Happy Solstice. Saving seeds is a wonderful dimension to add to growing a farm or garden. This is also another aspect to the growers evolution. There are many reasons for saving one's seeds. It provides a deeper relationship with what you grow. The seeds you grow become your own seed. Being truly sustainable involves securing your germ plasm. Seeds adapt to your growing area and become better suited to your micoenvironment. For me it is one of the ways I can grow optimum quality. If you grow a quantity, you can save lots of money and hassles with seed companies. I probably save a few hundred dollars a year and my germination rates are very reliable. It offers a new form of wealth culturally and monetarily. Going full circle helps to understand the complete development of the plant. They become part of the plant community I grow in. Going from seed to a new generation of seeds completes the circle of life. What we did at Tierra Sonrisa was, We conducted trials on desirable varieties. This took a few years, since I grow over a hundred different types of vegs, flowers, herbs and fruit. I brought some seeds with me with stories from my past. When we found plants with amazing characteristics, so we chose amazing winners. Seeds pass through one's life. I am happy with what I have right now. About 80% of what I grow is from my seed. So I continue to expand and changes are always on the horizon. Seeds carry with them all the makings of a new plant. It just needs water and nourishment. It carries stories from the past and visions of the future. It is waiting for a fresh start at radical growth and enough stamina to carry it through the season. One of the best ways to secure seeds is through a supportive community. That can be done with a seed bank or seed lending library that works with local seed savers. It can also be done with friends and fellow growers who support this kind of work, if you are in an area where that interest exists. Start with easy seeds like beans and peas. They are self pollinated. So are peppers and eggplant. The umbellifers produce at the end of their flower tips.This applies to carrots, dill, cilantro. Squash is easy but different varieties need about on hundred feet of space to prevent cross pollination. Summer squash will not cross with winter squash, which will not cross with cucumbers, which will not cross with melons. Lettuce produces fine seeds once their flower is dried up. Mustard is also fairly easy. This include Chinese greens. Tomatoes prefer fermentation. It is not necessary but helps. Pick over ripe fruits. Bust them open. Place in a jar with a little water. After they ferment, scoop the top off and the good seeds are on the bottom. Rinse and dry. There is much more to this but this is a good place to start.
Insects are all over your garden, what to do. First off, enjoy nature. Insects are a link between plants and the world around them. Insects do little damage in a healthy ecosystem. Insect problems are an indication of an imbalance. Around 97% of all insects are beneficial. Most of them feed on other insects, like the argiope spider on the right. So when you spray insecticides you are killing more beneficial insects then those that do damage. Insecticides do not work long term. They simply breed resistance. For instance, if you spray a poison on insects you may kill say 85% of all of them. There are members that have superior genes that make them resistant to the spray. The next time you spray you only kill 70%, then 50%. Eventually all you have left are the ones that are resistant to the poison. You have bred a resistant strain. Now you must go to a stronger poison and start the process all over. In the end you have accomplished very little and may end up with organ cancer. I choose to encourage habitats that attract beneficial insects. I also use Organic IPM practices. Integrated Pest Management involves understanding the insect cycles and working with them to curb their growth by emulating what nature does. I grow around 30 varieties of cut flowers. I integrate them into the beds next to the ones with food. Some of the flowers attract beneficial insects that feed on the harmful ones. One example is that I grow Borage around tomato plants. The Borage is a host plant for Braconid wasp. This wasp pictured below will sting the tomato horn worm planting eggs inside. The immature wasp will feed on the inside of the caterpillar. What you see in the picture are pupae ready to hatch out of the almost dead horn worm . Do not disturb them. Some birds are useful for eating lots of insects as well. Monitoring your garden or farm for insect populations is a useful tool for evaluating who is around. Take a piece of plastic and paint it yellow. Apply tanglefoot on one side and hang it. This can be done during each season to see who is there. Using a net is another device to collect insects. To identify the insects go to; www.insectidentification.org Cohabitating with your environment teaches you how to become a better steward of the land. More information can be found in my book: Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming, published by Rowman and Littlefield., available on Amazon books.
The video below shows Golden Rod (solidago altissima). This is a wonderful plant to attract a wide range of beneficial insects. It also provides necessary bee food for the fall. The diversity of plants helps create a balanced ecosystem. The healthy garden is manifested by practicing good stewardship practices.
