Organic Gardening

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

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5/16/2016

 

A greenhouse can offer a lot to your household. You can get a head start on the growing season, have out of season flowers and vegetables, and it’s a great hobby to help spend long days.

But, can you plant year round in a greenhouse? Many people believe they can grow anything anytime when they just got their own greenhouse. You can, but that’s not always the case. Sure, it depends on what you’re planting in the first place. But, it also depends on the greenhouse itself and how you plant it.

Here are 5 things you need to consider if you want to plant year round in a greenhouse.

1. Greenhouse Building Materials

Growing year round is a different beast than just using a small greenhouse for starting seeds. When growing year round, the building needs to be made of sturdier stuff. Glass or treated thick plastic are both good investments for this type of adventure. Cheaper materials will age in the weather and will need to be replaced up to a few times a year.

Use treated wood or metal benches inside the greenhouse to avoid rot. Moisture in the air will eat away at untreated wood.

This could be bad news if you already built your greenhouse with cheap materials. But, if you haven’t yet, make sure to consider the material. Here’s a collection of 84 greenhouse plans to get you started.

2. Add Axtra Heating

Heating the structure is a must for year round growing. Depending on the style of your greenhouse you can heat in a few different ways. Some have electrical heaters that can ensure a steady temperature, but these can increase a power bill.

To add an extra measure of heat to your greenhouse, you can compost inside. As organic matter, such as leaves, eggs shells, and shredded newspaper decays, it gives off heat. By having a compost box under raised planting tables, you’ll be providing extra heat to take some of the work off the heaters.

Jugs can also help heat up the building. Milk jugs or empty cat litter jugs painted black and filled with water will heat up considerably when left in the sunlight. Over the course of the day, the jugs will absorb the heat and radiate heat once the sun has gone down.

3. Get Rid of Excess Heat

Controlling the heat in the structure can be hard, but that’s why we have vents. Whether they’re hatches on the roof or just small push open vents on the side walls, air vents provide a breath of fresh air and a cool breeze for stifling heat.

To improve ventilation don’t over crowd your greenhouse. If the leaves on the plants are touching, you should move them slightly apart to provide both room to grow and room for air to get through. If you’re not home during the day, you may want to invest in an automatic ventilation system. These systems will turn on either by a timer or by sensing the humidity and heat in the greenhouse. They will shut off in the same way.

Shade clothes can be used on hot days to help cool off the temperature in the greenhouse. Simply spread it out on top of the building to create artificial shade. These net like blankets can be stored on a shelf in a corner and brought out when needed. To quicken the cooling effect you can soak them in cool water before draping them over the greenhouse.

4. Pests: The Worst Garden Enemy

Pests are going to be attracted to your plants inside just as they would be if the vegetation was being grown outside. This means you’ll have to keep a watchful eye out for them. Some of the more common greenhouse pests include aphids, mites, and whiteflies.

If you spot them, you can try a number of manual removal options. Vacuuming and squashing are the first attempts at control. If you spot pests on one or more plants, immediately move that plant away from the others. Quarantining isn’t an end all to pests, but it will help reduce the chance of non-flying pests spreading too quickly. Wash the plant with soapy water to remove pests. Make sure to rinse off the soap once the wash is complete. Depending on what type of pest has arrived you may need to transplant the affected plant into new soil. Put out sticky traps around the affected plants or area. Fly strips work well for flying pests, and sticky pads that lay flat on the ground or bench can also be used for crawling pests.

A neat trick I learned was a mixture of pepper powder and vinegar. Mix several tablespoons of pepper powder, the stronger smell, the better, and three cups of vinegar together to create a very foul smelling pest repellant. Circle the greenhouse with a single line of the mix and it’ll detour insects, small mammals, and other creepy crawlers.

Be sure not to get any vinegar on your growing soil as vinegar will kill soil. Replace the circle after a rain shower or once a week.

5. Plant Diseases: The 2nd-Worst Garden Enemy

Like pests, diseases must be controlled quickly. Diseases can spread very fast in a greenhouse and before you know it you’ve lost half of your plants to root rot or another fungal disease. While checking for pests, it’s a good idea to check on the health of the plants themselves. Wilting or discolored leaves are often the first signs of a problem.

