BB and HomeGrown City Farm host Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Workshop
by Lesley Lammers
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour workshop hosted by Durham’s very own worker-owned edible landscaping cooperative, Bountiful Backyards (BB). This hands-on edible landscaping demonstration at HomeGrown City Farm’s property attracted the gardening-curious and aficionados alike, who came ready to learn and get their fingers down in that North Carolina soil! BB worker-owner Sarah Vroom starts off with this mantra, “When thinking about your own yard, plant things that you want that also support your landscape. This will increase the ‘joy factor.’”
Fall is an ideal time for planting fruit trees and berry bushes, says Vroom. “You get them in the ground and they go to sleep for the winter. If you mulch them well, they are going to put on root growth, spreading themselves out, getting themselves happy and comfortable before the summer comes.” Then when summer does come, the tree won’t have to be watered as much because of all the root mass supporting the plant.
(CLICK THE LINK ON THE BOTTOM RIGHT FOR FULL STORY.)
Making the Most of Your Dirt
by Danielle of eatbreathblog.com
Gardening is one way to become one with nature and offers a meditation-like experience. Unfortunately, not every piece of land offers an ideal place to plant fruits, vegetables or flowers. Because of this, it may take some effort to create your organic garden oasis from scratch.
A garden can be as small as a countertop or as large as an acre. It can be placed in the back corner of your yard or on a large section of your property. Make sure the space you select is somewhere that’s large enough for what you want to plan, will receive enough sunlight (approximately five hours a day for most plants), and can easily be watered.
When setting up an organic garden, you want to use soil that’s rich with organic matter, which will reduce diseases and grow tastier fruits and vegetables. Before starting, have your soil tested to make sure it has the proper amount of nutrients and is free of any potentially toxic materials. If your dirt does not come back as ideal for starting an organic garden, there is a process that will transform bad dirt, including soil containing red clay, into rich, dark brown dirt.
To being this process, dig up the soil in the area where you want to plant the garden. This area should be a minimum of 5 inches deep. Remove anything that isn’t dirt, such as rocks and lost toys, by running a rake through the soil and continuing to rake until soil is extremely fine. Cover the garden area with at least two inches of bagged topsoil, available from local home and garden stores. Run the rake over the area to combine the both types of dirt together. You can also use a shovel if you have a larger volume of dirt to deal with. Once combined, cover the garden with a layer of mulch and completely soak the area with water. Continue to water the area on a weekly basis for at least one month. Repeat this process three more times, or until your dirt is a deep, dark brown color.
Covering the area with materials from a compost pile will help add the necessary nutrients needed for your organic garden. You will receive the best results if you do this at least two to four weeks before you start planting. If you don’t already have a compost pile started, you can easily build one while you wait for your soil to transform. Find an area when you can build a 3 foot by 3 foot pile that can be filled with layers of soil and organic materials, such as food scraps, coffee grinds, leaves and manure.
Once your soil is ready and your organic garden is ready to be planted!
Make Your Own Strawberry Planter!
by Danielle of eatbreatheblog.com
Homegrown strawberries are an excellent way to get fresh organic fruits, but the plants can be a little awkward to organize — especially if you don’t have much outdoor space. Strawberry plants have a natural invasive trait. In other words, they produce vines that tend to wrap themselves around anything close. Building planters helps keep the vines separate and easy to manage. A strawberry planter also prevents unpicked fruit from rotting on the ground.
Planters do not have to be fancy. You can use things you have around the house. Boxes, old pots or recycle plastic milk jugs that hang on ropes work well. Just use a screwdriver to attach the recycled jugs to something solid. If you are looking for something a little more unique, considering making one of the following planters.
If you want to go all out, you can build a wooden platform. This would be a weekend project to tackle. You might use cedar planks to create slates to hold the vines. Place a post in the center of a wood base. Use a 2″ X 2″ X 3′ cedar plank for your post and 1″ X 4″ X 8′ boards to make the square base. You will attach vertical planks at the corners of the base and connect them to the post like a tepee. From there, screw planks between the corner pieces positioned like shelves but at a 45-degree angle to create slates. The wood planter sits over the top of the garden or around your pots and you pull the strawberry vines through the slates.
