Monday, October 12, 2009

Vegetable growing: book review

I thought I had read most every book that was good about gardening. I have old, out-of-print books, new books, books by farmers and backyard growers. Greenhouse growers and field growers. Market garden books and seed saving books. Books about the loss of genetic diversity in the plant world and books about high altitude challenges in gardening. I gave in to temptation and bought another book. And am I ever glad I did!

If I had to give a short list of my top ten must have books on growing, this one just might be number ONE! It is that good. The author, Steve Solomon, founded Territorial Seed Company in the early 80's and now lives in Tasmania, still growing. He begins in his introduction, to talk about how he "marched to the beat of a different drummer" and how the advice of "Everyone Else" just didn't work for him. Well, that got me right there. The rebel in me, what is left of that part of me, sat up and paid attention. I do love the alternative opinion in most everything.

The book is Gardening When it Counts, Growing Food in Hard Times.
Gardening book

Now this isn't a dry read, with lots of technical information suitable for agriculture grad students, it is written for everybody, especially those beginning to grow. I cannot tell you how his writing style and simple explanations please me. I highly recommend this book. Easy to understand and implement, using common sense, LOW COST tools and ideas. Especially attractive for the frugal grower because his ideas utilize old-time, low cost tools and inputs. From buying seeds (names names of good/bad suppliers) to saving seeds, planting seeds to transplants, watering to weeding, this one has it all.

OK, I'll stop waxing poetic now, but if you are inclined to purchase any gardening books or grow a garden for food, get this one right away.

Grow Vegetables AND eggs!

Most small towns and even some larger ones allow for the keeping of a couple hens. So why not complement your vegetable garden with some hens? During the winter months, let them into your garden area to fertilize (i.e. poo) and till up the area, during the summer months you can keep them in a small coop. Perfect, eggs and veggies. Eggs are nearly a perfect protein, an article posted by a Weston Price leader is at An-Independent-Life, gives some more stats on how wonderful the incredible, edible egg really is. If you are so inclined, give your local govt. a call and check on your just never know, maybe chickens are part of your gardening future!

Vegetable growing: organic or not

The first thing is to understand the term "organic" as it refers to vegetable growing. Long ago the term organic meant, well pretty much what Webster's Dictionary defines it: "derived from living organisms" or basically NO chemicals on your vegetables! OK, if you really want to spray Round Up all over your place and feel comfortable eating anything grown near a deadly chemical, you maybe should be reading up somewhere else. I love my vegetables and love them safe to eat. I also raise a bunch of chickens and don't really want them to be eating anything nasty like that. And did I mention kids? I have kids, if you have kids and want to feed them good, healthy, fresh vegetables, you don't really want chemicals all over their food do you? No? Didn't think so.

OK, step one: go organic. But if you want to actually SELL produce, you can't use the word. Nope. The government stole that one. So if you sell vegetables, like I do, you can't say "organic" unless you file a whole bunch of paperwork and a good bit of money (of course, it's the government, nothing is free there ). So we'll do another post some day on how to actually grow organic vegetables but not really call them organic vegetables and there's this great organization called Naturally Grown that helps out growers like me. But I digress here.

Step two: How do you get that nice lawn all ready for some real vegetables instead of just pretty grass? I like grass, but you can't eat it. I do graze my horses on it once in a while, my lawn that is, they seem to absolutely love bluegrass. But since I live in the semi-arid west, water conservation is a huge issue, so I spend most my precious water on vegetables. I have to eat you know. And since my market garden gets larger every year, my lawn gets smaller. OK, now's a good time for thinking about getting your plot ready. You can till up a section of lawn. Too much work? Don't own a tiller or can't rent one? No worries. If it is fall when you read this, great! You can do one of two very easy things.

One: cover your entire area with cardboard and newspaper. Listen this works great. I had read all about it and sort of ignored the idea for years. I have wind here, and I mean wind! Think Kansas and you've got the idea. Serious wind. So when I started my vegetable garden areas I always used a tiller. Silly me. A couple years ago I wanted a few new flower beds. So I thought what the heck, got me a bunch of cardboard boxes from Freecycle, covered up the area, soaked it well with my hose and then covered that with eight sheets of newspaper. Some study somewhere found that eight sheets was optimal. OK, I'm sure there is grant money for those sorts of things. sheesh. Covered it all up nice. Do this on a low wind day. Trust me on this one. You want a nice vegetable garden, not loads of frustration and wind, newspaper, cardboard, etc. are not nice together. Don't ask me how I know! OK, you've got your area all marked out, covered in cardboard or newspaper. I did mine in both cardboard and newspaper. You don't have to, either one alone is fine. I did a test plot using both on one plot and just newspaper on another. Both seemed to compost over winter just fine. One thing, you don't want to use those shiny papers like they use for ads in the Sunday paper, too many chemicals on the ink. Worms don't like that and you want worms in your vegetable garden, worms are your friend even if you can't stand touching them. Nice nails? Need clean and neat hands for work? Whatever, just wear gloves if that is your situation. Don't let anything get in the way of your new found vegetable growing passion!! Well, now you've got an area covered in newspaper, cardboard or both. That's not going to stay put, the first windy day it'll be plastered all over your fence, your car, your neighbors lawn (not good right?). So we need to weight it down. I'm all for easy. So cover it up. I put a layer of rabbit poo down over my cardboard/paper layers. No rabbit poo? No worries. Not a necessary step. I have rabbits, they make a ton of poo. Just recycling. The easiest thing is to just go off to our local home/garden store and buy a few bags of compost and put that all over the top. Don't want to do that? Well then you have to shovel some sort of dirt on the top. I'm a bit more of a lazy sort, so for my new plots I just used a few bags of compost from my local garden center. Well now, you should have a nice spot looking a bit odd. Keep it watered now and again and come next spring, you can just plant in this spot. The cardboard plot I did, was not totally decomposed in just one winter, so I'd water it real good and then use a hoe to make a row where you want to plant.

OK, option two for making a nice vegetable garden plot without tilling. Solarize. Basically, you put a large piece of plastic over your area and let the sun do the work for you. If your winters are cold and gloomy, this option may not work well for you. On the other hand if your winters are sunny without total snow cover it will work great. The only down side is that solarizing will kill off some of your worms. But if your vegetable spot isn't huge, you can just assume those nice worms will go somewhere close by only to come back after you pull the plastic off. The great thing is that the action of the sun will kill the weed seeds off for you. For a while that is, you'll still have to weed your vegetable garden plot. Solarization can take several months, but it will effectively remove most turf grass and/or weeds.

Well, that's all for today. Tomorrow we will talk about your soil. How to look at it, how to test it, and how to improve it. Until then, enjoy!

So you want to grow vegetables

Of course you do! The time is right, your budget is tight and you're concerned about all the chemicals on your vegetables or the miles your vegetable has to travel to get to your table. So how DO you go about growing your own vegetables? Perhaps you live in suburbia or in the city and you've never grown a vegetable in all your days. What then? Where to start? Don't worry, it can be done. There are about a million books on vegetable growing and gardening, do you have the time to read and digest all those books? No? Well, it's ok, I can help you. You'll have to check back frequently to see what is new here, since my intent is to publish a blog with all you need to know about growing your own vegetables in your own backyard or patio. I have the time this winter to write. I own a small property of five acres and grow for a local farmer's market. I also use a high tunnel (unheated greenhouse) that I purchased from a company called Farm-Tek to extend my growing season. I've been a vegetable grower all my life. I own nearly all those books on vegetable gardening that you don't have time to read, so follow along and we'll get you started.