Sunday, November 23, 2008

Garlic and Cover crops

I soak my garlic in rain water (or compost tea if i have it) for 24 hours before planting. Doing so hydrates the cloves and signals them to wake up and start growing. I did it this past Monday in anticipation of planting on Tuesday but the temperature dropped into the low 20's (extreme for November here in Georgia) so I had to postpone the planting until today. I didn't want them to rot so Tuesday I drained off the water and covered the container to retain the humidity and keep the cloves hydrated. When i got them out to separate the cloves this morning many had started to grow roots and shoots! They were eager to get on with their jobs of turning, air, water, light and minerals into health-giving food.
I planted them about 4 " apart in soil that i tilled lightly. I just hold the cloves in my fingers and push them into the soil a couple of inches deep. Last fall i bought enough bulbs to plant an acre when i only had a couple of hundred square feet of beds dedicated to garlic. I ended up planting some in beds that had been recently seeded with clover and rye for a cover crop. Much to my surprise this spring, the garlic was growing well among the cover crop and ended up producing very nice bulbs. So this time i over-seeded the beds with new zealand white clover that i inoculated with nitrogen producing bacteria.

Since this was the first year growing a garden here at the Funny Farm much of the soil is not yet in the best condition. Some of the beds have produced 2-3 crops this year. In parts of the garden the soil is still lacking in organic matter so i am concentrating on improving the soil this fall and winter before planting crops next spring. In the worst beds i tilled in 4" of fresh horse manure (we get it free from the Atlanta Mounted Police Patrol stables) and sowed clover and rye which I will till in next spring. I sowed the clover and rye in the rest of the beds which i will also till in next spring. I never leave a bed without something growing in it because the soil microorganisms need growing roots to keep them active and doing their jobs converting minerals and organic matter into compounds that plants can use for food or feeding on those pesky disease organisms. It is much easier to keep the soil healthy than it is to constantly fight pests and diseases.
That is the basis of growing organically. Work with mother nature not against her.
Happy Holiday Ya'll.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Answer to a Question about Mushrooms

Country Girl asked the following question about mushrooms-
We have millions of mushrooms on our land but I have yet to try (or dare) and identify them. I am curious if it is easier to learn to identify or be safe and plant your own.
Here is my take on that.First thing is you don't have to be able to identify all the mushrooms you see, only the ones that are good to eat. In any particular region of the country there are only a few and they usually have very distinct features making them pretty easy to identify. I suggest getting involved with a local mushroom club, befriending the mycologist professor at your local land grant university or finding someone nearby who knows what good edibles are native to your area.
I am fascinated by fungi and like to try to identify the ones i find. Believe me, it is not easy to do. I have 5 mushroom I.D. books but there are so many different mushrooms out there that i rarely find the ones i've collected in my books. Also there is much variability in the appearance of an individual within a species so the picture in the book may or may not resemble the specimen i happened to collect.
Some of the best edible mushrooms we are not able to cultivate, particularly the mycorrhizal species such as chanterelles (top photo). Mycorrhizal mushrooms live in symbiosis with the roots of specific tree species. The good thing about them is they grow in association with living trees so they can be found year after year in the same place. A decay mushroom such as the oyster mushroom (bottom photo) disappears once it has consumed all the carbon from the dead tree it colonizes so you have to keep hunting for new locations as the old ones disappear.
So if your goal is cultivate a crop that provides you with high quality protein and huge health benefits by all means grow your own. I highly recommend Paul Stamets book Mycelium Running as a resource for learning how to grow your own.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Investment in Mushroom Futures is Paying Off

