Organic Gardening

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

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7/15/2014

Cucumber mint water

Plain water is just that-plain. So many people go to sodas or other sweetened, store-bought drinks for refreshment. There are tasty home grown options!

Flavored Water Recipes

For these infusions, place ingredients in a half gallon of water and allow to meld overnight. Shake, then strain into serving container. Chill for a refreshing, tasty water!

• Lemongrass, mint and vanilla-1 large stalk of lemongrass, chopped and crushed, 1/4 cup fresh peppermint coarsely chopped, and 1/2 large vanilla bean or 1 teas vanilla extract.

• Cardamom, orange and vanilla-1 large sliced orange, 1 tablespoon crushed cardamom pods, 1/2 large vanilla bean or 1 teas vanilla extract.

• Blackberry, rose and vanilla-3/4 cup blackberries, 1/4 cup rose petals, 1/2 large vanilla bean.

• Refreshing cucumber mint-1/2 cup chopped and crushed mint with half a sliced cucumber.

Of course, there is always the old-fashioned favorite! Lemonade or limeade: simply squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice into water. one-eighth to one-quarter teaspoon of stevia can be added to any of the above for added sweetness with no sugar or carbs. Too much stevia can impart a bitter taste; a little goes a long way! Stevia is an herb high in antioxidants that is very easy to grow. You can find them almost anywhere that herbal plants are sold. Dry the leaves and use to sweeten anything. Stevia can also be purchased at the store. I would stick with the whole herb to get all the antioxidant benefits. I bought a book called "Stevia naturally sweet recipes for desserts, drinks and more!" by Rita DePuydt that has great ideas for using stevia to cut down or eliminate sugar and carbs in many sweetened foods and drinks.

Making your own vanilla is easy, too. Just buy vanilla beans, slit them open and place 4 of them in 1 cup (8 ounces) of premium vodka and allow to infuse for 4-6 months. If you want to speed up the process, shake weekly and it will be ready to use in 8 weeks. As you use it, you can just re-top. Very inexpensive way to have real vanilla.

Make Your Own Sodas at Home

Blueberry and raspberry soda

For a fruit-flavored soda, use 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of sugar (more or less depending on how sweet the fruit is that you are using), 1 cup apple cider vinegar. Heat the sliced fruit, 1/2 cup of sugar, and vinegar over high heat until it boils. Reduce and simmer until fruit is soft and sugar dissolved. Add more sugar if too tart. When cool, mash the fruit and strain liquid into a jar. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks. For a homemade soda, add 3 tablespoons of syrup into 8 ounces of carbonated cold water.

If you want to go the sugar-free route, substitute 1/2 teaspoon powdered stevia extract for the sugar. Again, be careful in not overdoing the stevia; too much imparts a bitter taste. You can use a combo of stevia with agave nectar, sugar or honey to find a sweetness you like. The less sugar you use, the better for your health.

For a homemade ginger ale, slice 1/4 cup of ginger root and 1/2 lemon or lime, 4 cups of water, simmer in pan for 20 minutes, strain into a glass jar, add 1/2 teaspoon of powdered stevia extract. Add equal amounts of ginger liquid and sparkling water.

You can do the same thing with mint, basil, rosemary, lemon verbena, cilantro, or dill. These syrups can be used in sodas or in adult beverages like the mint julep, margaritas, daiquiris, martinis, gin/vodka gimlets, gin and tonics, sangrias. Let your imagination run herb wild!

There are relatively inexpensive carbonators available nowadays as well. If you drink a lot of soda, this is a very cost effective, nutritious approach.

For more on organic gardening in small spaces and containers, see Melodie's blog at www.VictoryGardenOnTheGolfCourse.com



7/11/2014

MOSES farmer of the year

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) is seeking nominations for the “2015 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year” award, which will be presented at the 26th annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wis., Feb. 26 to 28, 2015.

The award recognizes an organic farmer or farm family with a history of outstanding land management, resource conservation, and farming innovation. These exemplary farmers also are committed to spreading the organic message in their communities. This is the 13th year for the award program, which comes with a prize package that includes full admission to the 2015 MOSES Conference.