Coffee Can Containers
Using old coffee cans or plastic milk jugs might not be not as pretty as the cedar planter, but they are simple to put together and functional. When building a container planter, you need to make sure there are drain holes in the bottom of the piece. If you are using a coffee can, drill five or six ¼ holes in the bottom. With a milk jug, you can punch drain holes in the base. You also need holes in the sides to feed vines through. Put 1-inch holes four inches from the bottom on the sides opposite each other. Drill holes seven inches from the bottom on the other two sides. For example, if you think of the sides as east, west, north and south, punch the lower holes on the east and west sides.
Once the holes are in place, put a coffee filter at the bottom of the container to hold in the potting soil. Fill the can with three inches of soil. Try a sandy loam soil with lots of organic nutrients.
You will be feeding the plants in from the sides. Place the roots of the plants through the low holes at the four-inch mark. Slide coffee filters between the plant and the container. This works to keep the soil from coming out the hole. Repeat the process to insert a second plant on the other side of the container. Add another three inches of soil and insert plants into the top holes.
Managing Your Planters
When the plants are rooted into the containers, add three more inches of soil. Place two plants coming out the top of the container if you have room. Make sure to leave at least one inch of space to keep water from running out.
Whether you decide to build a freestanding piece or recycle what you have, creating a planter will keep the strawberry vines tame and give you access to the blooms and fruit. During the first year, pinch off each bloom to help the plant grow. This way, the second year of growth, you will get nice, full organic fruit.
Whichever planter you choose to create, your organic strawberries will be a summer treat for years to come. From smoothies to desserts, strawberries are perfect for a warm evening. With your planter, you will be giving back to the Earth with a fun treat for yourself!
Danielle, who blogs on behalf of Sears and other prestigious brands, enjoys composting and growing her own organics fruits and veggies. Read her work at eatbreatheblog.com.
by Danielle of eatbreatheblog.com
* Don’t forget to register for the 26th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference! Late registration ends Nov 5th. Visit http://carolinafarmstewards.org/sac11.shtml to register and learn more.
The term “city slickers” is uttered with disdain by my parents. While I live in a big city, I don’t think I’ll ever be in danger of being called a “city slicker”. What makes an urban gal like me safe from the label? Well, I still wear my boots, fill my balcony with potted plants and am NOT afraid of bugs.
Too many people are disgusted by insects. It’s fine if you don’t want bugs to be on you, but if you generally detest them then you do not understand their value. Insects are responsible for everything we eat in some way. I don’t think someone necessarily has to like them, but we should all certainly make more of an effort to understand such a pivotal part of our ecosystem.
I got my initial insect information below at one of the many Horticulture-related Chicago events I’ve attended in the past. Currently, I’m really looking forward to The Windy City’s upcoming Mid-America Horticulture Trade Show. But for those not in the Midwest, other options exist.
In two weeks, Durham, North Carolina will see the 26th annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference; one workshop called Organic Farm: Beneficials and Pests will cover the fascinating subject of beneficial insects. Here are a few quick facts about my favorite beneficial bugs, but much more interesting content will be covered at the SAC workshop on the 12th.
Ladybugs are one of the most well-known insects and certainly the most well liked. Many beetles have attractive hard outer wings but none have reached the acceptance that ladybugs have, taking them from “icky” insects to being downright “girly.” The ladybug is an exotic beetle. It was not originally in the U.S. and brought over to fight the aphid population. Aphids are small sucking insects and ladybugs can eat around 5,000 aphids in their lifetime.
Unfortunately, the praying mantis attacks pretty much any insect in its path. Consequently, beneficial bugs can also fall victim to this ferocious predator. A common (but fun) misconception about the mantis is that the female always decapitates the male during copulation. This is rarely true in the wild. However, when cooped up in a cage the female will bite off her mate’s head about 15% of the time, which seems morbidly appropriate.
