Archive for the ‘biointensive’ Category

4.1 How Much To Grow - BLOGHow Much to Grow is the title of Chapter 4 in Grow a Sustainable Diet. If your garden is small and whatever you get from it is a welcome addition to your table, you might not be concerned with exactly how many pounds are produced of anything. You are just happy to have homegrown food in your meals. If you want to be able to predict how much your harvest will be so you can plan to have a certain amount for your family to eat, you can put pencil to paper now and do some calculating.

butternut squash

butternut squash

Chapter 4 contains a worksheet (you see part of it here) to help with those calculations. (There is a link in the book that will take you to PDFs of all the worksheets so you can print them out.) Whether you are trying to decide how much to grow for your family or for your CSA, the process is the same. Decide how much you want for each week and how many weeks you will be eating it, or in the case of a CSA, how many weeks you need to put it in the CSA boxes. If you have no idea how many pounds of something you need, go to the grocery store and pick out a reasonable quantity for a meal in the produce department. Weigh it on the scale that is right there. Multiply that weight by how many meals per week that item will supply and you have the pounds needed per week. The number of weeks you want to eat something could be only the weeks it is fresh from the garden, or every week of the year if you are preserving for eating out of season. Rather than the weight, you may need to know the count; how many of something you will have, such as butternut squash. Sometimes you can find that information in the seed catalogs, and sometimes not. From my experience, I know that I can expect about 4 squash per plant. If the catalog doesn’t have that information for the variety you choose, read the description of all the varieties, as well as the specifics for each crop to get an estimate.

Finding out how much is needed is the easy part. You need to know how much you can grow in your area and pounds/100 ft² is a good universal measure to use. How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons has Master Charts that can help you with that. The Master Charts have columns for Biointensive yields and for the US Average for each crop. Use those figures as guidelines. Your yield will depend on many factors, including your soil, climate, and management style. You might already know how much you can harvest in the area planted. If not, this exercise should encourage you to record your harvests this year, at least for the crops you are most interested in.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Remember the charts are only guidelines. For the Biointensive yield, the Master Charts give three numbers; the beginning yield that you could expect getting at some time, the intermediate yield that could be reached after good soil building, and a high yield that few might reach. The Biointensive yield of winter squash is shown as 50/100/350. There is no US Average shown in the Master Charts, but my research determines that number to be 49.5 pounds/100 ft². The target yield I use for butternut squash is 150 pounds/100 ft². I have reached that yield and sometimes higher in my garden. For cowpeas, the Biointensive yield is 2.4/4/5.9. The US Yield of cowpeas isn’t shown, but through my research I’ve determined it to be 2.6 pounds. I live in a great climate for cowpeas and have found I can use 5 pounds/100 ft² as my target yield. On the other hand, I would love to plan on getting 100 pounds/100 ft² regularly with my potatoes, but the voles keep the yield below that. The Biointensive yield for potatoes is 100/200/780 and the US Average is 84.2. Depending on the variety, I don’t always reach the low Biointensive yield of 100 pounds for tomatoes. The US Average for tomatoes is 67 pounds for fresh and 153.4 pounds for processing tomatoes per 100 ft².

From your garden map you will know how much space you have available. My post Making a Garden Map can help you with that. It becomes a balancing act, deciding how much space to allot for each crop. Having a target yield makes planning easier. Your target yield may need to be adjusted from year to year, but at least you have someplace to start from. Between cover crops and food crops, plan to have your beds full all year. Immediately after your early spring crops are harvested, plant the next crop. Leaving the beds empty is an invitation for Mother Nature to plant her favorites, which we tend to think of as weeds.

The rest of the page of the How Much to Grow worksheet that you don’t see is a space for comments and three columns for the amount of calories, protein, and calcium per pound of food. It is always good to leave space for comments—something about that crop you want to remember. Since I keep records for my certification as a GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Minifarming teacher, I am interested in the amount of calories, protein, and calcium in each crop. There might be other things that you want to record in those additional columns.

Use this information to enhance what you are doing, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep track of what you can. As you find you have more questions, add the appropriate recordkeeping to your system. Most importantly—have fun in your garden this year!Homeplace Earth

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cucumber plants surrounded by water

cucumber plants surrounded by water

This year hasn’t been one of favorable weather, as far as gardening is concerned, with warm weather slow in coming in the spring. Now, here in Virginia, we’ve had a wet summer. The water table tends to be high at our place. That means that in the low spots, there will be standing water when we have much rain.