Last fall and winter we purchased some mushroom dowel spawn from Fungi Perfecti and inoculated some sweetgum logs. Sweetgum trees are the first hardwood species to colonize abandoned fields or nowadays, abandoned building lots. They are plentiful, considered to be weed trees, not useful for firewood because the grain is very twisted making the logs hard to split. They also happen to be very appetizing to fungi, especially shitake (Lentinula edodes) and lions mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushroom fungi.
About a week ago we got about 2 " of rain, the first rain in a month. It was perfectly timed for mushroom stimulation along with cooler fall temperatures.
It took about 10 days for the mushrooms to appear. It was tremendously exciting to go out to the stack of logs and see those beautiful things sprouting out. Some of them were huge compared to any other shitakes i've seen. We harvested 1.5 pounds of shitakes and just 2 lions manes.
This was the first time we had eaten lions manes. What a treat that was. We sauteed them in butter with some garlic. They had the texture and flavor of lobster. Deeelllissshhhusss!
Here's a tip about shitakes we learned from Paul Stamets. Placing them in the sun, gill sides up for about 6 hours will greatly increase their vitamin D content making them even more nutritious.
Invest in mushrooms- safer than banks.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


We first started growing komatsuna greens a few years ago because they were described in the Johnny's Seed catalog as Asian summer greens. Many of the greens in the brassica family (cabbage, kale, collards, tatsoi) bolt or start flowering in the long days of summer. Komatsuna does not. In fact we have had some plants keep producing for a whole year. They will start flowering in late spring.
They grow great in the summer heat here in the south and they will withstand light freezes during our increasingly mild winters (a benefit of global warming i guess). At first we harvested them by cutting off the whole plant and letting it grow back from the middle. In the fall it took too long for them to grow back. Now we harvest the outer leaves like one does with collards, leaving the center to continue to grow. This summer, after several harvests we had a problem with bacteria getting into the cut stems and causing the plants to rot. I don't think we'll have that problem with our fall crop.
Our customers really love the flavor of these greens. Our neighbor Rodney was not familiar with them nor are many people (We do not know of anyone else who grows these). He asked if he could try a taste so we pulled off a leaf and we ate a piece of the thick fleshy stem. It was juicy, tender and delicious. Now we use the stems in place of celery (which takes too long to grow so we don't) and cook the greens as you would collards or kale. Robbyn, i think this would be a good green to add to your list of dual purpose greens. It should do well in zone 9.

Eat your vegetables, especially greens, you can't eat too many!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Perennial Onions

Last fall a friend gave us a flat of welsh onions. I didn't know anything about them but, hey, they were free food so i planted them in the garden. They are a bunching onion. They continually divide themselves making a bunch of up to a dozen stems. In the fall and winter we cut the tops and used them like chives. I wasn't quite sure when or how they should be harvested for the onions which are not bulbs but more like spring onions. In the spring they flowered and i figured the tops would die down after that. But no, they kept on dividing! After the seeds ripened (which i collected) that stalk did die. We started pulling up some bunches through the spring. They have a mild flavor. I left the rest to grow through the summer.
A couple of weeks ago i decided to dig up the remaining bunches, divide them and plant out the divisions. Perennial onions work well as part of a permaculture. With the economy collapsing, gas (when you can get it) getting increasingly expensive and the future in doubt we want to become as self-sufficient as possible. What if we can no longer afford to buy seeds from seed companies in Maine or New Mexico. From now on we are only going to grow these onions. We planted over 100 new clumps from the divisions and potted up a bunch to sell at The Urban Gardener. In the spring we'll sow the seeds and set out some more.
For more information on welsh onions take a look the U. of Florida fact sheet.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I am not simple are you?

In an excellent article by Juan Santos & Leslie Radford about the possibility that the commandeered and bulldozed South Central L.A. Urban community Farm might resprout the authors describe the growers there as " simple farmers and gardeners ...". Why do people persist in describing farmers as "simple" implying they are unsophisticated and perhaps stupid. 
What is "simple" about farming? To be successful one needs to be equal parts scientist, artist, magician, engineer, politician, marketing expert, business manager.
Those "simple" farmers organized a powerful fight to counter the shameful actions of the powers that be and they just might succeed in winning their "simple" farm back and simply start feeding their community fresh nutritious food again instead of beef from cows that are fed waste potato chips, cocao shells and M&M's.
Try it before you marginalize it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stocking Up!

