Seems like everyone is talking about no-till gardening these days. This is the idea that if you inoculate your soil with bacteria and-fungi and layer enough enough compost and “duff”on the surface, that you can recreate the forest floor and avoid the tedium of digging our heavy East Bay clay.
While sheet composting, straw mulching and shallow surface cultivation will work in the long run, it may not be the perfect choice for those who wish to garden in well amended clay soil in the next five years. An integrated system of sheet composting, double digging, single digging and amending with compost for the first few years will decrease the amount of time it takes to achieve an effective no-till system.
Here is a sample scenario:
Year 1: Sheet mulch.
Year 2: Double dig. add compost and green manures, mulch with rotted straw, aged manures or other easily decomposable material.
Year 3 & 4.: Double or single dig with green manures or finished compost, mulch tops of bed with rotted straw, aged manures or other easily decomposable material.
Year 4 or 5: Start no-till gardening, continue to layer mulch on top of beds at each planting.
WHY Many of us now understand that healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy garden. Beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil partner with plants to bring them water and nutrients in exchange for exudates–sweet carbs that the plants release from their roots. Micro-organisms may also provides protection for the the plant in the root zone, by out-competing, killing and warding off less beneficial organisms. These very same bacteria and fungi can be brewed up in a tea and used to protect the above ground part of the plant. Spraying compost tea on the leaves (called foliar feeding) inoculates the plant with beneficial micro-organisms that colonize the leaf pores to protect from pests and pathogens. Through this action, these same micro-organisms ensure themselves first dibs at decomposition dinner when the plant dies. Foliar feeding can be done safely on a regular basis as a preventative, or at the first sign of a problem.
HOW Put about a gallon of finished living compost in a 5 gallon bucket. Add a goodly dollop of molasses. Fill will water that has had the chloramine removed (a product for fish tanks and ponds will work well for this or use rain water). Place an air stone bubbler in the bucket and run it for 24-48 hours (chloramine remover, airstone and small aquarium pump can be purchased in the fish supply section of any pet store). When ready it smells fresh like compost. Strain through a fine cloth and spray it onto your plants.You may also use this as a soil drench to inoculate the garden beds or compost pile with beneficial microbes.
K. Ruby Blume
Here’s a song about where I live:
It’s not quite like this anymore, but then again, nothing’s much like 1970, anymore.
Did you know that Petaluma was once the biggest egg producing town on the west coast, supplying San Francisco and settlements further east with eggs. The incubator was invented in Petaluma. There was a huge community of Jewish communist chicken farmers in Petaluma at the turn of the last centuryt, and most of the falling down barns you see in the countryside nowadays once housed those chickens. They wreaked havoc on the water table and there are parts of town where the nitrates in the wells are a serious problem. The resurgence in chicken keeping in Petaluma is part of that lineage–and, I guess, so am I. It’s a sign of the times, though, that only 2 chickens are allowed in people’s backyards, and the Must Hatch Hatchery Building–still standing–houses tech startups and other business ventures.
Garden Planning: Crop rotation is the practice of moving crops around yearly or seasonally, rather than planting the same thing in the same place year in and year out. Rotating crops gives the soil a chance to cycle nutrients and minimizes build of of the pathogens to a particular plant in that area. For example, if you always plant tomatoes in the same spot, even with added compost, the tomatoes will tend to tap out the particular nutrients that tomatoes like. At the same time particular tomato pests and diseases will tend to gather in that spot The combination of diminishing nutrient and increasing potential for attack is a recipe for crop failure. Smart crop rotation alternates plants that build soil nutrients with those that are heavy feeders. A typical rotation would be to plant a soil builder every third rotation, with a heavy feeder and a light feeder in between. Soil building plants are all in the legume family, as they “fix nitrogen” from the air with the help of bacteria. Examples are fava beans, soy beans, pole beans and peas. A heavy feeder need extra nitrogen to perform. Examples of heavy feeders are basil, beets, corn, lettuce, squash and tomato. Examples of light feeders are carrots, leeks, onions, peppers and potatoes.
In a small garden it may not be possible to rotate everything in as grand a fashion as on a larger farm with copious sun. Perhaps you have only one sunny bed that tomatoes will work in for example. Still you can rotate your tomato planting with a winter crop of fava beans or other legume. To keep track of your rotations, create a small drawing of your garden each year and notate what went where.
