If you're looking for a green thumb to get some gardening advice from, have I got a suggestion for you. I know a lady who is easily the most intimidating gardener I know: Mother Nature. She's overseen the prolific growth of forests the world over, coral reefs, open plains, feathered brush and waving grasses. A little secret about her methods: She's used a no-till, no-plow, pesticide- and herbicide-free approach for all time.Read More
|Some of Better Farm's chickens have been hard at work digging up worms and helping to aerate soil between garden rows.|
Two words: dandelion weeder.
|My favorite garden tool.|
All I needed to do was stab the weeder into the top of the mulch and making a stirring motion with my hand to hollow out a little cavity for the pea seed.
Using my finger, I pressed the pea into the soil underneath. If you're transplanting, it can help to press in some potting or topsoil as well to anchor your plant's root system. Ditto if it's your first year mulching, as you won't have already-decomposed dirt below the surface. I like to time my planting schedule to just before I know it's about to rain—that keeps me from having to water my freshly planted seeds and seedlings.
No worries for the peas (or sprouting garlic, chives, asparagus, sage, leeks, or oregano) that tonight the weather is dropping into the teens temporarily (seriously, this is getting old) because the mulch provides natural insulation. Those of you in the North Country with anything unprotected outside, tonight will be a very important evening to bring any container plants inside, and to add mulch to any uncovered beds. If you have trees you wrapped for the winter, we recommend waiting until at least May 1 to unwrap the trunks and branches.
Direct your mulch-gardening questions and tips to email@example.com.
|Image from Oregon Live.|
STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING!
Turn off that roto-tiller. Back away from that hoe. Return that bag of fertilizer. Pronto.
We've got a mulch simpler solution that benefits you, your sanity, the environment, and, of course, that gorgeous garden of yours.
What is Mulch Gardening?
|Lasagna garden illustration by Kim Carpenter|
How is Mulch Gardening Achieved?
This is the easy part. All the stuff most people throw out—food scraps. cardboard, junk mail, dead leaves, sticks, twigs, and newspaper—is exactly the stuff you want to get mulch gardening going in your yard. Trust us, it works:
|Better Farm gardens, 2013.|
- Layer One: cardboard/newspaper/junk mail (we also use the discarded bedding from chicken coops)
- Layer Two: fresh compost (coffee grounds, banana peels, etc.)
- Layer Three: Dead leaves, hay, other mulch items
- Layer Four: Top Soil
|First layer: cardboard, newspaper, junk mail|
|Second layer: fresh compost from our food.|
|Third layer: hay, grass clippings, pulled (and dead) weeds|
|We put a second layer of cardboard over the top of some rows to make sure no weeds poke through.|
|As the layers of biodegradables break down, we're left with rich, dark soil.|
|Grow, baby, grow!|
Next spring, you'll just have to poke a hole into your rows and plant away. The natural weed barriers, composted food, other layers will add every nutrient your plants need, retain moisture, and ensure a plentiful crop.
|Each Fall at Better Farm, we add piles of hay and compost to each row.|
Want to see just how much of a difference mulch gardening makes? Click here to see our four-year reflection photos!
For more information about mulch gardening, click here. We also now offer private garden consultations! Click here to learn more.
|The most wonderful time of winter.|
It truly, finally, really really really feels like spring is just around the corner. Which means it's time to address Better Farm's planting timeline to ensure we get everything going at the precisely right moment. Mapping gardens, starting seeds, and turning compost also happens to be the most wonderful way to shake off the heaviness of winter.