A long time ago when we were first married we started our first organic vegetable garden. We grew lots of vegetables. We both came from country families who still had big gardens and preserved the bounty in various ways for consumption in the months when there were no fresh vegetables. Robin has always thought she was born in the wrong time. She believes she should have been a settler riding west in a covered wagon, wearing a bonnet and smoking a corn cob pipe.
Anyway, we bought a canner, a bunch of cases of canning jars and lids and "put up" our bounty of tomatoes, green beans, squash and pickles. We moved from place to place in pursuit of education and later jobs. We didn't always have a garden or a garden big enough to grow excess for "putting up" but we always carried those jars with us just in case...
Now 35 years later we need those jars! We are happy as we can be to be able to fill them up again with the fruits of our labors. Green beans, bread and butter pickles and what used to be called spaghetti sauce but which is now called marinara.
It is extremely satisfying to be able to make a great tasting, nutritious marinara using only ingredients we grew on The Funny Farm. I'm sure i've mentioned it before, I watch the food network way too much but i have learned techniques for making food taste awesome. Like fire - roasting tomatoes and peppers. That smokey flavor and caramelized sugars taste fantastic in sauces, stews, and salads. So fire roast we did. Peppers which we froze, tomatoes which we canned, both as ingredients in the marinara and all by themselves.
We love spaghetti so marinara was one of the only vegetable based things we bought. 
Now we don't have to do that any more. One less thing that has to be brought from halfway across the world.
Did I mention we have a gallon and a half of tomato hooch a-brewing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spreading the Gospel

I was working in the front yard garden today when a van stopped, a woman got out and asked if i had any vegetables for sale. Sure, I said we have lots of vegetables for sale. She said she definitely wanted tomatoes because she didn't trust the tomatoes from the grocery store. As she was deciding what else she wanted she told me that she has been following the progress of the garden since we first tilled it up and she was inspired to plant a small vegetable garden in her front yard.
That was the most exciting thing anyone has said to me in a long time. Our friends and neighbors, Rodney and Charlie said they too were inspired to plant a vegetable garden. They said that i shouldn't worry that they would still be buying vegetables from me in the future.
My thinking is that if everyone grew their own food and i never sold another thing i would be the happiest man in the world.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

tomato variety evaluations - The Rest

1. Rutgers - this tomato was developed in the 60's for disease resistance. It has good flavor, juiciness, and size. I will always grow a few of these for the sake of variety.
2. Taxi (pictured) - Taxi is a yellow medium sized variety. It is determinate which means that it eventually stops growing up so it works well in containers. The flavor is mild. It is juicy and attractive. When you cut it open there is a nice pink blush against the  otherwise yellow flesh. It ripens early. This year we had a lot of problems with the fruit rotting before it ripens. We have not had this problem in the past. We will grow a few of them in the future.
3. Arkansas Traveller- this is a medium sized tomato, dark pink in color. It has a mild, non-acidic flavor that some people don't care for. It does ok but not a star for us.
4. Tigerelle- This one has golfball sized fruit that taste good but they crack badly and the striping on the green fruit doesn't really hold up when it ripens. I find no good reason to grow it again.
5. Mortgage Lifter- a notorious heirloom but it doesn't do that great for us and there are other better tasting varieties.
6. Brandywine- I have never figured out what all the fuss is about.
7. Japanese Trifele (pictured)- This heirloom was much hyped in the seed catalogs this spring. As i said in an earlier post i had high hopes for it. What a disappointment. The fruit looks interesting at first but then it splits, gets disease, or is misshapen. Sadly it has little or no flavor at all. Tastes like water.
8. Tomato berry (pictured)- This is a new hybrid variety about the size of a golfball and shaped like a strawberry. It has good disease resistance  and it is very prolific. The problem is the fruits are hard and not very juicy . they are ok as paste tomatoes but will not replace Roma as a paste tomato nor grape tomatoes or sun gold as novelty tomatoes.
Next post will be about preserving the excess tomatoes. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tomato variety evaluations - The Best of the Best

