Saturday, February 21, 2009

Organic Gardening

Local and even national newscasts are talking about a renewed interest in gardening. Most families are starting their garden to help lower their food costs, but are also re-embracing some of their childhood memories. They remember helping parents or grandparents work in the garden, producing something from nature. I remember picking tomatoes and other items ready for the evening meal. And I also remember cleaning the vegetables, preparing them for Mom and Dad’s afternoon of canning and preserving.
They made fresh spaghetti sauce, salsa, bread and butter pickles.
My dad recently mailed me all the original recipes he and my mom used for caning. I’m looking forward to recreating these favorites this year.
This is why I jumped back in to gardening!
Working in the soil is something primal, the hunter-gatherer, like working with clay and producing a vase. The investment and reward are, well rewarding.
When I decided to return to this family activity I did so with the old ways.
Roto-tilling the ground, fluffing the dirt and mixing the store-bought ingredients to create what was thought to be the magic of soil. That’s how my dad did it; everybody had a tiller, it was a right of spring, the smell of freshly tilled soil was a deep-rooted memory in my mind.
I learned quickly that I was taught incorrectly. I realized that putting chemicals into where our food was growing was not going to produce what I wanted to feed my family with.
The internet is great, information at your finger tips. I found a wealth of info gathered at the speed of light. I love to read and have amassed a large collection of books about gardening and composting, companion planting, herbs and canning. It was within these pages and on internet groups like Yahoo Organic gardening that I have learned a better way.
The magic of the soil is in the earthly ingredients. The combination of leaf and grass of all things organic, of eggshells and last year’s vegetables or grass clippings and tree trimmings and that leftovers are the key.
The layering of life left to the bugs and biology of God’s earth.
They call this the Soil Food Web.
The circle of life, the building up and breaking down of all things, this is the natural order of things.
Without this we interrupt the growth and order of plant life.

If you want a good garden, the use of store bought gardening supplies will work just fine. Every year, you add to the soil and every year it gets depleted as the plants and rain drain the nutrients.
But if you want a great garden, compost!
Composting can be done in a number of ways and many books have been written about different methods and the science behind it.
I am including my list of must-reads at the end of this.
The primary thing I have found is DO NOT roto-till the soil! Rather, do what nature has been doing for a millennium: sheet compost.
Now, I’m not saying not to roto-till the first time you start a garden, because in most cases you wouldn’t have a garden without tilling the soil. But, and there’s always a but, that should be the first and last time that you do till the soil by mechanical means.
Composting and amending the soil is the way to go from then on.
I subscribe to a method called Lasagna gardening, or sheet composting, which is a fancy name for layering.
You just add layers of rich natural cuttings, newspaper, leaves, grass. The layers of “browns and greens” to make rich dark coffee like soil are the perfect combination of things that Hyphae, protozoa, fungus and nematodes feed on; earthworms of all varieties, beetles and sow bugs spiders and ants. They all work to break down the layers of material thereby making perfect soil for plants to grow and produce for us.

The soil food web: Dr. Elaine Ingham from The Soil Foodweb Inc
The functions of a healthy foodweb are:
• Retention of nutrients so they do not leach or volatilize from the soil. Reduction or complete deletion of inorganic fertilizer applications is possible.
• Cycling nutrients into the right forms at the right rates for the plant desired. The right ratio of fungi to bacteria is needed for this to happen, as well as the right numbers and activity of the predators.
• Building soil structure, so oxygen, water and other nutrients can easily move into the soil and into deep, well-structured root systems.
• The only way to deal with this is to have the proper biology build the structure in the soil again, so oxygen and water can move into the soil. When the biology is functioning properly, water use is reduced, the need for fertilizers is reduced, and plant production is increased.
• Suppression of disease-causing organisms through competition with beneficials, by setting up the soil and foliar conditions to help the beneficials instead of the diseases.
• Protection of plant surfaces, above or below ground by making certain the foods the plant surfaces release into the soil are used by beneficial, not disease organisms, making certain that infection sites on plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial, and not disease-causing organisms.
• Making certain predators that prefer disease-causing organisms are present to consume disease-causing organisms.
• Production of plant-growth-promoting hormones and chemicals can result in larger root systems, although whether forcing larger root systems on plants is a positive results needs to be understood.
• Decomposition of toxic compounds.

