Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category


Howdy y’all (as we say in these here parts),

It’s time for spring/early summer planting.

As usual, I grew a ton more starts than I needed so as to give ’em away to friends, neighbors, and other folks in order to encourage their planting gardens. This year, I grew maybe 300 to 400 starts and have used about 75.  The rest have gone to the four winds, to whoever I think (oh please, whomever) will plant them and tend them. This is in deliberate contrast to Home Depot and Lowe’s, who don’t even sell six-packs anymore and charge the gullible $3 to $5 a start. (A fellow gardener, formerly a commercially gardener, who’s getting a new nursery biz up and running, told me yesterday that people buy them so as to have instant gratification, and will ignore them after they inadvertently kill them in a month or so through over or under watering or other sins. Thinking about it, she was right.)

I’ve given away maybe 175 to 200 starts, mostly tomato plants so far; there are about 25 left. Totally cost to me? Counting water, compost (I roll my own) for planting seeds [potting soil is unnecessary], and the bottoms of recycled cut-off plastic bottles (to hold the compost and seeds), and a tiny bit of fish emulsion fertilizer? Maybe two or three cents per start plus daily watering diligence. Not even 1% of what the big-box stores charge.

One of the oddities of producing starts is that they have their own minds as to when they come up. Tomatoes are always the first. Then the squash and melons, and then bell peppers and chiles. Some veggies you just want to plant directly in the ground. For summer, the primary one I’ve found is Yard-long Asian Beans (taste like wax beans, genetically more similar to black-eyed peas).

I’m also preparing to go to the downtown library and give them a ton of seeds for their seed catalog (enough for maybe 500 to 1,000 packets, which will be available to whoever wants seeds): Romaine, Bibb, Yard-Long Asian Beans, Okra, Broccoli, and White Chard. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: they give me seeds for veggies I don’t already have, and I give them a ton of seeds for redistribution to other community gardeners.

Harvesting seeds can be a pain in the ass. It can be extremely difficult, for example, to harvest carrot seeds. So, I concentrate on the easier ones and get carrot seeds etc. from the seed catalog.

The broccoli has been going to seed since late February, and I still haven’t harvested all the seeds. Ditto for the Romaine, which went to seed in April. I won’t be able to replant those beds until I’ve harvested the seeds later this month, by which time summer planting will be marginal. I’ll put in onions in the worst sun-drenched plot, and they might grow. Might.

I’m letting two beds go fallow until the fall, one is smack dab in the middle of the sun-scorched yard, and the other is the best bed in the place, but I’ve been planting it every year for the last quarter century (yes, rotating crops). My goal, pretty close to fruition, is not to use any shade cloth at all, and all of the beds I’ve planted are in at least partial shade from trees.

I’ll be putting in more fruit trees, too. In years past, I did it the hard way: shoveling down the 18 inches or so to the caliche (calcium carbonate mixed with silt, sand, gravel, rocks, and small boulders), and then down another four to five feet through the caliche with a pick axe, shovel, and breaker bar.

This time, in the fall, I’ll rent a jack hammer (neighbor has a compressor) and chip out the concrete slabs on the west side of the house. Then I’ll rent a backhoe and dig a hole in the one remaining spot in the backyard for a fruit tree (a fig), and then dig a couple of pits for fruit trees on the west side of the house with the backhoe. (I’m a lazy sod, and feel a bit guilty about doing things this easy way rather than busting my ass doing it the “right” way as I did in years past with the other fruit trees, manually; did I mention that I’m ex-Catholic? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. To paraphrase the Church, Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.)

So far this year I’ve planted spaghetti squash, golden melons, watermelons, collard greens, and  red cherry and Zacatipan tomatoes (the two types I’ve found that will bear all summer in 105+ heat). Also yard-long Asian beans directly in the ground, the various chiles (Hatch, jalapeños, Cayennes, Japanese, Thai, serranos, Anaheims, Chiles de Arbol) and red and orange bell peppers. (Helpful hint: there ain’t no such thing as green bell peppers — they taste awful and are simply immature red bell peppers; why anyone buys them is beyond me.)

Survivors from last summer’s garden include red cherry and zacatipan tomatoes, plus red bell peppers, orange bell peppers, and black beauty eggplants. The peppers, eggplants, and chiles might last for another year or three. The surviving tomatoes will likely be done by June or July. The basil plants come back year after year, so I never have to replant them.

