Organic Gardening

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

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Michigan Street  Allotment

My husband and I recently attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Wash., where I spoke on Grow a Sustainable Diet, the title of my new book. Since we live in Virginia, traveling to the West Coast was a big deal for us and we wanted to make the most of those airline miles. After visiting some sights in Seattle and catching up with friends for dinner, we headed to Victoria, British Columbia for a few days. As always, there were racks of brochures for tourists, but what we took in couldn’t be found in those brochures. We found the list of community gardens in Victoria on the internet and went to visit a few.

The photo you see was taken in the Michigan Street Allotment Garden. We also visited the James Bay Allotment Garden, The Ferncliff Community Garden, the Victoria Compost Education Center, and the Agnes Street Community Garden. You will find more photos and descriptions of what we found there at Homeplace Earth. There are many more that we didn’t visit; so many gardens, so little time. During the gardening season, someone is usually at a community garden working their spot. We found these gardeners and had wonderful conversations. Every gardener has their own way of doing things—and their own creative ideas for trellising and spacing the plants. From the number of chairs that were part of the garden spots, it is evident that the gardeners don’t just work their plot and go home. They enjoy just being in their gardens. We all need to practice just Being.

Besides meeting the gardeners and seeing the gardens, the garden visits helped me understand how the climate and crops are different from the ones back home. The nights are cooler there than in Virginia all through the summer, bringing challenges to growing tasty tomatoes. Many of the tomatoes were in small greenhouses or coldframes. Here in Virginia we need to keep the air flowing around the tomatoes to prevent disease. Victoria doesn’t get the extremes of heat and humidity that we do. The winters are milder in Victoria, so gardeners should be able to put something on their tables from the garden all year.

When I made my cover crop and garden planning DVDs, I had in mind that they would be self -teaching tools. Someone who couldn’t take my classes at the community college could learn from me through the DVDs. I also had in mind that they could be used with groups, such as with the gardeners at community gardens. It is a way of presenting a core of common knowledge to a group so they are all on the same page, so to speak. People who have gardened all their lives may not want to learn anything new, but those who are fairly new to gardening would benefit from having that common “language.” However, even experienced gardeners can benefit from the DVDs.

At the Agnes Street Community Garden I met a retired teacher who spends most afternoons in the garden. He said that there is a members meeting every month that is open to all the gardeners. Not everyone comes to the meetings, but meetings such as this would be great opportunities for learning and sharing. Maybe the members feel they get enough of that on a casual basis in their gardens. Just being in the gardens is a learning experience. The gardeners are already sharing with each other as they are working their plots.

It was a great experience for me to meet like-minded people during my few short days in Victoria. Hopefully more cities everywhere will make community gardens a priority. Community gardens will enhance the beauty of the area, provide opportunities for residents to grow their own food, and bring residents together into a community of sharing.


Beginnings of a Container GardenYou’d think that if you have some 10 acres you’d have a wonderful fields full of fresh vegetables and fruits. You’d think you’d have a simple way to create an awesome garden. And if you live where I live, you’d be wrong.

Oh sure, there are lots of people with gardens here in Montana. And the city I live near is aptly named “the Garden City,” which is why I even tried to put in great gardens every year.

They don’t do so hot. Why? Because I live on the side of a mountain where everything is rock. Even when I bring dirt in, the results are mediocre. But I want a garden because one cannot live on goat’s milk, cheese, and meat alone. Oh, I suppose I could, but it would get difficult.

Growing In Containers

Part of the problem is that we’re more than 400 feet up from the valley floors. And at this latitude, that means something. We become a Zone 3 or 4 in the winter, making our growing seasons short and makes things like tomatoes and basil scream for hotter days. I’ve planted things like eggplant and tomatoes in my garden and haven’t seen anything good with them. Put them in a container on my porch and they’re happy and producing.

So, I’ve broken down and given up. I’m putting my peppers, eggplant, and herbs in the containers and planning on creating a pallet garden for the lettuce and other plants. I may, however, plant potatoes in the garden just to have them.

