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Chelsea Green - Page 2 of 404 - The Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living. : Chelsea Green

Four Perennial Vegetables Perfect for Shady Spots

March 25th, 2014 by jmccharen

Perennial vegetables are a food gardener’s dream. Plant them once, treat them well, and they’ll keep on feeding you year after year.

Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, is the reigning expert on these easy-to-grow crops, and his new DVD takes you on a plant-by-plant tour through his garden in Massachusetts, as well as edible landscapes in Florida and Mexico. If you’re looking for some new crops to liven up your garden and your palate, Toensmeier will show you plants you never dreamed could be dinner.

In this clip from the DVD, Eric introduces four perennial crops that do well in shady spots:

  • Edible Shoot Bamboo – Harvest the young shoots and eat it like asparagus, it’s also a useful plant for making garden stakes and other projects.
  • Giant Fuki – A Japanese vegetable that loves damp shade. Harvest the stalks, boil them, peel them, then add them to soups or tempura.
  • Edible Hosta – Typically sold as a shade-loving ornamental, Hosta is a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia. Harvest the curled shoots that emerge in early spring.
  • Giant Solomon’s Seal – A beautiful ornamental that’s also a delicious vegetable. Harvest the shoots, cut off the leaves which are bitter, and prepare it like asparagus. Solomon’s Seal also produces edible tubers that you can cook up like potatoes.

Watch the clip to learn more about these versatile veggies:

Hemp, Hemp, Hooray! Get Ready for America’s Next Agricultural Revolution

March 24th, 2014 by admin

You can eat it, drink it, read it, tie it, wear it, drive it, live in it, and make money growing it, all while saving the soil and protecting the climate.

What is it?

Hemp. That’s right, hemp.

How can a single plant possibly live up to all this hype? Glad you asked. Here’s just a sampling of what this incredible plant can do: 

 

    • Hemp fibers can be stronger than steel and are found in today’s BMW, Mercedes and Dodge door panels;
    • Hemp plant by-products can be used as a biofuel and, with more research, could create sustainable energy independence in the US. According to a recent study, an acre of hemp can produce power equivalent to a thousand gallons of gasoline;
    • With foot long, soil-restoring taproots that require half the water of a corn crop, hemp can be used as a successful rotational crop;
    • Hemp-fed laying hens can pass on the plant’s impressive essential fatty acid profile (omega-3 and omega-6) into the eggs we eat; and,
    • Hemp can be used as a construction material to build new homes that create a carbon-negative foot print.

Given this impressive list, is it any wonder that after 77 long years of prohibition, hemp supporters across the country are shouting, “Hemp, hemp, hooray!”

Check out this video to see some hemp applications in action. Click here to test your hemp knowledge with our Pop Quiz and to dig even deeper into the History of Hemp.

2014 Farm Bill

In February, President Obama, together with the US Congress, passed the 2014 Farm Bill which included an amendment allowing hemp to be cultivated for university research.

This is a huge first step in hemp’s domestic comeback, officially distancing itself from its psychoactive cousin, marijuana, and growing across party lines — from conservative Senators Mitch McConnell  (R-KY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) to liberal Congressman like Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). Even the American Farm Bureau has jumped on the bandwagon and opposed the classification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance. This is an important action according to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer because, “It shows the growing movement by agriculture leaders to embrace industrial hemp as a crop of the future.”

Author Doug Fine, for one, is ready for that future. In his latest book, Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution, Doug explains why one of humanity’s longest-utilized plants is poised to rejuvenate the U.S. economy and help save the planet.

Praise for Hemp Bound

So, what are people saying about it?

Willie Nelson (yes, the Willie Nelson) calls it “a blueprint for the future of America.” Put that in your pipe and … oh, never mind.

Mark Frauenfelder, founder of Boing Boing calls Doug’s book, “engrossing and eye-opening.” While William Martin, senior fellow, drug policy, at Rice University’s Baker Institute agrees: “This is an important story, engagingly told.”

Fine’s enthusiasm for the subject leaps off the page when he advocates for hemp. “It’s effective because it’s all true,” he said. “I’ve found that anytime someone gives me five minutes, and I get to discuss the facts, hemp’s role in the founding of our country and where we’re going next as a nation, that person is a convert. I think I’m batting a thousand on that.”

Whether you are a farmer, entrepreneur, investor, or just a curious reader, this book could turn you into the next voracious hemp consumer and leave you wondering why we ever stopped cultivating this miracle crop in the first place.

Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution is available now and on sale for 35% off until March 30th. Also, check out Doug Fine’s emerging Post-Prohibition Hemp Planting Tour with stops in Colorado, NYC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, DC, and more.

Think You’re Hip to Hemp? Take Our Quiz

March 24th, 2014 by admin

Looking for something to talk about at your next dinner party or social gathering? Impress your friends with some hemp trivia by taking this pop quiz. You’ll have interesting facts to share like how long ago humans started using hemp and which hemp farmer became Kentucky’s first millionaire. Trust us, people will think you’re cool.