My garden slopes to the northwest corner. The west side of the garden is the wettest in this kind of weather, particularly in that northwest corner. I decided to check just how much the drop was on the north side of my garden from east to west. I ran a string from one side to the other, using a level to align it correctly. The string was 12” above ground on the east side and 24” above ground on the west side—a 12” drop! The bed in that corner is good in the drier years, but marginal at best at other times. I’ve ignored it for far too long and have decided that I should address this problem this year.

Before I tell you what I’m going to be doing with the bed in that low corner, I want to tell you what I’ve already done in my garden to help with such issues. Although we have too much rain right now, more often, the problem is too little rain. The best place to store water in your garden is in the soil. Double digging the beds when you establish your garden will open the soil and give water a place to be. Of course, if your garden is in the low spot of your yard and you double dig your beds, you might have to dig a trench around your garden to route the extra water somewhere else to hold it for awhile in times of heavy rainfall. Double digging is a job for when the soil is dry, not something you would be doing if you currently have standing water. I know some of my readers are in drought prone areas and find it hard to imagine too much water. If that is you, kindly forward this post to folks you know in wetter areas.

Having permanent beds and permanent paths is a help. The beds are double dug to start and then not walked on. Your feet are confined to the paths, which can be mulched. Not wanting to find mulch materials for my paths, I’ve gone to growing white clover in them. When I formed my beds I dug out the1½ ft. wide paths between them and put that soil onto the garden beds. It gives the impression of raised beds without using any materials to frame them. You can see the benefit of that in the first photo. Extra rainwater can drain from the beds and slowly seep into the soil in those paths. The cucumber plants you see in that picture did fine, once the weather evened out. When that photo was taken we had had 6.25” of rain in seven days.

garden-august 2008-combined-BLOG

garden with permanent beds, cover crops, and compost

Organic matter helps hold nutrients in reserve for your crops, otherwise, too much water can wash them away. You can build organic matter in your beds by growing cover crops and by adding compost. I have cover crops in my rotations and regularly add compost to my beds. If you are not familiar with gardens with permanent beds and permanent paths, compost, and cover crops, you might want to watch my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden. You can see a preview of it here. Having enough cover crops in your rotation to use them as compost material enables you to avoid bringing in compost materials that might be harmful to your garden. Find out more about that issue in my post Killer Compost.

If you’ve done all of the above and your garden, or places in it, are still too wet, use this as an opportunity to explore new things. Take a good look at what is going on. It might be that you are still building your soil and things will get better. However, if you know this is a recurring problem, reconsider what you’ve been doing. You could change the crops you grow there. In 2004 I grew rice in my waterlogged corner and was successful with a harvest of 8 pounds per 100 sq. ft. However, I learned that rice needs to be hulled and I never got around to doing that. Maybe I should try that again. I could have a rotation that includes rice in several beds in that area, separate from the rest of the garden rotation.

Knowing that is the wet corner, I have basket willow and hazelnut (filbert) trees planted in that area of the garden. Take time to research plants that do well in wetlands or rain gardens. In my smaller garden I was happy to acquire some Siberian irises for the wet area when a friend was giving some away. During one year of heavy rainfall, cattails showed up uninvited in a wet area. These things are great for my borders, and I believe having a wetlands is good for any ecosystem, however, I would really like to get some vegetable production out of that garden bed in the northwest corner of my garden that is 12” lower than the other side of the garden.

I am considering building the height of the bed with hugelkultur. Hugelkultur is basically a compost pile with a thick base of wood, sequestering carbon in the soil for the long term. Sepp Holzer promotes this technique in his book Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. I wouldn’t want to use wood big enough to burn in our wood stove, but we have some brush piles around here—a result of some much needed pruning of our bushes and trees. I could move that brush to the low bed, adding garden weeds and other green material as I go along. Some soil will most likely go into the building, but most of the soil will be on the top layer. Hopefully, this summer or fall we’ll be digging out the area where the garden washing station is and putting down pavers. I’m not in a hurry to do this work (on the garden bed or the pavers), so whenever (and if)  it happens, the soil will go to the brush pile/compost pile that is on the low bed. I already build compost piles on some of my beds with the finished compost being distributed each season. What goes into a hugelkultur bed stays there. I would have to build the pile much taller than I want the finished height of the bed to be. Just as a compost pile is reduced to a lower level in the process, this bed would become shorter, also.

