Gardening Libraries are Beautiful

Cleaning out my parents’ bookshelves, I came across the most beautiful set of gardening books. Rodale Press, Rockwell and Grayson, the BBC – these are the gardening greats! I dove in, eager for tips and tricks on the best tomatoes, the most delicious carrots, and the biggest pumpkins (Halloween is a big deal in this house).

What I found, though, was not lists of best practices, or graphs and charts. There were not even that many illustrations. Instead, I found pure and inspirational prose dedicated to the love of gardening. These authors are fearless in their battlecry for everyone to pick up a spade, specifically for organic gardening. In this excerpt, from a chapter called Life After Picking, if feels very much like the fruits of the garden are characters in a novel:

If it seems odd to you to talk about how vegetables breath, you probably have plenty of company. It’s commonly assumed, after all, that fruits and vegetables are no longer alive when they’re removed from the plant that produced them. Vegetables and fruits continue to live, however, even after they’re picked. The foods you bring in from the garden are still breathing while you hold them in your hands. If you’re counting on those foods to nourish you over the winter, then, it might be a good idea to consider how their continued respiration affects their keeping and eating qualities, and what you can do to control their life processes. – Mike and Nancy Bubel, Root Cellaring, 1979

Others are more direct, willing every gardener in the country to abide by the organic way of gardening. Here, from 1955, is an except from Rodale. Feel his enthusiasm as he writes!

Organiculture is a vigorous and growing movement, in that is destined to alter our concepts of the garden and the farm and to revolutionize our methods of operating them in order to secure for ourselves more abundant and more perfect food. The seed sown by Sir Albert Howard, the great pioneer in organic farming, is beginning to bloom lustily and with such vim that it is already thriving and propagating by its own strength. J.I. Rodale, Organic Gardening, 1953

Reading these books, they read like stories. Each vegetable, each garden plot, even the tools, are given names and character traits. I can see when so many of the paragraphs are underlined – my parents must have read these books before they went to bed at night, flipping each page enthusiastically instead of going to sleep. And they are inspiring! We have had thriving organic gardens since I can remember. No wonder, with these magnificent tomes!

Rodale, in his book Organic Gardening, closed by saying “there are infinite pleasures awaiting you if you have never gardened organically.” I would add to this: there are infinite pleasures in reading about it too!

Choosing Your Oya

What do tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, and pumpkins have in common? The all drink a ton of water! This makes oyas extra effective for these especially thirsty veggies.

But how many oyas, and what size is best for your garden? We recommend that the more water a plant uses, the bigger the oya should be. Generally, though, here are some easy rules for how to pick:

  • 2ft long small planters and in pots of at least 6″ of soil: SMALL OYA!
  • 3ft long/wide and in larger containers or beds: MEDIUM OYA!
  • 4ft long/wide with high output and veggies that drinks lots: LARGE OYA!

If your plot is 3′ x 6′, two medium sized oyas will do the trick perfectly. We recommend that you plant in a circle around the oya to help the roots get to the water easily.

Happy gardening!

Measuring how far roots will be able to drink from the medium oya
Measuring how far roots will be able to drink from the medium oya

 

 

Pest Control in the Garden

Chemicals in the garden are no fun. They might help in the short term, but they’re terrible for birds, frogs, bunnies, and other lovely creatures of the ecosystem. Here are some (often surprisingly!) effective alternatives:

  • Cover delicate seedlings with an overturned plastic bucket to protect them
  • Use bowls of beer or milk around your plants to catch slugs. They love the smell, and will drown once they fall in
  • Go around your garden with a torch in the evening, and get at any slugs or snails you find. The small ones are often the hungriest, so don’t be shy
  • Greenfly and blackfly are terrible for plants. You can take them off with your fingers or with a hosepipe, or introduce ladybugs to your garden. Ladybugs LOVE eating aphids
  • Welcome any birds or larger insects into your yard with bird baths and bird-friendly trees
  • Use old lace curtains over wire loops or plumber’s hose to keep certain bugs away from lettuce and cabbages
  • String criss crossed in all directions over a bed will keep pigeons and other birds from getting at your newly planted seedlings
  • Companion plants are a great way to manage pests. Marigolds and geraniums deter insects, for instance
  • Decoy plants are also helpful. Nasturtiums, aside from being delicious in a salad, will draw butterflies and caterpillars away from your cabbages
  • Onions, garlic and chives confuse insects that rely on their smell, like carrot root fly. Marigolds, rue, and tansy also work the same way
  • Make sure to take off any diseased or damaged leaves quickly, and to get overripe fruit away from your healthy plants
  • ‘Organic’ chemical fungicides and insecticides can be found in nurseries, but it’s still best to use them sparingly
  • One of the most effective ways to combat pests is to plant a diverse mixture of fruit, vegetables and flowers closely together. This way, no one overpowering scent attracts bad bugs, and there is lots of variety to attract the good ones! This also makes your garden extra beautiful according to us, so I say win/win/win!