For more information about the incredible array of hemp applications, check out this previous post featuring Doug Fine’s new book Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution. For a lesson in hemp history read a full chapter from John Roulac’s 1997 book Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant (now out of print).

Pencils Ready? Begin!

1) How many years ago did humans start using hemp?

a. 12,000 years ago
b. 1,200 years ago
c. 200 years ago

2) What important U.S. historical document was drafted on hemp paper?

a. The Emancipation Proclamation
b. Pres. John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
c. The Declaration of Independence

3) Name one way Colonists used hemp?

a. As a currency to pay their taxes
b. As a thread to weave textiles
c. Both

4) Who was Kentucky’s First Millionaire? Hint: his fortune came from hemp

a. Abraham Lincoln
b. Daniel Boone
c. John Wesley Hunt

5) When did the U.S. government sponsor hemp production contests?

a. In the 1720s
b. In the 1820s
c. In the 1920s

6) Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which U.S. state produced the best hemp in the world?

a. California
b. Kentucky
c. Colorado

7) What law effectively banned hemp in the U.S. in 1937

a. The Marijuana Stamp Act
b. The Food and Drug Act
c. The Hemp Prohibition Act

8) In 1942, an 11-minute film extolling the versatile uses of hemp—and how it can be grown and processed in the United States—was released to movie audiences. What was it called?

a. Hooray for Hemp!
b. Hemp for Victory
c. Hemp, Hemp and Away

9) What was the parachute harness rope made out of that saved George H.W. Bush in World War II?

a. Cotton
b. Nylon
c. Hemp

10) In an executive order, which president included hemp among “the essential agricultural products that should be stocked for defense preparedness purposes.”

a. Bill Clinton
b. Barack Obama
c. George HW Bush

11) When did Canada re-legalize hemp cultivation?

a. 2014
b. 1996
c. hemp cultivation was never illegal in Canada

ANSWER KEY

1: a) Humans have used hemp for the past twelve millennia for clothing, food and medicine. And, just recently, a Stanford-led research team uncovered hemp clothing in good condition from a 9,000-year-old Turkish village. This stuff is durable, to say the least!
2: c) In 1776 Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Though, if you guessed “a” you were close: President Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation under the light of a hemp oil lamp.
3: c) Hemp fibers were used in many textiles, but perhaps more surprisingly, hemp was so valued during colonial times it was used as a currency to pay taxes.
4: c) Hemp created Kentucky’s first millionaire, John Wesley Hunt. Today the global hemp market is growing more than 20 percent annually.
5: b) In the 1820s, the U.S. government sponsored contests to produce domestic hemp that could compete against expensive imports.
6: b) From the 1850s-1930s, Kentucky hemp germplasm was considered the world’s finest.
7: a) The Marijuana Stamp Act of 1937
8: b) Hemp Prohibition got off to a poor start in 1942 when the government sourced large quantities of hemp due to wartime Navy rope rigging needs. To make the decision legit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the 11-minute film titled “Hemp for Victory.”
9: c) OK, that was an easy one. It’s hemp, of course!
10: a) President Bill Clinton included hemp in his 1994 executive order.
11: b) Canada re-legalized hemp in 1996 and now has a booming industry that is worth a billion dollars annually and growing 30 percent per year.

 

Photo 3: Courtesy of ropelocker.co.uk

Hemp History 101

March 24th, 2014 by admin

The historical prominence of hemp can be seen in dozens of American towns that still bear its name, including Hempfield, PA, Hemphill, KY, Hempstead, NY, Hempfork, VA, and more.

How did humanity’s longest utilized plant, that has more than 25,000 uses and so many towns named after it, end up nearly extinct in the U.S.?

We first explored hemp’s potential in 1997 with the publication of John Roulac’s book, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant. Roulac, Founder and CEO of Nutiva, was ahead of the curve when this book was published, and is now a leader in the lucrative superfood industry in which hemp plays a major role. We’ve resurrected a chapter of this now out-of-print book to give readers a glimpse at hemp’s many uses throughout history (from the dawn of civilization). In looking back, we get a sense of what could be in store.

Speaking of which: We return to the promise of hemp — environmentally, agriculturally, and economically — this year with investigative journalist and goat farmer Doug Fine and the publication of Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution. In this book, Fine introduces readers to a variety of innovative hemp applications from riding in a hemp-powered limo to testing hemp-based building insulation.

To learn more about Doug’s book and just how hemp could be the next billion-dollar plant that’s going to change our diet, restore our soil and wean us from petroleum, check out this post. And, test your hemp history knowledge with this Hemp Quiz.

Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant by Chelsea Green Publishing

Photo: Courtesy of teepeesigns.com

The Buzz: Bee Buyers Beware

March 21st, 2014 by admin

Beekeeping has been on the rise in recent years, and Ross Conrad’s book Natural Beekeeping has become a must read for enterprising apiculturalists who want to learn how to care for bees holistically and organically.