Quarantine any sick plants from the healthy ones. If possible set up a small area in your greenhouse just for sick plants. This will make it easier for you to act quickly in caring for the plants. Never reuse soil. Even soil left over from the transplant of a healthy plant can be dangerous. Fresh soil is always going to be the best option. Wash out containers and planters with soapy water after they’ve been emptied. If the plant that came out of them was sick, you can use bleach. Make sure to rinse away any chemical residue that may be left behind.

Maintain the health of your plants inside the greenhouse by being careful what outside plants you bring in. Inspect any new plant for disease or pest before adding it to your greenhouse. If you do spot problems treat them and if not put the plant in a corner by itself for a week or so to keep an eye out for any problems that may develop.

Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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5/11/2016

 

“Golden” will be the first word to enter your mind when you see the roots, rhi­zomes and dormant buds of Hydrastis canadensis. You’ll understand imme­diately why the common name is 'Goldenseal.' This very useful native woodland plant will not only charm and entertain you spring, summer, and autumn — it can even heal you.

Medicinal Properties of Goldenseal

Well, I’d better be careful not to play doctor here, though many Native American tribes were aware of the pow­erful medicinal benefits of Goldenseal quite a long time ago. The Cherokee used it as a cancer remedy, which is one of the earliest observations of the occurrence and treatment of cancer among American Indian groups.

Another important historical use of Goldenseal root was as an eye wash for various eye problems, such as conjunctivitis. The Iroquois found it beneficial as a bitter stomach digestive to help stimulate digestion and improve appetite, and to treat skin inflammations. Other uses include relief for inflammation of the mucous membranes of the throat.

I will say that I’ve used it successfully to ease the pain and hasten the heal­ing of sore throats and to treat cold and influenza symptoms. I made a tea from dried roots and have to admit that it was one of the most bitter tastes I’ve ever experienced. However, the results were well worth it and it was more pal­atable than taking overprescribed, and most likely ineffective, antibiotics.

Growing Goldenseal in Your Garden

Hydrastis canadensis is native to almost every state east of the Mississippi and will grow happily in just about any soil conditions. I would guess that hardiness and heat tolerance are USDA Zones 4 to10. I grow Hydrastis canadensis in several places in my gardens, from full shade to dappled sunlight. It makes a wonder­ful groundcover as the 6- to 12-inch leaves on 6- to 12-inch plants overlap and shade out weeds.

You can go to Sunshine Farm and Gardens’ page for some evolutionary, seasonal images of Hydrastis canadensis from early spring to late autumn, emergence, and flower to fruit. The large, medium-green, deeply textured oak/maple-shaped leaves stay rich and supple all the growing season long and make a perfect foil for their frilly white, ephemeral flowers in early spring and their bright-red, raspberry-like fruit in autumn.

This long-lived native perennial is very easy to grow from seed and, left to its own devices, will make a lovely colony in just a few years. Once established, it requires no mainte­nance other than normal weeding and a good mulch. Plants never “need” to be divided, but if you desire to make new divisions, you can dig them up every four or five years and make your divi­sions in early spring. This will give them ample time to re-establish themselves before winter.

As with all of the other members of the Ranunculaceae family, the volumi­nous herds of deer that traverse my farm daily have never touched this graceful plant.

All in all, Hydrastis canadensis is a welcome addition in any garden.

Barry Glick founded Sunshine Farm and Gardens in 1972 on 60 acres in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. His plant collection now numbers more than 10,000 taxa, many unknown to cultivation. Several of these plants have been introduced to gardening in recent years. Barry exchanges seeds and plants with people at arboretums, botanic gardens, nurseries and private gardens in virtually every country in the world. Peruse Barry’s speakers series here and read the rave reviews here. If you have any questions, would like to chat about any plants that Barry offers, send an email to his personal email address. Read all of Barry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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



5/11/2016

Raised biodynamic bed

Building raised vegetable beds has many benefits; they negate contending with poor soil, you can make them tall to avoid bending, avoid soil compaction and they look appealing to name a few.  But how can you make them biodynamic?

As I discussed in Part 1, incorporating biodynamic preparations to the vegetable garden is easy but requires time to stir to activate the preparation before use, however for a raised bed, following the principles of biodynamic growing methods may be a little trickier.

Part 1 bed
Biodynamic bed from Part 1 two weeks on with huge growth from elderberry, currant and filbert.

