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


Welcoming Luffa and Gourds in Late Summer

birdhouse-gourds
Birdhouse gourds ripen on the vine. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett 

Our onions are harvested, the spaghetti squash are starting to yellow and our zucchini and cucumbers are nearing the end of their reign in the Ogden garden. We’ve gotten a steady supply of the latter two so far and that, supplemented by tomatoes and onions, has provided several hefty deliveries to Harvesters Community Food Network.

onion
One of our harvests yielded some large, fragrant onions that were included in a donation to Harvesters Community Food Network. Photo by Tonya Olson

The newest residents to appear in the garden — Ridged Luffa Edible Gourds and Birdhouse Gourds — went in the ground in early June. The seeds, which were supplied by the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, got there thanks to Connie, an advertising saleswoman at Ogden who is the best at getting her hands in the dirt and getting things done.

lufa
Baby luffa broke through the soil in late May. Photo by Tonya Olson

Connie first grew luffa last year and loved it. Her father was going through physical rehab at the time and would take him a few each day so he could keep busy by picking out the seeds. Connie and her mother — whose chickens supply a steady stream of beautiful eggs — grew birdhouse gourds a few years ago. They planted the seeds in a pile of chipped wood the energy company left when workers trimmed the trees under the power lines. “I am sure it was an idea my dad had and it worked out great,” Connie said. They then dried and painted the gourds, creating homes for small birds like swallows, wrens and Purple Martins.

The gourds were first to make their presence known and have grown to a hefty size so far. The small birds are going to get gourd mansions at this point. The luffa were slower to join the party, but they are starting to peek out from under the beautiful blanket of vines that coat the cattle panels along one side of the garden.

panels
Connie and Jay secure cattle panels for the luffa in mid-May as others tend to marigolds. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

The vegetables can be harvested and eaten at their current size but, if left to mature, they become fibrous and not as tasty — but make great sponges!

lufa
Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

Connie notes, too, that the luffa leaves emit a pleasant smell and we’ve spent more than enough time sniffing the leaves during break-time harvesting sessions. I liken it to a subtle bread dough.

lufa
This variety of luffa have rigid exteriors. Photo by Amanda Kim Stairrett

More on gourds and luffa: 

More on the Mother Earth News Community Garden:


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Gardening in a Wildfire-Prone Area

 

In a wildfire nine years ago here in the Colorado Rockies, our stacked firewood exploded and took with it the tinder-dry, pioneer-era outbuilding which was our gardening shed. (Not smart — we since learned to stack winter wood 30 or more feet away from buildings and trees.) It didn't get the gardens, as they were wet enough to deflect this particular fire. We have worked to increase soil moisture in the gardens over the years and slightly sloped the contoured, terraced beds back into the mountainside for water catchment. The wind likely shifted, too, blowing the fire elsewhere. The moisture-retaining gardens helped protect the house in this case.

Surrounding the gardens — and built structures — with gravel mulches (no shredded bark or pine needles), flagstone, bricks, sand, least-flammable plants, or grass mowed to no higher than 4 inches can also help. Concrete pads work, too, though the cement industry has a big carbon footprint. Also, water can soak into the earth beneath gravel and plants and around flagstone. On concrete it runs off; some dry-area gardeners have planted one or more saplings in a basin-shaped hole to catch the runoff from impermeable aprons.

Cal fire recommends specific strategies for creating defensible space up to 100 feet around the home.

Colorado has defensible space recommendations specific to the Rockies, which include vegetable gardens near the house. The amount and type of defensible space varies by steepness of slope, land forms, and vegetation, both wild and gardened. Those of us who live on steep slopes which face south or southwest and/or have “chimneys” — steep narrow drainages — have to take particular care.

Here in the Colorado mountains, we've learned that if you have a beloved tree, stand of trees, or garden near the house, you can consider them part of your house and mitigate 30 to 100 feet out from them. In all states, the safest plants have minimum sap and little or no resin, oils, or waxes that could ignite or hold a flame. Check out the flammability of any tree you want to protect — look online, ask your extension office or the local fire department. Each state also has a list of least flammable plants; check the internet for your state's fire-wise plant materials and fire-resistant landscaping. Water-holding succulents are popular. Keep flammable weeds, such as dead and dry cheatgrass, as well as flammable, dried-out garden/landscape plants, under control.