This is the second of two adaptions from the revised and expanded edition of Conrad’s book, which examines different ways to start your hive and offers some bee buying tips. The previous post offered beginners some key tips on what to do long before they buy their first bees.

*****

OPTIONS FOR OBTAINING BEES

The easiest way to successfully get a hive of bees off to a good start is to purchase a complete hive that is already thriving. Many beekeepers are downsizing or giving up on the business, and complete hives have become more commonly available in many areas. The purchase of a complete hive eliminates risks and challenges associated with package and queen introduction, getting brood comb drawn out from foundation, and having to protect a weak and unorganized colony from being robbed. The downside is that a complete hive is heavy to lift and is one of the most expensive honey bee procurement options. There is also the risk of inheriting problems such as bee pathogens, antibiotic and pesticide contamination, varroa mites, tracheal mites, and small hive beetles.

Buyer “Bee-ware”

When purchasing established colonies, it’s wise to inspect the hive(s) prior to completing the transaction. “Buyer beware” should definitely be your guiding principle here. Be on the lookout for worn-out equipment, old combs, and disease and pest problems. How are varroa mites and foulbrood kept under control? How has the hive been managed during the past year or two? Answers to questions such as these can give you a hint as to how well the hive may fare in the coming year. If you don’t feel qualified to assess hive condition yourself, ask your local bee inspector to give them a once over.

Compared to purchasing established colonies, buying nucleus colonies offers many of the same benefits, but nucs are easier on your back and are available at a much lower price. For many beginners, buying a nuc from a local bee supplier will be the best way to get started with bees. As with full hives, a nuc should not need feeding if purchased when a honey flow is on, nor does it require queen introduction. Simply transfer the frames into full-sized equipment, add additional frames for growth, and you’re off and running. It is important to have your additional equipment ready to go before you pick up your nuc. Otherwise the bees may become overcrowded and decide to swarm.

The most common way to obtain bees is to purchase a package of bees. Packages are usually sold by the pound. A pound of bees is typically composed of 3,000 to 3,500 workers, and the standard package of bees available from bee supply companies weighs in at 3 pounds, for a total of about 10,000 bees. Reputable companies will err on the high side and provide extra to make up for bees that may die during transport, as well as to account for the honey and nectar in the stomachs of the bees when they are initially packaged and weighed. Please note that a package of bees may not contain a queen and will contain only workers, unless a queen has been ordered at the same time as the package. Be sure to ask your supplier whether a queen is included. Either way, prepare your hive equipment and location before the package arrives in the mail.

Packaged bees are less expensive than nucs or complete hives and easier to ship. And while package bees may still carry diseases and pests, they are likely to be less infested or contaminated than nucs or established hives that are filled with comb simply because there are fewer places for pathogens, chemical residues, mites, or small hive beetles to hide in a package of bees.

Getting a package of bees started, however, is much more challenging than when starting with a nucleus colony. The package of bees must be transferred into your equipment; the queen and the bees are typically unrelated and must be “introduced” to each other before they will work together in unison; and then there is the need to provide feed to keep the nascent hive from starving, while at the same time stimulating bees to build comb if drawn-out frames of comb from a previous hive cannot be provided. [For complete details on how to introduce a nucleus colony to your equipment, see Chapter 2 of Natural Beekeeping, Revised and Expanded Edition.]

Making your own nucleus colonies from bees you have successfully overwintered is less expensive than buying packaged bees. Rather than spend money on obtaining bees, your money need only be spent on equipment to accept the nuc. By timing your nuc making with the natural swarming season in your area, you help to increase the chances of success and reduce the need to feed the nascent colony.

Swarm Catching

If you don’t already have access to bees and don’t want to shell out a bunch of money in order to obtain bees, swarm catching is the way to go. There are no worries about queen introductions here; all you have to do is get the swarm into your hive body, but that can be a challenge. Swarms are primed to build new comb fast, and you should always take advantage of the opportunity to have a newly hived swarm draw out new frames of foundation, foundation strips, or naturally built combs. If captured early enough in the season they may be able to store enough honey on their own so that autumn and winter feeding will not be necessary.

With swarms, however, you have little control over the quality of the bees. Some swarms are composed of wonderful bees; some swarms are lousy. While you will save cash, you must invest the time to chase them down—and hope that they don’t fly off before you arrive.

One way to avoid being led on a wild bee chase is to make use of baited hives to lure in a swarm. Drawn-out beeswax combs make any empty box with a cover more noticeable and attractive to scouts seeking a new home for the colony. If no comb is available, a few drops of lemongrass oil on a cotton ball can take the place of a drawn frame as bait since this essential oil is very attractive to bees. For those with an added sense of adventure, you may want to try your hand at some old-fashioned bee lining and track down a feral hive in a bee tree. Just be sure to bring along someone with logging skills if you are not handy with a chain saw, an ax, and splitting wedges.

Spring is Here! Get your Garden Started

March 20th, 2014 by admin

Congratulations, you survived another long winter! It is officially spring and time to get your garden started.

