Community Gardens on the Rise at City Parks, Apartment Complexes, and Schools

The recent trend in local food and interest in food safety and security has produced a very strong movement in community gardens.  Over the past three years I have seen a sharp increase in city governments, churches, and even apartment complex home owners associations allowing and even promoting public gardening.  The city of Charlotte and Charlotte Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation Department has started to lease some small plots for people to use for food and flower production.  The city of Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department has a very large number of community gardens around the city.  There is also a push for inner city schools in Des Moines to initiate student and teacher gardens.  In most cases there is always space for gardens at the schools, but it is a matter of getting overworked teachers and the administration to work together to secure grants and community donations for school gardens.  My friend Alex Martin has been very successful at Hibriten High School in Lenoir North Carolina as a leader in schoolyard gardens and incorporating gardens and greenhouses into engineering and ecology classes.  His efforts were successful due to the hard work of him and several coworkers who wrote grants and then used lesson plans to justify the gardens at the school.  The results were some amazing raised beds, a passive solar greenhouse, and a new outdoor venue for students to learn about ecology, healthy eating, and the science of horticulture.

The need to get out and garden has also taken off in apartment complexes where people shared limited parking space and grounds around the condo units.   Several community gardens have sprung up at condos such as the Plantation at Lennox Community in Atlanta.  This little known shared gardening space has some great raised beds and some innovative garden art beside a pond.  Unused space has become an arena for gardening and social activities.  See the pictures below of some school gardens at Myers Park Traditional School in Charlotte, Highbriten in Lenoir, and the Plantation at Lennox Community Gardens.IMAG0474 IMAG0496photo 3 (3) photo 3 (4)IMG_1037 IMG_1046

Get the garlic out of the ground before it rots!

I have grown garlic for about six years now and just like with most crops some years are better than others.  There are many methods of growing garlic, some people prefer raised French Intensive beds and some prefer row crop methods so that they can cultivate between the plants with a tractor.  The one thing that is consistent with garlic in Idaho, Iowa, or North Carolina is that the time you choose to dig it up is very critical.  Most of the literature says that the garlic is ready when about half of the leaves are brown.  I learned the hard way this year in my North Carolina fields that the garlic may be past prime even when there are 3/4 leaves green on the stems.  Every brown leaf is one less sheath of skin on the clove, making them harder to store and also harder to sell since the bulbs start to look unattractive when the cloves are exposed.IMG_1606IMAG0295IMAG0184IMAG0247

Using Old Farm Equipment to Work on Current Family Farms is the Ultimate in Sustainable Agriculture

An Old Cole Single Row Planter Manufactured in Charlotte North Carolina

An Old Cole Single Row Planter Manufactured in Charlotte North Carolina

This post is about using old agricultural equipment such as tractors and ancient planters to deal with modern agricultural needs.  There is a current trend to buy bright and shiny, bigger, and newer agricultural equipment.  But with a little ingenuity and patience you can clean and reclaim your old farm devices to get the job done on your farm.  The picture above shows a single row planter produced by the Cole Company that used to manufacture and distribute in Charlotte North Carolina.  This particular planter is from Bayard Iowa and is one that Mike Carter refurbished with some patience and elbow grease to use in a single row planting scheme to plant a three sisters crop mix of corn, beans and sqaush.  Mike could have bought a new planter, but decided to get this classic planter up and runner and save some time and money and prevent this vintage device from going to the scrap pile. I asked the owner of Renfrow’s Hardware ( http://www.renfrowhardware.com/) in Matthews, North Carolina if he knew anything about the Cole Company and he said that Renfrow’s used to carry this company for many years before they went out of business.

My friend Jep Whitlock from Lumber River Native Plants (http://www.ncnativeplants.com/) lives on a century farm in Gibson North Carolina and grows traditional/conventional row crops, organic speciality crops, and native plants.  Jep and his father in law have used an ancient Massey Ferguson tractor to plant potatoes and four row garlic with their vintage tractor.  They have used innovation and ingenuity to design and build some specialty implements that allow them to use their old tractor and cultivator parts to build new components called sweeps that create raised beds and then also mound up soil around the potatoes and garlic.