Homeplace EarthOn the other hand, cattails would be at home in that spot, just as it is, and wouldn’t involve nearly so much energy on my part. There are always choices and things to learn in a garden.

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potatoes and sweet potatoes-BLOGIn my last post I wrote about how many more calories you could get if you grew beans and corn out and harvested the dried seeds. If you really wanted to grow a lot of calories in a small space, however, you would take a look at potatoes. The low Biointensive yield shown in the Master Charts of How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) by John Jeavons is 100 pounds per 100 ft². There is an average of 349 calories per pound in potatoes—a little more in russets and less in white potatoes, with red-skinned spuds in the middle. If you were really hard-core in growing your calories, I suppose you would grow the russets at 358 calories per pound rather than the whites at 318, but I don’t care for the russet varieties as much as the others. A yield of 100 pounds, which is the best yield I’ve had, would give you 34,900 calories per 100 ft² bed. Comparing it to the corn that I talked about in that last post, with flour corn at 18,216, potatoes would give you 1.9 times the calories. Looking at the beans, with dried beans at 6,152 calories per 100 ft², growing potatoes would give you 5.7 times the calories in the same space.

In order to get all your calories from potatoes, however, you would have to eat many more pounds of potatoes than either beans or corn. To reach 2,000 calories per day, you would need to eat 5.7 pounds of potatoes, 1.2 pounds of flour corn, or 1.3 pounds of dried beans. Your calorie requirements might even be more than that, depending upon your age, sex, and lifestyle. The weight of the corn and beans is the dried weight. When considering the eating, multiply by 3 for the cooked weight, unless it is made into bread and tortillas, then multiply by 2. Hopefully your diet will be more diverse that just potatoes, corn, or beans, but this is how they would compare.

A man once told me that in survival training in the military, he was told that you could get everything you need from a diet of potatoes and milk. According to nutrition charts, a diet of too many potatoes could be toxic in potassium. On the other hand, if you need potassium, eat more potatoes. Having fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, in your diet would help rid your body of toxins. I think it was in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price that I read that the people he met in the mountains of Peru ate mostly potatoes dipped in a “gravy” of kaolin clay. The clay would have helped rid the body of toxins. It depends on the soil, climate conditions, and how it is grown, whether a food has certain nutrients or toxins in it. Studying indigenous diets is important if you want to grow all your own food. Our culture has lost some of the practices that were important in bringing food to the table. Sometimes they are the key we need to be successful in our endeavors.

Sweet potatoes are another good calorie crop. They might yield a little less per bed, but have a little more calories per pound. At the low biointensive yield that would mean 30,750 calories per 100 ft². In HTGMV Jeavons designates crops as area-efficient if they produce significant calories per area and weight-efficient if the amount that needs to be eaten for all one’s calories is 9 pounds/day or less. Of course, potatoes head the list of crops that are both area-efficient and weight-efficient. Other crops on the list besides sweet potatoes are Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, parsnips, and salsify.  The information about area and weight efficiency for these crops is in HTGMV and is available online at http://www.growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html.

You might not be growing all your food, but putting a hearty meal on the table occasionally that consists of only food you have grown is pretty satisfying. Check out my Homegrown Friday posts to see some of my experiences on that in 2011 and 2012. If you have done something similar, by all means, add a comment and tell us about it.

 It is good to know what to grow and prepare that will fill you up. There are so many factors to consider when planning your diet around what you grow. You want to make sure it is a sustainable diet, so while you are growing crops for high yields in some things, you are also growing crops that will feed back the soil. That’s where the grains come in. They are weight-efficient, but not area-efficient when it comes to calories, but they produce a lot of necessary carbon for your compost making. The beans, also, are weight-efficient and not area-efficient. You could, however, grow pole beans up the corn stalks and that would up your yield of calories per 100 ft². Beans and grains pair well together to provide the necessary amino acids that make up protein. I’ll talk about growing protein in the next post. See you then!


More about Growing Calories at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/growing-calories.aspx.

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  1. BB corn-BLOGHave you ever wondered how much space it would take to grow your food? Maybe you’ve wondered just how much space it would take to grow all of a certain crop to have enough for the year. The answer to both questions is–it depends. It depends on what you want to eat and how you are growing it. John Jeavons asked what was the least space needed to grow all one’s food more than forty years ago and has been working on the answer ever since, including the sustainability aspect. You need to consider the soil and grow soil building crops along with your food crops. I wrote an article that is in the new (Oct/Nov 2012) issue of Mother Earth News called A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency. It includes planning charts for vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. There is an additional chart online for oilseeds. You can find the article and charts online, however it all looks much nicer in the magazine. You can use that article to begin your own planning.