North Dakota seed and grain farmers, David, Ginger, Dan and Theresa Podoll of Prairie Road Organic Farm and Seed in Fullerton, ND, received the 2014 MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year award. Their farm story and other recipients’ stories are online at the MOSES website under the “Projects” tab.

Anyone can nominate a farmer for this award. Nomination forms are available on the MOSES website, or by calling the MOSES office at 715-778-5775. Nominations are due by Sept. 15, 2014.

This prestigious award comes with a number of prizes including a cash award, lodging, a bookstore gift certificate and full admission to the Organic Farming Conference, the nation’s largest gathering of organic farmers. 

MOSES is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and education to farmers to encourage sustainable and organic agriculture. To learn more, visit the MOSES website.


This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.



7/11/2014

Varieties Of PotatoesPotatoes are the heart of our garden. They fill two and a half raised beds (ten feet by four) every year, five varieties. We raise enough to be potato independent; we are eating the last few spuds, rubbing off the spooky long tendrils in late June, and then scrabbling under the plants for potato salad for the Fourth of July. Maybe it is my Irish roots, maybe my working class dinner background of meat, potatoes, and frozen veggies, or maybe it is just the gorgeous variety of shapes and colors that emerge from the ground like buried treasure in early August, but I love growing our own potatoes.

Potato growing is a balancing act. I want to plant them early enough so that they do not need too much supplemental water, but not so early that they rot or destroy the soil structure. Last year, that meant the last week in March; this year, because it was a dry spring, I was able to plant by Saint Patrick’s Day, which felt oddly appropriate. I plant densely — five rows in a four-foot-wide bed, with a generous handful of bio-fish fertilizer underneath and a layer of straw mulch over the soaker hoses. Because of the fertility of the soil and the steady spring rains, the system works.

Finding Potato Varieties that WorkPlanting Potatoes In Rows

We grow five varieties of potatoes. I spend several hours browsing the Irish Eyes catalog, not only because they specialize in early season crops and potatoes that will grow in the Pacific Northwest, but also because they have some excellent charts. I want tough, heavy producing plants. I always plant a fingerling — ‘Ruby Crescent’ has done well for the past few years. It’s a nice knobby plant that keeps for months in the root cellar.

All blue potatoes are really blue all the way through and retain the color when cooked, which is a bonus. ‘Yukon Gold’ is tasty mashed with cabbage in the winter and bakes well, too. ‘Desiree’ produces huge bakers and has a nice red skin, and the ‘Kennebec’ is well rounded, and reminds me of home in New England.  Every few years, I trade out a variety when I purchase new seed, but most years, seed potatoes are set aside during the weighing in process.

The plants are looking good this year. They rose to the sky and flowered in June and  have now flopped over the edges of the beds, sprawling everywhere. I flopped them back in a few days ago when I needed to trim and mow, but they are strong-minded plants, and they are back in the aisles again. It’s ok. I went out last night and dug around, searching for new potatoes for dinner, choosing a few from each bed. Mixed with garden celery and on a bed of fresh lettuce, they made a fine hot night supper.

There is still growth going on underground. And I think that is what I love most about potatoes — the humble vines on the surface, dying back and losing color, and the buried treasure in the dirt.



7/9/2014

Water Chestnut/Planting water chestnuts

I've always liked Chinese food, but I was never really a fan of Chinese water chestnuts ... that is, until I grew my own and tasted them fresh.

The tasteless white discs in cheap takeout are only a pale shadow of the fresh vegetable.

Known in Latin as Eleocharis dulcis, Chinese water chestnuts are NOT the same as the invasive "water chestnut" that's invaded our native wetlands. Chinese water chestnuts are a member of the sedge family and look like a 2-3' tubular grass. At the base of the reedy growth, under a mat of roots, you'll find the edible corms, or "chestnuts."

These roots have a crisp, nutty flavor that's delicious. Unfortunately, most Americans have never tasted them.

Experimenting with Chinese Water Chestnuts

It took me three years to find my first Chinese water chestnut corms and another spring, summer and fall before my first crop was ready to eat. I wasn't really all that sure how to grow them, so I just planted six corms in a recycled bathtub with about 6" of muck in the bottom and another 6" of water over that.