And in some circumstances — the winds are just right, the topography is fire-conducive, the day is a “red flag day” — high temps, humidity in the single digits, drought conditions — the gardens may burn. Half our orchard burned, our friends lost houses, greenhouses, sheds, barns, gardens. Mountainsides burned.

Gardeners often want to get right back to work and rebuild the garden, the landscape. We found to our surprise that we couldn't push ourselves as we had before: just when we thought we were doing great, we'd crash into exhaustion. We learned that's part of it all. Talking with neighbors helped the most, as we were all going through the same thing; it did eventually subside.

There were upsides: we were alive and the impacted communities have survived. The surrounding community offered generous help. We had to learn to accept some. Not easy for do-it-yourselfers. The fire was good for community. It allowed people to come unstuck from old ways, re-designing more sustainable landscapes and gardens, learning news ways with each other.

Pam Sherman gardens with her husband at 8300 feet in the Colorado Front Range Rocky Mountains on part of an old pioneer farm. She can be reached at plg59@cornell.edu.


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.

Gardening During Drought

 

Vibrant garden crops during a drought? It's possible. Here are some successful planning and coping strategies, most from the water-stressed West/Southwest. We'll start with water harvesting, continue with plant selection, and finish with soil health practices.

It was 1994 and Tucson residents Brad and Rodd Lancaster wanted to save their sour orange tree. They dug and mulched a basin and graded the soil around it to catch runoff. Brad writes in his first book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, “...we've since kept our supplemental waterings to three per year. Yet we live within the Sonoran Desert...[Tucson] annual rainfall averages just 12 inches...and most folks water their citrus trees at least once a week.” He continues: “...we decided to make rainwater the primary water source for all our outdoor needs...we created and planted...water-harvesting earthworks throughout our once-barren yard. The rain then gently soaked into the soil, soil erosion ceased, and verdant life began sprouting everywhere... We then [started using] greywater...Our daily municipal water use dropped from the Tucson residential average of 114 gallons per person per day to less than 20 gallons per person...This earned us five visits from workers at both the water and electric utilities because they were sure our meters were broken.”

Brad went on to learn from indigenous dryland water harvesters and both traditional and modern water-harvesting systems. His books, website, and blog feature multiple diverse strategies. Those my husband and I have implemented have made the difference for our gardens and land in both drought and wildfire. Unwatered for a dry, hot, rainless month after the wildfire, the gardens and surviving fruit trees still produced a decent harvest.

To Maximize Success

Favor native plants; they have a long history of adapting to your area. See native plant lists and native plant nurseries for your state. Nowadays, as many of our U.S. regions are one USDA Planting Zone warmer, people are also incorporating native plants from neighboring warmer, more arid areas.

Save your own seeds for drought adaptation. Take cuttings from your successful drought-adapted shrubs.

Check out local seed swaps, plant sales, seed libraries, small businesses that sell locally-sourced, drought-adapted seed.

Favor drought-adapted perennials—forbs, bushes, trees--with deep roots that can seek and find their own underground water sources.

Start seeds indoors if it's unseasonably cold, as well as dry.

Use a drip system to reduce water use.

Garden soil can be its own seed bank: plant a diversity of seeds. Not everything will survive, do well, or come up in a given year. Plant for a range of conditions.

Healthy humus in soil is the basis of drought mitigation. The Natural Resources Conservation Service says: “One percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil would hold approximately 27,000 gallons of water per acre!” Humus is that dark, rich, wonderful-smelling part of the soil; it both retains water and allows it to percolate through to deeper layers and underground storage. It's made only by soil organisms-- bacteria, fungi and friends.

To Keep Them Happy

Invite as many types of compatible plants as possible to your garden and home, from ground covers to short, medium, tall forbs, shrubs, trees, to vines, all with a diversity of root types. The more plant diversity, the more diverse their microbial associates. The more diverse the system, the more resilient it can be.

Mulch as much as possible to protect bare soil from drying wind, skyrocketing temperatures, wind and water erosion, from crusting over, from drying out, and to provide organic matter to convert to precious humus. Straw and anything considered garden “waste--” weeds or highly reproductive plants straight from the garden bed shorn of all reproductive parts, grass or hedge clippings, leaves, and best of all, cover crops.

Integrate fully composted animal manure and good compost.