As well, I continue to work the compost pile, digging it out from the left, tossing the crap on top to the right, digging out the good compost on the bottom, then adding compost buckets to the top of the crap on the right. There’s no reason on earth to buy expensive composing gear: just rotating it left-to-right and then starting all over again works just fine.

I buy a couple of straw bales per year (about ten bucks apiece), spend nearly nothing on fertilizer (may a buck per year), spend maybe twenty-five bucks per year on manure (about a cubic yard), spend nothing on seeds or starts, and too damn much on water. I have my roof/patio set up to channel rain water to the fruit trees, use about 90% of my water on the garden, and bear about 80% of the Tucson Water bills on “sewer” fees — I recharge water; it does not go down the drain.

More on this later. (Photos to come)

Cheers,

Chaz

 

 


(It’s time to start preparing for your summer garden. There are plenty of blogs and sites that tell you how to do this, but not many that provide information to nongardeners on making themselves welcome in their friends’ gardens. Hence this slightly revised repost from a few years ago.)

basil plants

If you know people who garden — and you don’t do it yourself — here are a few tips about making yourself welcome.

Don’t walk in vegetable beds unless they tell you it’s okay to do so. The soil in beds is usually (at least it should be) loose, which is good for the spread of vegetable roots and for water absorption. Walking on soil compacts it, which isn’t good for those roots or for absorption.

This should go without saying, but don’t pick anything unless they invite you to do so.

Don’t be pushy. If you can see they only have a small amount of something, don’t ask for it. If you do, they might give it to you, but they’ll probably resent doing so and quite possibly won’t invite you back.

It’s okay to ask if they have anything extra, but unless you can see they have a lot of what you want, don’t specifically ask for it.

If they invite you to help yourself, they’re probably assuming that you can do the gardening equivalent of walking while chewing gum. Well, unless you’re a gardener, you probably can’t. If you don’t ask for guidance you’ll quite possibly do something destructive that will induce face-palm time in your host. If you’ve never, for instance, harvested lettuce or other greens, ask how to do it.

Help out. Even small gardens require a lot of work, and gardeners appreciate those who lend a hand. They’ll appreciate even five minutes of weeding. (Unless you’re familiar with local weeds, ask what to pull and what to leave alone.)

Do all of these things, and your gardener friends will likely be generous with their produce and will very likely ask you back — especially if you help even a little.


basil plants

If you have friends who garden — and you don’t do it yourself — here are a few tips about making yourself welcome in their gardens.

Don’t walk in vegetable beds unless they tell you it’s okay to do so. The soil in beds is usually (at least it should be) loose, which is good for the spread of vegetable roots and for water absorption. Walking on soil compacts it, which isn’t good for those roots or for absorption.

This should go without saying, but don’t pick anything unless they invite you to do so.

Don’t be pushy. If you can see they only have a small amount of something, don’t ask for it. If you do, they might give it to you, but they’ll probably resent doing so and quite possibly won’t invite you back.

It’s okay to ask if they have anything extra, but unless you can see they have a lot of what you want, don’t specifically ask for it.

If they invite you to help yourself, they’re probably assuming that you can do the gardening equivalent of walking while chewing gum. Well, unless you’re a gardener, you probably can’t. If you don’t ask for guidance you’ll quite possibly do something destructive that will induce face-palm time in your host. If you’ve never, for instance, harvested greens, ask how to do it.

Help out. Even small gardens require a lot of work. Gardeners appreciate those who help. They’ll appreciate even five minutes of weeding. (Unless you’re familiar with local weeds, ask what to weed and what to leave alone.)

Do all of these things, and your gardener friends will likely be generous with their produce and will very likely ask you back — especially if you help even a little.


Dummy 3 flat 72-small
(From The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, scheduled for October 2015. This Cookbook will contain dozens of tasty vegan recipes, recipes for social change, and accurate information on anarchism.)

There are many good reasons to garden: personal, political, social, economic, and ecological. Among the personal benefits gardening provides are exercise and relaxation–there are few things more restful than working in your garden, which provides a pleasant respite from our sedentary and tense society.

Another benefit of gardening is that it can easily be a social affair; working in a cooperative garden is a good way to make new friends and deepen friendships with those you already have. Given the isolating, lonely American way of life, this benefit should not be underestimated.

On a political and economic level, gardening can make people less dependent on the corporations that control the food chain. It can also benefit individuals and communities economically, in that in areas with good soil and adequate rainfall it’s inexpensive to garden, and your harvest will far outstrip your minimal costs. Even in areas ill suited to gardening, such as Tucson, which is about as bad as it gets for gardeners (very poor soil, very hot summers, very expensive water), you should at least break even and probably come out a bit ahead growing your own fruits and vegetables.

