Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Making Gourmet Compost

Compost is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. If the green matter you are composting is lacking in nutrients the resulting compost will be lacking in nutrients. If the manure you use comes from animals that are regularly fed antibiotics the antibiotics will end up in the compost. I read yesterday that plants can take them up and they appear in the leaves. Yikes! If the compost is missing the microorganisms in the soil food web that make nutrients available to the plants the nutrients are bound up in the compost.
I do the following things to be sure my compost is doing what i expect it to do. First i make sure my garden is well fed so that the plants (including the weeds) have all the nutrients i and my compost need. Second, i add kelp meal and local granite sand to the compost to compensate for any missing nutrients. I get my manure from people i know who feed their animals a natural, nutritious, and healthy diet. I have my compost tested by Soil Food Web, Inc. to be sure all the organisms in the soil food web are present. I study my compost under a microscope to see if all the organisms are present. I then add some older compost to all my new piles to be sure the organisms will be in the new compost. You can get soil and organic matter from old undisturbed forests to add to your pile if you are not sure all the organisms are present. I monitor the internal temperature of the pile to determine when it needs turning and when it is ready to be used. A hot pile needs to reach 135º and remain there for 3 days in order to kill weed seeds and harmful bacteria. It needs to be turned 3-5 times with the temperature returning to 135º each time to insure all of the pile gets into the middle and heats up properly.
That's how you make gourmet compost!
Go here to see a graph of compost temperature over the 1st week and a half.

When Communities work!

Last saturday i went with 2 of my friends to a workshop on starting a diversified orchard. We met in front of our former store in East Atlanta Village. When we arrived at Love is Love Farm, the site of the workshop, I realized I had left my camera on the wall in front of the store. It was too late to go back and i was sure my camera was gone for good. It was an expensive digital SLR and, given the fact that i am unemployed, i knew that i would not be able to replace it. Oh, well...
Around midnight that night i got an email from one of the people i went to the workshop with telling me there was a post on the East Atlanta Village Buzz website saying someone found my camera! I immediately went on the site and read the post. The poster said a friend of his had found the camera. I asked the poster to please ask the person who found the camera to call me.
The next day my wife went to work at Slush Organic market which is next door to our former store where i had left the camera the day before. A few minutes after she arrived an old friend of ours came in and said he had found my camera! Jim has been down on his luck for a few years now so he could have used the money he could have gotten from selling or pawning the camera but, being an honest person and a fellow photographer, he was determined to return it to its rightful owner.
He was very excited when he found out it was mine and he was able to return it to me. Jim is a great friend and East Atlanta is a community that works!
I am blessed!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I am watching the food network while i search the internet and play with the cat. There was a guy on tv just now who went into a store (?) called Freezable Feast i think where he selected a recipe, went through a kind of buffet or salad bar line and chose the ingredients from the recipe and combined them in a dish. Lasagna was to be the eventual dish i believe. Apparently he then was supposed to take this home and put it in his freezer. I assume at some point in the future he is supposed to remove it from the freezer and cook it somehow and then eat it.
I just googled them and their website makes no sense. Maybe they are now out of business. The tv show was shot a few years ago. No listing in the houston yellow pages.


i have a row of top hat blueberries that is always covered in weeds. I finally decided to do something about it besides pulling weeds from around the blueberries over and over again throughout the year. We had some cardboard that lay on the ground for about a year so it became well-inoculated with fungal mycelium. I dragged that over to the berry row (after weeding one (?) last time) and positioned it around the plants. There were lots of pill bugs attached to it who will shred up the bark under the cardboard (and the cardboard) making it appetizing to the bacteria who will turn it into plant food. My neighbor inexplicably had all the trees on her property cut down. About 18 trees, mostly pine. I was able to get a load of chipped up pine before she figured out she might want it for herself. I spread about 3-4 inches of the chips over the cardboard around the blueberries. The acidity of the pine will help the blueberries. The fungal mycelium will quickly run out from the cardboard and colonize the chips. Mushrooms will sprout one day.
Will this stop the weeds? For a while it will. But the enthusiastic efforts of the organisms in the soil food web will turn the chips and cardboard into soil. The weeds will grow in that soil and the cycle starts again.
P.S. Top hat blueberries are self-fertile thus requiring no additional variety to insure pollination. The plants stay small, about 3'x3' at maturity, making them good for pots, or as part of an edible landscape design, or in a small space where a larger variety might not work. The fruits are large and tasty, full of antioxidants.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nanking Cherry

Prunus tomentosa, nanking cherry is a large shrub maturing about 10' x 10'. It grows pretty fast. I planted a 3 gallon plant 3 years ago and moved it to the Funny Farm last spring. It is about 4 1/2 tall now and produced a lot of good growth last season despite being recently transplanted. It is very drought tolerant. I watered it 2 times last summer, even though it wasn't showing any signs of stress but I had the hose out because the persimmons growing nearby were wilting a little).
It is cold hardy to zone 2 so ya'll who live up in the cold north lands can grow this.
The fruit is smaller that a "regular" cherry. It has a mild flavor. It produces abundantly. I have read on some websites that they require another variety for cross-pollination but mine produce well without any other varieties nearby that bloom at the same time. Hoochman says the seeds germinate readily so i saved some in the refridgerator and planted them in flats a month or so ago. I expect they will come up when the soil warms up.
Mine is growing in partial shade and produces well. This plant would be a good choice for a forest garden by planting it at the edge of the forest. It is a desirable nesting site for a number of birds. Many critters like to eat the fruits. Including me. I'm looking forward to a large enough crop this year to make a gallon or so of hooch.
I told ya it would bloom this week.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Be Fruitful and Multiply

The weather here in the south is crazy! Last week the temperature dropped to 16º. 3 days later it was 70º and has been for the last several days. Next week who knows. Spring will probably come in a rush now. The nanking cherry will probably be blooming by the end of this week. The brassicas we planted last fall are now bolting to seed.
Now we are in a rush to do any transplanting, pruning and dividing before it is too late. Today we divided the thyme, marjoram and oregano to finish out their respective beds. We have a couple of giant fig trees in front of the barn. I guess they must have been planted by the original owners back in the 70's. They have been neglected over the years so the low branches came in contact with the ground and took root. I need to get the big old things back in shape so i used my dingo to dig out some of the large rooted branches that are too close to the drive. I can now have access to the main trees to prune and pick the fruit. I got 2 smaller transplants that went into the front garden to complete the row i started along the street last year. The biggest one i moved with the dingo into a bed of daylilies. The fig clump has a wild grape vine growing in the middle of it so in one fell swoop we turned a bed with single type of edible plant into a 3-dimensional polyculture.
Permaculture in action!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Organic Gardening Workshop

One of our main goals here at the Funny Farm is to teach others how to do what we do. We started our first workshop series yesterday. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day; a perfect beginning! We have 10 people eager to learn how to grow some of their own food the natural way. Most have made some attempt to grow some vegetables but are unfamiliar with organic techniques. We are taking them through the whole process over the 6 week session. We began with the soil. We described the soil food web; what it is; what the organisms are that are essential to making it work; how you manage, support and nurture them. We looked at slides of them and everyone got a turn looking in the microscope to see first hand the abundance of life working diligently under our feet to support the plants that nurture us.
It is tremendously satisfying to me to be able to share the knowledge and experiences i have accumulated over my 30+ years growing organically.
I feel blessed!