The Farm is an Individual Entity

In biodynamic agriculture, the farm is considered to be the center of activity and is an individual entity. It is a fundamental principal that the biodynamic farm is self sustaining — the animals produce the manure that feed the land, the crops thrive on the nutrients of the land and the crops feed the animals and the people of the farm who in turn add to the compost pile which builds the soil.

Like the biodynamic farm, the biodynamic garden should be able to produce all that it needs and compost or manure brought in should be limited. An analogy to explain would be taking medicine for a short period of time to help with an illness. Bringing compost and manure from external sources is a temporary solution to help overcome the problem but once the garden is running, you should be able to generate the materials for the compost heap and the fertility of the soil.

First Answer These Questions

1. What sort of raised bed do I want?

2.  Will it be tall or low to the ground?

3.  Will it be contained by brick or wood, or left uncontained?

4.  Where will it be positioned?

5.  How will it be watered?

For the purposes of this post, I will cover a simple bed which is not contained by anything.

Building A Raised Bed

Step 1: Cover The Ground

If making the bed low to the ground, do not make it so wide you cannot reach the middle to weed or harvest this avoids you standing on the bed and compacting the soil.

Cover the area with a thick layer of cardboard or weed suppressing fabric.

flattened boxes 

Cardboard has a couple of benefits over the fabric; it will block the weed growth if overlapped well enough and will degrade over time providing nutrients and humus to the soil. Cardboard is cheap (or more often free!) and is a great way to recycle. It is best to remove all plastic from the boxes including packing tape.

 building the raised bed

You can add other organic matter such as dried leaves, straw, hay, manure or grass clippings.  If it is material that is dry, it should be wetted thoroughly to help decomposition and to stop things blowing away in the wind.

Adding more material layer by layer will add to the overall soil structure and fertility over time.

Step 2: Add Compost

Place a thick layer of compost on top of the cardboard.  You can add a thick layer of well rotted manure as a layer in the raised bed above, below or in between compost layers to provide a fertility boost for the roots.

If adding manure before the compost, you need to spray the manure with the biodynamic preparations of valerian and horn manure to ensure you will reap the benefits.  If you are just using lots of compost, I spray each layer with the preparations but you can just spray the very top.

Step 3: Prepare the Biodynamic Preparations

As before in Part 1, you will need to activate the biodynamic preparations by adding a small quantity to a gallon of water.  Remember if the water is chlorinated or chemically treated, leave it to overnight.

I prepared the valerian preparation (biodynamic preparation 507) first.  By adding 30 drops of valerian into a gallon of water and stirring for about 10 minutes.  When stirring biodynamic preparations in water to activate them, you need to ensure vortex is created in the clockwise direction as well as the anticlockwise direction.

 vortex in preparation

The picture above shows the beginning of a vortex. Once a vortex is created, allow the water to come to a stop before stirring in the other direction. Once the preparation is activated it is then placed it into a garden sprayer and sprayed on the bed until the soil is lightly wet.

Next you need to activate the horn manure (biodynamic preparation 500) in the same manner as the valerian preparation but it must be stirred for about an hour. After it is stirred, transfer to a garden sprayer and spray the area right before planting.

I have used the preparations to spray the cardboard and any other organic matter with the preparations which seemed to help break down the cardboard and leaves quicker.

Composts or manure brought into the garden from external sources such as the nursery or store; may be treated with the preparations before spreading on the bed for example in a wheelbarrow. I have found little difference in the growth of plants on spraying before spreading the compost or afterward spreading.

If you are converting an existing plot, add compost to the bed and spray with the biodynamic preparations.

biodynamic broccoli

It is best to sow the seeds in accordance with the calendar, for me it was a blossom or flower day so purple sprouting broccoli was sown and within a couple of weeks I have a thriving row in need of thinning.

Emma Raven has been gardening, cooking, canning and home brewing for most of her life. Formulation scientist, blogger, home brewer and avid gardener. Born in a village on the northern east coast of England, she now calls the Wasatch Mountains of Utah home. Find Emma at , and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 


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5/10/2016

Top-bar hives are becoming increasingly popular with beekeepers as they help encourage bees to colonize in a more natural way than Langstroth beehives. The horizontal top-bar hives have bars across the tops for the bees to build their comb off of and more accurately mimic the tree hollows and nooks that bees would inhabit in the wild.