Book Review The Vegetable Gardeners Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein with Julie Thompsen. The much anticipated new book by local permaculture hero Christopher Shein has hit the shelves. This is a gorgeous book filled with large full color pictures, diagrams and maps. The book is comprehensive, yet also spacious and easily digested. After a clear and simple introduction to the ethics and principles of permaculture, the book dives into how to design your garden using design elements from the permaculture vocabulary. Food forests, fruit tree guilds, zones, sectors, inputs and outputs are elegantly described along with easily understood diagrams and sample designs to put them into action–from a balcony garden to a large urban lot. The book goes on to offer techniques for soil building, a plant-by-plant compendium of perennial edibles, annual vegetables, edible flowers, herbs, seed starting and seed saving. The sections on animals for your backyard systems are slim and not well developed. But overall this is a lovely addition to your gardening library.
post by K. Ruby Blume, Institute for Urban Homesteading
This story has its roots in my degenerate relationship with my neighbors who let their chickens wander throughout the neighborhood, into my gardens, and never really seem to feel much remorse or need to change the situation. “Degenerate” because one year I swooped up one of the chickens committing mayhem in the yard and stashed her with my own flock til my neighbor discovered the crime.
Check out this tale of righteous chicken-loving indignation on my partner’s blog. It’s funny.
Here’s the embarrassing tale from Urban Homesteading:
[In the midst of writing this book]… I had a run-in with my neighbor’s chickens. I noticed that something had been digging and pecking in my front garden. I couldn’t tell what it was from the markings, but it was making a serious mess. A few days later, my partner told me he’d seen the neighbor’s chickens strutting down the driveway. I went to ask them to pen the chickens in and offered to help if they needed. They promised they’d do it, but a few days later, a chicken was back in the yard, pulling up the tender vegetable shoots. Did I go to my neighbor and ask her to get the chicken? I did not. I cornered the chicken in an alleyway alongside the house and flung her in an empty cage on the back patio. She sat squawking for many hours before I removed her and placed her with my own flock around the corner. Did I go tell my neighbor I had stolen her chicken? I did not. Here I was, Little Miss Community Homesteader, stealing chickens from my perfectly nice neighbors who were just too busy to pen in their birds.
I knew I’d done something wrong when I wouldn’t tell my daughter about the chicken, and I left the marauder with my flock for almost a full week before my chicken coop partner called and told me my neighbor had come to collect the chicken. How did she know where it was? What would she say now? I had to suck it up and apologize. I told myself I had been intending to return the chicken anyway, but I wasn’t sure if that was really true. Did I want to apologize to her? I did not. Was it the right thing to do? You bet. Did she give me hell? She sure did. Has it affected our relations? It certainly has. Are they repairable? Maybe, over time, but I truly wish I had taken a breath before I acted, rather than stealing that chicken.
I tell you this embarrassing tale to underscore the simple fact that it’s easier to get mad than it is to be good. It’s simpler to seek vengeance than justice. Protecting ourselves when we feel threatened is an automatic response, but this kind of reaction is the enemy of change. I can laugh about it now, but looking at this minor skirmish as just one small bit of the conflict between humans gives insight into how wars start and never end. Magnified one thousand times over hundreds of years, the weight of human conflict is almost too heavy to bear. We have to do better than this. Community change ultimately begins inside, with each one of us. Every day is an opportunity to confront our prejudices, our desire to control, and our fear of the other. A big challenge in front of us is the inside work we need to do, so that we can start looking at other people as assets, rather than liabilities.
Change begins at home, within each one of us. Learning to rig up a greywater system is important, but not if you’re running on the fumes of fear. Resolving conflict is as important as growing your food, and making relationships with the people and creatures around you is the ultimate practice of truly living in place.
A transformative film about animals, ecology and the human response to this historical moment.
The abundance of ecological niches and riches intersects with the abundance of human pollution and folly — the Island of Midway, 2000 miles from any continent, birds of a feather trying to survive the plastic oceanic gyre we’ve created…
The federal Farm Bill is the single most important piece of legislation affecting the food you eat, the kinds of crops American farmers grow, the degradation of the environment through agricultural practice, and the nation’s food security.
As usual, the deck is stacked towards corporate agribusiness at the expense of the small scale farmer. As this piece of legislation is not yet law, there is time for each of us to communicate with our legislators about how we think the Farm Bill could be restructured to support local-scale, organic farming.
This is a good overview of what’s currently wrong with the farm bill and why we need reform. It also highlights the important benefits of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs and food bill that local food policy councils around the country are supporting.
Take some time to agitate your legislators about this important piece of legislation — it makes a difference in what you eat, and how farmers and the land where they grow are treated. Getting active on an issue like this is one of my favorite strands of community-relatedness that is part of the urban homesteading movement. It’s not just about what we grow in our backyards; it’s about what we grow as a culture.
A dear friend of mine just wrote a spontaneous meditation on time entitled “A Curious Loss of Time”, which is all about how life is speeding up, how we are run by a linear, clockwork kind of time which colonizes our minds and our bodies and makes us inward slaves to an outward illusory master. It’s been a provocative read which, quite honestly, I haven’t had the time to finish…
So when the alarm clock rang this morning at 6:30 (which was really 5:30 because of the dastardly invention called “Daylight Savings Time”) I cursed, and rolled over for a good long time before I managed to pull myself out of bed to make my daughter’s lunch and breakfast.
