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Fall is the best time to build soil for the garden, and understanding why can help you create better compost for your home!
Compost is the rich, fertile soil created by letting organisms that live in the soil break down organic matter produced in your home and garden. It is soil formation concentrated in one area. When the rich, fertile compost is complete, it is spread out to the sites you identify. You are participating in the cycles supporting life—increasing the natural wealth around you. Now, as the deciduous leaves are falling, is the time that nature builds soil fastest.
The benefits of compost include:
- soil conditioning,
- recycling yard and kitchen waste,
- introducing beneficial organisms throughout your garden,
- helping the environment, and
- reducing land-fill waste.
And, as mentioned above, this can all builds your natural capital! There are some peoples that recognize your true wealth as equival to the health of your land. If your household eats a balanced and varied diet, when you compost your kitchen scraps, you will be introducing a variety of nutrients and trace elements that will make your plants healthier. Composting your kitchen scraps might seem like pennies in the bank, but they make a huge difference in the long run.
1. Build compost piles right on the soil, and cover or enclose them. Periodically, turn the pile to aerate it because aerobic bacteria are necessary to break matter down. Water piles to keep soil organisms happy, and covered to keep moisture in the pile.
2. Vermicomposting is the method of including worms in the compost pile to break down the matter and create worm castings. An animal’s function in a system is to create greater fertility. Worms are some of the best animals you could find. Worm castings are some of the most valuable fertilizers in the world. Vermicomposting systems are excellent for kitchen scraps. Worms can process the material quickly and handle the volume produced by small kitchens. Vermicomposting in a container limits access to skunks, opossums, raccoons and other visitors.
These two systems used together for yard waste and for kitchen scraps can be the best of both worlds—and help to create a more resilient landscape around you. Happy soil-building this fall!
September and October can be a great time to find some good deals on gardening supplies. Or maybe you’re already preparing holiday gifts for those favorite gardeners in your life. What should top your list?
Here are a few essential tools, we can’t imagine gardening without.
- Hori Hori—don’t let this name fool you. This tool, originating in Japan, is the number one tool for everything. It doubles almost daily as a trowel (marking the soil depth). It cuts branches and roots (for those tough weeds that just won’t budge). It easily cuts twine. The sharp edge can handle tough jobs, and the serrated edge takes out grass handily. Part digging stick, part root pruner, part trowel…these are completely worth the investment.
- Standard Trowel…this tool might have replaced the digging stick, it seems so old. I prefer a nice sharp pointed one for working in the soil. I save the rounded edge ones for measuring out potting soil and other soft material.
- Broad fork…for building permanent raised beds with good drainage and aeration, nothing works like a broad fork. These are relatively expensive for using in the spring and fall, so it can be a good idea to share the tool within a community.
- Weed forks and wrenches…help with those deep-rooted weeds like yellow dock that tend to come back if the root isn’t removed. These tools can save pulled muscles and strains.
- Shovels and spades…are some of the most versatile tools in the home. Specialized spades for planting small shrubs and trees can be just the trick.
- Gloves…These aren’t necessary. Some people prefer to have their hands in contact with the plants and soil. Others choose to use gloves. They can help protect your skin from briars, insects and more.
- Knee rests…usually these are foam pads that gardeners can kneel on. They save wear and tear on pants and make it a bit more comfortable to be on the ground. A small, portable bench for sitting or kneeling feels like a deluxe treat.
- Small wheelbarrow…a small, light wheelbarrow for putting weeds in or toting around mulch materials and tools can save your back and save you time.
- Rain gauge…it’s super helpful to monitor how much precipitation is falling on your garden and keep a record of what happens from year to year.
- Clogs…these might be listed last, but they keep the outdoors out and take a lot of wear and tear while supporting you in your garden rain or shine.
These are a few of our favorite things.
Care and cleaning
Tools can last decades with good maintenance. Buy the best quality tools you can afford and spend the time to take care of them. With bladed or metal tools, it is important to wash off any dirt and debris after each use, dry them well, and then store them dry out of the weather (a broad roof overhang will often do). Some people take a 5 gallon bucket, fill it with sand and cheap cooking oil. They use this to store their shovels, spades, trowels, etc….the sand helps to clean and the oil helps keep the metal in good condition.
Remember to pull your rain gauges in freezing weather so they don’t crack and break.
With these few tips, you can enjoy putting your garden to rest for the winter and know your tools and garden will be waiting for you in the spring (unless, you are gardening through the fall and winter!)
We wanted to highlight one of our Garden Tower growers, Bill Land. Bill has been gardening and working toward an abundant world for most of his life. Bill worked in planning and zoning for many years and has been involved in projects that promote community-building in Illinois and Indiana. Throughout that time, Bill has gardened. He has been gardening with the Garden Tower since almost the inception of the Garden Tower Project. This year he set up his towers a bit differently. We wanted to share with you what he did, incase you are interested in trying it next time you plant your Garden Tower.