Let us help you on your way with some of our key gardening books. Learn tried and true techniques from our expert gardening authors so you can reap a plentiful harvest this fall.

We’ve included some tips and projects below for some inspiration in your garden planning and preparation; from creating fertile soil, to building the edibles-producing superstar, selecting the most promising veggies, and garden tips for the urban dweller.

Keep checking our website for the month of March with more posts as part of our “Garden Series” for planting tips and tricks for the coming gardening season. You can browse the first round of tips and projects here.


Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on sale for example.
Free shipping for orders $100 or more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only).
Fertile Soil for an Abundant Garden

Compost is the key to a lush, abundant garden. Do you know how to turn kitchen scraps and yard waste into fragrant, crumbly, plant food? If not, your garden is missing out!

It’s not difficult. Compost wants to happen. Plan it »»

 


Garden Planning: 48 of the Most Promising Veggies

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

With so many options to choose from, proper planning techniques are key for an efficient (and blooming) garden.

Master grower Eliot Coleman outlines the most promising crops and charts the harvesting seasons to help you decide when and what to plant. Plan it »»


Build an Herb Spiral:The Ultimate Raised Bed

The herb spiral: A beautiful year-round focal point for your garden that is easy (and fun) to build and saves both space and water.

Get ready to plan and build this edibles-producing superstar. Build it »»


No Space? No Problem. Gardening Tips for the Urban Dweller

Interested in growing fresh food, but worried about lack of space? Not a problem. 

Choosing the right crops based on climate and light, joined with a companion planting strategy, can help maximize food production with limited space. Transform your urban space into productive garden! Grow it »»


~ ~ Gardening Sale: 25% Off  ~ ~
The Resilient GardenerRetail $24.95
Sale: $18.71
Fresh Food From Small Places
Retail $24.95
Sale: $18.71
New Organic Grower
Retail $24.95
Sale: $18.71
The New Vegetable Growers Handbook
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Sale $20.96
The Organic Grain GrowerRetail $45.00
Sale $33.75
Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture TwistRetail $24.95
Sale: $18.71
The Holistic Orchard
Retail $39.95
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Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties
Retail $29.95
Sale: $22.46
Growing Healthy Vagetable Crops
Retail $12.95
Sale $9.71
The Winter Harvest HandbookRetail $29.95
Sale $22.46


Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only)
 
per inceptos himenaeos.

The Buzz: Beekeeping for Beginners

March 19th, 2014 by admin

Beekeeping has been on the rise in recent years, and Ross Conrad’s book Natural Beekeeping has become a must read for enterprising apiculturalists who want to learn how to care for bees holistically and organically.

This is the first of two adaptions from the revised and expanded edition of Conrad’s book, and offers beginners some key tips on what to do long before they buy their first bees as well as specific instructions on how to open and inspect a hive. The next piece will examine how to obtain bees and get your first hives started.

*****

SUGGESTIONS FOR BEGINNERS

When addressing beginner beekeepers, I like to emphasize the importance of not getting started in beekeeping unless they are ready and willing to fully commit to taking the time to properly educate themselves about honey bee biology and proper care. I also ask people to carefully assess whether they are ready to devote adequate resources of time and money to ensure that the hive will be properly cared for year after year.

What’s needed is an apicultural ethic that does not place the needs of the bees below human needs. I am not saying that beekeepers should put bees’ needs above human needs. Rather, let’s give them equal importance, striving for a give-and-take, a win-win situation where both parties benefit roughly to an equal extent. Following this approach, for example, one would not secure a hive of bees in the spring, rent them out for pollination, harvest all their honey, and then allow them to die in winter with the plan of purchasing new bees the following spring, simply because it is economically advantageous to do so.

The initial learning curve in beekeeping is fairly steep, so it is wise to start learning well in advance about bees and the role that a beekeeper can play. Beginning to read beekeeping books and journals and take beekeeping classes and workshops a year ahead of setting up your first hives would not be overdoing it. Joining your local or state beekeeping association can be a huge help in this regard too. Busy modern lifestyles often get in the way, and if you allow too little time for education beforehand, you may find yourself unprepared when your bees arrive. At that point, your first year of beekeeping will end up unfolding haphazardly, and you won’t have the kind of experience and good results you dreamed about.

Best Way to Learn About Beekeeping

The best way to learn about beekeeping is to work for a commercial beekeeper. I found out the hard way that it is much better to get paid to learn through an apprenticeship-type situation than to pay for the privilege of learning through a university or the school of hard knocks. If this is not an option, then it is very helpful if you can find a local experienced beekeeper willing to act as a mentor. A mentor can answer questions, guide you through the transfer of your bees into new equipment, and assist you with your first hive visits. Another recommendation I offer the would-be beekeeper is to start with two hives instead of one. Two hives are only a little more work, and not a whole lot more money, than one hive, and yet the benefits are substantial. Two hives help greatly with the steep learning curve all beekeepers must go through: it doubles your experience level and allows you to make comparisons between the hives.