Check out the pictures associated this blog about old tractors and old planters that still have some life and vitality in them if you are willing to use a little elbow grease to make your old equipment work.

 

 

Massey Ferguson TractorIMG_1606 IMG_1614 IMG_0832 IMG_0843

Aquaculture at Drug Rehab Centers and North Carolina State University is Taking Off

The new trend in growing fresh vegetables and fish at Drug Rehabilitation Centers such as St. Gregory’s and at the North Carolina State University is really a great advancement in sustainability.  Mr. Carter has played a big part in the tomato production at St. Gregory’s Bayard Facility.  IMG_0073 IMG_0075 IMG_0088IMG_0140 IMG_0155 IMG_0183 IMG_0187 IMG_0191 IMG_0227 IMG_0232 IMG_0234 IMG_0237North Carolina State Aquaculture is growing several varieties of tilapia and also grouper.  The fish are being harvested and served at the North Carolina State Dining Hall.  This is a marvelous advancement for sustainable food production and a reduction on the carbon food footprint.  Tyler Nethers at N.C. State has spearheaded the project and has also started growing some great lettuce and culinary herbs using the hydroponic water from the fish tanks to fertilized the plants.  The pictures below show the aquaponics at NC State and also some additional photos of the St. Gregory’s Aquaculture Project in Bayard Iowa.

Growing Food at Schools, Churches, and Rehabilitation Centers

There is a new trend in using high schools, churches, and drug rehabilitation facilities as centers for organic agriculture and horticulture therapy. Many people are realizing the benefits of healthy diets and growing their own food, but now it has become popular for educators and counselors to use gardens as a means to teach people about agroecology and life skills in horticulture. Further, the process of growing food and setting up gardens has become recognized as a means of relating the process of nurturing plants and animals with nurturing the soul. Educators are incorporating gardening into science classes, churches are growing food to feed the poor and teach children about the bounty of God’s gifts, and drug rehab centers are setting up hydroponic and aquaponic systems to produce food for themselves and to teach patients about healthy diet as a means of regaining healthy spirits and mental health. Some great examples of these trends can be seen at First Unitarian Church of Des Moines (http://ucdsm.org/), the St. Gregory Retreat Center (http://www.stgregoryctr.com/), and Hibriten High School (http://sc.caldwellschools.com/education/school/school.php?sectionid=156/). All three of these locations have successfully incorporated gardening into their individual goals for education and spiritual health of the mind and body. Check out the pictures of the gardens at each site.

St. Gregory Aquaponics Tilapia Tanks

St. Gregory Aquaponics Tilapia Tanks

St. Gregory Hydroponic Basil

St. Gregory Hydroponic Basil

Des Moines Unitarian Church Community Gardens

Des Moines Unitarian Church Community Gardens

Church Classes in the Gardens

Church Classes in the Gardens

Raised Beds at Hibriten High School Used for Science Classes

Raised Beds at Hibriten High School Used for Science Classes

Quaking Bog Botancials donating squash for school gardens

Quaking Bog Botancials donating squash for school gardens

Science Teacher Alex Martin has lead the garden project at Hibriten along with other teachers who help secure grant monies and build the beds

Science Teacher Alex Martin has lead the garden project at Hibriten along with other teachers who help secure grant monies and build the beds

Late spring rains in NC making it hard to get planted

North Carolina had a huge amount of rain in 2013 and now we are having some extended wet days in late April.  I am going to be putting out potatoes and cutting fields up for summer and winter squash.  Last week I put out sets of cabbage and swiss chard.  The NC fields from the coast to the mountains look good for the garlic harvest in mid to late June.  My garlic field in Des Moines also looks good. I had a problem with putting out too much straw on top of the garlic and I almost smothered 3/4 of my crop. Luckily I pulled off the straw and now the garlic is booming there as well. I learned from last year’s efforts to wait to start the winter squash until May indoors and just plant in June. My seed and plants put in the ground early to mid May in Iowa did poorly. The soil is actually still to cold for any summer crops in NC for the central and western part of the state.