Pros to Having a Container Garden

Obviously if you’re short on space or short on arable land a container garden may make the difference between having a garden and having a bunch of weeds. You can do square foot gardening easily with containers, and you have your garden up and ready to go in no time. The big plus is that the garden can be where you want it to be. Not where your land dictates. For example, I can have vegetables and herbs on your deck where I see them every day and can water them. And I can keep Sid the llama, my lawn care specialist, away from those plants.

After Memorial Day

Here in northwestern Montana we pretty much plant after Memorial Day. Even that isn’t a surefire thing, because we have gotten frosts and even snowfalls in June. But it’s better than trying to guess. My first year here I made the mistake of planting in mid-May. That was a bit of a disaster and I ended up having to buy more plants. The other mistake I made was buying plants from big box stores. They never do as well as locally grown plants and you never get the varieties that local farmers produce. It seems that yes, the local greenhouses offer varieties that the big box stores don’t have. What’s more is that many are organic. A huge plus in my book.

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With the summer heat approaching I’d like to pass on an experience and a realization I had one afternoon in the humid 100 degree heat in the Line Creek Norganic* Community Garden north of the confluence of the Kaw and Missouri River.

  The Line Creek Community Garden

The Line Creek Community Garden, surrounded by tall fence to keep out the prolific urban deer.

What Causes Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion?

In order to maintain an internal body temperature of 98.6 F, the body perspires or sweats. As the sweat evaporates off the skin it cools the body. The trouble starts when the humidity is so high that the air is saturated with moisture and sweat drips off of you rather than evaporating. Your body temperature starts to rise. Yourbody will compensate for the heat when the the brain begins to receive heated blood. As body temperature rises, the brain sends out instructions to decrease the muscle tone.  Individuals may feel tired and listless, and not able to work as well. You may feel light headed and sick to your stomach. This is heat exhaustion. If the body is not cooled and body temperature continues to rise, heat stoke occurs. At this point, the body’s cooling mechanism having failed, you may loose consciousness and death may result. There are close to 2,000 heat related deaths in this country each year. Heat exhaustion can quickly turn into a medical emergency. The mortality rate for those who are afflicted with heat stroke can be up to 50%

Treating Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

Get out of the sun
Get your clothes off
Take your shoes off
Pour water on your body
Drink water
Keep a wet cloth on the back of our neck, change when it gets warm
Lay down with your back against the cooler surface of the earth
Garden early in the morning or wait until evening

Vitamin D Deficiency and Heat Stroke

My method for avoiding Heat Stroke is called Getting Grounded in the Garden. By the time I realized I had a problem I was getting nauseated and dizzy. I got to a shade tree, took off my shirt, laid on the grass, poured water on my head, and on a rag to cool my neck and head. When I felt better I got up to sit in a nearby chair. It was then I realized how hot my feet were.

 I had been gardening with shoes on that were made with rubber soles and synthetic materials. It dawned on me that I was not only electrically insulated from the Earth, but thermodynamically insulated from the Earth. The temperature of dirt (see previous post), especially amongst the shaded rows of your garden will always be cooler than the air when you’re facing conditions that can lead to heat exhaustion. Wearing footwear made with insulating soles isolated the blood vessels in my feet from the cool dirt. When I felt better I went back to the Garden and spent the rest of that hot afternoon gardening barefoot. Organic Gardening pioneer Ruth Stout was know to occasionally garden barefoot and in the nude. This would help heat transfer out of the body to keep you cooler and is recommended for those with Vitamin D deficiency. Wearing a hat is recommended to keep the direct sun off your head.

Getting Grounded In the Garden

It’s a long story which has to do with the electrical characteristics of the Earth and how it affects all life, but suffice it to say that we are gardening in a sea of energy that includes a voltage potential between the Earth and the upper reaches of the ionosphere cavity. This voltage potential when you are wearing insulating shoes can be as high as 350 volts.