These mites are more popular in greenhouses. They feed exclusively on pest mites, which can plague the undersides of leaves. They do not injure the plant. Once they run out of food they starve to death, as opposed to other insects that would move on. In some ways this makes them the perfect insect to release because they won’t overpopulate. Predatory mites should be spread about one mite for every infested leaf.
Beneficial insects are certainly the unsung heroes of the garden. Whether you live in the small of towns or the tallest of city buildings no one is too slick to appreciate these farming friends.
Learning about High Tunnels
by Nicole Sanchez, Area Specialized Agent Commercial Horticulture
Jones, Craven, Greene, Lenior, and Onslow Counties
Editor’s Note: There is a whole track devoted to High Tunnels at this year’s Sustainable Ag Conference! Register today at: http://carolinafarmstewards.org/sac11.shtml
My second visit to the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) for a workshop on High Tunnels, October 4, did not disappoint. Since my first visit to this research farm on the outskirts of Goldsboro, NC, I had been looking forward to my opportunity to return.
As an agriculture agent working with commercial fruit and vegetable producers, this workshop was of special interest to me. High Tunnels are similar to greenhouses, but are less permanent in nature (by design; more on that to come), and usually without a
traditional heat source. High Tunnels perform several functions, depending on the crop grown within; a major function is to extend the growing season either at the beginning or end.
The three-hour session began with opportunities for hands-on demonstration and discussion. Participants learned about organic composting steps, seeding, using cold frames, and ginger production in high tunnels. I was amazed at the size of the crowd. There must have been close to a hundred people there! It was encouraging to know that so many are interested in learning more about this under-used way to extend the growing season and have some vegetables available when other producers do not. High tunnels, while not for everyone, provide a unique opportunity for some growers to fill a much needed niche in our local food systems.
Extension associate Rick Holness described in detail the ongoing tunnel trials. Row after row of beautiful, large, ripening tomatoes beckoned within. The CEFS team are trying different fertilizer and composting methods to determine what resulted in the highest yield. It appeared that all treatments resulted in pretty spectacular yield! Clearly, fresh from the farm tomatoes ARE possible in eastern NC in October.
High tunnels are lots of work, but the price commanded by out-of-season vegetables means the extra effort comes with a financial return. From an environmental perspective, high tunnels are attractive because they rely less on supplemental heat, and more on
making the most of heat already present in the environment. High tunnels are not heated or artificially lit all winter, so they will not provide us tomatoes in January and March. But they do enable us to have a greater variety of fresh, local produce available to us for a longer portion of the year without additional reliance on fossil fuels.
Another purpose of high tunnels can be to ward off disease. For instance, powdery and downy mildew are major problems of the cucurbit family (pumpkins. Squash/ cukes/melons). Using a high tunnel to minimize splashing and wind could reduce pressure from these diseases. In this case, the crop would be drip irrigated under cover, reducing the incidence of mildew disease that comes with regular thunderstorms. High tunnels are also used in berry production in some operations.
High tunnels are intended to be movable. Some are built on skids so they can be moved back and forth along a track. This way, a grower can provide protection to plants while they are young, and then move the cover off the plants once they are established. Or, a crop can be started in the open at the end of a warm season and then given protection as the nights grow colder by moving the tunnel over the established crop. Some high tunnels are designed to be easily taken down and rebuilt. Be sure to understand the wind and snow load needs in your area if you are considering a high tunnel.
I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to visit CEFS. There is so much incredible research going on there relative to sustainable farming methods. Be sure to visit their website at www.cefs.ncsu.edu to keep informed about future workshops and classes at this incredible facility.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to bring your best seeds to the popular Seed Exchange at this year’s Sustainable Ag Conference, Nov. 11-13, 2011 in Durham, NC! http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/sac11_extras.shtml#seed
Seed saving is an easy, enjoyable and economically sensible tradition that improves your garden year after year. Saving seeds from the healthiest or most delicious plants in your garden supports the varieties that flourish in your local environment and lets you enjoy your favorite tomato or pumpkin again and again. To start preserving your own horticultural heritage, all you’ll need are some paper envelopes, small paper bags, a few glass jars, saran wrap and a drying rack.