If you have decided to go with a top-bar beehive, you may be eagerly awaiting your first colony of spring bees. Installing them in the top bar frame is a little different than the process with an upright hive, and has some unique requirements.

top bar hive

Receive Bees by Mail

While it may seem unlikely, bees are commonly purchased from apiaries and then sent to you through the US Mail. Your post office will give you an urgent call upon the arrival of the hive, and you can go pick up a wire-covered box filled with honeybees. Bees are sold by the pound, and a new colony is usually a three pound package.

There are many different kinds of bees, and you should research your area and the bees most hardy to your weather conditions before making your purchase. Once you’ve determined the breed of bees you want, you’ll either get a hive with a marked or unmarked queen.

When you pick up your colony at the Post Office, or at a local beekeeper’s, the queen will be in a small cell separated from the rest of the hive by a cork.

Occasionally, apiaries will block the queen’s cell only with a sugary substance that the worker bees can chew through, but usually you will have to remove a cork between the queen and her bees.

The queen is not immediately released into the colony, but should spend her first few days in the compartment while they adjust to her scent.

queen compartment

Install Follower Boards

Before you install the colony in your hive, make sure that only one of the entrances is open. Bees need to defend their hive against possible intruders, and when the colony is starting they won’t have enough guard bees to watch all of the entrances. Block the other entrances with corks so they will not be overwhelmed.

Top-bar hives also have blocking boards that can be placed to limited the number of bars your bees have access to. These are called follower boards, and placing them so your bees can move around between 8-10 bars will prevent them from potentially swarming. Giving them too much space at first will discourage them from believing they can use the space, and therefore they might leave.

feeder

Insert a Mason-Jar Feeder

You should also have a feeder installed in the hive. One of your follower boards will have a small hole in it so the bees can access the other third of the hive, and the feeder goes on the other side of that follower board.

A top-bar bee feeder can be created by puncturing a few holes in the top of a mason jar and placing it upside down with a few pieces of wood to lift it so the bees can get under it to drink. Fill the mason jar with a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water and check it regularly to ensure the hive has enough to eat.

package of bees

Installing the Bees

After your hive is set up and you are decked out in protective gear to install your new friends, remove the top and several of the top bars so that you can put the bees into the hive.

The container the bees come in will be wire with a wooden top and bottom and a can of sugar water blocking a hole in the wooden top. Remove the can gently and you will have a large open hole in the box of bees. You should see a yellow strip which you can pull to remove the queens container.

The worker bees will swarm around the queen’s chamber, so be careful removing it from the colony.

installing

After extracting the queen from the bee box, remove the cork from the end of her container and use the yellow strip to attach her to one of the top bars. Once she is installed in the hive, you can add the rest of the colony.

There are some different opinions on how to get the rest of the colony in, but the most common one is pretty simple: Turn the box of bees upside down over the opening in the hive and shake it firmly to remove the bees. They will fall out in a large clump, straight into the hive.

Replace all of the top bars and the top of the hive, and don’t disturb your bees for at least 3-5 days while they settle in.

After 3-5 days, check on the hive to ensure the queen has made it out of her container and your bees are starting to make comb. You can also incorporate a window into the design of a top bar beehive, so you can keep checking up on them without disturbing the colony.

After your bees start making comb and foraging the local flowers, you are well on your way to a successful honey harvest. Check your hive regularly and make sure they have enough space and food, and you should have a very happy colony!

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.


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5/10/2016

Jacob's Cattle Beans

Saving seeds can be beautiful.

The seed library concept has always intrigued me. A central place to store a community’s seeds makes perfect sense.

Before the invention of overnight world trade and easy transportation, seeds were a local affair. Every season, individual farmers and gardeners saved seeds from their plots out of the necessity of next year. New variety infusions would happen from time to time through trade or barter from neighboring communities.

As people chose the best seeds from their best plants, local varieties (called “landraces”) evolved, giving the community plants adapted to regional conditions like rainfall and soil quality.

These days, local seeds have given way to national (or even international) commercial seed houses. Seeds, which were once scarce and sacred, are now ubiquitous, homogenized, and commonplace. The need for a seed library seems antiquated in our modern age, but within its simple structure is the power of the individual.