This year we trialled many varieties of tomatoes we have never grown before to see which ones would do well here at The Funny Farm. We got most of them from our friend Daniel who farms at Gaia Gardens a few miles from us. - These are our favorites. The photos are in the same order as the following descriptions
1. Black from Tula - Everyone who has eaten this one agrees that it is the best tasting tomato they have ever had. Juicy, acidic, flavorful. It is beautiful as well. Dark red/black on the bottom with green shoulders. One slice covers a whole slice of bread. Good producer not too much problem with blight.
2. Amana Orange - Most people really like the flavor of this one too. Kind of fruity, not too acidic, juicy. Beautiful solid orange colored large, bread covering sized fruit. Prolific and not too much blight. The minor complaint i have is that it is hard to harvest. If you try to pull it off the vine the whole cluster tears off. The best thing to do is to cut the stem with pruners or a knife.
3. Eva Purple Ball - Don't know why this one is called purple ball because the fruit is pink. They flavor is really good. Medium acid, lots of flavor, juicy. The fruit rarely has blemishes.It is about the size of a baseball. Thick fleshy stems, good producer. Not much of a problem with blight.
4. Big Beef - This is a hybrid but it is very flavorful, juicy, and sandwich sized. It is a very heavy producer with little blight problems. This is our main crop.
5. Juliette - Small, oval shaped, meaty flesh. this a good tomato for making sauce. Flavor is good and it is amazingly prolific. We will always grow a few of these.

Next post will rate the middle of the pack.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Robin found this beetle on the floor of our den this morning . She was scared to touch it so she covered it with a bowl and called me to remove it.This one is a female. The male has horns. It is a kind of rhinoceros beetle. I took it outside and released it in the garden.
It took off somewhere.
Dynastes tityus

Tomato Leaf Blight

Cassie wants to know what tomato leaf blight looks like so i'm posting some photos. Here in the South the blight is inevitable because of the heat and humidity which make ideal conditions for it to get started and spread.
Many heirloom varieties are highly susceptible to it. That's why hybrid tomatoes were developed, to breed in resistance. We grow Big Beef as our main crop of slicing tomatoes. They are pretty resistant.
Making sure your soil is biologically active, high in organic matter and contains all the macro and micro-nutrients the tomatoes need makes the plants grow strongly and helps them resist the onslaught of the blight.

Spraying really good actively aerated compost tea regularly when the hot humid weather is predicted is very helpful in postponing the arrival and severity of the blight infestation. We have used Serenade Organic Fungicide ( the active ingredient is a bacteria called bacillus subtilus) and it helps some.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Tomatoes are starting to ripen now. We've had a few mater sammmiches this week. Yummmm!. My favorite so far is Eva Purple Ball. Unblemished, not very acidic, meaty. Tigerelle has rather small green striped fruit that split around the middle. Won't grow them again. Amana Orange is very flavorful and quite large but cracks at the top which lets in rots pretty quickly. Speaking of rot... we've been having very humid weather with afternoon storms almost every day for the past 10 days or so. I'm not complaining about the rain because we are still in a rainfall deficit here. But these are prime conditions for tomato leaf blight which is busting out all over the plants. I brewed some compost tea over night to spray on the tomato plants to suppress the blight but it has been raining all day so far so i can't spray. The tea is only good for 12 more hours so i hope it stops raining soon otherwise i'll have to brew some more tomorrow. In the mean time the blight is spreading by the force of the raindrops.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Funny Farm Update

