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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Sustainability - What Does That Mean To Average Home-Gardener

Dear Folks,

Sustainability is one of the top buzz words now, but what does that mean to the average home gardener.

A way to look at it would be as a simple, seasonal garden plan.  Let's say you want to garden in a container or a raised bed.  I get a lot of questions on container gardening so if I take you through a simple large-pot edible garden, all of the same principles will apply to an in-ground garden.  By-the-way the main reason I favor in-ground is the properly prepared soil gives running shoes to the roots, then can go as deep and healthy as they need.  Plus it is easier for the worms to do their tilling and amending activity in the ground.

So it is October and you get a large (at least 20 inches in diameter) pot.  You put drainage in the bottom.  You can use rocks or several inches of packing peanuts, then put wet paper toweling over them.  That keeps the soil mix from sifting through.

Make a mix of compost and "fluff" - I have recently begun using parboiled rice hulls, Suzanne Vilardi introduced me to and I love it.  It is natural, biodegradable and a good alternative to vermiculite which I have used for years.  I personally got away from perlite years ago because it separates from the soil and no longer works as the anti-compaction component it is supposed to be.  I generally use about 70% compost or superior soil and 30% of the 'fluff.'  Make sure your compost is perfectly rotted.  Hot compost will kill your first plantings.  Fill the pot to within 3 inches of the top and water it.  If it settles a lot add more mix until it reaches that level.

Think about the location for the pot - DO NOT plan on shading it - the whole point of a seasonal garden is to plant at the proper time for the season and sun is the friend not the enemy to edibles.  If you have a full sun location, positioning the plants and seeds won't be a problem.  If you have a location in a typical residential area, then you will need to consider that the tallest plants need to be on the North Side of the pot, to ensure all of the lowest growing plants get their share of the sun.

VERY IMPORTANT -- with any seasonal container garden it is necessary to make sure you plant at least 6 inches in from the sides.  This allows for the soil to act as an insulator to the roots for both cold and heat.

WATERING:  USE A moisture meter to know when to water.  Insert near the center of the pot, and water when 2-3 on the dry side.  Watering sequence will change as we get cooler and then warmer.  Skip next watering is you receive half an inch of rain or more, IF THE next watering cycle is within 3 days of the rain.

2 Pot Options:

1) perennial and Other herbs

2) veggies and other edibles

Perennial and Other Herbs

October - plant a rosemary and thyme plants, centered in the pot about 6 inches away from each other.  Seed in on four sides side 1) dill, Side 2) cilantro, Side 3) any type of pansy or violet, Side 4) 4 cloves of garlic spaced 3 inches a part (growing as green garlic)

--Green garlic harvested like scallions can be successively planted either by starting a new row 3 inches to the side of the first one OR by replacing each clove as you harvest. Usually the first ones are ready in about 6-8 weeks when the top growth is 8-10 inches tall.  You can continue successive planting of the garlic through early May.

December - seed in chamomile 'under' the canopy of the pansies.  The chamomile likes the cool weather and will be ready to harvest by the end of January, give or take.

February - see in basil under the canopy of the pansies and chamomile.   The basil will germinate as the soil is warmed by the spring sun (and IF WE do not have any killing frosts).

March - seed in chives and epazote under the cilantro.  The cilantro will begin to go to seed in March when the temps are in the consistent 80-90s.  Harvest the flowers for use in salads and soups, but allow some to go to seed and harvest, store and re-sow next fall.  Same with the dill, use flowers in salads but allow some to go to seed.  Use some seed for cooking and save some for harvest next fall.

--sow in Portulaca seed in and around the canopy of the rosemary and thyme.  This hot weather loving plant will eventually create a soil canopy keeping the surface cool during the summer.  It dies back in the cooling weather of the fall.

When the dill and cilantro plants are spent, cut at soil level (rather than pulling them and disturbing the rosemary and thyme roots. Toss on the compost pile.

April - pansies or violets may being starting into producing seed.  Harvest dried seed for re-sowing next fall.  When plants die back, crush and distribute powdered plant residue on the pot soil surface.

HARVESTING:  Harvest your herbs as needed, but do not harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at a time, to keep it growing.

Veggies and Other Edibles

October -- Transplant 1-2 bush or pole bean plants or sugar peas - create trellis for them to grow up and position the plants and trellis on the north side of the pot.  See other pot option for some additional sowing -- sow flowers in and around the beans or peas.  Sow calendula for additional petals for salads.  Transplant 2 lettuces, 2 arugula and 2 kale plants east to west in along the center line of the pot.  On the south side of the pot sow east to west:  short half row of short-season carrots and a short half row of radishes. 

--radishes are ready to harvest usually every 30 days, replant seed in hole.  If thinning seedlings, save for salads or rinse and store for making stock later.  Replant carrots as harvested.

--Greens are treated as cut and come again crops.  Harvest 1/3 when 6-8 inches tall and you should get 3-6 cuttings over the fall/winter.