All we gardeners need to do is check out some seeds, grow them in our gardens, save the seeds, and return more than we borrowed. The highlight of this process is the seeds returned, no matter where they initially came from, are now localized and organic (as long as one’s garden is).  

Just a few years ago, it seemed like seed libraries were being legislated out of existence. An issue cropped up with the Cumberland County (Pennsylvania) Library’s Simpson Seed Library. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture determined that their seed library violated the state’s seed legislation, and through a settlement, forced the Simpson Seed Library to be replaced with an annual seed swap (which is not nearly the same thing).

In March 2016, there was an amendment to the Pennsylvania law which allows seed libraries to once again become legal. Catastrophe averted.   

My Local Seed Libraries

Personally, I’ve had the opportunity of assisting two different local seed libraries. My first experience was attending several “seed packing parties” with the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Seed Sharing Library.

These gatherings are part work party and part social gathering. Discussing gardening while performing tedious manual activities is a great way to form bonds between strangers with a common interest, though the seed packing process will make you see cross-eyed if you don’t take breaks.

The Kent (Ohio) Free Library reached out to local gardening groups, including my local chapter of Food Not Lawns (Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns), to start their library last year — the Seed Library of the Kent Free Library. They even utilized a seed-saving workshop I gave last summer as their seed library launch.

Several seed packaging parties were organized and highly attended with over 40 people at the first one (thanks to our county Master Gardeners and Food Not Lawns). Opening this spring, the seed library has been well received so far.

What really drove home this new local resource’s importance was having beginning gardeners go down to pick out seeds after one of my recent gardening talks. Everyone loves receiving seeds.

Counting the above mentioned seed libraries, I personally know of 10 Ohio seed libraries. I’m sure there’s probably two to three times that many total in my home state. It seems to me that seed libraries have gone from almost extinct to flourishing in a short period of time.

I’m proud of those who have been brave enough to put their efforts into something that could have been closed down without warning. The next challenge will be keeping these entities going and growing as time goes by.

Seed Library Challenges

Despite these victories, seed libraries do have some problems to overcome. Receiving seed donations is not one of them. There are plenty of commercial seeds to be had at the end of every season. Seed companies can’t sell seeds older than the current year, so those “expired” seeds are available if you know who to ask.

Of course, seeds don’t really expire, though some are not much good after a year or two (parsnips and onions come to mind). Seeds do germinate less and less as time goes on but my answer has always been to plant more the older they get.

As I see it, the real challenge is motivating gardeners to return seeds that they “borrowed”. Beginning seed savers need education as the task at first seems daunting. Everyone should be able to save beans and peas. They are self-pollinating, so there’s little worry about crossing (though it can occur if varieties are planted too close together).

Tomatoes and peppers are the next easiest with lettuce right behind them. I will be teaching another seed saving class in late summer so we can try to overcome this obstacle.  

Seed Saving Packets 

Here are the seeds I checked out of the seed library.

To set an example, I recently checked out 4 varieties of beans (3 green bush and 1 pole) from Kent’s local seed library. They are the easiest to save. Simply grow the beans until the plant dies, wait until the pods dry up in a week or two, and harvest away.

It’s a ritual I already complete every fall with my Jacob’s Cattle dry beans. While splitting out the seeds from the dead pods, I often imagine my ancestors sitting around a fire or an old wooden table working on the same undertaking. Of course, they weren’t watching TV while working like I am, but you get the picture.

I also picked beans (pun not intended but cool nonetheless) as I’m in the market for a new green bean. I’ve grown the 'Tendergreen' variety over the last few years, but I’m not exactly sure they are the ones for me.

Starting a few seasons ago, I started canning dilly beans, even winning first place at the county fair last year. (Note: I was the only entry in the men’s canned bean category, but a win's a win's a win). Straighter, tastier beans with maybe a different color would be a nice change. So, having 40 seeds of 4 different varieties will give me the chance to “try before I buy” while showing others how give back to the library.

Ultimately, I believe our answer will be to find ways to motivate our borrowers beyond reciprocity. We could give rewards, like special mention in the seed library’s weekly email or membership to the “Seed Saver’s Club”. It’s a discussion we need to have since this is our first year.

