chef- Michael Foust of The Farmhouse, Springfield Chef - Paul Trout of Chateau on the Lake as well as Columbia Chef- Walker Claridge of Broadway Brewery. Other chefs may be added as they express interest.

Friday evening, there will also be a Banquet Dinner of local organic and sustainably produced foods. Following dinner, attendees may choose between a screening of GMO OMG, or Live Music and Dancing with Dallas Jones.

Saturday includes choice of educational sessions as well as brunch with keynote speaker Joseph Simcox, “The Botanical Explorer” of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

For more information, visit the MOA Conference website.

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. 


Janisse Ray, seed activist and author of The Seed Underground, writes: Runner Beans

“When seed varieties vanish from the marketplace, they evaporate not only from collective memory but also from the evolutionary story of the earth. Seeds are more like Bengal tigers than vinyl records, which can simply be remanufactured. Once gone, seeds cannot be resurrected.”

In my own experience I felt this most strongly with a small collection of ‘Big Mama’ Pole Beans I picked up at a seed swap in Alabama a few of years ago. The handwritten note that came with the beans said:

Big Mama – at least 100 yr. heirloom green bean from Sand Mtn. area. Prolific, long purple pods.”

Receiving these beautiful little purple beans wasn’t what got me hooked on seeds; it was my inability to find information about them anywhere online. I realized that I owned something that I couldn’t buy, and I panicked!

What if I’m the only one left growing these seeds? How terrible would it be if the line that links my imagined ‘Big Mama’ and her special purple beans, stretching back over 100 years, ends with me?

I took these worries and turned them into seeds, and I’m pleased to report the beans are doing well. Extinction is not on the horizon! But, it’s amazing how differently I treat the ‘Big Mamas’ compared to the common varieties I know I can replace so easily. I sometimes wonder why these beans are so special. Are they better than the Royal Burgundy or Royalty Purple Pod varieties to warrant this extra care? My honest answer is, No! although I’ll happily admit the pods do boast an iridescent purple-green sheen.

Seed Saving’s Role in Food Security

The issue is way bigger than which bean is better. The real concern is a largely unconscious ignorance of seeds and the seed system, this lazy assumption that there will always be more seeds. We hear about food security all the time, but addressing food security without discussing seed security is like the foolish man building his house upon the sand. It’s a pretty house, but it’s going to fall down in a storm.

Janisse Ray: “Goodbye, cool seeds. Goodbye, history of civilization. Goodbye food.”

In the last hundred years we have experienced a massive loss of varietal diversity, something that can easily be seen in supermarket grocery stores. In 1903 there were 288 varieties of beet available, by 1983 there were 17 [RAFI USA] and the average supermarket consumer is likely to be aware of only one or two. There are many reasons for this, but the take away for this article is that diversity is good and we are losing it.

Diversity is good for diet, it’s good for environmental change, it’s good for disease and pest resistance, it’s good for a continued evolution of healthy plant genetics. But, it’s bad for Big Ag, for mono cropping and for corporate ownership of our seeds. So, to repeat Janisse Ray, “Goodbye, cool seeds.”

The question I find myself asking, is where have all those varieties gone? Where are they hiding? The answer is complicated. There is sadness because some varieties have been lost forever. But seeds are tenacious and adaptable and so are the people who save them; seeds want to survive.

Many have survived in people’s gardens and on small farms, within seed saving communities and through the care of passionate seed companies committed to the continuance of the genetic heritage of loved varieties. At Sow True Seed old farmers and gardeners often ask us to steward their family heirlooms, with the only wish that we keep them alive and true. We never say no and many of those “lost” varieties are finding new popularity.

Janisse Ray: “A seed makes itself. A seed doesn’t need a geneticist or a hybridist or publicist or matchmaker. But it needs help. Sometimes it needs a moth or a wasp or a gust of wind. Sometimes it needs a farm and it needs a farmer. It needs a garden and a gardener. It needs you.”

The Story of SeedSeed Jars

All food deserves the respect of a story, and like all good stories there are twists and turns. Our favorite characters struggle and grow, the bad guys cause ruin and heroes save the day at the last minute. Lee Barnes is one of our local heroes in the Carolinas, championing seed saving for decades and leading a Plant & Seed Exchange. But, there aren't enough seed heroes and more often than not the story of food completely misses out the beginning and the end, the link in the cycle: the story of seed!