We're in full swing now. The flower field is busting loose with a riot of color. The sunflowers must have tapped into the moisture and nutrients in the septic drain field. They're huge. 
The front garden is starting to produce. We had some problems earlier with a magnesium deficiency. I was able to correct it with a foliar spray of epsom salts and soil applications as well. The leaves of the peppers were all curled up but they are fine now and starting to bloom.
 The neighbors have come around to our side now as they watch the garden grow. People who walk by are always complimenting us . A woman driving a school bus stopped one day and said she will be back to buy tomatoes.
Damn squash vine borers are taking out the squash now. I'm on guard to protect the zucchini. I started the squash in the green house to get a head start on the borers and it worked well. We harvested lots of squash before the infestation. I'm cutting them out of the vines and destroying them to reduce future populations.
Now that Kitty is gone the chipmunks are eating the strawberries before they even ripen. Penny needs to come out of retirement and get to work on that situation. Fat chance of that happening.
Wild fermentation is in full swing with kraut and more hooch, sunflower this time. I tasted some of the young hooch yesterday and it is pretty tasty and strong. 
MY landscape crew is building a deck down by the pond in anticipation of my 55th birthday celebration coming up on July 19. 
Promises to be a fun time for sure.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hooch0ff 2008

Yesterday our friend Robert "Hoochman" Hamilton came out to the Funny Farm to teach a group of us how to make hooch. Robert has been sharing his outrageously delicious and potent hooch with us at gatherings throughout the past year or so. His work is comparable to the finest wines or port in the world (at least according to our uneducated, inexperienced palates). We have sampled hooch made from pineapple guave, jasmine tea, buttermilk and many things in between. Some are sweet and full-bodied, some are dry and fruity, some are simple in flavor some are quite complex.
We felt it was time to learn a new skill. Seven of us chopped, mashed, and/or juiced 6 different ingredients or combinations of ingredients from which to make our first batch of hooch. We did Carrot/orange/star anise, Cantaloupe, Mango/Lime, Strawberry/lime/chocolate mint, Red Tea, Black/blue/raspberry, Pineapple, Banana/strawberry. Robert's method is very simple. Mash the fruit. Add enough water to be able to pour it into a bottle (boil the water to get rid of the chlorine so it won't kill the yeast). Add 2 pounds of sugar per gallon of fruit and water. If you are not using any acidic ingredients like citrus you add some Acid Blend (available at your favorite wine making supply store) 1 tablespoon per gallon. Pour the mixture into the bottles leaving a little space at the top for some yeast. If needed add a tablespoon of When the temperature of the mix is between 90º and 75º add in distillers yeast , 1 teaspoon/gal. mixed in a little water. Turn the bottle over a couple of times to mix in the yeast. Cover the top of the bottle with a folded over paper towel and secure with a rubber band.
Robert says that in about 2-3 weeks the major activity of the yeast will be complete. Here is the point to taste the young wine to see if it needs more sugar to bring out the fruit flavors or (if you like it dry) to allow it to finish fermenting as is. At that time we will plug the bottles with an air lock and allow to finish fermenting for about 2-3 months. When to bubbles stop flowing through the airlock we will remove it and cork or otherwise seal the bottles for further aging (or guzzle them down immediately which is what many of us will probably do).
At our annual Winter Solstice Party we will be breaking out our hooch for sharing and comparing. Someone will be crowned Hooch-maker Numero Uno and will win a prize (to be determined at a later date)
If the shit hits the fan and we have to hunker down here at the Funny Farm we figure we'll be able to use our hooch as trading stock to get things we need. Everybody needs hooch!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

R.I.P. Kitty

It is a sad day here at The Funny Farm. We awoke to find our beloved Kitty had been killed during the night. Could have been one of the mean dogs that we have seen wandering loose around the neighborhood. Could have been the fox that has been spotted out by the pond  I guess. Anyway whatever did the deed cannot be blamed. It was doing what comes naturally.
Kitty was a killer too. When we lived in the city she killed many chipmunks and proudly left them for us at the door. Out here on the farm she took out many voles and mice down in what came to be known as the killing field. She was doing us a service by eliminating what we think of as pests.
I buried her in the corner of the killing field so she can continue on with the eternal hunt.
The circle of life goes round and round.
We miss you Kitty!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Worm Wrangling Update