I also thought about letting seed returners have “first dibs” at the donations before they are available to the public. In my Food Not Lawns experience, seeds are quite the incentive. Heck, maybe even paying people for their efforts might work (even if it’s with Time Credits from our local time bank). We just have to find the right buttons to push.

Final Thoughts

Being involved with these seed libraries has been fulfilling for me as a gardener and permaculture practitioner. Imagining all the heirlooms we can save and new varieties we can create gives me hope for the future. Like any venture, there will be trials and tribulations that will test our resolve, especially since a seed library is mostly a volunteer endeavor.

We also need to worry about the crossing of varieties, especially with newbie seed savers, but for me this is a minor concern. Another angle I believe helps the seed library movement is public libraries are looking to provide new services in this age of information.

With many traditional resources they provide (books, articles, etc) easily acquired online, libraries are now seeking different ways to remain relevant. Seed libraries make them pertinent on a local level.

My wish for you reading this is that you will search out your local seed library and participate. It’s a great way of giving back to your local community while making connections and obtaining resources for yourself and your family.

If you don’t have a seed library that’s close to you, ask your library if they have plans for one in the near future. Public interest often creates new programs. I just hope this new found enthusiasm I’m seeing continues and doesn’t become another green fad.

Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of Don's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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5/9/2016

Salt Spring Seeds Dan Jason 

I have been growing and talking about the value of pulses — dried peas and beans, chickpeas, favas and lentils — for 30 years, and remain more convinced than ever that they could help renew the health of our planet.

Pulses are tried and true — people in temperate climates have been growing and eating them for more than 10,000 years. Nutritional powerhouses, pulses are still the most essential part of the diets of billions of people worldwide.

Belonging to the amazing and prolific legume plant family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae), pulses can snatch nitrogen out of the air and add it to the earth. Because of this powerful ability to increase the fertility of soil by simply growing in it, they are the epitome of renewable energy.

Growing and Eating Pulses

Easy to grow and prepare, dried peas and beans, chickpeas, favas and lentils can be cooked in a seemingly infinite variety of simple and delicious ways and offer much culinary delight because of their diverse tastes and textures. Cultures around the world have created special dishes for all of the pulses.

The surprising news is that even though most North Americans don’t know beans about beans, our farmers grow vast acreages of pulses to export to millions of people who do appreciate them. And while Canada is the world’s largest exporter of pulses, Canadians consume less than 10 percent of what their farmers grow.

It is time for Canadians and Americans to realize that pulses — flexible enough to be prepared in hundreds of memorable ways for breakfast, lunch or dinner — could and should comprise a much larger portion of our daily diet. And in addition to buying pulses from our local farmers, we can grow them ourselves easily — and organically.

Of all the thousands of years seeds have been handed from farmer to farmer, it’s only in the past 50 or so that poisons have been used to grow food. We are at a crucial moment in our story when it is absolutely vital that we return to feeding everyone with clean food and water instead of continuing to play havoc with the health and well-being of ourselves and all the earth’s creatures.

Pulses can be easily grown without herbicides and pesticides if we size down the North American model of industrial agriculture.

To this day, millions of small farmers grow beans without chemicals. And I have been growing beans myself successfully for 30 years without ever resorting to poisons. Pulses are also light on water, increasingly important on this planet where drought is becoming more and more a daily concern.

Pulses’ Role in Sustainable Agriculture

Being the nutrient-dense and easy-to-grow foods that they are, pulses can point us in the direction of a safe and sustainable agriculture that gives everyone access to clean food and water, along with the possibility of living in health, harmony and mutual benefit.

Renewable energy is everywhere, every day for the celebrating. Pulse plants can show the way by enabling humans to be renewed by our daily food. Like the pulses within our bodies, they are slow and deep and at the heart of things.

Pulses require between 20 to 40 times less fossil fuel to produce than meat, yet they provide incredible protein and nourishment. And meanwhile, these same pulses regenerate our earth, nourishing the soil that nourishes our food.

I hope this post shows how much power there can be in a handful of beans, and how much delight there is to be had in growing and cooking pulses.