Starter Hive

Another choice you’ll need to make in advance is which type of hive to use. I recommend that novice beekeepers begin with a Langstroth-style hive. After you have a couple years of experience under your belt, you may wish to experiment with other styles such as the top-bar hive or Warré hive (the Warré hive, also known as the People’s Hive, is a vertical top bar hive developed in France by Emile Warré and outlined in his book Beekeeping for All). There is much more information available on the use of the Langstroth hive than there is for top-bar hives or Warré hives, and there are far fewer beekeepers who have experience with the latter two options should you have questions or need the help of a mentor.

Whenever possible, it is advantageous to purchase local bees and even more important to buy types of bees that have some level of resistance to mites and diseases. And it is far easier to start with a nucleus colony or nuc, if you can get one, than to start with packaged bees. Due to the high demand and short supply of bees, it is a good idea for beekeepers to place their orders for packaged bees or nucleus colonies early to ensure that the bees they want will be available at the desired time. Since the advent of colony collapse disorder, many beekeepers are finding that January is not too early to place orders for bees for spring delivery. On some occasions waiting until January may actually be too late, because some bee suppliers sell out well ahead of time, and the best they will be able to do is put you on a waiting list in case they receive order cancellations, or place you on the list for next year. Whenever you place an order, please be sure to assemble and prepare all your equipment before your bees arrive. The experience of long-distance shipping or being crowded in a small nuc box is stressful for bees. To keep stressed bees contained for several more days or weeks while you rush to order, assemble, or paint hive equipment is not a good situation.

Final Thoughts

The final piece of advice I like to offer first-year beekeepers is to open up and check on their hives on a regular basis. Some beekeepers might tell you to leave your hives alone and keep colony inspections to a minimum. Back in the old days before mites, small hive beetles, and a host of honey bee diseases surfaced on the North American continent, this advice would have been appropriate. Today, however, the environment that bees have to navigate and the interior of the hive cavity have been so manipulated and changed by humans that in most of the country, to leave hives alone is more likely to lead to colony death than to aid in its ability to thrive.

I check my bees every 7 to 14 days. While doing so, I try to keep the disturbance of the hives to a minimum. Nevertheless, I encourage new beekeepers to open hives, remove frames, inspect the brood area, look for eggs, try to find the queen, and observe the levels of pollen and honey within the hive every one to two weeks during the first year. That’s right, every week or two if possible! Your goal is to get a sense of whether the hive is doing well and developing normally or not.

There is a limit to how much you can learn about beekeeping from classes, workshops, articles, videos, and books. In the end, to become a successful beekeeper you have to actually open hives and handle frames of brood and bees. After the first year of handling the bees regularly, you should not have to go through your hives and disturb the bees so frequently. Instead, you can limit your weekly or biweekly hive checks to simply taking a quick look under the inner cover.

Opening and Inspecting the Hive

Here are the basic steps to take, in the proper sequence, whenever you open a hive.

  1. Figure out why you are going to open the hive and what you want to accomplish.
  2. Don clothing and headgear that will make you feel comfortable working with the bees; then light your smoker.
  3. Approach the hive from the side or the back, not the front, where you may block the flight path of the foragers and make them defensive.
  4. Smoke all entrances. Allow the smoke to always proceed you and announce your presence prior to entering any part of the hive.
  5. Remove the inner cover, and always check it for the presence of the queen before you put the cover down. She could be anywhere!
  6. If you decide to remove a frame, make sure to choose one of the outermost frames (or one next to the outermost) first in order to reduce the chance that you will injure the queen.

Your goal is to be a beekeeper, not a bee haver. This is accomplished by working in partnership with the colony and never abandoning the hive to its own devices, which might result in the hive starving or dying from disease. The ancient craft of beekeeping can be incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable as long as one is committed to following through, overcoming the various frustrations that may be encountered, and persevering even when a task occasionally seems overwhelming or intimidating.

Garden Planning: 48 of the Most Promising Veggies

March 18th, 2014 by admin

Depending on the market and the climate in your area the possibility exists to grow anywhere from one to 70 or so reasonably common vegetable crops. With all these options to choose from, mastering proper planning and observation techniques are important to make sure your operating an efficient garden.

In this excerpt from The New Organic Grower, farming master Eliot Coleman outlines the 48 crops he thinks are the most promising and charts the harvesting seasons for each to help you decide when and what to plant.

For other gardening tips and techniques from Coleman, read his Guide to Great Compost and How to Start Seedlings in a Cold Frame.

*****

No Space? No Problem. Gardening Tips for the Urban Dweller

March 17th, 2014 by admin

Interested in growing fresh food, but worried about lack of space? Not a problem, according to author R. J. Ruppenthal.

In his book, Fresh Food From Small Spaces, Ruppenthal shows readers how to transform their balconies and windowsills into productive vegetable gardens, their countertops and storage lockers into commercial-quality sprout and mushroom farms, and their outside nooks and crannies into sustainable nurseries for honey bees, chickens, and more.