Electric Fields

The electric charge on your body with and without shoes. Without shoes your body is grounded. (From: Earthing, by Ober, Sinatra, & Zucker)

Electrons flow from the Earth into and around your body. We evolved and are biologically attuned to the electron flow and the electric and magnetic attributes of the Earth.

Did you ever notice how good it feels to walk on the grass barefoot in the early morning or at any time of day? Dr. Bernard Jensen, the father of the diagnostic tool of Iridology recommended to his patients that they walk barefoot in the grass for a short time every day. It turns out research indicates that electrons flow into your body and act as anti-oxidants when your body, particularly your feet, are in direct contact with the Earth. The effect of getting grounded can be seen belowon the thermogram of a woman who suffered from knee pain for many years.

Earthing Therapy

The arrow in the top image shows the painful area in red and the image below shows the same area after applying a conductive bandage connected to a ground rod for 30 minutes in a process known as Earthing.


Be careful when gardening in hot and humid weather. Make sure your companions take steps to avoid Heat Exhaustion. If you work on a farm or with a community gardening crew, make sure this is a topic for discussion during safety meetings before work.

*Norganic – Naturally and Organically Grown. A definition resulting from the theft of the word organic by the USDA. My teacher, Jim Fowler, owned the first health food store in Denver, Colorado and organized the Colorado Organic Growers and Marketing Association ( COGMA) back in 1950. Those old boys and their wives didn’t need no stinkin’ government to tell them or their customers what was organic. I mentioned the rivers because I’d like to suggest you learn and teach geography by the location of the rivers and streams in your area, you may need this information in the future as the climate changes and the heat rises.


Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Mayo Clinic Definition of Heat Exhaustion

"The Physiological Effects of Heat Exhaustion" by Cool Bandanas

The Heat Transfer Mechanism in the Human Body

"The Transport of Heat"


The Earthing Institute

Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, Can Electrons Act as Antioxidants? A Review and Commentary. James L. Oschman, Ph.D. Volume 13, No. 9, 2007, pp.955-967

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In this post, I’m going to return to discussing the different types of gourmet garlic available by introducing the 'Marbled Purple Stripe' variety, the ‘everyman’ of the garlic world. There is some argument as to whether 'Marbled Purple Stripes' are a sub-type of the Purple Stripe grouping or whether they are a distinct category of their own. Genetic evidence suggests that they do in fact deserve their own separate classification, and many growers support this division. Some common examples of Marbled Purple Stripes that you may find locally include Siberian, Metechi and Bogatyr.

Cultivation 'Marbled Purple Stripe'


'Marbled Purple Stripe' cultivars are a hardneck variety and thus flourish in colder climates due to the extended period of dormancy, but they are also one of the few hardnecks known to perform well in warmer regions, making them a reliable choice for most climates. As an added bonus to coastal regions, 'Marbled Purple Stripes' are more forgiving of wetter conditions than other varieties tend to be.

The plants are tall and robust, with wide medium green leaves. Scape stalks are thick and will grow quite tall if not cut. Like other hardneck varieties, the scapes will curl and then straighten as they mature. As mentioned in my post on garlic scapes, 'Marbled Purple Stripe' cultivars must have their scapes removed in a timely manner or the size of the bulbs at harvest may be significantly reduced. Mature plants are typically harvested mid-season.

Atop the scape is a large umbel that contains an abundance of small to medium-sized bulbils. The size of these bulbils makes increasing your planting stock relatively inefficient, since in their diminutive size means that they will take approximately three years to produce small bulbs that are fully differentiated into individual cloves. If you are willing to put in the time, however, saving the bulbils is useful since Marbled Purple Stripes contain fewer cloves compared to bulbs of similar size, requiring you to retain a greater amount of stock for seed.


As their name would suggest, the outer skins of 'Marbled Purple Stripe' cultivars are glossy white with an abundance of medium to dark purple marbling, stippling and striping. Medium-thick and easy-to-peel clove skins range in color from tan to brown, with several cultivars boasting deep purple markings. The bulbs are large and full-bodied, as are the plump, juicy cloves, which average between four and seven per bulb.