When land has dried out from a protracted drought—the soil is crusted, only the hardiest of weeds can grow—then animals themselves may be necessary. Hoof action breaks the crusting. It plants new seeds right in the hoof print, a tiny water-harvesting basin—and encased in manure, the ideal fertilizer. Over a year or two, the change in the water-carrying capacity of the land can be dramatic. Moving the animals between paddocks to allow vegetation to regrow--aka rotational grazing, managed grazing, cell grazing, and holistic management--is crucial.

These and similar drought-busting practices can give us the resources to flourish in tough, dry conditions.

Photos courtesy of Upsplash.

Pam Sherman gardens with her husband at 8300' on part of an old pioneer farm on the Colorado Rockies' Front Range. She writes about it while he keeps working.


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.

Methods to Growing Potatoes, and How To Cure and Store Them

Potato Harvest Number 1 

Why go through all the effort of digging a trench, hilling up your potatoes, and all that digging when there has got to be an easier way? We grow a lot of potatoes each year, usually enough to get us through Winter into early Spring and still have plenty to plant for the next year. We typically shoot for somewhere between 65 and 85 pounds. We eat lots of soup in the winter, and what kind of winter soup would be complete without potatoes?

We’ll go over the different ways we’ve grown potatoes, which methods we liked best and why, and which varieties we’ve liked the best for storage through winter. There may be tips or tricks in this article that you may want to try, or you may already do something similar, or you may have your own way of growing spuds that works perfectly well for you! Let us know what you think, what you do and what works best!

The Traditional Method: The traditional method of growing potatoes works great in some soils, and in some cases makes the most sense. If you have very fine or sandy soil, this method may work best for you. The concept is the same in almost every method, because potatoes will sprout and the tubers (the potato) will multiply. The object is to put the potato as far down as you plan to plant, and layer it or “hill” it with growing medium once it has made sufficient growth--this is usually about 8 inches above the soil. As the plant grows, it will root into that medium and develop more potatoes. In the traditional method, a trench is dug and the soil is piled on one or both sides of the trench. The sprouting potatoes are laid in the trench and covered with a bit of soil. As the potatoes grow, you continue to pull some of the soil around the plants. When harvest time comes, you gently dig with a shovel or digging fork--or your hands--and search for potatoes. The problem with the fork or shovel is we always inevitably spear or chop at least one potato, usually the biggest!

The Potato Tower Method: One method that has gained popularity recently is the Potato Tower Method. In this method, potatoes are planted at the bottom of a container--a large plastic barrel, a circle of chicken wire, a bunch of tires--it could be anything that’s hollow, it doesn’t have to be open to the ground beneath but this helps. Once the sprouted potatoes are placed at the bottom of the “tower” they can be covered with soil and hilled up as they grow more. To harvest, simply wait until the tower is full or harvest time comes--whichever comes first in your climate--and push the tower over! No shovel, no digging! This method works especially well if you have access to healthy soil or compost, maybe even sand could work. This has worked when we have tried it, though coming across soil was tough and we hadn’t made much compost at the time.

The Hay Method: This is the method we’ve liked best and the one we use most often. In this method, we plant sprouted potatoes in beds that have nice and decompacted soil. Instead of digging a trench, we just plant right in the bed and wait for the potato plant to grow to about 8 inches tall. Once the plants are a sufficient height, we hill them up with hay, lots of hay. Try to pack it down as you are distributing it, we’ve used about 12 inches of packed hay. Water this in thoroughly. As the potatoes reach about 6-8 inches above the hay, layer them again. When harvest time comes, remove the hay (which will have partially broken down by then) and harvest the potatoes! No shovel, minimal effort and bending over! We like to sprinkle some compost in every layer to help the hay break down, plus we like when our potatoes smell like dirt.

In every method we’ve tried (even in the Potato Tower Method, though it can be tricky) we manage to get two harvests per growing season from our potatoes. This is important to us since our growing season is really about 120 days--give or take. We plant as early as we can, depending on the weather but usually early May. About 4 weeks after the potatoes flower and sometimes longer, we go for our first harvest of potatoes. This typically happens mid-July to early-August. We harvest all of the big ones, and we leave as many small ones attached to their root as we can, this requires a bit of finesse and patience but it can be done! This means it can be done without killing the plant, and those baby spuds will grow, and new ones will also develop. 