In this excerpt, Ruppenthal explains how choosing the right crops based on climate and light conditions, along with creating a companion planting strategy to prevent pests and attract pollinators, can help maximize food production with limited space.

For more information on proper seed selection, garden planning, and do-it-yourself tricks to help you grow your own food, check out these related posts:
The Seed Series: Choosing the Right Seed Crop
How to Plan the Best Garden Ever
DIY: Make a Self-Watering Planter


 

DECIDING WHAT TO GROW IN YOUR GARDEN SPACE

Those of us with limited space are forced to make decisions. How can I use my small space most productively? If I want to put in a small garden, what should I grow? You can experiment by growing a variety of different plants, or you may decide to focus on just one or two items that perform well in your conditions. There are good arguments for each strategy.

Growing a variety of crops is fun, and although it won’t provide you with huge amounts of any particular food crop, you’ll get some of many. This approach offers more balanced nutrition to complement your overall diet and the likelihood of a rolling harvest (with your plants producing food at different times, not all at once). However, you should also consider the benefits of focusing on a crop or two that grow well in your space. Why focus? Because some crops will do well in your area, while others will not. You may find it very easy, for example, to grow prodigious quantities of fresh herbs or leafy greens, but not have enough light to grow fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers effectively. Or you might decide not to garden at all, and instead perhaps cover your whole available space with a chicken coop. This is fine; specializing has its benefits too. With this focus on just one or two food crops, you may be able to meet all your family’s needs for fresh herbs or leafy greens or chicken eggs. And, if you have extra, you might sell or barter the surplus for something else that you can’t produce. This is free trade in its simplest, most elegant form.

When I started my first balcony garden, I tried to grow a little bit of everything. In a 10-foot-square area over a two-year period, I grew (or tried to grow) tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, cabbage, chard, beets, herbs, strawberries, cucumbers, and summer squash. I even had a scraggly little blueberry bush that gave me a few berries in its second summer. Experimenting with different crops was fun, and it helped me learn what grew best in my small space. Through this experience, I learned to focus on certain crops that I could depend on, thus making the best use of my space.

Due to differences in climate and the amount of light and heat that your urban garden area receives, you will be able to grow some crops more effectively than others. Through trial and error, I learned that my little garden could produce prodigious amounts of cherry tomatoes, green beans, peas, and chard. Unfortunately, I also learned that other things did not grow well in my space: strawberries and cucumbers were the worst performers, for various reasons.

Try to grow what your family likes to eat, but also be realistic in terms of the plants’ requirements. Peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers are basically subtropical plants that we try to coax into producing fruit in cooler climates. They need a lot of light, warmth, and long days. Squash is much easier to grow, but the plants take up too much space for small-scale container growing; they are great additions to a larger garden if you have a backyard. However, even container gardeners can grow compact varieties of summer squash (zucchini). An added urban challenge for squash, cucumbers, and melons is that they require bees or other insects for pollination of their flowers in order to be fully productive, and it’s not a given that your small space will attract the notice of neighborhood bees (though you will, almost inevitably, attract neighborhood pests). Although it is possible to hand-pollinate squash, cucumber, and melons, this requires the extra effort of waking up at dawn and transferring pollen from male to female blossoms with a paintbrush.

If you have the full day’s light and warmth that is necessary for squash, cucumber, and melons, and can attract pollinating insects (perhaps with some additional flowering plants or herbs), then you can try to grow them vertically by building a trellis and training their vines upward. Vertical gardening (described at more length in Chapter 4) saves you precious horizontal space and gives your plants the chance to be quite productive. A trellis can be made from wood, wire, string, or even fishing line; the point is to give the plant something to hang on to as it climbs. My balcony has a metal railing that I use as a trellis base for my tomatoes and pole beans; I extend it with string and bamboo poles, and affix the growing plants to this frame using twist-ties from the supermarket or small pieces of string. When plants begin producing heavy fruit, you also need to tie up or somehow support the fruiting branches to keep them from falling.

Some people find strawberries very easy to grow, and I encourage you to try them. Strawberries can be squeezed into very small spaces and even window boxes. A European species, Fragaria vesca, commonly called Alpine strawberry, is a hardy perennial and bears continuously from around midsummer to the end of the growing season. It is often advertised as a shade crop and has a truly magnificent flavor. If you enjoy eating strawberries, then they may be worth a try where you live, particularly because of the many different varieties that have been developed in recent years to suit different conditions. In terms of other berries, blueberries can grow in containers and produce well in certain climates, though most require specific soil conditions. You also could investigate blackberries and raspberries, which can be trained vertically to increase production and maximize your use of space. Currants and gooseberries grow well in some northern climates, and can fruit well even in partial shade conditions.

Beans and peas are wonderful additions to the small urban garden. I grow beans in the warm summer and peas in cooler weather. Both plants can produce high-protein shelled beans and peas, or they can be eaten in the young pod stage as a nutritional supervegetable. Both can be grown vertically and in crowded garden conditions, saving you space. Both plants are legumes, so they fix nitrogen in their root systems, making them a great companion plant next to other crops. Beans and peas (especially bush varieties) also can produce quite well in lower light conditions.