On an ecological level, gardening is beneficial because it reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the production of fruits and vegetables. Factory farming is energy intensive. One widely cited study from the 1980s estimated that vegetables used in Chicago were shipped on average over 1,500 miles. While there are economies of scale in factory farming, local production of high-yield fruits and vegetables does reduce, even if marginally, the amount of fossil fuels used in food transport.

However, only 11% of fuels used to power the agribusiness food chain are used in transport. The rest are used in production, particularly in the production and distribution of massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. How massive? Frederick M. Fishel, of the University of Florida, reports that in 2007 U.S. agribusiness used approximately 680 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides costing approximately $7.9 billion on to-a-large-extent monocultural crops.

In contrast, organic gardening uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, and (if you plant heirloom varieties) helps to preserve biodiversity. IOrganic gardening also uoften entails eating healthier, more ecologically friendly food than that in the average American diet. As an example of the benefits of eating a healthier diet, the Johns Hopkins School of Public healrth reports that “if Americans followed a solely plant-based diet one day per week, they could cut more GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions than by following an entirely local diet.”

Gardening is good for you, your family and friends, your community, and the planet. In itself, gardening will not bring about “the revolution.” But it’s a good, useful, and enjoyable thing to do, and it does bring us a few steps further toward the society we want.


Dummy 3 flat 72-small

(From The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, scheduled for October 2015. This Cookbook will provide dozens of tasty vegans recipes, recipes for social change, and accurate information on anarchism.)

There are many good reasons to garden: personal, political, economic, and ecological. Among the personal benefits gardening provides are exercise and relaxation–there are few things more restful than working in your garden, which provides a pleasant respite from our sedentary and tense society.

Another benefit of gardening is that it can easily be a social affair; working in a cooperative garden is a good way to make new friends and deepen friendships with those you already have. Given the isolating, lonely American way of life, this benefit should not be underestimated.

On a political and economic level, gardening can make people less dependent on the corporations that control the food chain. It can also benefit individuals and communities economically, in that in areas with good soil and adequate rainfall it’s inexpensive to garden, and your harvest will far outstrip your minimal costs. Even in areas ill suited to gardening, such as Tucson, which is about as bad as it gets for gardeners (very poor soil, very hot summers, very expensive water), you should at least break even and probably come out a bit ahead growing your own fruits and vegetables.

On an ecological level, gardening is beneficial because it reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the production of fruits and vegetables. Factory farming is energy intensive. One widely cited study from the 1980s estimated that vegetables used in Chicago were shipped on average over 1,500 miles. While there are economies of scale in factory farming, local production of high-yield fruits and vegetables does reduce, even if marginally, the amount of fossil fuels used in food transport.

However, only 11% of fuels used to power the factory farm food chain are used in transport. The rest are used in production, particularly in the production and distribution of massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. How massive? Frederick M. Fishel, of the University of Florida, reports that in 2007 U.S. agribusiness used approximately 680 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides costing approximately $7.9 billion on to-a-large-extent monocultural crops.

In contrast, organic gardening uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, and (if you plant heirloom varieties) helps to preserve biodiversity. IOrganic gardening also uoften entails eating healthier, more ecologically friendly food than that in the average American diet. As an example of the benefits of eating a healthier diet, the Johns Hopkins School of Public healrth reports that “if Americans followed a solely plant-based diet one day per week, they could cut more GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions than by following an entirely local diet.”

Gardening is good for you, your family and friends, your community, and the planet. In itself, gardening will not bring about “the revolution.” But it’s a good, useful, and enjoyable thing to do, and it does bring us a few steps further toward the society we want.

There are many good reasons to garden: personal, political, economic, and ecological. Among the personal benefits gardening provides are exercise and relaxation–there are few things more restful than working in your garden, which provides a pleasant respite from our sedentary and tense society.

Another benefit of gardening is that it can easily be a social affair; working in a cooperative garden is a good way to make new friends and deepen friendships with those you already have. Given the isolating, lonely American way of life, this benefit should not be underestimated.

On a political and economic level, gardening can make people less dependent on the corporations that control the food chain. It can also benefit individuals and communities economically, in that in areas with good soil and adequate rainfall it’s inexpensive to garden, and your harvest will far outstrip your minimal costs. Even in areas ill suited to gardening, such as Tucson, which is about as bad as it gets for gardeners (very poor soil, very hot summers, very expensive water), you should at least break even and probably come out a bit ahead growing your own fruits and vegetables.