Our second harvest is at the end of the growing season but before the first frost, usually sometime in mid to late-September. We go through the entire bed and harvest whatever is there. This ensures that we get a nice big harvest of potatoes for the year. The first harvest usually lasts until October, and the second harvest usually lasts us until March or April--at which point we begin to switch to sunchokes!

Potato Close Up

Curing and Storage: 

One thing you’ve got to figure out if you plan on storing your potatoes over the winter is which varieties you’ll grow, as well as how you’re going to store them. Thin skinned varieties such as Butterball or Fingerling types of potatoes have a shorter storage life than thicker skinned varieties such as Russets. We do store many kinds, but the thick skinned potatoes always outlast the others. Another thing to keep in mind is that potatoes like it cool and dark to be stored, a root cellar is ideal, although an unheated garage or shed may work too. Place them in boxes of sawdust or shredded newspaper, or plain paper bags and make sure to keep them dark. If they freeze, their cell walls become damaged and they lose the ability to keep well, so make sure that wherever you store them it is above freezing--ideally 34-40°F. Humidity is important as well, around 85% is perfect, dirt floors or humidifiers help with this.

Another important step if you’d like to store your potatoes is curing them. This step is necessary for long term storage, and basically what happens is the skin hardens up and better protects against any mold or spoilage to which the moist flesh is susceptible to. Curing is easy! After you’ve dug them up, leave them somewhere in the sun with air flow to dry out for about an hour or two. Then inspect them all carefully, any scratched, pierced or otherwise damaged spuds, put aside to eat soon, these will compromise the storage of the rest of them if they were all stored in the same place. Potatoes will scab up, but the ones that are really damaged just eat!

Next, let your potatoes cure somewhere out of sunlight this time for 1-2 weeks. This dries the skins further. Make sure to look at your potatoes after every step, potatoes with green skin have been in the sun or the light for too long and are toxic! Store these in a cool place while they finish curing. Once the spuds have gone through this two-phase cure, they should be ready to move into long-term storage. Remember, cool, dark and humid!

Potatoes are a great staple crop for homesteads and gardeners, they’re easy to grow and very rewarding. Going from the garden with a 25 pound basket of potatoes makes you yearn for the cold days by the stove in the midst of Winter, stirring a big cast iron pot of stew made with stored veggies. Potatoes also set the stage well and prep beds for other crops, we love to follow up with garlic, feeding the soil with compost right after potatoes are harvested, letting that incorporate for a while, and then planting garlic in mid-October.

Let us know how you plant your potatoes, what your favorite methods are and how much you grow for storage!

Michael Perry and Schikoy Rayn operate Sacred Circle Homestead, a small-scale, low-tech perennial nursery focusing primarily on medicinal and edible species utilizing principles of permaculture and indigenous wisdom. Learn about the classes they teach at their website or at The Trillium Center, a healing center where they hold workshops in Burlington, VT. Read all of Michael and Schikoy’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.

Garden Heatwave: How to Care for Heat-Stressed Plants

vegetables
Photo by Pixabay/jf-gabnor

Here are a few tips to help you to help your plants cope with hot garden conditions this summer.

Smart Watering

Water early in the morning when moisture evaporates more slowly. Check soil daily and water if it’s dry two or three inches below the surface. It’s best to soak the soil every few days than dampen only the surface daily.

Mold soil into ridges around plants to create bowls to water into. That way, water will be held in place to soak in rather than running away over the soil surface. Alternatively, water into old pots or bottles sunk into the soil next to plants.

Consider using a drip irrigation system on a timer if you’re unable to water daily in hot weather.

Container plants may need watering more than once a day, especially if it’s windy. Make sure the water is being absorbed into the potting soil, and not simply pouring down cracks between the potting soil and container wall. Keep pouring until you see water running out of the bottom. Use pot saucers to retain the water for longer.

Reduce Evaporation 

Lock in soil moisture by mulching after watering using organic material such as compost, leaves or grass clippings. This will help slow evaporation by shading the soil and keep the root zone cooler.

It will also help to plant densely or use vigorous sprawling plants like squashes to create a living mulch that will shade the soil.

 

Stop Fertilizing

Temperatures above 85-90ºF can cause plants to roll up their leaves to reduce water loss, drop their flowers or stop producing new ones.