 

I have seen several fields using plastic sheet or woven plastic mulch sheets and it does seem to be the best way to reduce water loss and weeds at the same time.  The climate change factor seems to be working differently in the Mid West with later springs and drier summers. I think going with recycled and biodegradable plastic mulch will be great. I hope to get potatoes in the ground this week in the low mountains of Lenoir, NC and then will plant the leftovers at some various places around Charlotte. How much do those plastic mulch machines cost? Laying the drip line at the same time is the way to go and I know that the successful pumpkin patches for Halloween sales in Iowa definitely have drip irrigation but I don’t remember them being on plastic. I think the plastic mulch would only be appropriate around the base of the plants of vining squash as the extended shoots need to root at the nodes to provide strength to the plant.

New Members Joining the Quaking Bog Cooperative and New Heirloom Crops for Grow Trials

This season looks to be very promising as we have most of our returning members plus some new people growing this season as well. Philip Cwynar from Pittsburgh has joined our group and has some great hops and grape clones that he will be sharing with the group. Tyler Nethers from Raleigh and his company the Farmery (http://www.thefarmery.com/) will also This year we will also be growing out several varieties of cow peas and green beans from old family strains provided by Jep Whitlock of Lumber River Native Plants (,http://www.ncnativeplants.com/) Scott Woodward, Mark Davidson, and Amy Allen. Amy is also setting up a new seed cooperative in Wilmington and will be adding to this blog soon about her new project and seed strains. It is very exciting to see that we have started collecting local seed strains from the basements and old garden sheds of older family members who no longer garden. So far we have been working with some strains provided by the USDA seed banks and some exotic seeds from a few seed companies but these new additions to the seed cooperative are what really will make this project a success. The ability of our group to acquire and have access to old family strains and material not available on the market will allow us to have greater genetic diversity to use later in adverse weather and insect conditions. If you have been given some of the more rare seeds to grow please take care to pay attention to their needs and follow their growth from planting to harvest so that we have more of the rarest seeds to pass around. I have lost a few strains such as the original Cherokee Green and White Cushaw from the Sac and Fox clan due to poor germination and genetic bottlenecking of the DNA. Remeber to save seeds from as many of your fruits/vegetables as possible and then either save by individual squash or plant and label them. If you submit a collection of seeds back to me try to submit some seeds from each squash fruit or okra plant so that there will be good genetic diversity. If you are planting beans or peas try to plant at least 25-30 seeds of each type so that there will be enough genetic variation in your crop to keep up the diversity.

Getting Ready for Spring and Thinking About How to Improve on Last Year’s Productivity.

Greetings gardening folks.   This year looks to be a very promising one at the Quaking Bog Botanicals Seed Cooperative.   Last season we had about 75% success with most of our growers able to get the seeds sent to them planted and then able to harvest and send some regenerated seeds back.  It was a rough year in Idaho with hail storms taking out Eric Aiello’s entire garden and too much rain reducing pollination and causing rot for growers in NC such as Scott Woodward and Alex Martin. In my neck of the woods in Iowa it was a late cold spring and then a long drought. As a result, I had thousands of squash seeds and plants rot in May and then the rest of the plants almost dry up in July and August. One of my three large fields made it and that was because Mike Carter was kind enough to provide ample irrigation to the site.  We were able to get a good crop of squash out of the site and will try again this year. A few things I have learned from my own successes and failures last year follow:

Don’t put all your seeds or plants out too early for the summer crops, follow local almanacs and wait an extra week or so for summer planting dates if the ground seems cold and wet. Also, stagger the weeks out that you plant hot summer crops in case of cold snaps or flood events. That way you have some backup seeds to replant the site with.

If you keep putting the same crop in the same place every year and it dies, then you need to move the crops to a different spot. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If your potatoes or garlic are rotting where you have them, maybe the ground is too low and you need to plant on higher ground.

For me and my sites in Iowa the lack of rain was the biggest problem. The soil is great so if the weeds can be kept down the only real problem is water.  Many of you already have this figured out at your small backyard sites and are watering regularly. I had trouble last year getting water to all my sites to I will we choosing ground that has water access and using more drip lines this year.  This will allow me to till up the weeds and run the drip irrigation at the same time instead of tilling for hours and then spending half the day trying to water. The irrigation lines are expensive but they will be worth it in the end.