Most modern seeds sold by seed companies are hybrids. Seeds from hybrid plants will not produce the exact same plant the next year. Saving the seeds from hybrid plants can have fun and surprising results, but it will not help preserve any particular strain. Most people who save seeds prefer to save heirloom seeds. These varieties are not hybrids and will retain the same characteristics year after year. Heirloom seeds have been carefully harvested from the best and strongest plants for generations, and they usually grow in to plants that are especially hearty, delicious or well suited to a particular climate.
There are a two main ways to save seeds:
• Saving dried seed pods
When the seed pods on plants such as broccoli, beans, lettuce or flowers begin to dry out, cover the pods with small paper bags and wait for them to burst. After the seeds are loose from the pod, dry them further for a few days on a drying rack. A wire screen rack works best to keep air circulating and prevent the seeds from sticking. Never dry your seeds in an oven. Seeds will die at temperatures above 95 degrees; if you are drying seeds outside, cover them with a canopy or dry them on a covered porch to prevent scorching. When the seeds are completely dry, put them in paper envelopes and make a note on each envelope about which kind of seed it contains. Store the envelopes in tightly sealed glass jars in a dark and cool spot such as a basement or pantry.
• Wet processing
Fruit and vegetables without seed pods require wet processing. This step is especially important for tomatoes, which are vulnerable to tomato disease. Here, the seeds are scooped out of the fruit or vegetable and allowed to ferment in a glass jar to kill viruses and bacteria. Put seeds and plant pulp in a jar covered with saran wrap on a warm windowsill for two to three days. Poke a small hole in the saran wrap to allow a bit of air in. After a few days, wash the pulp from the seeds and fully dry the seeds on a drying screen. When the seeds are dry, store them as described above.
Whether you use the wet or the dry method, adding a desiccant like silica gel or powdered milk to the jar seeds are stored in will help prevent mold. Put the silica gel or powdered milk in a small cloth bag and place the bag at the bottom of the jar. Close the jar tightly and get ready to enjoy your seeds next summer!
A couple of years ago, I started my own vegetable garden. I have a longstanding interest in sustainable living, and with a little hard work, I soon had a cultivated patch behind my house in which I grew a modest yield of tomatoes, sweet corn, squash, green beans, and various other vegetables. I ate some, canned some, and loaded the rest into a truck to take to the local farmer’s market. My haul seemed small in comparison to some of the laden enclosed trailers that others brought, but I sold all of my vegetables and made enough money to justify my time and exertion, and to encourage me to repeat my efforts the next year.
I learned early on not to put too much strain on my lower back, as this could incapacitate me for a week if done too often. This past weekend, I was working outside, weeding my garden and relishing in the feel of the cool soil, only to realize afterwards that I had overdone it and thrown my back out. After a visit to my doctor, I went home and started researching more ergonomic solutions for gardening. There are a number of options available, which is not surprising to gardeners who have experienced the backbreaking nature of this chore.
Radius Garden & gardening tools are ergonomically designed; the trademark green handles curve and enable you to grip the tool securely without causing unnecessary strain on your wrist. If you are working on your knees with these tools (or others like them), be sure to use a kneeling pad and a good pair of gardening gloves.
Tools with telescopic handles, such as those from Vertex International, are ideal if you will be doing a lot of work from a standing position. Rather than coming with one-size-fits-all handles, these tools have handles that adjust to your height, which alleviates a lot of pressure on your back and makes bending and stooping a thing of the past.
When gardening, it’s not unusual to make repeated trips to and from your garden as you require seeds, different tools, and other accoutrements. When you combine this with carrying heavy bags of mulch or awkward tools, bending and squatting, etc., sore muscles are almost a foregone conclusion. A garden cart is the answer! I prefer Fiskar’s Carry-All & Cart, because it’s roomy and has nifty elastic bands to hold tools in place, but there are many other carts that you can choose from.