At this point it’s best to stop fertilizing, because plants need even more water to process fertilizer. Adding nutrients also prompts the plant to grow more, which is stressful to the plant in hot weather.

Provide Shade

Shade plants with shade cloth or with fabric such as tulle or old bedsheets. Plants will grow more slowly under it, but they’ll be less stressed. Support the shade cloth by pinning or clamping it onto frames or hoops.

Cool-season vegetables like cabbage and lettuce and fruits such as strawberries  will particularly benefit from shading from hot afternoon sunshine.

Harvest

Harvest fruits or leaves promptly to help conserve your plant’s energy. Finish ripening fruits such as tomatoes that haven’t fully colored up in the kitchen to give your plants a break. Plants might slow down in hot weather, but they’ll return to productiveness once the weather cools.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

7 Simple Strategies to Prevent Garden Pests

nettle
Photo by Pixabay/Warren Matthews

1. Grow Resistant Varieties

Research seed catalogs to find varieties that are have shown resistance to common pests. For example, there are some varieties of carrot that are resistant to carrot rust fly and potatoes that can shake off eelworm.

2. Confuse Pests 

Interplanting crops makes it harder for pests to home in on their preferred crops. Interplant different vegetables together, or mix up vegetables with herbs or flowers.

Try growing vegetables with colored leaves, such as purple or red varieties of kale or cabbage, that bugs won’t expect.

3. Plant Outside of Peak Times  

Choose early or late varieties that sidestep the peak times for common pests. For example, growing Asian greens and mustards in the fall helps your crops avoid the attentions of flea beetles, or grow early peas to escape problems with pea moth.

4. Grow Out of the Way of Pests

Grow carrots and cabbage family crops in pots at least 18in above ground, where low-flying carrot fly and cabbage root fly cannot reach them. Raising containers up off the ground also helps reduce problems with slugs and other soil-dwelling pests.

Start seedlings off under cover in pots to prevent the tender seedlings being attacked by pests such as pigeons and slugs. Once they are bigger and sturdier, they will be more capable of withstanding minor attacks.

5. Use Barriers 

Insect mesh or row cover fabric will stop pests such as squash bugs, aphids and carrot rust fly from reaching your crops. Suspend covers on hoops or frames, and secure them around the edges so pests can’t walk in at soil level.

6. Attract Beneficial Bugs 

Encourage more beneficial bugs such as ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies into your garden by growing lots of the flowers like cosmos, sweet alyssum and dill among or next to your veggies.

7. Keep Plants Healthy 

Strong, healthy plants have their own pest defenses that often enable them to stand up to pest attacks. Make sure to grow plants in the right conditions, fertilize and water adequately, and feed the soil with plenty of well-rotted organic matter such as compost to promote a thriving root system that supports healthy top growth.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Gardening for Drought, Fire, Cold and Flood

 

Photo by Bob Walters 

Gardening weather has been crazy these past twenty years. You could almost count on four-foot snowstorms in mid-September here in the Rockies back in the day, marking the end of harvest. Over the last two decades we gained two extra gardening months, May and October. Official charts hopped us from Zone 4 to 5. Back then summer afternoons used to rain like clockwork in the mountains. Dry, unremitting heat took over; long-timers worried the forest-floor duff would combust. When it rained, we ran to count the drops.

In the past decade, more surprises have been the norm: 3.5 feet of freezing snow at May's end destroying fruit blossoms, freezes at June's end decimating crop leaves but not stalks, fall blizzards icing unharvested, but salvageable, apples. To our befuddlement, this past year has been overcast, humid. Colorado snowpack was over 751% typical of mid-June. I'm wearing a bug net when gardening, an unthinkable “first.”

In September 2010 a wildfire swept our land several times, baking apples on the trees, turning pasture and meadow into black sand. The gardens survived without water for a scorching month until we were able to harvest as usual. The kindling-dry pioneer cabin with holes in the flooring sadly succumbed to the flames, but the antique yellow rosebush snuggled near it survived unscathed.

Our fire chief told us the gardens, which roughly encircle our house, had saved it because they held more moisture than the surrounding vegetation. The take-away: our efforts to build soil moisture in the gardens over the previous years had paid off in these particular circumstances. (Following fire mitigation recommendations, around the house we had also left no flammable trees or bushes, scalped the non-garden vegetation, cleaned the gutters.)