There are a few very important components to consider when planning your garden calendar. They are: analyzing what worked and what didn't in last year's garden (taking into account unusual weather patterns); listing what food and flowers you want to grow this year; mapping your garden; starting your seeds; nourishing your seedlings; readying the greenhouse (or wherever you keep your transplantables); and, finally, transplanting and/or direct-planting. All of the above-mentioned bullet points are affected entirely by what planting zone you're in. So if you haven't already, hop over to the USDA's website to determine which zone you're in (be advised that these zones were recently updated to reflect a slight change in climate, so it's worth taking a peek!). Here's our map for New York:
- Begin brainstorming which seeds we want, what flowers we want to grow, and what we'll be getting locally. Fresh crop of seeds sprinkled in aquaponics and hydroponics
- Order seeds, organize seeds from last summer (left over and saved from 2013 plants)
- Recalibrate house plants: transplant into larger containers, fertilize with water from aquaponics and hydroponics, trim, pollinate, and separate as needed
- Sprinkle another round of seeds in the hydroponics and aquaponics
- First week of March—plant slow-growers inside (or in greenhouse if weather allows): Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, artichokes, broccoli, etc.
- St. Patrick's Day—plant peas outside
- Late March—plant rest of slow-growers in greenhouse: tomatoes, leeks, onions, etc.
- Unwrap fruit trees
- Pull burdock around pond
- Clear beds for regrowth: leeks, asparagus, garlic
- Plant potatoes outside
- Mulch like crazy: In rows, between rows, around fruit trees
- Build raised beds as needed
- Turn compost
- Begin harvesting asparagus
- Bring bulbs outside and plant
- Plant new trees
- Plant spinach outside
- Clean up insect hotel for new visitors
- Nurture seedlings; move any baby plants from inside to greenhouse
- Six-month cleanout of aquaponics and hydroponics, fertilize, transplant, sprinkle new seeds
- Continue nurturing seedlings in greenhouse
- Turn compost
- Transplant hardiest immature plants from greenhouse to gardens
- Mulch garden, trees
- Rake out herb beds, bring excess mulch to compost pile or main garden
- Transplant all remaining seedlings from greenhouse to garden
- Direct-plant squash, lettuce, all herbs, beans, etc.
|Image from Bright Days.|
One of the basic components of mulch gardening is to allow organic compounds to fertilize your vegetation. Leaves, small twigs, compost, and other materials decompose and give nutrients to your soil; thereby allowing for healthier, more dynamic crops. But of course, the same is true for your lawn! Grass loves healthy soil—but many homeowners wrongly think clearing the ground, raking, and otherwise sanitizing the lawn is the best thing. That line of thought creates the heady chemical concoction of spray fertilizers and other pesticides that wreaks havoc on living systems and actually in the long term can cause a lot of damage to a lawn and everything living in it.
People understandably want their lawns to be beautiful. So we're not suggesting dumping compost on your grass year-round (though leaves, twigs, and regular compost can be added to your garden beds year-round); but we are suggesting that your late-season leaves be mowed into your lawn instead of getting swept away.
From Fine Gardening:
Based upon research at several universities, the organic matter and nutrients from leaves mown into lawn areas has been proven to improve turf quality. At Michigan State, researchers set a rotary mower to cut at a height of 3 inches and then mowed an 18-inch-deep layer of leaves into test plots. That’s the equivalent of 450 pounds of leaves per 1,000 square feet. The tests resulted in improved soil and healthy lawns with few remnant leaves visible the following spring.
You can achieve similar results if you set your mower to cut at the same height as in the Michigan State study, and mow at least once a week during peak leaf fall when your lawn reaches a height of 4 inches. Leaves shred most efficiently when slightly damp, so mow after a light dew. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will never rake another leaf and improve the quality of your soil.
To treat leaves as trash is both environmentally foolish and financially ruinous. Currently, many municipalities encourage residents to rake leaves to the curb for collection, but before they are collected, heavy rains often wash the leaves into catch basins. There, they decompose and release phosphorus and nitrogen into streams and rivers that flow through the community. These excess nutrients contribute to algae blooms during the summer, which result in lower oxygen levels, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic species to survive.