VEGETABLES FOR LOW-LIGHT CONDITIONS

For many people living in urban apartments and condos, lack of sunlight is a big issue. Your unit may face away from the sun or get only morning or afternoon exposure. Oftentimes, other buildings surround you and block much of the light. But do not despair; you still have space to work with. The good news is that cities are rarely dark; there is a lot of diffuse sunlight, reflected light off walls and windows, and warmth collected in the concrete and building materials. In the vertical gardening chapter, I cover some strategies for making the most of your light. Here, I’d like to recommend some different vegetable crops for areas with low light.

First, you should know that fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash) need plenty of light to set and ripen their fruit. Ideally, we are talking about 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight for these, though, as you will see in the vertical gardening chapter, there are ways to succeed with less light than this. Next among vegetables come those that will flourish in full sunlight, but also can set productive crops with partial sun. These include peas, beans, and root/tuber crops such as beets, turnips, carrots, and even potatoes. I have grown bush peas and bush beans in full shade with only 3 to 4 hours of indirect, reflected light. These plants grew more slowly than their counterparts in the full sun, but they had no trouble setting a crop eventually and the output (though a few weeks later) was nearly as good as that from plants grown in full sun.

If you like to eat peas and beans, they are some of the most rewarding plants to grow, even in partial shade or indirect light. When picked tender and eaten in the pod as green beans or snap peas, both are classified as nutritional supervegetables. Alternately, the same plant also can provide some amazing protein if you let the pods grow to maturity. You can then shell the beans or peas and cook them fresh or dry them for later use. Peas and beans make great complementary crops, as each one grows in a different season: Beans like the warmth of summer, while peas thrive in cooler temperatures and can make a great short-season crop in spring, fall, or even in winter in milder climates.

You will be more successful in low-light conditions if you select the right pea and bean seeds for growing. Do not buy nursery seedlings or use transplants for either one, since they grow far better when direct-seeded. When you buy seeds, you will notice that each variety of pea and bean is labeled as either “pole” or “bush.” Pole beans produce heavier crops over a longer period and are ultimately more productive over the same amount of space. So, if you have plenty of sunlight and a nice vertical space, then pole beans and tall-growing varieties of peas might work well for you. However, for low-light or short-season gardens, I recommend bush peas and bush beans. These plants are shorter, stockier, and essentially dwarf versions of the traditional pole beans and peas; they need very little trellising support and can be grown close together for maximum yields. They will produce a single crop (and sometimes a bit more) in short time frame, using less overall light energy than pole beans require. Depending on the variety of bush bean, it is not impossible to have a full crop of delicious green beans or snap peas ready to pick within 35 to 40 days after seeding. These plants also add some nitrogen to the soil, which means that they are a great rotation crop that will help build the soil for your next round of veggies. (This is particularly useful with peas, since they can grow in cooler temperatures.) When choosing seeds, also consider whether you would like to shell them or eat them in the pod, as some varieties are optimal for one or the other use. The best peas for eating in the pod are the sugar snap peas, which have peas surrounded by thick, edible pods, or the flat-podded snow peas so common to Asian cuisines, which can be eaten raw (some are as sweet as candy) or added to a stir-fry for a quick, delicious nutritional boost.

With root and tuber crops, you can do almost as well in low-light conditions, but you will need to experiment. In my opinion, the key to growing these crops is to realize that the beet, carrot, turnip, or potato we eat is actually the plant’s way of storing its energy underground. Therefore, the more light energy it receives, the better your chances of getting a nice big, sweet carrot or turnip. Luckily for urban gardeners, the amount of light per day is sometimes less important for these crops than the total amount of light that the plants receive during the entire season they are growing their roots or tubers. So you may be able to get a nearly full crop in partial shade if you wait a little longer to harvest. In fact, full direct sunlight may be too strong for beets and turnips anyway, so a little shade can even help. Also, each of these vegetables can be picked and eaten when small, so a row of plants that never reach their full height may still yield a bountiful crop of petite carrots or beets. For a potato crop grown in partial shade, the plant may only get around to flowering fairly late in the season, but this is a great time to pick the tender new potatoes that are prized as a gourmet treat.

Finally, leafy greens have lower light requirements than other vegetables because you eat the actual plant and do not need to wait for it to set seeds or fruit. This list includes chard, beet greens, turnip greens, spinach, lettuce, kale, cabbage, arugula/roquette, and other edible greens with similar characteristics. Some of these plants actually will wilt or burn in full sunlight and so they prefer some partial shade or reflected light. You can get a productive crop of delicious, nutritious greens without any direct sunlight, provided you have some indirect, reflected light for a few hours per day. Any of these greens are great plants to use in a small garden because you can choose to harvest them “cut and come again” style (a leaf or two at a time, which the plant will regrow) or else eat the whole plant at once, take it out, and replace it with something else.