On an ecological level, gardening is beneficial because it reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the production of fruits and vegetables. Factory farming is energy intensive. One widely cited study from the 1980s estimated that vegetables used in Chicago were shipped on average over 1,500 miles. While there are economies of scale in factory farming, local production of high-yield fruits and vegetables does reduce, even if marginally, the amount of fossil fuels used in food transport.

However, only 11% of fuels used to power the factory farm food chain are used in transport. The rest are used in production, particularly in the production and distribution of massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. How massive? Frederick M. Fishel, of the University of Florida, reports that in 2007 U.S. agribusiness used approximately 680 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides costing approximately $7.9 billion on to-a-large-extent monocultural crops.

In contrast, organic gardening uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, and (if you plant heirloom varieties) helps to preserve biodiversity. IOrganic gardening also uoften entails eating healthier, more ecologically friendly food than that in the average American diet. As an example of the benefits of eating a healthier diet, the Johns Hopkins School of Public healrth reports that “if Americans followed a solely plant-based diet one day per week, they could cut more GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions than by following an entirely local diet.”

Gardening is good for you, your family and friends, your community, and the planet. In itself, gardening will not bring about “the revolution.” But it’s a good, useful, and enjoyable thing to do, and it does bring us a few steps further toward the society we want.

There are many good reasons to garden: personal, political, economic, and ecological. Among the personal benefits gardening provides are exercise and relaxation–there are few things more restful than working in your garden, which provides a pleasant respite from our sedentary and tense society.

Another benefit of gardening is that it can easily be a social affair; working in a cooperative garden is a good way to make new friends and deepen friendships with those you already have. Given the isolating, lonely American way of life, this benefit should not be underestimated.

On a political and economic level, gardening can make people less dependent on the corporations that control the food chain. It can also benefit individuals and communities economically, in that in areas with good soil and adequate rainfall it’s inexpensive to garden, and your harvest will far outstrip your minimal costs. Even in areas ill suited to gardening, such as Tucson, which is about as bad as it gets for gardeners (very poor soil, very hot summers, very expensive water), you should at least break even and probably come out a bit ahead growing your own fruits and vegetables.

On an ecological level, gardening is beneficial because it reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the production of fruits and vegetables. Factory farming is energy intensive. One widely cited study from the 1980s estimated that vegetables used in Chicago were shipped on average over 1,500 miles. While there are economies of scale in factory farming, local production of high-yield fruits and vegetables does reduce, even if marginally, the amount of fossil fuels used in food transport.

However, only 11% of fuels used to power the factory farm food chain are used in transport. The rest are used in production, particularly in the production and distribution of massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. How massive? Frederick M. Fishel, of the University of Florida, reports that in 2007 U.S. agribusiness used approximately 680 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides costing approximately $7.9 billion on to-a-large-extent monocultural crops.

In contrast, organic gardening uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, and (if you plant heirloom varieties) helps to preserve biodiversity. IOrganic gardening also uoften entails eating healthier, more ecologically friendly food than that in the average American diet. As an example of the benefits of eating a healthier diet, the Johns Hopkins School of Public healrth reports that “if Americans followed a solely plant-based diet one day per week, they could cut more GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions than by following an entirely local diet.”

Gardening is good for you, your family and friends, your community, and the planet. In itself, gardening will not bring about “the revolution.” But it’s a good, useful, and enjoyable thing to do, and it does bring us a few steps further toward the society we want.

Since this book will be read around the world, we’ll restrict ourselves to general comments here.

First, be prepared for at least partial failure, especially if you’re new to gardening. If you are, start small: cultivate no more than about 100 square feet (about 10 square meters). You’ll be amazed at how much produce you can raise in such a small space.

In places with good soil, such as the U.S. East, Midwest, and Plains States, you can just turn the soil over to the depth of eight or nine inches (roughly 22 centimeters — the length of the blade of the average garden shovel) and plant without adding soil amendments. In subsequent years, you will want to add some compost and manure when you turn the soil over.