In culinary terms, 'Marbled Purple Stripes' can be somewhat average, the ‘everyman’ of garlic. This can work in the varieties favor, however, since its temperate taste appeals to a wider range of palates. Moderate to very hot when raw, 'Marbled Purple Stripes' have a solid and non-complex garlic flavor. They are usually best when eaten raw, since they can become somewhat bland in flavor and grainy in texture when cooked. Certain cultivars, including Siberian, Brown Tempest, and Bogatyr, retain their excellent garlicky taste and texture and merely become sweeter and milder after cooking. You may have to experiment a bit to find the best recipes for your particular cultivar! 'Marbled Purple Stripe' garlics have a moderate storage life, approximately six to eight months.

Next post: Glazed Purple Stripes!

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Drip Irrigation Simplifies and Improves Your Garden

If you garden in raised beds, there is no improvement that will save you time and enhance results better than drip irrigation. The time spent installing a drip irrigation system will be returned many times over in the first season alone, not to mention over the many years of use you should get out of a well-planned system made from durable materials. Plants grown using drip irrigation grow better because they receive more uniform watering. It is easier to water with ironclad reliability when the task is reduced to simply turning your faucet on and off, or assigned to an automatic water timer.

Use Quality Tubing for Long-Term Satisfaction

There are many drip irrigation tubing products on the market today, but none match the ease of use, durability, reliability and fine engineering of in-line emitter tubing. Our philosophy: do the job well the first time using top quality materials, and you won’t need to do it again anytime soon.

In-line emitter tubing comes with pre-installed emitters every 6”. You simply roll the tubing off the coil, cut to size with heavy-duty scissors and install it in your beds. The 6” spacing between emitters provides a continuous band of water on either side of the tubing. You can plant small seedlings adjacent to the emitters on either side of the tubing. You can also sow seeds.

Laying Out Your System

A Three Line Layout

Photo, above: A three-line irrigation layout.

The standard dimensions of most raised beds are 4’ x 8’. While the length of your beds is not critical when you determine the layout of your system, it is important to have the right number of lines running across the width of your bed. Too few lines and you will have gaps in water coverage. Too many lines and you will waste water, promote weeds and clutter the surface of the beds with unnecessary tubing.

The ideal number of lines in a 4’ wide raised bed is three, with one running down the middle of the bed and one either side, 16” from the center line (see photograph above).

If your beds are 3’ wide, two lines 18” apart centered over the middle will be do the job well.

Barbed Fittings Connect Easily

Cut and Connect

Photo, right: Easy-to-insert fittings.

Installation of your tubing is easy and straightforward. You simply cut each line leaving the overall length of each line about 12” short of the total length of your beds. For example, if your beds are 8’ long, 7’ lengths of tubing inset 6” from either end will be adequate.

The drip lines running the length of your beds connect at one end using solid feeder line and plastic connectors that insert into the tubing. Once inside, the connectors don’t come out. Stay away from systems that require clamps and glue as these are unnecessarily complicated and no more effective.

A Manual Control Valve

Use solid feeder line to come up the side of your wooden frames from ground level (see image at right). If you wish, a manual shut-off valve can be installed here so you can turn the water off any bedsthat aren’t in active use.

In addition to connecting your raised beds, solid feeder line also leads back to your faucet. A Y connector on your faucet will allow you to make a permanent connection to your raised beds and leaves the other side of the Y for a garden hose. It is highly recommended that you attach a series of components to your faucet to filter your irrigation water and control the pressure. We have such an assembly, ready-to-use, called a Low Volume Control Kit.

How Often and How Long to Run Your System

Low Volume Control Unit

You should run your drip irrigation system daily for optimum plant growth. Vegetable plants grow their best with a steady supply of water. Lengthy intervals without water will put stress on your plants. This results in diminished growth and lower yields.

Photo, right: A low-volume control kit.

How long you water each day depends on a range of factors: the size and maturity of your plants, air temperature, wind, cloud coverage, and the intensity of the sun. In general, you need less water early in the season and more water late in the season when the plants are larger, transpire more and are producing fruit.

