Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Greenhouse Project Update

Sunday i finished the bed on the south side of the greenhouse and planted it with a variety of different vegetables which i will talk about in a little while. Today my friend and mentee Chesley came over and we prepped the north side bed and installed the paver stone path. It took a total of 10 person-hours to complete this little project. It cost no money because i had everything we needed.

I want to point out a couple of seemingly minor details that will have an effect on how things grow and on the management of the space.

Notice that the stones lining inside of the bed on the south side (right side in the photo) are taller that the stones lining the bed on the north side. On the south side i want the sun to hit the stones to warm them and the adjacent soil. If i used tall stones on the north side 8-12" of the soil would be shaded by them due to the low angle of the sun this time of year.

I sowed lettuce seeds along the stones in the south bed. Lettuce will benefit from the warmer microclimate adjacent to the stones.

In the corners and around the bench post there are spaces where pavers would not fit. I know from experience that unwanted plants will find their way into the greenhouse (like bermuda grass, ugh!). I plan to plant something tough, probably welsh onions, in those nooks and crannies to beat mother nature to the punch.

Practicing what i preach i have a plan in mind for the space. The intent here is to supplement what is growing outside during times when it is really cold and the plants are covered and at the end of the winter season while newly planted crops outdoors are beginning to grow. The goal is to grow food from many different plant families. Different families of plants accumulate nutrients in different concentrations. By having a wide variety we will maximize our nutrient intake when we eat the plants. i planted everything closely together. First we will eat the thinnings. Then we will eat the plants when they are still small, in the case of greens by harvesting the outer leaves. Everything from this space will be eaten raw.

Permaculturists, this space is in zone 1, just outside the back door, easily accessible from the house.

When will things be ready to harvest? I have no idea really. It will depend on the weather. The more sunny days we get the faster it will happen. If i had to guess i would say it will be 2 months before we get much of anything from the space.

Next fall i will plant the space in october, so things will have tine to grow before cold weather sets in. Of course with global climate change one cannot count on history to predict what the weather will be next month let alone next year.

I plan to start some tomatoes in the greenhouse in march. I hope to be able to have ripe tomatoes at least a month early. I will plant a determinate, early maturing variety called Taxi which i have grown before. It is a very tasty, sweet, yellow variety. Determinate means it grows to a certain height, 3-4', and stops unlike indeterminate varieties that act like vines and keep on growing all season. I will plant some heat loving peppers and eggplant too. Also i will probably try some pink-eyed purple hull crowder peas as a legume cover crop late in the summer. They love heat and are drought tolerant so should do well.

It has been very gratifying to do this project. This time of year it is good for me to do some physical work that moves us forward.It helps my psyche as well. We will see what happens.

I will report back when something comes up.

Chinese cutting celery - transplanted volunteer seedlings from the garden
Dinosaur kale - left over starter plants
Lettuce - Jericho, Outredgeous Red
Arugula - Astro,
Carrot - Purple Dragon, Scarlet Nantes, Red Core Chantenay
Asian Greens - Hon Tsai Tai, Red Komatsuna
Spinach - 7-green smooth leaf
Fennel - Zefa Fino
Welsh Onion - saved seed
Chard - Barese dwarf
Cilantro - Santo
Radish - d'Avignon
Radish Greens - Hong Vit
Mustard - Osaka Purple
Leek - King Richard

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Going Forward - Permaculture Leads the Way

I woke up this morning to a record cold 15ยบ. All of our growing beds are covered with frost cloth however I know some things will have suffered some damage. It will be a couple of days before i will uncover to determine the extent of the damage. I know from experience that we will still have plenty of stuff to eat and maybe some things will be in good enough condition to take to market on Saturday.

In the mean time I was diddling around on the internet (i mean doing research) this morning watching videos on permaculture. In several of them people were growing vegetables in the ground in the winter in unheated greenhouses. It dawned on me right then that I should be doing the same. When we first moved here we repurposed an old sales tent from our garden center, turning it into a small greenhouse which we have been using to protect potted plants, grow some microgreens and to grow out vegetable starts for planting in the garden.