In places with poor soil, mostly desert and semi-desert areas, such as the U.S. Southwest, preparing soil is more complicated. First, dig down to a depth of eight or nine inches (22 cm), and once you’ve dug up your entire plot shovel out the soil, putting it to one side. Dig down another eight or nine inches. Once you’ve done that, put at least three inches (8 cm) of compost or steer manure on the soil in the hole and thoroughly mix. (Using horse manure is not a good idea: it’s nitrogen poor and contains a lot of salts.) Shovel the first layer of soil back in, put at least three inches (8 cm) of compost and/or steer manure on top of it, and mix thoroughly. In arid regions, put a lip of at least three inches around the edges of the entire plot, in order to conserve water.

In most places, you’ll want your plot to be shaded during at least part of the day, especially the afternoon. If no partially shaded spots are available, suspend shade cloth six or seven feet (about two meters) above your plot. Use the 50%-blocking rather than the 80% blocking type.

Because shade cloth is expensive (though very durable), it’s advisable in your first year or two–while you’re figuring out if you want to continue gardening–to use old sheets instead. They’ll deteriorate rapidly, but they cost next to nothing, and they get the job done.

Now it’s time to plant. When to do that will, of course, vary with your altitude and with how far north or south of the equator you are.

In your first year, you’ll probably want to buy starts, unless you already know gardeners who will give you some. Rather than buying starts at big-box store garden departments (expensive and very limited variety), plant nurseries are generally a better bet, but there are even better places to get starts. In many places there are organic gardening associations, and they almost always have events where members sell starts during the Spring planting season. Farmers markets can be another good source.

Once you have your first crop, you can harvest seeds and raise your own starts, beginning about six to eight weeks prior to the beginning of Spring planting season. (For Fall and Winter crops, you can just stick the seeds in the ground.) The easiest types of vegetables and herbs from which to harvest seeds are eggplants, bell peppers, chiles, beans, squash, okra, melons, peas, lettuce, broccoli, cilantro, and tomatoes.

Harvest seeds only from mature vegetables and from the largest vegetables. In most cases, this simply means removing the seeds, spreading them out on a tray, and letting them dry. Tomatoes are a different matter. Using only the largest, most mature tomatoes, drain the seeds and the liquid they’re in into a bowl, add a little water, and let sit at room temperature for two to four days, until a scum forms on top. Skim off the scum, drain the liquid from the bowl, and the let the seeds dry for several days. This will drastically increase the germination rate when you plant the seeds.

In preparing planting starts, it’s a good idea to recycle small plastic containers (yogurt containers, sawed off soda bottles, sawed off half-and-half bottles, etc.) and poke several holes in the bottoms with a knife to facilitate proper drainage. It works well to use cheap commercial potting soil mixed with compost and manure in about a 4:2:1 ratio. Put in several seeds per container, and a few weeks after they’ve come up you can thin the seedlings, replanting the thinned ones in other containers. If you live in an area with occasional freezes prior to the planting period, it’s a good idea to put your starts on trays so that you can take them inside on nights that it freezes.

In dry areas, you’ll want to use mulch to hold in soil moisture. Straw is common, good, inexpensive mulch. Put down about three inches (8 cm) all around your plants. Water it immediately once you’ve put it down, so it doesn’t blow away in the wind. (Figure one bale per every 150 square feet–approximately 10 square meters.) Before you buy a bale or two of straw at your local feed store , ask what kind it is. Because it contains seeds which will sprout in your garden, and which you’ll need to weed out, wheat straw is the best choice. Barley straw is acceptable, though more of a pain to deal with, and under no circumstances buy sorghum straw, which will produce a weeding nightmare for years to come.

One final note: Even before you start your garden, you’ll want to start composting. It’s a simple process. You don’t need to buy an expensive container to do it, just find an out-of-the way spot in your yard, and start throwing your kitchen waste there, as well as vegetation waste from your yard (weeds, fallen leaves, etc.), shredded paper, and occasionally soil when necessary to cover kitchen waste (if you don’t have yard waste or shredded paper available). Unless you live in an area with a lot of rain, water the compost pile regularly.

Good practices with compost include keeping a three- or five-gallon covered bucket in your kitchen for kitchen waste, and emptying it onto the compost pile whenever it’s near full, and occasionally poking holes roughly six inches (15 cm) apart all the way down through your compost pile with a piece of rebar or steel pipe. This will help with aeration and the growth of aerobic bacteria which turn waste into compost. Turn the entire pile over with a pitchfork every couple of months. Finally, compost weeds before they go to seed. Unless you’re prepared to do an ungodly amount of unnecessary weeding, do not compost seeding weeds; throw them in the garbage.

This all sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but gardening is restful, a form of meditation, and there’s nothing like eating your own produce and sharing it with your friends and neighbors.