-- green garlic can be planted along the inside 6 inches of the south side of the container and harvested and successive planted through May.

December -- plant strawberries if you have room, near the center of the pot.  Sow nasturtium seeds (nick each seed and soak overnight before planting - can be allowed to go up trellis or sprawl over sides of the pot.

--if you want to change our your root crops sow parsnips and turnips now.  Add 3 swiss chard seeds to one hole in the greens area (large growing leaves).  Re-seed any of the greens which may be spent.

January - sow seeds of tomatoes under canopy of flowers near center of pot (will germinate in warming soil IF WE do not have a hard frost) - when the seeds germinate, keep the seedlings covered with a plastic water bottle with the bottom cut off (cloche) and use the cap to expel excess heat and moisture during the day.  Use the cloche until all danger of frost is over.  IF the seeds do not germinate for whatever weather or other conditions, transplant 2 plants near the center of the pot when available and use cloche until frost danger is over.  Choose determinate varieties - you will not stake or cage these plants but let them sprawl.

February-April -- sow chive seeds along the south east side of the pot - in 6 inches.  Sow soybeans (through May) - they come mature for green edamame all at once on each bush, sow successively for continued crop.  You can change out or add as you have room for a few beets in the root-crop area.  Transplant 1-2 eggplant. tomatillo and/or pepper plants.  Transplant a basil plant among the tomatoes, eggplant or peppers  DO NOT plant both hot and sweet peppers in the same pot.  Sow in Portulaca seed in and around the center area of the pot.  This heat loving edible flower will sprawl and canopy the soil surface during the summer.

May -- transplant or sow 1-2 okra in at the north area where the beans / peas are/were.

August - under the canopy edge of the tomatoes, basil, etc. you can sow greens and cilantro seeds - OR you can allow the rest of the summer garden to finish production and re-do the pot in October with the same sequence as above.

Harvest dried seed from your edibles for re-sowing in their next season.

--harvest beans and peas as they reach an edible size. Allow some pods to dry for seed harvest for replanting next fall.  Replant sugar peas if they are spent in January.

--to fix the nitrogen in the soil from the beans and peas, allow the plants to die off before cutting at the soil level, toss in compost pile.

. . .

More On Sustainability

If you are not familiar with Joel Salatin, you should get to know him and his thoughts and experience as a 'grass farmer' who gets every bit of edible produce, meat and eggs from one of the healthiest farms anywhere and all without the use of un-natural 'stuff.'

Joel has a new book out - I have not read it yet, but I will.  There are a variety of videos on youtube with Joel discussing his passion for healthy and sustainable food.

Folks, This Ain't Normal!

Video on Joel and his book

Some of Joel's practices revolve around the concept of rotational animals and crops.  He will let the cows out into the pasture for a short browse. Then he brings out the chicken tractors where his flocks browse the pasture, eating bugs in the cow patties and spreading the manure around to properly continue the growth feed cycle.

He has his critics, but mostly from the factory-farm crowd and the over-the-top government regulators (whom many believe are controlled by the FFCs), who want to tell you what food you 'can't' produce or purchase.  His point in the new book (he has authored several) is that at no time in history has our food buying and eating habits been so disconnected from 'real'

If I were to personally make an analogy to what he is trying to get across - it would be the sci-fi explored concept of getting everything you need from a pill -- either "Soylent Green" style or just the idea that some people and a whole lot of food processors are trying to make food so modernly convenient that they want it all to come so amalgamated and condensed that no one could even tell where, or what, it came from.  That IS Scary, because we seem to be on the course, as more and more 'fresh' food is being customized to the specifications of not only large processors but also large chain stores, the only thing resembling real is that at one time the food might have been in the ground -- maybe.

I spoke to a soil analysis several years ago about a huge chain I won't name required a grower I won't name to create a specific fruit crop.  The guidelines by the chain to the grower were so specific that the grower refused additional soil analysis which would have made the soil healthier and create a better fruit because it was not required by the chain.

If chains can dictate not only what they want, but how healthy they do or do not want their purchases for the consumer to be, we are in deep do-do as my Deane puts it.

Other foods like "economy" cheese which is little more than food-grade plastic, touted as a source of calcium, because the mineral was added, but there is no protein content, are an outrageous fraud!

What it takes to get the attention of corporation non-health-type mandates is for the consumer to 1) be educated and 2) be vocal on what you want.  They eventually hear it, as the offerings of natural and organic options become more available.

But the consumer also has to be specific. If we do not accept false attempts to get consumers buying what is touted as natural (but is not when you read the label with chemical euphemisms for real ingredients)   The term "natural flavors" is coming more and more into question as what the flavor is actually made from may not be THE flavor it is touted as.

Whether you grow some of your own food (I hope you do) or you want to buy the best for you and your family, you NEED to educate yourself on what you are purchasing.

Do you want real food, or do you want a chemistry-produced euphemism of food?

Be nice to yourselves,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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