Remember to crop rotate and move around the crops that get the most bugs and disease such as garlic, onions, squash and potatoes. Burn old crop residues instead of just composting them to discourage eggs from overwintering.

Don’t get discouraged if the rains make your tomatoes rot or if hail kills most of your garden. If this happens try to get some quick crops of beans or greens in the ground as soon as possible to make up for the loss of squash, peppers, tomatoes, etc.

And remember that hard work and positive energy make the garden grow. Even if you lose a major part of your crops try to stay positive and learn from your lessons to be able to avoid total loss from rain deluges or hail and wind events.

Getttin Garlic in the Ground, Better Late Than Never.

Today was a good day to plant heirloom Garlic in Happy Valley, Lenoir. My friend Alex Martin has a nice organic farm with several creeks, wetlands, old barns, big blueberry bushes, and a young orchard. We do what we can with the limited time we have. This varies from month to month and season to season. We got the garlic in about 3 months late but i am more concerned with keeping our gernplasm to grow for next fall rather than worry about a harvest this season. We had about 10 varieties of leeks and garlic but we are down to 6 or 7. Today was great weather in the foothills so we decided to see what we could salvage from years of organic production and experimentaitin.
we double dug and planted Lumbee Leeks, Elephant Garlic, and Georgia Crystal. Italian Lorenz and Extra Select will go in soon. Usually they go in around October to get good set of roots and some green leves out of the mulch before it gets too cold but we were too busy to make it happen until today. All our material is heirloom and some of it is not even commercially available so we are trying to keep it going. I notice alot of decline in the Elephant Galic and Lumbee Leeks. Both are true leeks and not a garlic variety. Any ideas on why the Organic Elephant Garlic has languished from a robust ten disease free pounds to one slickly pound? I am finding blue mold, onion/garlic maggots, and some strange slimy brown mold areas that seem to be independent of blue mold or maggots. Should the elephant garlic be pulled a few weeks sooner? Maybe it it ready earlier? Is that soil too wet? Any suggestions as to why the garlic and especially the Elephant Garlic is sick I need answers. All of Quaking Bog Botanicals is organic and we mulch and crop rotate so I am wondering why my soil is harboring pests? Any takers or comments?

Enjoying a few storage crops at holiday meals

This season has enabled me to produce and cook a ton of seasonal produce. I found easier production and handling with storage crops such as carrots, potatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes, dry beans, and winter squash. Depulping winter squash for cooking is easy and then I bake the skin and flesh at 350 Degrees for about an hour. It is always nice to have a mix of organic carrot varieties and some separate rows for parsnips to grow. They grow slow and are good to start harvesting for Thanksgiving soups and stews. Lately I have discovered the joys of the alternative starch Jerusalem aritchoke, Sunchoke, or Henlianthus tuberosus. This native domesticate make great starchy roots that store in the ground and you can dig as needed. They are great lightly baised in garlic or butter, or just raw with salt. Garlic has been a pleasure of mine for many years and it has been a curious crop for trial and error. There are many hard neck and soft neck garlics, and certain ones do well in certain parts of the country. I have also watched long term fungus hurt certain fields and leave other fields alone. I always get a great organic harvest but the varieties that do the best may change each year. I had great success with Rose Finn and Peruvian Purple potatoes in Des Moines. I grew them organically with side dressing of sheet compost and no insect predation of the leaves or the potatoes. There is some great soil in Iowa if you take care of it. The purple potatoes are great in coconut curries or used as baby potatoes, or home fries. Probably one of the most important crops that I identified as being worthy of eating and growing has been the Long Island Cheese Squash. This cucurbita maxima keep well and the dense flesh makes a fantastic soup, Feel free to email me and tell me what kind of vegetables you have grown and enjoyed eating with friends. I am always open to blog topics and electronically meeting other vegetable, forage crop, or animal.gardeners, farmers, and producers. I want to introduce a few small animals into my vegetable rotation and see how that goes. Any ideas pr suggestions?
Scott
olinstaylor@hotmail.comm