You’ll need to consider these variables along with the amount of water your tubing dispenses over a unit of time, i.e., how many gallons per minute (GPH) per emitter. Our raised bed system uses emitters that dispense water at the rate of .4 GPH. That’s slightly less than ½ gallon per hour. Assuming your plants need about a pint of water per day early in the season, using the same tubing you would run a daily watering cycle that is 15 minutes long. By the end of the season the watering cycle might be 45 minutes long in the morning, with a shorter, 15 minute cycle at the end of long, hot days to replenish water loss.

Take Action

A Completed Two-Line System

It’s worthwhile to read about drip irrigation, but better yet to take the first step to install your system. We all suffer from inertia, but I can assure you, the time spent installing drip irrigation in your garden is time well spent.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you have a large garden, select a section where drip irrigation will give you the biggest bang for your buck, and then begin. Once you’ve tackled a small project you’ll have the confidence and desire to irrigate all parts of your garden using drip irrigation. The benefits are just too practical to ignore.

How to Prune Tomatoes

The TomatoCam!

We’ve got a new TomatoCam video from our trial garden you might enjoy. It shows how we prune tomatoes.

See you in two weeks, when we will take a look at How We Propagate and Grow Lavender.

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Transplant Tomato Plants

Few other vegetables represent summer as a sun-ripe, homegrown tomato does. Even gardeners with limited space seem to prioritize tomatoes and we have many friends in urban areas that grow tomato plants in pots on their balcony or roof top. June here on Deer Isle has already been warmer than I would ever ask for. Our hostel – the Deer Isle Hostel – is picking up pace and most of the garden is planted. The tomatoes are all in the ground and now all we can do is to stand back with our fingers crossed that they will keep looking as good as they've done all along.

Starting Tomato Plants From SeedTransplanting Tomatoes

I start my seedlings in my neighbors house around the 3rd week of April. Her house stays warmer than ours that at that time often gets down below 50's at night. I start them in six-packs (pots with six slots) with two seeds in each slot. After about two weeks I transplant them to a 3 inch x 3 inch pot and at this time I also bring them home and have them on our kitchen table in front of a big south-facing window. It can still get pretty cold at night, but I consider that a benefit since my plants tend to be hardier and less prone to shock once planted outside compared to seedlings raised in heated spaces.

Spring can be cold and wet here in Maine and some years it's hard to find a good window of nice weather for when to transplant the tomatoes to the garden. I use the 10 day forecast and once it'll stay in the 50's day and night I usually take the chance. Upper 40's is ok, as long as it doesn't get too wet. Tomatoes are fine with some cold, but reacts poorly to being damp. Most years the plants grow very big in the small pots before I can put them outside. If I had 10 or less plants I probably would move them to bigger pots if I couldn't put them outside once they got big but I have too many for that to be practical. If I start them later that would not be an issue but then I'm running the risk of not having enough time to replant if the seed germination would be poor.

Instead I do my best to keep the plants healthy and to reduce stress. I keep them on our kitchen table at night and bring them outside in the morning. I have cold frames that I put the seedlings in so they get to be in a really warm space and even on cloudy days I bring them outside where it's still brighter than in our house. I pick all the flower buds off to reduce the amount of energy expended by the plant. I also remove all yellowing leaves and if the leaves develop brown spots (a sign of early blight) I pick them off to and try to isolate that plant from the rest to not spread the disease. Even still there's been years when I've almost lost all my plants to stress and disease caused by the cold weather and just because I couldn't bring myself to pull them out the plants were left in the ground and as by magic came around and produced a beautiful crop.

How to Plant TomatoesTransplanting Tomatoes In The Garden

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and we can maximize the yield from each plant by using one of the free, abundant and natural resources we have here on Deer Isle – the seaweed. We plant our tomato plants by digging a big hole – say 16 inches deep and about as wide across, putting a fork full of seaweed in the bottom and planting the tomato right in the seaweed. Most tomato growers probably don't have a source of seaweed to utilize but the technique works just as well with compost or animal manure or any other mean for fertilizer – as soon as the roots starts to grow they grow straight into something rich. I avoid getting the seaweed up against the stem, since it might make it rot.