The morning was cool and grey with fog overhead – a beautiful relief from the early heat we are experiencing here in the butt end of a nearly non-existant northern California winter. And I was thinking about time today as I planted 12 lettuce plants, 6 tatsoi, 10 dino kale, 27 beets, 15 broccoli, 12 cabbage, 8 cauliflower, some spinach seeds, and watered the pea and beet seeds I had scattered the other day. I was thinking about time as I did some weeding and fed the greens to the chickens, and also gathered up some errant snails that were hiding under leave and fed those to the chickens too.
People ask me all the time how much time it takes to be an urban homesteader. They say, “Who’s got the time?” They say: “I don’t have the time.” They feel judged because they don’t make the time to grow more food, or save more water or energy, or do any of these more “time-intensive” “less convenient” tasks which are part of the homesteading lifestyle.
I admit I have been challenged by the question because I’m not in this to guilt trip people, but I have found it so essential to my own sanity and way of living to take on these tasks, to find the time, and so I have thought a lot about the question. I don’t work a 40-50 hour job away from home – I am lucky in lots of ways, and that is one of them – so I do have, quantatively and objectively, “more time” than many people I know.
But all in all, I spent about 2 hours in two different gardens, planting this early spring bounty. I spent about 35 minutes a few weeks ago moving some compost from the compost pile onto these beds to prepare them for these plants. And I’ve spent little tiny dribs and drabs of time all winter dumping kitchen scraps into the compost bin to let them turn into dirt. It doesn’t feel like it takes much time for me to get these beds ready for spring planting. The time I took today, turning over the soil, separating the starts, planting them in small holes alongside their own little drip irrigation spout will eventually yield my family many meals of salad, beets, broccoli, caultiflower, eventually some sauerkraut. The total cost for all the plants I put in today was about $30.00, and some of those plants were gifted to the woman who loans me her backyard for one of my gardens. The cost of the food that I will eventually harvest will far exceed $30, probably at least by a factor of two. If we count my time at the exorbitant rate of say $100/hour, a fee I dream of but rarely ever get, the total “cost” of my time today is about $200. If we charge about $35/hour, which is more like it, we’re well under $100 of time and money to make this happen.
I’ve just made that connection between time and money that is one of the pernicious problems with time, and money, in our culture. But I am just trying to parse the value of my time, and come up with an answer to the question: Who has the time? It seems I do, and I venture to bet that you do too – 2-ish hours sometime during the first weeks of spring to plant the first garden of the year? That just doesn’t seem so much, on any kind of time scale, to me.
Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre and The Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City
I’ve been aware of Eric Toenmeier’s work for some time – he authored a compendium on perennial vegetables (http://perennialvegetables.org/about/) as well as co-authored, with Dave Jacke, a simply gigantic book called Edible Forest Gardens (http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/) which is the bible on the ecology and design of home scale food forests.
Paradise Lot is the story of how Eric, along with his friend and ally Jonathon Bates, decide to test the theory of the home scale edible forest model put forth in Edible Forests Gardens by putting it into practice on a small, highly compromised inner city lot in post-industrial Holyoke, Massachusetts.
This easy to read book is the story of how these two men—proud and obsessed plant geeks—spend a few years observing, designing, mending, planting, digging, sheet mulching, experimenting with different cultivars, planting trees, cutting down trees, building greenhouses, and in every other way, testing the limits of the home scale edible food forest. They buy a duplex with the intention of not only growing a great garden, but of attracting their life partners. Happily, they succeed in both endeavors.
While choosing a site with deeply compromised conditions (“there was hardly any way we could have made conditions in our garden worse…”) they also note that this project was “an example of…. Regenerative design, which asks us how our designs can bring a site to life and bring us into a deeper relationship with it and each other through doing so. While sustainability is focused on maintaining things as they are, regenerative land use actively improves and heals a site and its ecosystems… It’s kind of an important topic for humanity this century.”
I liked how part of the story was about the creation of an alternative family and ownership structure, and I appreciated the successes and limitations of the small scale model which they were fairly honest about. I appreciate when people note the mistakes they make, and the good learning that comes out of them. I have run into some similar problems on my small urban lot—also about one-tenth of an acre—but as I am a renter, and a mother, and live in an entirely different ecosystem, my commitments, choices and outcomes have been different. Also, to be honest, I am not quite as geeked out about plants as these guys are!
This book is best for people who are already versed in the permaculture practice of regenerative agriculture, and it will most specifically serve those who live in the cold northeast of our country. I found myself reading about the plants they were growing and how they were interacting and knew that they were not plants that I would have easy access to in my drought-prone place.
But as a model of what is possible, Eric and Jonathon proved that the home scale edible forest garden can grow beyond theory and into practical application, no matter what ecosystem you inhabit. It’s just a matter of finding the right plants for your place, and working with them with conscious intent. This book is an inspiration to be part of the culture of repair, right in your own backyard.
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