Municipalities, both large and small, spend thousands, even millions, of dollars each year to collect, transport, and process autumn leaves, tying up resources that could be used elsewhere in our communities. If we all keep our leaves on our properties, we will improve our gardens, save money, and enhance the environment we all share.
|Better Farm's vegetable garden, August 2009.|
|Better Farm's vegetable garden, August 2013.|
I moved to Better Farm in June of 2009; a period of time during which there were a few raised flower beds on the property, two acres of mowed lawn, dense forest all around, and roughly 8 acres of fields that were hayed twice yearly for consumption by a neighboring farm's cows.
In August of that year, I wandered out into the side yard of the farm and began staking out a 20' x 24' rectangle that would, I hoped, turn into a garden. Of course, I instantly broke a trowel and then a shovel trying to get into that clay-rich soil:
How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, Stout exhalts a direct-compost and haying method that minimizes weeding, removes the need for artificial fertilizers and pesticides, promotes abundant growth, makes use of items many others would consider trash, and takes away the sometimes laborious task of keeping a compost pile or bin that needs to be turned, shoveled, and cared for.
I know, sounds too good to be true. But the thing is, that lady was right-on.
Once you've staked out your plot, it's time to start treating the soil. This can start instantly, and will continue even long after crops are planted. The idea here is to avoid the cost of buying fresh mulch, and the maintenance of a compost bin that needs regular attention, turning, and so on. What Stout recommends is essentially turning your plot of land into an ongoing compost/mulch pit. That means raked leaves, grass clippings, a little wood ash from a fire, and food scraps can all get dumped directly on the soil and left alone. So long as you don't throw stuff like meat scraps into this ongoing mulch situation, you can rest fairly assured that you won't have too many critters contending for these scraps. Starting with a barrier of cardboard will ensure you kill the weeds below.
As the summer of 2009 turned to autumn, I composted all I could and began saving cardboard for my new mulch garden. And when spring came in 2010, I worked with some friends to get wooden posts (donated by a neighbor in Plessis) into the ground for fencing.
With the garden (a much larger than originally planned, 85' x 100') staked out, I worked with the people at Better Farm to make some rows in accordance with Ruth Stout's directives. And lo and behold, it worked!
But really, about that dirt. Look at what hard, clay soil turns into with a little mulching:
To learn more about mulch gardening, click here. To schedule a one-on-one or group workshop on the subject, call (315) 482-2536 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Better Farm's organic vegetable patch.|
Now the bounty's in full swing—and if you'd like to get in on all the organic deliciousness of the season, all you have to do is stop in at our farm stand or call ahead to make a custom order for pick-up or delivery. Here's a photo tour of just some of what's growing:
Rainbow Swiss Chard:
Beets, Zucchini, String Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Broccoli:
From left Kale, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Tomatoes, Zucchinis:
Leeks in foreground, Peppers in background, and at right Asparagus and Arugula:
From left are Pole Beans, Beets, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale:
Onions, Heirloom Tomatoes, String Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Jalapenos, and more:
Rainbow Swiss Chard:
Sugar Baby Watermelons:
Tomatoes, Zucchinis, Kale, String Beans, Sugar Baby Watermelon, and Buttercrunch Lettuce at the Farm Stand:
I got half of our peas in the garden on Monday (a bit later than last year's St. Patty's Day planting) and will get the rest in next Monday. In other news, the main garden is twice as big (again), the seedlings are starting to pop inside the main house (they'll move into the greenhouse on Monday, along with a bunch more flats), our chives and garlic are up (!), and the chickens are beyond elated to be worm-hunting and roto-tilling to their hearts' content. Here's a pictorial tour:
(Disclaimer: This is the start of Spring, so please don't expect some designer landscape! The images you see here are of extremely healthy compost and hay working their hardest to bring us the healthiest soil possible. If you'd like more information on how mulch gardening works, please click here. And if you're a skeptic about using hay, cardboard, compost, and all things rotting to have the lushest garden imaginable, check out our 2012 gardens album here.)