The charts with the article show estimates of yields you might get if you follow the GROW BIOINTENSIVE® principles explained in Jeavons book How To Grow More Vegetables. I follow those methods, so my blog posts and videos will give you additional understanding of how to put GROW BIOINTENSIVE into practice. The charts also have a column showing the average yields in the U.S. for conventional production. These figures are guidelines for you to use in your planning, but in reality, what you really need to know is how much you can grow in your soil, in your climate, with your schedule, etc, etc. In other words, there are a lot of variables. My suggestion is to just jump right in and get growing. Learn as you go, see what you can do, then improve your skills and soil each year.

In 1997-98 I had a small CSA and decided to include snap beans in the offerings. I had already been selling vegetables to two local restaurants for five years, so I was attuned to doing a trial and estimating the harvest, or so I thought. I had grown a bed of beans in the garden close to the house and had measured the yield and recorded the time it took to harvest, wash and pack. I set my price according to those figures. The crop for sale, however, was planted in another garden on our property, in beds that had not been in production for as long and had not received the mulch and compost over the years that my trial bed had. The yield was not as high and it took longer to pick the same amount of beans, since each grab brought a few beans, rather than a handful. It was definitely a lesson learned. Knowing what I had achieved with the trial bed, however, gave me hope for the newer garden and a yield to aim for.

If you really want to provide a significant portion of your food from your garden you would be looking at growing things that fill you up, so you would be thinking about growing calories. In Jeavons book there are columns in his Master Charts that show how many calories, and how much calcium, and protein are in each pound of food for each crop. Consider corn. If you are already growing sweet corn, using the beginning biointensive yield of 17 pounds of kernels per 100 square feet, you would have 6,800 calories of food in that 17 pounds. If you grew flour corn-corn for cornmeal- and achieved the beginning biointensive yield of 11 pounds of dry kernels, you would have produced 18,216 calories in 100 square feet of garden space. Of course, the sweet corn, depending on the variety, might have been ready to harvest 3-4 weeks earlier than the four corn. The corn stalks provide important carbon for your compost pile. If you grew sweet corn, it is to your benefit to leave the stalks standing for 4 weeks after the harvest of the ears, giving them a chance to produce more lignin. If you were doing that, you might as well grow flour corn.

There is nothing like growing staple crops.  In her book, The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe talks of growing five staple crops that “you need to survive and thrive”. Those crops are corn, beans, potatoes, squash, and eggs. (She prefers duck eggs). Deppe has to avoid gluten, making corn her grain of choice. She even includes her recipe for cornbread that has no wheat flour in it.

beans-dried and canned--BLOGFor fun, let’s take a look at beans. If you grow snap beans and achieve the beginning biointensive yield, you would have 30 pounds of beans from a 100 square foot bed. Those 30 pounds of snaps would give you 4,230 calories. If you grew those beans all the way out to dry seeds, the beginning biointensive yield is 4 pounds of dried seed, giving you a yield of 6,152 calories in the same space. Of course, they would be in the bed longer and you would have to keep the bean beetles from taking out the plants before they reached dried seed stage. One great advantage of growing dried beans is that they don’t need to be cannned. Just put the dried beans in a jar and store them in your pantry. Cowpeas are my dried bean of choice. They grow better for me to dry seed than other types of beans and the bean beetles ignore them. Find out what grows best in your area. At Ecology Action in Willits, California, pinto beans grow well. I have never been successful with growing pinto beans to seed here.

This should widen your thinking as you make notes for next year’s garden. Some more thoughts about planning a diet of homegrown foods are at my post On Growing All Your Own Food. I was recently at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania, and at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello in Virgnia the weekend before that. It was encouraging for me to meet so many people who are anxious to learn to grow their food. It proves there is hope for the world, after all. We are living in exciting times and we need to embrace that. Enjoy the adventure!


Find more on Planning for Eating at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/planning-for-eating.aspx.