A few years ago I designed a passive solar greenhouse to replace the one we currently have. It would be tricked out with all kinds of features. It would cost a good bit on money to build too. I planned on getting that done one day.

Palm to the forehead time :) Go out to the greenhouse where it is warm and get to work preparing some beds and start growing now! You have every thing you need. Geez, why didn't I think of that before.

So that is what i did today! Woohoo! That sure beat sitting inside all day putzing around on twitter and facebook. Okay, I did a little of that too!. ADDICT! Well, the idea did sort of originate from a tweet i read this morning :-p

I started by pulling up the landscape fabric. Next I added some worm castings and other soil amendments and tilled those in. Then I used the broadfork to loosen up the subsoil. I started lining the beds with paving stones we had left over from various landscape jobs. The stones serve 2 functions: they allow me to add more amendments to the beds to raise them up higher and make them more fertile and they provide thermal mass that will capture the heat from the sun during the day and reradiate it at night which will keep the soil just a little warmer. Every little bit helps.

Next I will prepare the bed on the other side of the greenhouse the same way. I will install a paving stone path down the middle which will provide more thermal mass to retain and release heat.
I will still have plenty shelf space to continue using the greenhouse as i have been. In addition I will be able to grow and harvest fresh vegetables even in the coldest times of the year. I have pea tendrils growing in there now in flats and they have not been damaged at all by last night's record cold.

In a few days the space will be ready for planting. I inventoried my seeds yesterday and i have lots of cold tolerant varieties i can plant. I plan to make a seed mix, scatter it on the beds rake them in, water them and see who fares best.

I never expected to be planting at this time of year. It feels great!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting the Most from Your Garden

Seed catalogs can be very seductive. After all the purpose of a seed catalog is to sell you seeds, right? I have been a victim of their allure. Two summers ago i had an image in mind of how my fall garden would look, beds full of leafy greens we could harvest all winter for sale at the market and for us to eat all winter. I started going through the catalogs, making a list of what i wanted to grow. I placed my order, excited about getting the fall garden started. Then the seeds arrived. Damn, look at all the purple vegetables i ordered. I had seeds for purple cauliflower, purple mustard, purple kohlrabi, red cabbage, purple broccoli, not what i had envisioned my fall garden to be at all.

It is very important to have a goal for your garden before you start placing those seed orders. And you need to check your order against your goal! We have 2 goals here at the Funny Farm. The first is to grow a variety of nutritious food for our own consumption all year round. The second is to grow crops we can profitably sell at our year round farmers markets. Each gardener will have her own goals based on what she wants to get out of her garden. You might be a tomato lover who wants to have fresh tomatoes as long as possible during the growing season. Your goal might be to grow favorite vegetables that are not readily available at your local markets. You might be a pickle connoissuer or a raw foodist.

Once you have established a goal for your garden you can begin to determine what to grow to meet your goal. Before you dig into the catalogs you need to ask yourself some questions.
What crops that meet my criteria will grow well in my area?
In what season do they grow best?
How long does it take to produce a crop?
How long will the crop produce?
How much of a particular crop do I want?
Will i consume them only fresh or preserve some for the winter?
How much space does the crop need?

Once you have answered the questions for each crop you can develop a plan for your garden.

Planning in Time and Space

We have 3 overlapping growing seasons here at The Funny Farm. A short spring season, a long hot summer, and usually a decent fall season. Planting for spring usually starts in late February/early March. Many of the crops we plant then are not harvested until May or June; potatoes and carrots are 2 examples. We plant our summer crops as early as we can to get the most out of them before the heat and drought take their toll. Our last frost date is around tax time, April 15th. To have a successful fall season we have to plant in August and September, still prime season for lots of our summer crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. It takes careful planning to get the timing and space allocations coordinated properly. Having a clear goal for your garden helps when making decisions about when to plant and what to sacrifice during the transition from one season to the next.