This blog offers information taken from my book. Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming. Summer gardens involve plants that need to be trellised. French intensive methods use deep cultivation This means deeper roots. With deep roots below the ground, you will have taller plants above the ground that need staking. There are many ways to stake or trellis your plants. Different varieties of vegetables do well with different trellis ideas. Consider what is easy, what helps the plants grow, what discourages insects and diseases and what makes easy access for picking. That means there may be compromises in order to take all those things into consideration. I like to recycle or utilize available resources that are readily available. Bamboo is an excellent material. People with bamboo on their land often welcome someone who wants to harvest it. It takes a few weeks or months for it to dry out if harvesting green bamboo. So harvest a combination of dry and green to work with. I have been able to score wire of different sizes. Branches sometimes work as well. Another idea is to use existing plants as a trellis. Examples: Sunflowers can be inter planted with cucumbers. The cucumbers climb onto the sunflower stalks. The sunflowers provide shade and attract lady bugs that gleam the cukes of small insects. Okra or corn can be used for pole beans. If the okra does very well it may create too much shade for beans. These are examples of poly culture. Poly culture involves planting under or around plants to both utilize space and as useful companions. Example: herbs such as parsley or chives will do well under tomatoes,.peppers and eggplant. Trellises can be creative as well as practical. Consider using the shade they create for plants that want afternoon shade.
Pole beans before and after. This method allows sun down in the middle and easier access to picking.
Cucumbers are grown under a horizontal wire of 5" squares.It is staked about 2 ft. off the ground. As they grow they are pulled through the wire and grow across the top. I crawl down the path and pick cucumbers as they hang down. I can get 4 to 5 bushels from a 25 ft. bed. With this kind of cover there is no room for weeds. I do put a few dill along the edge to attract beneficial insects.
Large tomatoes get their own box. As they grow up though it another tier is added. Once they grow over 51/2 feet they topple over. Since I do not want to climb on a ladder to pick them. Small tomato varieties are grown in a hoop that is 5 feet tall. With many types of tomatoes there are many types of staking methods. One of the keys to growing tomatoes is to let air to circulate in and around the plant to avoid an environment conducive to disease.
Snow peas and sugar snaps are grown in hoops. The entire inside and around the perimeter are planted. the plants support each other. The hoops are 5 ft. tall. They grow to 7 ft. The hoops are placed down the middle of the bed. Around the edge is planted with carrots, parsley, arugula, cilantro or other herbs. When peas are burned up from the summer sun. Late tomatoes can be planted in their place. This makes for a good rotation.
Peppers and eggplant are planted in a 2- 1 formation. So the trellis is created into diamonds. Each plant grows through the triangle or diamond and lays over the horizontal bamboo pieces.
Making your own potting soil is simple and easy. It is also a much better quality product than what you can buy. Plus it is sustainable. You can make a wheel barrow of potting soil in less time than it takes to drive to the store and buy the mix. The ingredients in your jiffy mix are not really organic or sustainable. Peat moss does not make a good planting medium. It is mined from Nova Scotia where there is miles of land that has been destroyed for your product. The three ingredients consist of compost, shifted through a 1/4" mesh screen. Course sand. This can be found in streams or creeks. Sometimes it is sold as river sand. I have found this to be less course than I like. Do not use play box sand or masonry sand. It is too fine and cakes. The third ingredient is leaf mold. Make a pile of leaves. I find leaves in town from people I know who do not spray their yards. I take the bags home. It takes about a year for them to breakdown. If run through a lawn mower with a bagger, it breaks down more quickly. Caution, leaf mold will contain weeds. So it helps to know what your seedlings look like. Worm castings can be used in place of compost. I have done experiments with both and they are equal in the results. It takes time to put together these resources like finding sand, making compost and leaf piles, but this is part of making your garden or farm complete. When these aspects of your garden are in place, you will also will be more complete as a gardener with the work you are doing. making potting soil puts you more in control, more informed about your work and a better facilitator of the land you are working. Remember that the garden and gardener grow together. There is more detailed information in my book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming.