Dan Jason is dedicated to popularizing beans as something North Americans should be growing and eating. When he started Salt Spring Seeds in 1986, he sold seed packets for a dozen bean varieties, plus quinoa and amaranth. Thirty years later, Dan is still selling those same crops, but now offers seeds for over 700 different herbs, vegetables, beans, grains and flowers. You can find Dans’ book The Power of Pulses on his website, and Saving Seeds as if Our Lives Depended on It in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.
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5/9/2016

recycling in the garden bed

I can’t tell you how excited I get when I’m able to thriftily recycle and repurpose in my garden. It’s a state near giddiness, I assure you. I chalk it up to a strong Dutch heritage, an inventive mind, a limited pocketbook, and a love for stepping more lightly on the planet.

This past week I recreated my gourd patch from last year. If you read about last season’s harvest, you may recall that the lush and healthy vines slowly encroached on our mowed pathway. I wanted to help make my husband’s mowing task easier this year by containing the vines. I needed to prepare the three planting spots anyway, so I decided to go whole hog and work the bed over more fully for whatever I might want to grow there next season.

Planning and Planting the Perfect Gourd Patch

First, I created my cage from purchased hardware cloth and conduit poles. I’m not so worried about critters bothering my gourds, so I left one end open. That end features a reused section of white picket fence that I nabbed off of a Craigslist find of red bricks a couple of years back. It’s held in place by a large bamboo pole, purchased in a lot at an auction many years ago.

Next, I covered my three planting beds with the visqueen fabric (an auction find, mentioned in a previous post). Then, I covered the rest of the ground with cardboard. I discovered this great tip a few years ago when wanting to quickly kill off large patches of lawn. I now use this method whenever I’m creating a new bed. I use my cardboard double-thick if it’s small boxes or single-thickness if I’m using appliance cardboard.

Where to Find Free Cardboard

Here are some are hints for getting and using free cardboard: Tell the delivery people you want the cardboard from any new appliances. Let your neighbors know you want theirs if they’re getting new stoves or washer/dryers. Ask your local appliance sales stores if you can have some of their large cardboard boxes.

For the smaller boxes, grocery stores are prime gathering spots. You can request that they save you some, and most will if you’re prompt at picking it up. If you can’t plan ahead, or simply want to grab boxes more quickly, I’ve found mornings are the best time for pick up as the boxes haven’t made their way back to the the compactor yet.

Dairy and cold-processed food boxes work well. I also use a lot of produce boxes. It’s best if you remove tape first, otherwise you’ll end up finding the pieces in your bed when you work it in the future.

The great thing about using cardboard, in my opinion, is that it allows for a very quick reuse of the garden space by giving you a solid temporary foundation to build upon. I say temporary because I’ve noticed that the cardboard disappears (is composted) within three to six months, depending on conditions. The elements, worms, and bugs make short work of it, turning it into another depth of richness for your soil.

covering the bed

After placing all my cardboard, making sure to layer over the edges and holes so no grass was showing, I began to layer my straw. I’m lucky to live in farm country so I usually have access to straw from several sources. The bales come either bound by plastic twine or baling wire. I prefer the latter because I cut it and use it to hold my hardware cloth or fencing in place. I also reuse the twine for beans, peas, or other plants to climb.

While I could have simply grabbed small, bunched layers of the straw and spread it out, that would have used more straw. Instead, I scattered it more loosely and built up a mulch of six to ten inches. The Spring rains will compact the straw a bit. This mulched bedding will provide a lovely foundation where my gourds can mature. I will train some of the gourds up and over the repurposed pool ladder that I picked from my neighbor’s trash last Spring. (Yes, I got permission first.) I’m sure the straw will also become a haven to countless critters. That makes me happy.

Also in this bed are some reclaimed concrete blocks. A nearby town has an area where they smash old concrete, bricks, and stone to repurpose for various uses. I asked for and received permission to grab some of the goodies for my garden. I have built the foundations of several beds with the concrete blocks. I used them in this bed to hold the ladder in place. I also used a rescued stone from a torn down school as a sort of altar top. I usually place a container of water there for the birds. Some concrete blocks contain fly ash, a suspected carcinogen, so if you are using these in food beds you should use some sort of barrier between them and the soil.

As you can see in the last photo, my bed is ready for the gourd seedlings currently emerging in the baby plant nursery (aka our guest room). Hopefully, the weather this year will help Mother Nature and I grow another bumper crop of gourds. I can’t wait for more surprises hiding under leaves in the Fall. Until then, I’ll be washing and preparing the gourds from last year so I can create more inspired artwork.

bed ready

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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