One note on leafy greens, including beet greens and turnip greens: Try growing them almost any time of the year, provided the ground is not frozen. The cost of a handful of seeds is no more than a few pennies, and you will be amazed at the vigor of these plants. Although other books you read may discourage you from trying to plant a new crop in the fall or over a mild winter, many greens are pretty hardy, and can be given a few extra degrees of frost protection by growing them in a cold frame or under a heat-retaining fabric blanket, or “floating row cover.” (See “Growing in Cold Climates,” below.) At the very least, you may end up with a very short-season crop of baby greens for salad, soup, or stir-fry.

ADDING SMALL FRUITS AND BERRIES TO YOUR GARDEN

Many berry plants and small fruit trees can be raised in container gardens or in small patches of open ground. There are dwarf fruit trees and various kinds of berries that will grow in almost any climate and can be a nice complement to your vegetable garden. Most importantly for many urban gardeners, small fruit trees and berry shrubs can make the best use of your vertical growing space. Please see Chapter 6 for a more in-depth exploration of which types of fruits and berries to consider growing in your space.

COMPANION PLANTS FOR YOUR VEGGIES

Companion plants, many of which fall in the herb and flower categories, add beauty and diversity to a vegetable garden. From a functional perspective, these plants are important in preventing pests and attracting pollinators like bees to your vegetables. For both of these reasons, you need to incorporate some companion plants into your containers or ground-based beds. Most companion plants can be grown in compact form alongside your vegetables. Planting them can increase your garden’s productivity through better pollination and pest deterrence.

Some members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) serve both purposes, attracting bees and discouraging common pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and cabbage moths. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage are examples of plants that can improve your vegetables’ resistance while providing you with some tasty herbal additions to your culinary dishes. Try bee balm and hyssop as well. Nasturtiums, marigolds, tansy, and cosmos add beauty to your garden while discouraging harmful pests. Marigolds deter beetles and some soil-based nematodes. Nasturtium flowers and leaves provide a colorful, peppery accent to any salad and, like marigolds, their aromatic foliage can deter some potential pests. Although nasturtiums are frequently mentioned as a pest deterrent, I have found that black aphids in my garden really like them. This worried me at first until I noticed that all the black aphids gravitated to my nasturtium plants, and they left everything else alone. My nasturtiums were acting as a trap crop, and some gardeners plant such crops at a distance away from food crops, though if black aphids do not bother your garden, then nasturtiums would fit well on the edge of containers and tumble gracefully over the edges.

Garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, and chives are wonderful additions to any garden, whether grown for their bulbs or for their green stalks. Also, these plants deter aphids and other harmful insects. Interplanting them with other vegetables may confuse pests or throw them off from the scent of your sweeter-smelling crops. For example, two good companion plants are carrots and leeks: Leeks repel carrot flies, while the smell of carrot plants is strong enough to confuse the onion fly and leek moth, two common pests. However, members of the onion family (Alliaceae) should not be planted in the same container or bed with peas or beans, as they tend to stunt these vegetables’ growth.

The topic of companion crops is a larger one than can be fully addressed here. Although I have focused on a few useful pest-deterrent plants, there are also many useful planting combinations for vegetables themselves. The most famous of these is the Native American and Mesoamerican “Three Sisters” combination of corn, beans, and squash. Corn is a nitrogen-heavy crop, while beans fix nitrogen in the soil. The stalks of corn, in turn, provide support for the climbing beans, while the squash plants provide a thick groundcover of living mulch, preserving moisture in the soil. These plants also come from different families and have different root structures, so they do not compete heavily with one another for nutrients, and their combination in a garden can throw off potential pests of any one crop. To learn more about which vegetables complement each others’ growing habits (as well as the few combinations you should avoid), try doing an Internet search for “companion crops.” For more in-depth reading, Louise Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes provides a nice overview of companion vegetable and fruit plantings.17 Although some companion plantings have proven themselves over many generations, others are more controversial, and there are ongoing debates within the gardening community about the success of certain combinations. It seems that what works for a gardener in one region and with a particular soil type will not necessarily produce the same success elsewhere. If you are interested in this subject, research it, learn what you can, and try some combination plantings that have been recommended by others to see what gives you the most success.

The Ultimate Raised Bed: How To Make An Herb Spiral

March 13th, 2014 by admin

The herb spiral: A beautiful year-round focal point for your garden that is easy and fun to build and saves both space and water. In Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, author Michael Judd walks readers through step-by-step instructions on how to create this edibles-producing superstar.

In addition to herb spirals, Edible Landscaping covers food forests, raised-bed gardens, earthen ovens, uncommon fruits, outdoor mushroom cultivation, and much more. A how-to manual for both the budding or experienced gardener, it contains everything you need to transform your yard into a flourishing, edible landscape—the perfect way to have your yard and eat it too!

To get started with planning, or building, your own herb spiral, check out the following excerpt from Judd’s recently-released book.

 


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