So, here’s another part of the Big Mama Pole Bean story, which was listed in the 1992 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook: ’70-75, purple-green [pods], delicious raw or cooked even when larger, my staple bean each year, black seed, 70-80 year-old heirloom from 83-year-old “Big Mama” via her mother, So. Alabama, between Brewton and Andalusia, got seed thru Nat’l. Gardening Mag.

I'll leave you with a final thought: Seed, through the people who grow and save and replant it, is constantly evolving. The decisions you make as a seed saver are plot and character decisions; you become the story teller. And if you're a great story teller then maybe, like Big Mama, you'll become a part of the story.

The Story of Seed is a 12-part series that explores all the aspects of seed saving that you need to know to start saving and maintaining your own seed stock; to start the story of the varieties you hold dear.

Sow True Seed sells only open-pollinated varieties to supports seed saving and seed sovereignty.

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.


Seed catalogs begin to arrive in mid-December, but we tuck them away until New Year’s Day, which becomes an orgy of seed dreams in front of the fire. For several weeks, we circle, color-code, and fold down pages in all of the catalogs, like we had an infinite amount of space and the perfect climate for every plant. Dream Big — but then, reality sets in and we have to narrow the selection down. These are the criteria for seed selection, after years of patient sorting.

seed catalogs

1. No GMO seeds. The jury may still be out on GMO’s long-term impact on the environment, but I do not want to be part of the distribution of genetically modified seeds. Therefore, if the company does not publish the Safe Seed Pledge up front, I toss it. After a few years, those catalogs no longer land on my doorstep.

2. Consider the climate. The Pacific Northwest has long (from February to early July) damp springs, quick cool very dry summers, and temperate winters. It is rare for the ground to freeze thoroughly, although it is totally saturated from December through March. I start with catalogs designed specifically for the Northwest, like Territorial seeds, which often has varieties developed three blocks ways, at OSU. Irish Eyes also focuses on short season crops, as well as potatoes. Big time outfits do not do as well here; I haven’t considered Burbee seeds for years, although they were my first seed catalog when I lived in New Hampshire. Greens grow here, year round. Mustard, kale, collards, cabbages…perfect. Long season, hot weather crops, like sweet corn, beefsteak tomatoes, and eggplants need special care and nurturing, as well as a specific microclimate. I have one friend who does well with the hot weather crops, but her backyard is more exposed than ours. We have talked about crop trades. So, when I read the descriptions of tomato varieties, if it is a 90-day tomato, it is off the list. Dried beans can also be a challenge, because they need to be fully fleshed out, if not dried down, before the first fall rains.

3. Will we eat it? We are open to a huge variety of vegetables, but we like some much better than others. If it is a choice between daikon radishes and another row of yellow beans, the beans win, every time. We are not the only ones; the CSA trade box is often full of radishes. The corollary also holds true—is it tasty? Two years ago, OSU developed a very striking black cherry tomato. The plant was husky and green, the tomatoes prolific and stunning, and the advertising was high in antioxidants. They appeared in everyone’s front yard garden boxes. Everyone admired them. Then we bit into the fruit. Not tasty. Very few were planted last year.

4. Do we need it in that color? One year, two of my seed-purchasing friends and I all fell prey to the Purple Podded Peas. The description of the flowers and the pods was so well written; the plants were lovely. The contrast between the purple and green…stunning. Then we harvested. The peas were hard as a rock and flavorless. I don’t have room for plants that just look lovely—at least, not if they want to be watered. Red celery did not grow as well as the green, but was pretty. Even the Painted Lady Scarlet runner beans did not produce as well as the traditional variety.

5. Finally, after hours of dreaming, I narrow down my choices. I always try a new tomato, because I am still searching for perfection. I allow myself one or two experimental crops each season. One year, it was soybeans, which were excellent. Another, I grew a few kohlrabi, but was stumped by how to cook them. Some years, fennel bulbs do well, others celery. The goal is a balance of old, proven winners and a few new crops to provide interest.