Moving With Your Young Fruit Tree

Moving any time soon, but feel emotionally connected to your fruit tree? If it’s young enough – take it with you!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large pot
  • Some compost
  • Your fruit tree
  • Liquid plant feed
  • Water absorbing granules
  • Some mulch

Instructions:

  1. Choose a large pot with a wide base. About 16 inches across.
  2. Fill your pot with peat-free organic multi-purpose compost, with some kelp-based water absorbing granules. This will make watering far easier when it gets hotter!
  3. Before planting, soak the tree in a bucket of water and plant it to the same depth as it was in the nursery pot. Water a LOT and lay mulch across the surface of the compost to retain as much moisture as possible.
  4. Feed your tree with compost every spring and with liquid feed once a month throughout the growing season.
  5. Prune as you like! Some prefer a minarette, some a column, and some as a standard tree. You could ask for a demonstration at the nursery you bought it if you need help. Also, YouTube. Seriously.

To decide how big it will grow, choose a rootstock that will limit its size. From smallest to biggest:

  • Apples: M27, M9, M26, MM106
  • Pears: Quince C, Quince A, or EMH
  • Plums or Damsons: Pixy or St Julien A
  • Cherries: Colt or Gisela 5
  • Crab Apples: Often come from a dwarf species

Chives

There were many evenings growing up when my mother would yell from the kitchen for one of us to go get chives from the garden. Chives and their mild onion flavor are best added to a dish at the end of cooking, and just after the leaves are freshly snipped.

They’re also gorgeous in the garden. They grow in dense clumps of fine grass-like foliage and are great for the edges of beds, window boxes, or larger containers.

Chive seeds can be planted after the first frost, or if bought as seedlings, plant young clumps about six inches apart in spring, in sunny, fertile and moist soil. Clip the flowers in early summer to increase leaf growth. You can add them to salads! They are delicious.

Chive plants tend to die down in the winter, but they can be potted in autumn for indoor windowsills. Water and fertilize regularly, and every 3-4 years, in the edge seasons around summer, divide the clumps with a sharp knife to separate and replant them.

Sowing Methods for AMAZING Vegetables

Root crops should be sown where they are to grow, while others often require a nursery bed or container for later transplanting. Beware, though, of the seeds going to seed in a hot summer. Wait until the soil is warm – and you can heat it by covering the bed with cloches or plastic for a few weeks – and not too wet. Dry soil might need a sprinkling of water.

To sow outdoors:

  1. Loosen the surface with a hoe to kill weeds and aerate the soil
  2. Rake the bed, making it clear of weeds and larger stones
  3. Using a line or cane, mark out shallow furrows in parallel to each other
  4. Sow seeds sparingly, spacing larger ones to avoid later thinning. Cover them with soil and sprinkle lightly with water again.

To sow indoors:

  1. Sow early and succession crops in small pots or seed trays while waiting for space or warmer weather.
  2. Using fresh, moist seed potting mix, fill the containers and tap them to settle the earth.
  3. Sprinkle seeds sparingly on the surface, and cover with a layer of compost.
  4. Set in a warm place indoors or a shady spot outside in the summer
  5. Keep moist during germination!

Most veggies seeds respond well to the same basic sowing routine: sowing, thinning or pricking out, and transplanting. It’s important to get the timing right, and to become familiar with the seasonal rhythm of raising vegetables over time.

Pricking out – or thinning – is important so vegetables are not unnecessarily competing with each other for nutrients as they grow. When seedlings have two true leaves and are big enough to handle, you’ll know it’s time to water them, allow to drain, and then loosen the roots with a table fork. Holding each seedling by a leaf (never the stem), transfer to potting soil. For larger seedlings, 4-inch pots is appropriate. For smaller ones, trays are fine, spacing them 2 inches apart. Water the seedlings and keep them in a well-lit place while they grow.

Before seedlings get too large, it’s important to transplant them. Before you do this, water them about an hour or two beforehand. Lift outdoor plants with a trowel without disturbing the root. Plants in pots can be tapped out upside down, and those in trays can be separated with a sharp knife. Plant the seedlings in holes made with a trowel, firm into place with your fingers, and water thoroughly.

Grow!!!

Adapted from The Chef’s Garden

Grow Your Own Peanuts

Peanuts grow on small plants that are surprisingly easy to grow at home. Children love them, especially because of their unique propagation method!

What you need:

  • A medium or large pot
  • Compost/sand mix
  • A raw peanut in its shell

Instructions:

  1. All you need to plant a peanut plant is a nut. Any unsalted, unroasted nut that you’d buy to eat. Peanuts with their shells are preferable because shelled nuts can be dry, but its best to take the peanut out of its shell before planting.
  2. Plant one nut about 1 inch deep in a well-drained pot filled with sandy compost. Water it and then cover with plastic wrap or a plastic bag to keep it warm and moist.
  3. As peanut plants grow over the summer, their leaves look like clover. Eventually you’ll see yellow flowers.
  4. After flowering, the plant grows a stem downwards and into the soil, and ‘plants’ a seed in the ground. This is why soft, sandy soil is important! (And why kids love to watch peanuts grow).
  5. By the autumn, peanuts will be growing under the surface of the soil. You can eat them or re-plant them, or offer them as bird seed. Whatever you do, it’s an entertaining plant to have in the house!

 

Adapted from Growing Stuff, An Alternative Guide to Gardening