Lastly, buy organic and heirloom seeds. Why go through naturally amending your soil and inoculating with the good biology and then buy something that has been treated and has less favor or ability to grow in tune with nature?
Today’s seed is bred for looks and marketability, not flavor and sustainability.
We are breeding Stepford vegetables, tasteless perfection for the food engineers, not the consumer and certainly not the canner and chef.
This is why so many chefs have embraced the buy local movement and support farmers’ markets.
Please feel free to write me with any question regarding Organic Gardening and composting.

My book list:
• The Vegetable Gardeners Bible
Edward C. Smith
• Basic Composting
Stackpole books
• All New Squarefoot Gardening
Mel Bartholomew
• Composting
• The New Self-sufficient Gardener
John Seymour
• Four Season Harvest
Eliot Colemen
• New Organic Grower.
Eliot Coleman
• Let it Rot
Stu Campbell
Creative Vegetable Gardening
Joy Larkcom
• Lasagna Gardening
Patricia Lanza

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gym Time

 I work out  4-5 times a week.  Sometimes I like it and sometimes it’s a living hell; anything is better than this!  I’m not sure when I got old I just arrived at this point in my life.

One day I was working in my organic vegetable garden, taking compost and leaf mulch from the woods and the next thing I knew I was running from angry yellow jackets and the next moment tumbling into the rich dark earthy humus, yellow jackets buzzing above me.

There I was in the proverbial hole which I dug, broken in more pieces than ever before.  I was alone in the woods, hurt badly.  I spent three days in the hospital waiting for the metal plate and screws (special order) to arrive.  The skilled orthopedic surgeon, Tom Klein, operated on day four; rebuilding my leg like Steve Austin.

Little did I know my ever walking again was in question.  I progressed quickly after spending  weeks in bed, and wheelchair.  I finally was given permission to walk around my house in a walker, vowing to fly fish by opening day in September.  After all,  I was basically in good shape!  Then a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) hit; I was now officially human. . . breakable, mortal and scared.  Borderline depression was creeping in.  I could die from this at anytime; boom . . . life over, time clock punched for the last time.

The point is, the karmic wheels turned and I found myself a man, rarely ill, rarely dependent on others, now an invalid, dependent, needy!

Did I mention I’m a proud guy too? This accident provided me many opportunities for growth, asking for help and depending on loved ones and friends for things I would rather do myself thank you!

Most men don’t go gently into middle age.  We struggle mightily, remembering past victories, conquests and beautiful maidens.

It starts with the first attractive woman who calls you “sir.”  You justify it as a mistake of youth and remind yourself not to skip going to the gym but to skip desert at the next rich meal at Chez Fran├žois or the Prime Rib.

The old saying “snow on the roof but fire in the hearth” pops into your mind but it’s fleeting.

The reality is: it has happened, here you are, now what are you going to do about it?

Which brings me back to the gym.  I have become my father when I first thought my dad was old.

I am 25 years younger than my dad and my daughter is 25 years younger than me.  So I know that look when she says to me … dad, watch what you eat, not so much candy! Are you going to the gym today? I hear the echoes of my youthful thoughts from years ago.

I don’t drink alcohol and haven’t for almost 20 years, I have led, for the most part, an active life, outdoorsman, fly fisherman and very strong from years as a carpenter.  But the last 10 years I have struggled with my weight in part because I am big, 6’3” and not drinking alcohol.  I have a sweet tooth.  I love Butterfingers, pecan pie; oh, the list is long and it takes so little to put it on around my waist.

My family also has heart problems. My dad is a walking miracle of cardiac science.  He was one of the first triple bypass recipients at Fairfax Hospital when Dr. LeFrac was just wet behind the ears.  Dad has since received a second and a pacemaker all within 25 years.