In my opinion, there is nothing more refreshing than working in the garden. I get a satisfying thrill when I see dirt under my fingernails and feel a nagging ache in my muscles, knowing that I have put in a day of good, honest work. However, with improvements in design, it is no longer necessary to be bent over double in pain after a day in the garden. This can make gardening more appealing to more people, which is always a good thing!
by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
Did you know that about a million species of insects have been identified worldwide, but that only about 5% of them qualify as pests of humans? As is often the case in other, non-insect circles, “bad guys” get all the press. And not entirely without reason – remember bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 1400’s? It was transmitted by the lowly flea. Malaria, still a concern in most developing countries, is carried by certain mosquitoes.
But how much do you know about lacewings, the predaceous larvae of which resemble tiny alligators hatched from small white eggs atop long, gossamer stalks on the backs of leaves? Have you met the big-eyed bug, a once common resident of cotton fields, which eats at least 67 species of other insects, but takes only shelter and a little moisture from your plants? How about the twice-stabbed lady beetle, a smaller, lesser-known cousin of our red-with-black-spots-ladies? More than an opportunity for entomologists to express a sense of humor while naming insects, this black–with-two red-spots ladybeetle
is a voracious eater of aphids and scales in trees and has demonstrated effective control of elongated hemlock scale, a problematic introduced pest.
Welcome to the other 95%! Perhaps you were already aware of the benefits provided by our more famous beneficial insects, like honeybees and butterflies. Perhaps you were already aware that pollinators also come in beetle and fly form. Perhaps, you have at some point noticed a rove beetle or carrion beetle and appreciated that it serves the same function, on a smaller scale, that vultures do on the roadside. Or do you focus only on the 5%?
A lifelong student of horticulture, my first foray into the world of pure botany illustrates an important point when it comes to insects. Roaming the campus on a plant ID walk, my professor noticed that I was saying the Latin names of many of the plants to myself as he named them. He pointed to a broadleaf herbaceous something and asked me what it was. “Sorry,” I said, “I know a lot of ornamentals. But I don’t know weeds.” I don’t remember what plant he asked me to ID, but I clearly remember his response: “ Over on this campus, young lady, we refer to those as native plants. It’s only a weed on the Ag campus.”
Ever since, I have been careful to label plants as weeds only when they are so located as to be “troublesome plants out of place”, as per definition. Similarly, “pest” is a label often applied unfairly to our insect friends. Fast forward five years to when I was the director of a well-known butterfly conservatory, taking a call from a frustrated would-be butterfly gardener. “I’ve planted every plant the books say I should”, she said. “I’m doing everything correctly. But I can’t seem to grow a butterfly garden because these (explicative) caterpillars keep eating up all the plants!”
Was the pest the caterpillars, or the caller who did not know her insect friends well enough to recognize them in their juvenile stage?
The world of our insect friends, once discovered, is fascinating, educational, perspective-changing, and at your fingertips. To see fantastic images of your insect friends (and those not so friendly to human enterprises), spend some time on the amazing website Bugwood, where you will find insect images by category. Hint – your insect friends include, but are not limited to, predators, parasites, parasitoids, and pollinators. Don’t let the “bad guys” get all the attention!
I’ve always liked the idea of total utilization of natural resources. As a young girl, I marveled at the genius with which the Plains Indians hunted and utilized buffalo – using fur for clothing, meat for food, horns for cups, skulls for ceremonies, hooves for glue, bones for tools and weapons, muscles for thread, and even stomachs for carrying liquids. Early in my life, I latched on to recycling. But now, as a young adult, I am much more aware of the potential to be environmentally conscious that goes beyond recycling. In my quest to do exactly that (by way of an online coupon), I discovered the art of vermicomposting.