Dig the hole – add fertilizer – plant the tomato – fill the hole with soil. I dig the hole deep, and bury the tomato plant to their neck (usually just below the 2nd or 3rd set of leaves) so that the whole stem will turn into roots. We also use the seaweed as mulch and put a thick ring around each plant to keep the soil moist and weed free.

Once planted, the tomatoes don't need much tending to until the grow big enough to need support for the vines. The one thing I do is to keep picking off all flower buds until summer solstice – in this way the plant have time to properly set roots before spending energy growing flowers. If I left the buds I'd probably get fruit a little bit earlier but I believe that strong roots makes for strong plants and that a plant can't both set roots and fruit and the same time.

Come August and September I will have 6-8 feet tall plants heavy with that sure sign of summer few things are as a tomato on the vine. As June goes by under the cloud free sky, my dreams of freshly sliced tomatoes warm from the sun grows with each passing day.

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Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable to grow in the United States. There is nothing like a tomato ripe from the vine! Many people started gardening by way of the tomato. They were the very first vegetable we grew. Many gardeners have the techniques they swear by to get the biggest and best tomatoes. Here are some tales that are not necessarily true.

Tomato Growing Myths (and Some Truths)

Tomatoes love as much sun as possible! This depends on where you live. In very hot climates, 6-8 hours is plenty. Your tomatoes can actually scald in intense sun and heat. For hot climates, plant your tomatoes in a north to south row so each side gets some shade each day.

You should prune your tomatoes for the best harvests. This again depends on your climate. If you live in a hot climate with intense sun and heat, you want to keep the leaves to help protect the tomatoes from sun scald. If you live in a damp area, you want to prune the tomato plant to allow good air circulation and sunlight.

Tomatoes love fertilizer! Actually, you only want to fertilize when you plant and again when the plant flowers. Too much nitrogen encourages leaf growth. Some that really sock the fertilizer to the plant end up with a giant green plant with no tomatoes. To help with flowering, fruiting and blossom end rot, be sure to get a fertilizer with plenty of phosphorous and calcium.

Tomatoes can’t be grown in pots. Tomatoes can be grown in pots, but not the big tomato plants or you have to grow them in a huge container like a whiskey barrel. Look for dwarf, pot, or patio types. You will need to put in a large pot and be prepared to water often.

Tomatoes need to be watered a lot. Actually, if you water your tomatoes a lot, you can end up with fungal diseases and mushy fruit. The trick with tomatoes is to keep their moisture even. Letting the ground crack and then drowning the plant will result in cracked fruit. In the hot times of the summer, you will likely need to water at least weekly. Be sure to not water the leaves, but the root.

When you see leaves dropping, something is wrong. This is a natural progression of the plant. As fruits begin to form, there is less energy for the leaves and some leaves will turn yellow and die.

A spindly tomato transplant is an unhealthy one. Actually the hairs on the stems can easily be transformed into roots. I take my transplants and remove the bottom leaves and plant on its side with only the top 4 leaves above ground. This gives the plant a good root system.

You can only transplant in early summer. Actually, if your tomato plants are starting to fade in mid summer, you can put out new transplants that will give you fruit until the first frost.

When you make sauce, the skins and seeds have to be removed. I put whole tomatoes into the food processor. Some say that the skin and seeds can impart a bitter flavor. With the many types of tomatoes I have raised, this has never been a problem for me.

Only paste tomatoes can be used for sauce. I use all my tomatoes for sauce. The best for sauce for me are the most prolific tomato plants. These have been Yellow Pear and Juliet for us. I would ask your neighbors which ones give the most fruit if you are looking to put up by freezing or canning.

The last tip: Tomatoes are susceptible to fungal diseases. Do try to not plant your tomatoes in the same spot for four years. Fungal diseases stay in the soil and take a while to die out. The same goes for a pot. A way around it for a pot is to use new soil and disinfect the pot each year.

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