The growth surprised me. Those six initial roots multiplied into a thick mat of roots and reeds that absolutely filled the bathtub. Out of that tub, I harvested at least a gallon of water chestnuts. I would have harvested more - and larger - corms if the tub wasn't so crowded with plants by the end of the season. One little plant can spread to fill up a 6' x 6' water garden in a season. My kind of vegetable!

This spring I decided to grow them in kiddie pools and share a few roots with some of my readers so they could take a shot at growing their own water chestnuts. Thus far, the kiddie pools are working excellently. I have three of them filled with plants, plus I added a second bathtub and a small in-ground pond to the mix. All of them are growing plenty of happy water chestnuts. To grow them in kiddie pools, I fill the pools most of the way to the top with garden soil, then water until it's sopping muck. Chinese water chestnuts don't need to be covered in water; all they need is to be in boggy conditions.

Though Chinese water chestnuts are technically a tropical plant, I've had them come back happily after frosty nights down in the teens. My guess is that you can grow them as a perennial in USDA Growing Zones 8 south, but with protection or a covered pond, they'd likely work further north than that.

Note: if you have Oriental markets locally, you might have luck finding fresh Chinese water chestnuts in the produce section. Plant them and most of them should grow into plants, provided they haven't dried out. (You can also get plants in limited quantities from my little family plant nursery, but it would be totally self-serving to mention that here, so I won't. Oh shoot! I just did! #evilcapitalist)

Chinese Water Chestnuts in a Tub/Young water chestnut plants

Growing Tips

To grow Chinese water chestnuts, plant corms a couple of inches deep in mucky soil or at the edge of a pond and stand back. They grow quickly and will rapidly spread to fill whatever space you give them. Let them grow until the tops start to yellow and die back, then start digging. Be gentle as you harvest: the skins on Chinese water chestnuts are somewhat easy to damage and the roots won't keep as long if they're scratched. As for storage, you can put the corms in a container of water or moist paper towels and refrigerate them until you need them... they keep quite well. Peel, slice and eat them raw or cooked. They keep their crunch even after cooking, adding a great texture to stir-fries and other dishes.

I think there's potential for this easy-to-grow root to be a good staple crop. With enough kiddie pools, anything is possible!

There's a real joy in growing and tasting new plants. In coming weeks, I'm going to share more on a few other overlooked perennial vegetables that are worth trying in your garden or food forest project... stay tuned.

Until then, save some takeout for me. I can dress it up.

For more daily gardening inspiration, plant profiles, rare edibles and homesteading, check out David's website at www.floridasurvivalgardening.com.



7/8/2014

eat local

Eating locally is a vitally important way each of us can contribute to a more sustainable community and food shed. Based on the Permaculture Zone Principles, charted in a bull’s eye pattern, each circle represents sustainable ways to access food in our own communities. According to these principles, it is best to grow our own food in our own backyard first. What we can’t grow ourselves, we can acquire at local community gardens and small farms or by supporting local farmers markets. We can then support area businesses which are purveyors of local foods. Finally, only when we simply have utilized all of our local resources, then we visit the chain supermarket to complete our food needs. This mindset offers a creative insight into how our thoughts about food need to shift a little in order to truly be invested in the local foods movement.

To support local farmers means that you are actually helping a farmer and his family to survive. Perhaps you are helping to pay the operating costs of his farming operation; maybe you are helping their children go to college; perhaps your money is buying seeds. Whatever the case may be, knowing that you are supporting the livelihood of an honest hardworking entrepreneur is more satisfying and more human than lining the pockets of CEO’s of major corporations. The support of farmers first shows the dedication to immediate community. This act of supporting local is actually helping to strengthen the economy within a specific radius. Also, Young farm families are true stewards of the earth. They care about the soil, the air and the water.

eat local 2

Ways to Support Small Family Farms

Join a CSA Farm: CSA Farms (Community Supported Agriculture Farms) operate as a subscription farm. Shareholders or members pay up front to help the small farmer with seed and operating costs. Members then receive a weekly share of the seasonal harvest grown throughout an allotted period of time, typically 26 weeks. The shareholders share in both the risks and the benefits with the farmer.