By early February, the seed lists have been made, the orders sent, and the rough garden plan sketched out. On Candlemas — also known as Groundhog’s Day—I will start the cabbage and broccoli, tomatoes and kale plants for the early garden and set the grow lamps up in my classroom. When the first seed sprouts, the cycle has begun again.

To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog. Go to Julia Lont's website or Blue Camas Press to see more of her amazing artwork.

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.


Carrots are rich in antioxidants, beta-carotenes, vitamin A, vitamin C, many B-complex vitamins like folic acid, B6, thiamin, pantothenic acid, as well as minerals like calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper.

Carrots, like turnips, have been around for thousands of years. Its seeds were used for medicinal purposes. Carrots likely originated in the Iran/Afghanistan area and spread to the Mediterranean. It is shown in Egyptian tomb paintings from 2000 BC. The first records that it was used for the European kitchen was in the 900s in Spain. Carrots were originally used mainly for livestock feed in the American colonies and for its aromatic leaves and seeds.

The first wild carrots were purple. The wild carrot is known as Queen Anne’s lace and adapted very well in America. The popular culinary orange-colored variety did not become stable until the 1700s. It quickly became the most popular variety in both Europe and the colonies. Carrots are related to parsley, fennel, dill and cumin. Like their cousins, the greenery also is edible.

Carrots Come In Many Colors 

All kinds of colors are now available. White (White Satin), red (Atomic Red), orange (the most popular in the US), yellow (Yellowbunch, Yellow Sun, YellowPak), and purple (Purple Haze, Purple Sun, Purple, Deep Purple, Cosmic Purple, Purple Dragon). There are also variety seed packets available so you can grow all the colors.

Carrots like loose, well-dug soil that is rich in organic matter, but they will also grow in moderately rich soil with a wide pH range of 5.5-7.0. The ideal soil would be dug 6 to 10 inches deep and mixed with sand and compost. The longer the root, the deeper the depth of loose soil needed to grow large, straight roots.

There are also shorter root varieties that can be sown if you do not want to dig that deeply or if you want to grow them in pots. Some short varieties are Little Finger (4 inches long), Adelaide (the size of your pinky), Short 'n' Sweet (4 inches), Thumbelina (1- to 1.5-inch diameter), Parmex (1.2- to- 2-inch diameter), Tonda di Parigi (1.5- to 2-inch diameter).

Sow every 2 weeks in March through August. First plantings should be about 2 weeks prior to your first frost. Carrots do not like to be transplanted so direct sowing is best. Soak seeds 6 hours before sowing. Sow 1/4-inch deep, 1/2-inch apart thinning to 2 to 4 inches. Thinning is critical to having nice roots. Keep evenly moist and do not allow to dry out for the up-to-14-day germination period.

I have used my Aerogarden for growing seedlings indoors prior to planting out into pots and have had good luck.

Carrot seed is tiny. There are a couple of techniques you can use to not sow too thickly. You can mix 1/4 teaspoon with a gallon of sand and sow uniformly. Another technique used is to mix radish seeds and carrot seeds together and sow. The radishes come up quickly and are ready to harvest well before the carrots so you get 2 crops for the effort of 1. Be sure that a hard crust does not form over the top of the seeds. These seedlings are not strong enough to push through. You can cover lightly with organic potting soil, vermiculite or compost.

For your last plantings of the season look for a type like Napoli, Autumn King or Nantes that can be harvested throughout the winter. Merida can be planted in late September for an early spring harvest. Frost actually makes the carrots sweeter so leaving them in the ground in the fall will improve their flavor. The only barrier to winter harvesting is if the ground freezes solid.

Giving the carrot patch a nice coat of straw and/or covering after reaching harvestable size with a gardening fabric like Reemay can keep the ground from freezing solid. This type of floating cover can increase the temperature of the ground approximately 5 degrees and allows 75 percent light transmission while allowing air flow and rain through. It can be placed directly on your plants. Just place loosely and hold down the edges with mulch, rocks or a board. You can use the row cover in the spring for protecting your plants from insects and even in summer for reducing sun scald. It is very handy, but is lightweight so will only last a season or two.

If you want to bring indoors to store, placing in a cool place in sand that is kept moist is the best indoor long term storage for the winter.

For more tips on small space organic 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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.