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potatoes in basket--BLOGVoles, sometimes called meadow mice, really like potatoes. If you’ve grown potatoes for any amount of time at your place, it’s a good chance the voles have discovered them and moved right on in. Before I grew so many cover crops, I mulched everything with leaves. Voles love the cover of mulch, happily going about their business (of eating potatoes) out of the reach of predators. As much as I loved mulching the potatoes with leaves, or anything else, I had to stop that practice.

It turns out that voles also love living among the grain crops. More than a decade ago I gave up the leaves in favor of cover crops. I’ve been doing some great soil building and the voles appreciate every bit, living among the roots of the grains while they’re growing and when the roots are decomposing in the beds. I’ve changed up the preceding cover crop for potatoes, first with Austrian winter peas and now with oilseed radish. The winter peas were wonderful, leaving the bed friable and able to be worked by April 1, pulling out the green pea plants for the compost pile, but I still had vole problems. I was betting on the oilseed radish. After all, it’s a brassicus and potatoes and the cabbage family are supposed to be friends. Voles also love radish and their holes were evident through the winter where they’d feasted. One advantage of that is that I set traps and caught a few before the potatoes went in. 

I figure maybe I’m supposed to have vole problems, so that I can work on balancing that part of the ecosystem and give you some advice. This year I decided to address the vole problem head on. I scoured the Internet for suggestions and came up with a few to try. Adding greensand to the bed should help, said one source. I’m a little short on potash in my garden anyway and so I added greensand to every potato bed. Bury elderberry stems with the potatoes, said another source. Drop in some crushed oyster shells when you plant, urged my friend. Crushed oyster shells are something you can buy by the bag and are often used as a calcium supplement to feed to chickens. I planted potatoes six different ways to test all the ideas.

potatoes with vole traps-BLOG

mousetraps are under the plastic pots to trap voles

I already knew that varieties make a difference and that the voles love the yellow fleshed ones more than anything, which is why I had long since given up growing Carolas, my favorite variety.  One year when I did grow Carola potatoes, I also had Butte at one end of the bed. I remember that the voles took out the Carolas and slowed down considerably when they came to the Buttes. My choices for 2012 were Kennebec and Butte. As it turns out, they love Butte more than Kennebec. In my trials, the Kennebec yields were 1.6-2.6 times higher than the Butte yields, with the same planting methods.

Adding elderberry to the plantings interested me, and we have elderberries growing at our place, so that was easy. I put elderberry leaves on top of each potato piece and buried green elderberry stems between the rows. That bed gave me the worst yield of all, resulting in 6.4 lbs/100 ft² for the Buttes and 17.2 lbs/100ft² with the Kennebecs. Remember we make no mistakes, only learning experiences. I learned not to try that again.

potatoes with posts--BLOGOne thing I had an interest in trying is to put a post in each potato spot with a plastic bottle on top to bang around and make vibration. I used old metal posts, the kind used for electric fence, for some of the posts and bamboo for the rest. I cut “wings” in the sides of the plastic bottles and cardboard milk cartons that I put on top of the posts, hoping the “wings” would catch in the wind and vibrate the posts, making conditions uncomfortable for the voles. Even rain should have caused some vibration. I learned that was nothing I need to try again, also. Dealing with the posts and bottles were a lot of bother, anyway. In that bed, I had a row of potatoes down the middle of the bed and I hilled around each one. On one side I set out cabbage when the potatoes were planted. The other side had snap beans, planted after some hilling had been done to the potatoes. Another year I had interplanted potatoes and cabbage and the voles took out the potatoes. Interplanting potatoes and brassicus is officially off my to-do list.

Oyster shells seemed like a logical thing to do, reasoning that voles don’t like the rough surface, but I had tried that before. If it had worked as well as I’d hoped, I’d still be doing it. Besides, my soil didn’t need more calcium. However, my friend said he had good luck with that and urged me to try it again. I did, putting a handful of crushed oyster shells in with each potato piece, then soil, then shells, then topping with soil. Only Buttes were planted in that bed with a yield of 24 lbs/100 ft².  Oyster shells are officially off the list of things to do again, also.