If your goal is to grow nutritious fresh food all year you might have to pull up your declining tomatoes in early September to make room for fall greens that will last into the winter. If your goal is to have fresh tomatoes until Thanksgiving ( a possibility here many years) you might have to forgo a fall planting.

Other Considerations
It is a foregone conclusion that all of us want to improve our gardens every year. This current year we set out to double our output. We are well on our way to achieving that. Through better planning we chose more productive crops and varieties, we scheduled succession plantings better and we worked on building our soil. We used a soil test to determine what nutrients we needed to add to the soil to get the best growth from our plants while improving their nutritional value. We used mulches and cover crops to add organic matter to the soil to strengthen the soil food web. We used interplantings (companion planting) to help reduce pest problems. We increased biodiversity on the farm by planting more varieties that attract beneficial insects and by letting more "weeds" do their thing and by letting more areas go "wild".

We also added to our future food security by planting more blueberries, apple trees and pear trees. We multiplied our perennial food sources such sunchokes, leeks, herbs and welsh onions by dividing them and planting them into more marginal spaces developing our food forest.

Thoughtful planning is key to making best use of the increasingly limited resources available to us in these troubled times. We teach a class on gardening planning scheduled for Sunday January 9th 1-4 p.m. Click the link below to get more info and register.

Register for Winter Organic Garden Workshop Series in Stone Mountain, GA  on Eventbrite

Thursday, December 2, 2010

5 Week Intensive Organic Workshop

We are again offering our 5 Week Intensive Gardening Workshop Starting the first Sunday February 6th and running every other Sunday through Sunday April 3rd. We will be exploring the latest methods for growing nutrient dense food using all natural techniques.
5 Week Intensive Organic Gardening Workshop
W/ Duane Marcus
Taking Control of Your Food!
This is a hands-on workshop. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced gardener wanting to convert from conventional to organic methods, whether you have a sunny townhouse patio or a 3 acre lot, this class will put you on the path to taking control of your food future.
  • Week 1 - Organic Gardening Foundations - Soil Food Web, composting, nutrient dense food and nutrient cycling
  • Week 2 - Garden planning- what to plant, when to plant it and how to plant it
  • Week 3 - Seed starting, soil preparation, cover crops, transplanting
  • Week 4- Pest control strategies - putting Mother Nature to work to control insects, diseases and weeds. Insect i.d., biological controls
  • Week 5 -Permaculture Strategies in your garden- Food forests, growing edible mushrooms, edible landscapes, rainwater harvesting, perennial foods
The classes will be on Sundays from 1 - 4 and run every other Sunday through Sunday April 3rd.
Each class will be divided between classroom work and work in the garden
The cost for the workshop is $300.00. Class is limited to 10 students

Register for 5 Week Intensive Organic Gardening Workshop in Stone Mountain, GA  on Eventbrite

Winter Organic Gardening Workshop Series

Our Winter Organic Gardening workshop series is now available for registration. Join us to learn how to take control of your food needs for yourself and your family by growing some of you own.

  • Organic Gardening 101 - Sunday Jan. 9th. Learn how to start your own organic garden. Topics covered will be soil preparation, the soil food web, growing nutrient dense food, garden planning, and crop selection
  • Starting Plants from Seed - Sunday Jan 16th. Get over your fear of starting plants from seeds. Topics covered will be choosing the right soil for seed starting, which crops are best started from seed, timing of seed starting.
  • All Natural Pest Control Strategies - Sunday Jan 23rd. Now is the time to start your pest control planning. Topics covered will be learning the good bugs from the bad, crop planning for pest resistance, attracting beneficial insects, organic pest control options.
Register for Winter Organic Garden Workshop Series in Stone Mountain, GA  on Eventbrite