Shop at your local farmers market: Farmers Markets offer weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) opportunity to purchase fresh, locally grown produce at reasonable yet fair prices for the farmers. Fruits and vegetables sold at farmers markets are typically harvested within a few days of purchase and are at their peak flavor and freshness. Typically the farmers who grow the produce are the ones selling it at the market so it gives customers an opportunity to meet and shake hands with those who grow their food. Farmers markets offer the opportunity to purchase pasture raised meats and fresh eggs.

Support local businesses which source from local farmers

eat local

Ways to help localize the food shed: Learn about Permaculture as a global solution to the environmental/social/economical issues relating to food. Permaculture Gardens utilize the existing landscape and produce food in harmony with each specific ecosystem. Permaculture gardens focus on no till methods with an emphasis on soil health, water preservation, companion planting, and permaculture food forests.

Start your own container garden or square foot garden to ease you into the art of growing food. Container Gardening is easy and affordable and offers a basic introduction to backyard gardening. Container gardening requires very little space and is low maintenance. Container gardening is perfect for busy individuals who wish to grow their own food.

Start your own backyard garden. Backyard gardening is easy and requires only a small amount of time and energy, especially when creating raised beds which require very little weeding. Wicking beds offer a low maintenance alternative. Wicking beds are low cost low maintenance garden beds which are composed of reclaimed materials. Backyard gardens attract pollinators and offer food for the entire family.

Start a food revolution in your neighborhood. Talk you the neighbors on your block about starting front yard gardens. This concept allows a highly sustainable food shed within your square block. The food is then shared between neighbors, offering a diverse array of fresh vegetables. This idea builds community and creates safer, more vibrant neighborhoods. Check out FoodIsFreeProject.org for inspiration.

Start/join a community garden. Community Gardens offer an amazing opportunity for a diverse group of individuals from the community come together for the unified vision of growing healthy fresh food. Most community garden plots are either free or require a small annual fee. According to the American Community Garden Association, “There are an Estimated 18,000 Community Gardens throughout the United States and Canada alone.” Community gardens, worldwide, each offer excellent models for education and outreach. Community gardens are beautiful examples of how individuals from all walks of life living in the same community can come together and bring a vision to fruition with love and support.

Organize a "Crop Mob." Know a small family farmer who could use some help? Organize a volunteer work day and spend the day pulling weeds or helping with harvest at a farm in your town. Farmers could always use volunteers!



7/8/2014

Using hose to outline bed

Making a new garden bed can seem like a monumental, labor intensive task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several minimal labor ways to make a new bed. My favorite begins with a hose and old newspaper and/or cardboard.

Siting a New Garden

The best place to put a vegetable garden is close to the house where there is good sun, ideally a spot that gets southern exposure. Check out where the sun falls throughout a sunny day to see where the best locations are in your yard. Don’t be concerned if your garden spot gets some shade each day. Fruiting vegetables need the most sun, 6-8 hours.

Root vegetables require less and leafy vegetables require the least. Leafy vegetables appreciate getting afternoon shade in the hot days of summer. I have a spot on the northeast side of the house that I like to put leafy greens. It gets the morning sun, but the cool afternoon shade.  This allows us to grow lettuce through the summer.

Once you have picked out a spot, you can use a hose to lay out what you want the bed to look like. We then use a spray can of landscaping paint to paint out the edges of the bed.

Producing garden bed

Transforming Lawn to Garden

The easiest next step is to cut the grass inside your new bed as short as possible. Then lay several layers of newspaper or cardboard over the top of the closely sheared grass and cover with compost then mulch. Now, just let the bed lay until the grass dies. The grass and its roots adds organic matter to the soil as well.  Test the soil before planting to see what nutrients you need to add.  Use a balanced fertilizer when you plant.

New garden bed

Another option is after mowing close to the ground and laying the newspaper/cardboard, dump garden soil over it all, add compost, fertilize and plant immediately. Just be careful to not cut through the newspaper or you will get grass growing in your new garden bed.

We have also used a sod cutter, cutting up the sod in our new bed. Then, turning it upside down, covering with newspaper/cardboard, a couple of inches of compost, mulch, and plant.  This is definitely more work, but you have less chance of having to pull stray grass if you want to plant immediately.