I built a new 4’ x 8’ coldframe this spring. I dug everything out to about 15” and put ½’ hardware cloth in the bottom. Then I built the sides with dry-stacked solid cement blocks, topping that with a wood coldframe, right out of Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest. Although I needed it to grow seedlings, I wanted to first try it as a potato planter. I only had Kennebecs in there for a yield of 43 lbs/100 ft².  I still found vole tunnels in this planting. The voles could have crawled in over the top (an edge sticking out from the coldframe all around might have prevented that) or may have gotten through a crack where the cement blocks may have shifted. Still, I had potatoes. Things were looking up.

potatoes in brick planter--BLOGIn one bed, I tried a variety of things. I buried large black plastic pots with the bottoms cut out, each with 2 potatoes;  2’ high circles of ½” hardware cloth dug into the ground about 10”, each with 3 potatoes; and potatoes planted loose in between these barriers. The Butte half of that bed yielded 35 lbs/100 ft² and the Kennebec yield was 71.8 lbs/100 ft².  At the end of that bed I had built a planter, laying hardware cloth on the ground and making a surround 3 bricks high, filling it with soil. Into that I put 4 potatoes. Granted, it was a very small area, but the yield was 98 lbs/100 ft²! After fighting the voles for years, friends of mine had done something similar to grow their sweet potatoes in, with success. I would have thought the voles would just climb over the bricks to get in, but maybe they like to stay close to the ground.  

I usually space my potatoes equidistant, every 12”, but with the vole problems, I thought I might be making it too easy for them to go from one to the other. This year, in one 4’ x 20’ bed I put just two rows of 20 potatoes in each row, hilling each plant separately. The Butte half yielded 18.25 lbs/100 ft² and the Kennebec half gave me 30.25 lbs/100 ft². Comparing the Kennebecs in the hilled rows and the ones in the brick planter, 30 pounds is a lot less than 98 lbs. per 100 ft², but just about the same yield per plant. I could increase the yield in that bed with hilled rows if I interplanted something after the potatoes were hilled for the last time and if I was more aggressive about trapping voles early. The interplanted crop would have to be ready to come out with the potatoes.  

Our daughter, Betsy, Lightfoot Gardening Coach, and I have been exchanging notes on potatoes. This is her second year in a garden that she carved out of a field, double-digging the beds when she started. She had planted oats and oilseed radish in her beds preceding potatoes. Since we had such a mild winter, she had to chop the oats in and let that crop compost in place. She pulled the radishes for the compost pile. In “normal” years, if there is such a thing, those crops would have winter killed. She planted Elba potatoes and in the oats bed, with the potatoes planted intensively with offset spacing, she harvested 107 lbs/100 ft².  In the radish bed she planted two long rows and hilled each row 3 times. Her yield there was 90 lbs/100 ft². Planting it that way, she used only about half the potatoes and came close to the same yield. She also noticed that the hilled Elbas were larger than those planted intensively. She planted Red Norlands in a bed that had oilseed radish over the winter. It was treated the same way as the hilled Elbas. There was lots of vole damage, producing a yield of 50 lbs/100 ft². She had noticed vole damage during the winter in her radish cover crop and had worried about this year’s potato harvest. She did okay, with bushels of potatoes for her larder. 

One good thing about keeping records is that it helps in planning for next year. I will continue working with Kennebec potatoes and will compare them to Betsy’s Elbas. I might grow a radish cover crop and trap the voles through the winter, something I should have worked more on this year. I’m going to be looking at different preceding cover crops and planting in hilled rows with space for possible interplanting on the sides. Although I don’t like to do much cultivation, I think regular cultivation and hilling helps deter the voles. Hoping to develop an ecosystem that makes the voles stay away voluntarily, I’ve been adding daffodils to the perimeters of some beds (have yet to see that as effective) and have added castor plants to the garden. In the end, it will be everything together that determines success—variety, planting and cultivation, soil fertility, weather, etc. Wishing you success in your potato endeavors. Do you have any potato/vole experiences you would like to share?




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Piteba oil press-BLOGOnce you really begin to plan how to eat a homegrown/local diet you will soon realize that cooking oil is something that is not coming out of your garden or is available from local growers, unless you live in California in olive territory. If animal products are in your diet, that could be a source of fat. I buy bacon locally from a farmer who raises his hogs on pasture and save the drippings for cooking with. Having homegrown oil, however, would be nice, and it just happened that I visited Lehman’s Hardware in 2010 when they first began to carry the Piteba oil press. I bought one and played with it long enough to know that I needed to spend more time learning all the ins and outs to put it to the best use. I was busy building my solar dryers and learning more about them, however, so the oilseed press got put aside. With my 2011 hazelnut harvest and homegrown peanuts, I decided it was time to get it out. Another source for the Piteba is Bountiful Gardens.