I got the new garden rows (established last fall) raked up and ready for planting. The chickens were excited to discover what was underneath all that hay!
I went around to our raised beds and lined the insides with cardboard as a weed barrier (avert your eyes from the snow that is STILL hanging around):
Meanwhile, over in the raised beds, we have garlic!
...and we have chives!
Photos will be coming soon of our greenhouse layout, and more updates on the mandala garden started last fall. Anyone who would like to join us in getting the grounds ready for summer can e-mail email@example.com or call (315) 482-2536.
Linear gardens have their origin in division and ownership of land (easier to mark and measure), and in use of mechanical soil cultivation (easier to drive a horse or a tractor down a straight row). Since neither one of these elements applies to a vast majority of home gardens, there is absolutely no need to make them straight! Any shape that respects the landform, works with the flow of water and with the way humans move make more sense.
A mandala garden is a raised garden bed using keyhole pattern. It is meant to be a domestic garden able to feed a family all year. It can also be scaled up in order to feed more people. It is usually a circle shape on a flat area. We talk about mandala as it presents a circle centered pattern drawing. Originaly this word refers to Hindu and Buddhist vocabulary. It is a figuration with mystical and ritual value representing, under the form of a varied aspects geometrical diagram, the cosmos and the different relationships that are established between the material and the spiritual.
Since updating you the first week in December on the progress former intern Jackson Pittman made, he—along with our new intern Zoya Kaufmann—completed the circular garden's basic layout. Using cardboard as a weed barrier, direct compost and hay as mulching materials for planting next spring, and gravel and stones for barriers and walkways, our design is complete.
Nature will do the work this winter, as snowfall and our chickens do their part to break down the hay, decompose the compost, and add natural fertilizers to the layout. While that's going on, we'll be mapping out the garden for springtime and allocating certain segments to specific plants.
After the snow melts, we'll be able to get into that thick, rich soil and help to raise up nourishing plants that will sustain the people and animals at Better Farm as well as in the community.
As the nights in the North Country see colder and colder nights, we've begun prep work on Better Farm's main house and grounds to better insulate our people and plants.
There's opportunity in every planting zone for year-round harvesting. Here's a cheat sheet for rotating your planting schedule:
We're doing kale and garlic as our bumper crop this fall, while adding lots of hay, compost, and cardboard to existing plants in the garden to encourage growth throughout the fall (our broccoli, swiss chard, kale, cauliflower, tomato, squash, eggplant, potato, and celery plants are all still growing strong!). For fresh rounds of plants like kale, we
to protect the immature plants and, later when the weather really dips, to protect mature plants from the elements:
Here are some baby kale plants waking up in a cold frame:
Inside, we've also rotated our crop in our
, starting some various salad sprouts as well as more lettuce.
Studies have found that by
. Insulating the ducts helps to maintain the desirable temperature without allowing any air to enter or escape and disturb the equilibrium being achieved. To that end, today we
joint in the basement to prevent air leaks and ensure the forced air makes it upstairs all winter long. (You can also insulate your entire ducts; see how
Inside the main house, we'll be
; sealing leaks in windows and doors, and exploring new ways to increase the efficiency of our kitchen-dwelling wood stove.
Got a great winter-ready tip to share? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At our farm stand this week, we're featuring the following while supplies last:
- Corn (several varieties)
- String beans
- Tomato (several varieties)
- Herbs (several varieties)
- Potatoes (several varieties)
- Swiss Chard
mulch gardening system, which retains moisture and nutrients for the plants even in times of drought. Between the mulch gardening and rainwater catchment setups (and our unbelievable cast of interns) we've had less work and more bounty. That's something we can all feel good about.
|Companion plant: pole beans climb a corn plant.|
|Scarlet, center, Bernadette and Delores work the grounds for us.|
|Destiny's Child, far left, and Scooter, far right.|
|Pole String Beans|