We've harvested 3 times so far and started 6 new bins. There are still worms squeezing up through the screen. How many more are there? I wonder about the drive and commitment
of these laggards. Will they do their jobs and eat quickly and efficiently or are they better suited for fish or chicken food?
Time will tell!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Worm Wrangling

According to my meticulous(?) records i have no idea when i started my first 2 worm bins. However a search through my previous posts revealed that i started them on April 19th which was 32 days ago. Wow, those worms were hungry! I predicted that it would take 60-90 days for them to finish off the materials in the bin. Some digging in the bin at the end of last week revealed that it is time to harvest them and start some new bins. The method i used the last time i harvested a bin was to shovel the material onto a table, let the worms crawl to the bottom to escape the light (they hate light. Can worms hate? I hope not!), scrape off the top inch or 2 of castings and repeat over and over until most of the castings have been separated from the worms. 
It took hours to do each bin!
Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee showed us a much simpler method which i employed this time. Since the worms have consumed almost all of the food in the bin they are looking (hoping? Can worms hope?) for something else to eat. So the idea is to put some food on top that the worms will crawl up into to begin eating. Here is the amazing part!
One puts a window screen on top of the bin and then places the fresh food on top of the screen and, believe it or not , the worms will squeeze up through the teeny tiny little holes in the screen to get to the fresh food. 
After as couple of days one can then dump the worms into a new bin and start the process over again. When i removed the screen there were lots of hungry worms waiting in line ( well not really in a line) for their turns to squeeze through the screen and get to the food so i replaced the screen and covered it with some more food. We'll wait and see how many times it takes to get all of the worms out of the old bin and into new bins.
I can only imagine how hungry they must be after having all the contents of their guts squeezed out as they squirm through that teeny tiny little hole. More poop for me!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bugscaping Practiced Here

We like to encourage our friends to do our work for us here at The Funny Farm so we provide them with food and drink as an incentive to help us out. That's why we practice Bugscaping!. We grow specific plants to attract beneficial insects to do battle with the evil pestilence that comes out of nowhere to devastate our crops and piss us off. We're talking about flowering plants, particularly those whose flowers are in the form of umbels (you know shaped like an umbrella). Okay who has umbels? Dill, yarrow, queen anne's lace are some who do.  We want flowers with lots of nectar for the beneficials to feed on easily. Other good ones are goldenrod in the late summer (not an umbel), garlic chives, cilantro as it transforms itself into coriander. The key is to grow lots of different flowers and have something blooming in all seasons. We grow greens through the winter here in Georgia so in early spring we let some of the kale and mustard go to seed to feed the early appearing beneficials. We adapted this from Dr. Richard McDonald's farmscaping concept, scaling it down to garden size. He has a crazy but informative web site that explains the concept in detail and has lists of good plants to grow.
Whom do we want to invite to join our army? Wasps, flies, lacewings, beetles, bees, lightening bugs ( that's right they are predators too). And don't forget the birds. They eat lots of insects like beetles and worms. When we gardened in the city there were lots of mockingbirds around. I once saw one pluck a tomato worm right off a tomato and swallow it down. How cool is that? Birds need bushes and houses for nesting sites so keep some areas wild for them.
Who needs chemicals when there is a huge army out there just waiting to enlist in our army. Fight bugs not people!
Oh yea, the Nanking cherries are ripe. Yum!

Monday, May 12, 2008

All We Need Are the Chickens

We finished up the hen house and chicken run. We divided the run into 2 paddocks so one can recover while the chickens churn up the other. We made nest boxes accessible from outside for egg gathering and there is a hinged board on the outside too that drops down so the boxes can be cleaned from the outside as well. The pop out door can also be opened from the outside by pulling a rope that runs through a pulley. Can you tell i want to spend as little time as possible in the hen house?
Does anyone know how old they should be when you clip their wings to keep them from flying over the fence?