The photo shows it all set for action. The press comes with a small bottle with a wick that holds colored lamp oil that you provide. The first photo shows blue lamp oil, but in the closeup photo you can’t see colored oil because it is almost empty. You also need to provide a container to catch your pressed oil as it drips from the slot. Unfortunately, a jelly jar is too wide to fit the space, but I have a small juice glass that is just the right size. There is a small hole in the frame where that glass sets. A funnel could be placed there with a tube that leads to a larger container. You also need to provide the seed hopper, made from a soda bottle. I used a bread pan to catch the oilseed cake after it was pressed.

The small lamp heats up the press cage to help with the oil flow. Light it 10 minutes before you begin pressing. Once things are flowing well, you might be able to extinguish it. Beware! Only have the wick showing the slightest bit or the flame will be too big. If it is too big and you have to adjust the wick, DO NOT grab the wick holder with your fingers while it is hot! Wait until it cools. I’m speaking from experience here.

The first time I used my press I tried some old sunflower seeds that I had here. They were the striped culinary ones, not the black oilseed variety that you should use for oil. Being old they were probably somewhat dry and they immediately stopped it up. The handle stopped turning easily, in fact, it became impossible to turn. When that happens, and it will, you need to take off the large cap and the adjustment bolt. If you’ve had the lamp lit, they will be hot, which is why I keep handy a ¾” wrench to use for the adjustment bolt and a monkey wrench for the cap. Take them off and immediately clean out the cap. You will need a knife to dislodge all the packed seed residue. Wash everything thoroughly, making sure the threads of the cap are clean.   If your seeds are too dry, the directions suggest mixing some water with them and leaving them in a plastic bag for two days, then try again.

Immediately after using the Piteba, dismantle and clean it. If you wait, the press cake inside will become hard as stone. If that happens, you can soak everything in water until it softens enough to take apart. Depending on how it is, you may need to leave it soaking overnight, but it will soften enough to clean. Be sure to read all the directions. There is a washer that needs to be coated with edible oil before it goes on the expeller screw when you put it all together to use.

You can go to the health food store and buy any number of seeds to try in the Piteba. There is a performance chart available on the Piteba website that allows you to compare the percent of oil in various seeds. If push came to shove, however, and you needed to provide cooking oil for your household, you would do well to learn as much as you can about using seeds you can grow or find locally. Keep in mind that these seeds aren’t as convenient as the ones from the store. You will need to clean and process them yourself. If you are using sunflower or pumpkin seeds, use oilseed varieties. The seeds of oilseed pumpkins are hulless. The seeds from oilseed varieties of sunflowers are black.

Piteba oil press-closeup-BLOG

pressing homegrown peanuts

I was anxious to press my homegrown hazelnuts and peanuts. It took forever to shell the hazelnuts, since my nuts are the small native variety. Find out more about growing hazelnuts at Hazelnuts / Filberts In My Garden. The yield for one cup of homegrown hazelnuts, weighing 5 ounces, was 3⅓ tablespoons oil. The yield for one cup of homegrown peanuts, weighing 6 ounces, was 4 tablespoons oil. I used my Master Nut Cracker for the shelling for both the hazelnuts and peanuts. The peanuts went pretty fast with that. I’ll be writing about that nut cracker one of these days.

If you wanted to produce enough oil for one tablespoon a day per person, you would need 1.4 gallons of oil per person per year. In the Master Charts in How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) by John Jeavons, the beginning yield for peanuts is 4 pounds per 100 ft² and the intermediate yield is 10 pounds. The average U.S. yield for peanuts is 7.2 pounds per 100 ft². Let’s consider the conservative 4 pound yield. I need to sow about 8 ounces of peanuts for each 100 ft² planting, so a yield of 4 pounds leaves 3.5 pounds for eating or pressing for oil. At that rate it would take 960 ft² to grow peanuts to produce 1.4 gallons of oil, plus the seed to plant back. Just think, if you had that 7.2 pound U.S. average, it would only take 500 ft². I battle the voles at my place, so my best yield of peanuts has been 3.75 lb. per 100 ft². I’ll have to see what I can do to get my peanut yield up. The HTGMV beginning yield for hazelnuts is 7 pounds per 100 ft² planting. Since hazelnut trees are perennial, you don’t have to save out any seed to plant back, however, some trees may not produce every year.