The first thing to note, is that Bill doubled up each of the pockets with lacinato kale, romaine lettuce, and rainbow chard. In the spring, he alternated these three types of plants in diagonal rows. In the top ring of each tower, there are three Bloody Butcher tomatoes, three basil, and two bush beans. This means he had 95-100 plants in the Garden Tower at any given point (remember, you can rotate out plants and add new ones throughout the season). The plants are getting the support they need in the soil, because rich, complex nutrients are available right at the root zone! This is one of the great secrets for healthy, nutritious fruits, flowers, and veggies.
For amendments, Bill added Dr. Earth and a goat/horse manure mix were added to one tower. The other tower had: Dr. Earth, manure mix, and azomite. He also experimented with putting copper and other metals near the tower to attract a beneficial electrical charge--encouraging plant growth.
These two spring towers were planted the on May 3, 2015. The first harvest was on day 26—and continued to go strong throughout the summer despite copious amounts of rain.
If you are interested in sharing your story with the Garden Tower as a feature, contact us!
The debate around genetically modified organisms is intense this year as labeling laws and bans and bans on bans are taken up. GMO technology has become pervasive in our world; and its impact on our food supply gets most of the attention. Is your food safe or isn’t it?
Whether you believe GMOs are dangerous or not, the majority of people agree we should have an option to know whether the food we buy contains them. And this is where GMOs get even more confusing. Many companies voluntarily label their foods GMO-free. Others don’t.
There is also the belief that if you buy organic, your food is also GMO free. This was called into question by Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen in a July 8 opinion piece for Forbes magazine. The key passage is includes this quote from USDA officials:
“As USDA officials have said repeatedly: “Organic certification is process based. That is, certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the [National Organic Program] regulations . . . If all aspects of the organic production or handling process were followed correctly, then the presence of detectable residue from a genetically modified organism alone does not constitute a violation of this regulation” [emphasis added].
This language is probably meant to protect the investment farmers have made in certifying organic and the value of organic as a label. It also means that due to genetic drift or other means, organic food may have GMO “residue” in it.
Miller and Kershen go on to point out the issues with certification and accountability with organic certification programs. Among their points, they report that there are only two conditions under which organic produce can be tested: 1, if the farmer is suspected of intentionally violating organic standards; 2, 5% of the operations certifiers work with are tested annually.
The authors' bottom line is that eating organically doesn't guarantee your food is GMO free. They seem to miss the point that farmers choose not to use materials like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that will compromise their certification. This means the food is not sprayed with synthetic toxins and that natural, organic substances are used. In addition, growers are becoming savvy to dealing with genetic drift by using measures like planting corn earlier than GMO corn is planted so that pollination times are staggered.
Does this mean throw out the value of eating organically? By no means! Becoming more aware about the concerns surrounding food safety and helps us understand why we want to buy and eat certain foods—or turn more towards growing our own.
When it comes to food, soil is where it’s at. There’s the adage: healthy soil=healthy plants=healthy people. It’s true! That’s why nutrient dense foods are as important to identify as organic or local foods. Growing your own in an active soil food web is key.
We focused on what goes into healthy soil in a blog from May this year…and there’s more. Many of us live in urban or rural areas that have damaged and contaminated soils: oil spills, herbicides, asphalt and concrete bases in the soil, etc. In fact, it might be safe to say that most of us have something to consider in our environment. This blog isn’t meant to be a “doomer downer” entry, but to introduce to you some techniques to heal our soils:
- Microbial remediation uses the bacteria and other microbes present in a healthy soil food web. Composting and applying compost as well as increasing the variety of plant species present are two of the keys.
- Phytoremediation uses plants as the primary processors of toxins. Plants can extract the toxin (and then be removed themselves) or break the contaminant down, or bind it up.
- Mycoremediation uses fungi to process contaminants. These are especially good at long-chain carbon substances (such as those made from oil).
These three techniques alone, or in combination, can do much to work with natural processes to break down or bind up toxins. Remediated landscapes are then much healthier for people, plants and animals to be in.
Don’t go it alone! More research and working with specialists in the subject can help you to assess and formulate a plan for how to address an area safely. Healing a damaged landscape can take years to fully realize.
Community groups together with municipalities are more appropriate to make decisions for larger common spaces. Many municipalities and states mandate capping the damaged soil with clean soil brought in from outside. Just like throwing a rug over your dirty floor, capping is not a complete solution. While, it is an understandable approach given financial and time constraints, it might be worth suggesting alternative test plots using remediation and proceeding carefully from there.
If you want two sources to inspire you, please do check out Earth Repair: A grassroots guide to healing toxic and damaged landscapes by Leila Darwish (2013) and the work of Paul Steamiest of Fungi Perfecti. Both are cautious, optimistic, and passionate about transforming our landscapes into healthier places for future generations.