Essentially, vermicomposting is the equivalent of creating a small, contained (and much-less-stinky) composting pile in a small space. Proper ventilation and housing of waste eliminate the stench commonly associated with composting. As a result, vermicomposting is ideal for city dwellers looking to take their greening efforts to the next level. Resources needed to create your own mini-compost pile are limited and easy to obtain: a box, the right type of bedding (cardboard, newspaper, or peat moss), some soil, and moisture. Oh yea. And red worms.
Yes, worms. They’re the essential ingredient. They eat the table scraps given to them and produce nutrient-rich “castings” a.k.a. worm poop. Due to the design of the vermicomposting system, the castings can be harvested and used to make household plants extra resilient. You reuse your food scraps, your wormy pets eat like kings, and your flowers are full and brilliant. Everybody wins!
There are a lot of different options for a worm house if you’re considering starting a vermicomposting system. You can buy containers made for exactly that, or you can save a lot of money and make your own. I had the most luck with the design presented in Worms Eat My Garbage wherein the reader is taught to create multiple levels within the same box. The castings fall into a collection receptacle as the worms do their job and work through each level of dirt. NOTE: This method also minimizes hand-to-worm contact, for those who get squirmy at the thought of handling the creepy crawlers.
Once I started my quest for vermicomposting utopia, I quickly realized I generate anywhere between two and three pounds of food scrap waste each week! It was a great feeling to finally have a way to put to use all of the vegetables, grapefruits, orange rinds, apple peels, lettuce and cabbage, celery ends, spoiled food from the refrigerator, coffee grounds, tea bags, and egg shells I was throwing in the trash.
by Sherry Walker
If you are now planting annuals in your flower beds for summer color, why not plant some edibles amidst the ornamental plants to make your space more productive? While ornamental shrubs, perennials and annuals are all welcome additions to the home landscape, you can also plant edibles to add interesting texture, color and, well, food!
If you live in a development with a homeowner association, check your covenants to see if you can plant a home garden. If you can’t or if you don’t want a garden plot in your landscape, you can still place edibles within your current landscaping; just tuck some in here and there. This is a good way to get started in edible gardening without making a major commitment to having a designated garden plot.
Many people find a small place to plant tomatoes, but remember, they need a lot of sun, and you will eventually need to stake the plant. Next to your tomatoes plant some basil, which will help cover the tomato stem as the plant matures, and for color, tomatoes like marigolds. Green onions, garlic or shallots are easy to tuck into a small space in front of shrubs. They also provide spiky green texture among a bed of petunias or begonias.
Another plant with interesting texture is a cardoon. Cardoons are a smaller cousin of the large, commercial artichoke in the US. A cardoon plant is tall, usually 3 to 4 feet and has one to three small flowers that become artichokes. Its large leaves have deeply toothed edges so it adds a lot of texture and uniqueness to a landscape. It also needs sun. Bush beans of any type help fill in the gaps among shrubs and perennials. Simply plant some seed purchased at the local garden store to get started. Some beans are vines more than a bushy plant, and for these, you will need a place for them to crawl upward as they grow. A small trellis, a downspout, or other garden structure will do; just give it room to go up. I’ve actually seen them growing up a telephone pole in a yard. Many beans have small, white or purple flowers with pods that are usually either green or purple. Either way, you are adding color as well as texture with an end result of something to eat!
For fruit, strawberries or blueberries are easy to add to a landscape. Both come in many varieties and both need sun. Blueberries in particular come in various size bushes, and most have great fall foliage color. Some blueberries are so compact, they can be grown as a small shrub in a container. Just make sure your soil ph is acidic for your blueberry plant or it won’t be happy. Strawberries and blueberries require little maintenance if a few are planted in a home garden.
Don’t forget to tuck some herbs into a container on the patio or into your existing landscape. They can provide fragrance in the yard as well as interesting texture. Depending on what you like to eat and your space, there are lots of options to adding edibles to your landscape. So when you are out buying annuals, add some plants and seeds that provide you food as well as make a handsome addition to your summer landscape.