I justify my life as a sweets-loving big guy with all the aforementioned excuses but the middle age clock is ticking and I really have to work-out to maintain right where I am, 265 lbs!

So here I am, fresh from my work-out, feeling tired but alive, knowing that the gym work-outs are an important and integral part of my life.

This is my first blog.  Write and share your feelings about middle age and the opportunities it provides you.  We all need help and support and a good place to bitch about them!





Saturday, June 7, 2008

Full Contact Organic Gardening

Thanks to all who have called, send notes or cards.

I came home on Friday, six days after the injury. I am getting around with limited assistance.

Thank you for your prayers and kind thoughts.

For those of you who scratched your heads, wondering how I "fell in my garden,"

I would like to clarify: I practice a rarely heard of form of "Full Contact Organic Gardening!"

I provide stimuli for all the microbes, protozoa, Hypha, Fungi, Mycorrhizae, split tails, centipedes, and red wiggler compost worms, which inhabit the Organic garden world. It is all fairly high level stuff having to do with the "soil food web."

As I was releasing some leaf mulch mold from the woodland property behind me, a secondary life form was released at the same time. A very animated and one might say, angry because of that said release. The area directly in front of me exploded with excited, angry yellowjackets, which took direct aim at me.

All of my sports training emerged; I ran directly down the trench I had previously dug as I harvested both the composted leaves and the rich humus earth. I zigged and zagged in my 3-4 foot trench for 10, maybe 12, feet and then prepared for my next amazing act of prowess.

I planted my foot and went to turn; all parts of me were sent different messages at the same time: my foot faced south, my knee hyper-extended and turned east; my upper thigh and hips rotated north by north west.

Ouch, pain, but more importantly, the thunderous buzz of the yellowjackets. I hit the ground, well not just the ground, but the trench and a pile of leaves dropped by an American Holly (Latin name: Sticka me directly in the body everywhereous). Either from the yellowjackets’ perspective I was no longer a threat or by concealing myself within the rich compost and leaf mulch, they retreated to the nest site to take care of rebuilding what I had destroyed. I was safe from the onslaught of stings and bites.

I crawled out of the woods and called 911. After a 20-30 minute wait, two women EMS arrived (weighing no more than 100 lbs each) to hoist me up on the gurney. They assured me it would happen. I had my doubts but they lifted me up, up, up just about to the gurney and stopped. I could see the pulse pumping in the throat of the one. I said, “Please put me down.”

After "I" crawled up onto the gurney, my son helped the two EMS push the gurney out of the woods. I was loaded into the ambulance. The driver needed directions to the local hospital. It seems they were "out of towners" on loan to our firehouse. I quickly felt my pulse and started counting, Thank heart was pumping strong and regular; not a chance of the big one happening, but we still had 5 miles to go.

Once in the emergency room, we found out that I hadn't really blown out my knee, but had pretty much destroyed all the bones and structure which the hardened knee cap needs to rest on and protect.

At the hospital the surgeon on call was on a two-week rotation from Walter Reed. He was good but he would cut me and I would never see him again. Or I could use a surgical team (Tom Klein) that was rated as the best in the area and had an office just across the street...hmmmm.

Oh yeah, his wife knows my wife and he just finished repairing knees on two folks we knew closely.

The hook: I had to wait until Tuesday for surgery and would have to hang in the hospital eating Percocet and some other exciting drugs for a few days; they had to order special parts for the surgery . . .

I have pictures on my facebook page; you’re welcome to see them. Write me and I will friend you.

As I said I'm home. I can roll out on my deck and watch the garden grow; some friends are coming to work my garden and compost piles.

I can pee and poop by myself. It's the little things. I hope you'll never have to learn this, but those who have, you know what I'm saying.

My wife - I love the smell of my wife's perfume and her touch on my skin and broken bones.

I am thankful for my friends and family. Without them, healing takes so much longer. Friends have gathered in my hospital room and will do so in my home. Friends have offered rides, food and books both on tape and page-turners. I am grateful and humbled by your thoughtfulness and kindness.