Place the ingredients onto a flat surface like a piece of plywood. It is
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best to mix with a flat shovel. Get someone to spray a five mist of water while you are mixing. This allows air and water to go into the mix at the same time. You only want to moisten the mix, not saturate it, so it holds together well. If you can squeeze out a drop or two of water that is ideal. The mix I use is about 1 to 2 parts compost to one part sand and one part leaf mold. The standard recipe is equal parts compost, sand and leaf mold. This mix is best for propagating. Once the mix is made keep it damp so it stays rich and alive. This mix holds water well yet drains well. This means it is a balance of both properties. The photos below show the planters I use for small seedlings like spinach and broccoli. The box is made form old recycled crates. I place hardwood leaves in the bottom to provide air and so the roots don't stick to the wood. The picture on the right is the flat ready to plant. Tamp is down the whole box and scrape the soil level. Spay it lightly for small seeds.
This blog has been set up as a vehicle to promote my book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming (subtitle; Biodynamic Principles and Perspectives). Part of the motivation for writing this book is to help inform growers and gardeners about how to become better stewards of the land.
Back in the 1970s, we were all learning with no clear place to learn. Many of us were essentially reinventing the wheel on organics. Fast forward to this millennium and I see so many people still reinventing that same wheel. Through my non profit REAP, I have visited several small farms. It is not uncommon to see no compost and no use of cover crops and yet many of these farms are certified organic. I have not used the word organic in years. The food they produce has little or no taste. This is the new generation of growers. Consumers have no closer relationship with their food than they did back in the 1970s. I have taught hundreds of people how tho grow without the use of synthetic chemicals, mostly through my workshops, here and in other countries. Some people are surprised when I tell them that you don't need a certificate, licence or training to become a farmer. The idea that people abuse a piece of land in order to learn, so they can say they are a farmer is appalling. I love my work, I love healing and regenerating land and I wish to share my passion. I also continue to learn through conducting research. It is a continual process that allows me to grow. I hope to keep doing this until it is time to make compost out of me. I have worked in many aspects of horticulture and small scale agriculture since the early 1970s. Having worked in a variety of countries and environments has given me a lot of insights. I have also developed a reverence and obedience for nature. That is why I emulate nature when creating a garden or farm. I observe the surrounding environment and try to fit into it. I do not call myself an expert and shy away from people who do. If you do this type of work and do it with lots of love and integrity it could be viewed as a spiritual work. Creating a balanced ecosystem involves developing an intimate relationship with a piece of land. It takes time and is very rewarding. Those of us who do this have a deep connection with the earth. This work feeds us spiritually and gives our life deep meaning and that draws me deeper into the garden. Thank you.
This information is taken from my book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming, published by Rowman and Littlefield. Using worms to make compost is more practical for small home gardens. It is also a great way to recycle kitchen waste. Start with a tub with about 1 to 2 square feet of surface area and at about 10" deep. An old kitty litter box worrks well for starters. Small holes is the bottom help access water to drain or else water very lightly every week or two. Place strips of cardboard on the bottom with shredded paper. This allows air pockets on the bottom for the worms. Fill in with about 3" of compost shiftings, leaf mold, rotted sawdust, coffee grounds, etc. I use red wigglers (Eisenia fetida). They are more aggressive eaters than regular garden worms. You can find them at a local bait shop. About 1 lb. of worms will work for the size listed. Add a couple cups of food scraps to get them started. Then cover with a few more inches of soil, compost, coffee grounds, etc. A light water and place out of the way. They prefer darkness but are adaptable. You can feed them most produce. They do not like citrus skins or skins laden with pesticides. Do not feed them meat or dairy. Coffee grounds can be found at most coffee shops. Egg shells provide a good source of calcium. They love melons. Tomatoes and pepper seeds will sprout in the box so you might want to avoid them. Cover the box from rain if outside. They can also freeze in cold weather. Worms can drown if too much water is present. They need air and water just like us. When adding food dig it in and cover it. As they worms increase you may need to add more material. Worms reproduce in 2-3 weeks and produce about a dozen babies at a time. After 2-3 months you can start collecting the worm castings to use as fertilizer. To do this start feeding them on one side only, so the worms will move to that side. Then you can harvest from the other side without harming the worms. It can be a fun project for kids and a very good fertilizer.