Three years later came the epic Front Range flood. Kayakers paddled Denver streets; houses, food, trees jumbled and tumbled through caved-in roads down creeks-turned-thundering-rivers. Our pasture and meadow had regrown from deep, fire-invigorated roots; they, the gardens and orchard survived with little erosion. Their humus-structured, spongy soil allowed water to slow, spread, and percolate through to underground streams and aquifers, running off the surface with less erosive force. And the deep roots held soil in place.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service tells us one percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil can hold approximately 27,000 gallons of water per acre! For maneuvering gardens and orchard through these extremes over the years—drought, fire, cold and flood--we thank the soil biology community: microbes, worms, and the rest that creates this soil sponge. We thank traditional communities, farmers, researchers, soil scientists and conservationists, eco-restorationists and permaculturists for articulating the principles and practices below that increase soil organic matter and thus support the microbes creating this sponge, which holds the precious water.

The Soil Sponge Principles

Keep a living root in the soil at all times

At season's end, use a diversity of winter cover crops, which could include food crops, natives, and other useful, non-invasive plants. In our short season, we plant cover crops under maturing harvest crops and keep some volunteers such as clover or native legumes. Diverse living roots feed a balance of soil microbes, keeping soil alive, healthy, and water-holding. Avoid turning over soil; that breaks up the fungal hyphae that dry-area gardens so desperately need to hold water as it sequesters carbon.

Keep the soil covered—no bare dirt

We experiment with intentional ground covers as well as those that just show up to the party, such as French sorrel, black medic, bearberry, succulents —each may work with one or more main crops, while not with others.

Blanketing the soil with a thick (six-inch) layer of moist mulch (plant material, not plastic) under crops can really cut down on watering. We try to include material fungi like best, such as rotting straw on veggies, wood chips on orchard trees, and a variety of volunteers such as comfrey and some natives. Soil biology dies where soil bakes in the sun and crusts over--or freezes.

Grow a variety of companion plants together aka polyculture

They can occupy different niches above and below ground—sturdy corn, vining beans, and sprawling squash being an indigenous historical model; there are many others. I like to experiment with native forbs near or even in with the crops; mostly their seeds just land in the garden and we leave them, then we see what works and what doesn't. Polyculture stimulates a diverse, more resilient soil biology and pollinator community, provides more organic matter, and keeps the ground covered, which increases water-holding capacity.

Include animal integration

We do this via long-composted manure from our chickens and another farm's cow manure. Some orchardists turn chickens, weeder geese, and other domestic livestock onto the growing area to clean up the fallen orchard harvest and gardeners invite them to eat down cover crops in the spring. Their deposits in the soil bank add fertilizer and organic matter and their hoofs help plant dung-fertilized seeds in their hoofprints, all of which helps create spongy, water-retaining soil.

No synthetic biocides.

They kill pollinators, beneficial insects and fungi—members of the soil ecosystem on which we depend to grow food and retain water. And if the soil is not yet good and firmly held in place, in a flood they could end up contaminating people and areas downstream.

Save Your Seeds

They will be the most drought, heat, fire, cold, and flood-adapted to your particular area. This was natural for our gardening forebears. This is especially important in areas with topographical variation like the Rockies.

Plant Natives

Or welcome them. Some are edible and medicinal. See how they interact with your crops. They are already adapted and represent a sophisticated ecosystem that has worked well for eons. See individual states' native plant society lists if you are not sure what grows around you.

Plant Perennials

Their roots can go deep, holding soil in place and retaining water and carbon in their roots and stems/trunks. Eric Tonsemeier's work is a great reference, as is your state's native plant list.

Harvest Water

Explore the wealth of water-harvesting techniques and choose the ones you like for storing water in your soil. See Brad Lancaster's work for strategies.

I hope someday to see a sampler of these principles cross-stitched and hung in my home. Over the years we have implemented these little by little; the gardens and land show us what works best where and when. Each year is different. We are grateful for Mother Earth's guidance on how to make it through drought, fire, cold, and flood right now.

Pam Sherman has gardened with her husband at 8300' on an old pioneer farm on Colorado's Front Range for over 25 years. She researches and writes on gardening in marginal and extreme conditions.


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.







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