Types of Garden Beds

If you don’t need your garden bed to be “pretty”, a quick way to plant is to simply poke holes in bags of garden soil, put the perforated side down, cut open the top side of the bag and plant away. The plastic underneath will keep the grass from growing through. The downside is that your veggie plant roots won’t be able to grow down as well either. But if you don’t have time, this is a good way to get started. You can edge around the bags and removed them the following year, adding compost and have a ready made bed for the following year.

You can also go the raised bed route. There are many do it yourself, pre-cut raised bed kits that you can purchase. Use the same techniques above to make sure the grass won’t grow up through into your veggies. Newspaper and cardboard works great for this. Fill with good soil, compost, an all natural fertilizer and you are ready to plant.

Eggplant in pot with petunias

The pros of raised beds is that they warm up quicker in the spring and you control the soil that you are growing in. The cons, the temperature is not as constant as if in the ground and they will need to be watered more often.

You can also opt to have your garden in pots. This is a great way to start small and quickly. It is amazing how many varieties of any veggie you love have been developed to grow in containers.

There are several options to getting your garden bed in place that don’t require a ton of time or hard labor. Now is the time to choose one and get your spring garden growing!

For more tips on gardening in small spaces and containers, visit Melodie's blog at www.VictoryOnTheGolfCourse.com



7/7/2014

Some discounted startsI’ll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell. My sister thinks I’m a great gardener when in fact, I’m pretty lousy at it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get things to grow. I just never get the garden I’ve always wanted. But, I have learned some tricks that I’ll pass onto you.

Summertime Veggie Sales

My attempt at growing seedlings ended with one of my Alaskan Malamutes bringing the container of dirt and dropping it at my feet. The seedlings were gone and my Malamute was looking for more. I gave up for a while, thinking that maybe buying starts was a good idea.

It is, to a certain degree, but it can become a very expensive garden if you buy full price. The best thing to do is to join the email list of a local nursery and keep an eye out for summer vegetable sales. You see, most people by this time have already put in their garden and the nurseries and farmer’s markets will usually have excessive vegetable starts. At this point, the nursery and market stands will most likely have a sale.

By keeping an eye out for the sales, I was able to get my vegetable starts from a local nursery for half off their normal prices. I was also able to score some zucchini plants from the farmer’s market for a buck a plant. What’s more, these vegetables are usually more mature and are further along than the ones you buy in the springtime.

The downside is that sometimes beggars can’t be choosers here. If you’re looking for a special plant that is very popular, it’s unlikely you’ll find it at this time. However, you might find some real gems. I was able to pick up maturing dragon’s tongue beans at half price, a small marjoram plant for a mere 50 cents, and if I had been looking for tomatoes, I could’ve found some awesome plants. As it stands, I have four tomato plants that will work as well as enough other vegetable plants that are happily growing in my container gardens.

Seed Banks

One thing I discovered is that there is a local seed library that is available for anyone who wants to grow a garden. People save seeds and exchange them, which makes it a cheap way to start a garden. All they ask is that you donate some seeds to the cause at the end of the season.

I discovered this seed library late in the season but decided to take advantage of it anyway. I took a packet of each of edible crops so that I can start them in my mini greenhouse for late summer and fall plantings. My first batch was appaloosa beans, kale, carrots, orach, arugula, and dragon’s tongue (that I had from a couple of years ago). My next batch will be more lettuce and other interesting cool weather plants.

Sharing Seeds

If you don’t have a seed bank near you, you can always start your own seed savers group. All you need are some like-minded friends and postage. Come up with packages of seeds you’ve saved and a list of people who want seeds for the price of postage. Put your name and address at the bottom of the list. Mail your package with different seeds to a friend along with your list. Your friend should take whichever seeds he or she wants and add a like amount of seeds in the package. Your friend then mails it to the next person on the list. That person does the same thing. By the time you have your seed returned, chances are you have a whole new set of seeds to try out. Not a bad deal.

M.H. (Maggie) Bonham is the publisher of Sky Warrior Books  www.skywarriorbooks.com and lives in the mountains of Montana with goats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, Alaskan Malamutes, cats, a patient husband and an ornery llama.  Visit her blog Eating Wild Montana.









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