primitive oilseed press-BLOG

primitive oilseed press

In 2008 I took this picture of a primitive oilseed press. I don’t know any more about it than what you see in the picture.The seeds are in a small basket. We were at a folklife festival and came upon it at the end of the day. The only person around was a volunteer who said it was for pressing seeds for oil. If you don’t have a Piteba, it might give you some ideas. In The Self-Sufficient Life and How To Live It, John Seymour suggests using a cider press to extract the oil from seeds. You would need to crush the seeds, then wrap them in a cloth. Obviously, you would need to work with a larger quantity of seeds. It might be, now that you have taken a closer look at what’s involved to produce your cooking oil, you might adjust your diet to use less than before. Steaming vegetables might become more desirable than stir-frying. Last week I used my solar oven to bake some snap beans, potatoes, and garlic together with only 1 tablespoon of my newly pressed oil drizzled over the vegetables. It was delicious.

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canteloupe seedling-BLOGI’ve been thinking lately of how someone would get started in vegetable gardening these days. In many ways it is a lot different than when I got started so many years ago, and in other ways, not so much. You are still just putting seeds in the ground and watching them grow, hoping to harvest a bounty later in the summer. When I started I had no knowledge of frost dates, days to maturity, garden maps, etc. We had moved out of our one-bedroom apartment and into a rental house with a backyard about a mile from the Ohio State University campus. I dug up the garden space in the area, where neighbors told me later, a garage had been. We bought seeds off a rack in the store and tomato and pepper plants from somewhere that I don’t remember. I do remember the peas we planted. We didn’t know they would get so tall, and when they started growing wildly everywhere, our neighbor suggested we put up a string trellis. With sticks and strings, we got those peas off the ground, just in time for them to stop growing. Who knew they stopped growing as we got into summer? Not us! Another thing I remember is that the tomatoes were planted too close, or so I was told. In our neighborhood the residents were either twenty-somethings, or retired homeowners who had lived there for decades. Our next door neighbor was wonderful. Across the street was a woman who was rather a busy-body. My garden gave those retired women something to talk about. The busy-body would come over to my neighbor’s, look over the picket fence, and pass judgment, which I would learn of later from the neighbor. That’s how I learned the tomatoes were planted too close. Another memory is standing in the garden one evening with my husband and other neighbors (twenty-somethings) across the alley. We were all looking at the green beans which, as I now know, were ready to harvest. Our friends asked when it would be time to pick them and we weren’t exactly sure. Everything was picked a little on the late side, as we watched it grow past its prime. I grew some great carrots that first year. I was just realizing that it was time to start pulling them for the table when there was a frost warning. Thinking I had to get them all out of the ground before the frost, I pulled them all and gave many away to friends. I now know that I can leave carrots in the ground all winter, with some leaves thrown over for a cover, and harvest at my leisure.

MEN-OG-BLOGWe’re talking 1974 here. No internet service or home computers. Making a long-distance telephone call was a big deal. We had a small black-and-white TV and a stereo that played vinyl. My education in organic gardening began with reading Organic Gardening magazine at the local food coop when I visited. It was a couple years before I felt we could afford to actually buy a subscription, which I did in early 1977. Robert Rodale, may he rest in peace, did a wonderful service to humanity through Organic Gardening and Rodale Press. With his magazine and the books that Rodale Press published, he educated so many, many people. In fact, he’s probably not resting on The Other Side, but continuing his mission of guiding people in ways to feed the population of this planet without destroying it. Mother Earth News was also important in our lives. John Jeavons was just beginning to develop what became GROW BIOINTENSIVE® at Ecology Action in California. That was about it for the resources that were out there for organic gardeners and homesteaders.

Fast forward to 2012 and you get instant information overload. A person can become paralyzed with too much information. You don’t need to read everyone’s opinion about something on the web or see all their garden pictures before you put in your own garden. You can just dig up a spot and get started like I did. If you need help, find a resource to focus on to get started, and go from there. I hope that my videos and blog provide that focal point for many. I can be the helpful neighbor across the fence, hopefully not the busybody one. The learning is in the doing. You will soon have some experiences of your own to share. Growing your own food is the thing to do these days and you should be able to find a local group with similar interests. If not, start one.

4 Rodale Books-BLOGThe book I found most helpful when I was first learning is How To Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method. It is still a favorite of mine to turn to when I have a question about a crop. Other helpful books have been Home Food Systems, Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills, and High-Yield Gardening, all out of print by now. In 1989 Chelsea Green came on the scene when it published New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman. That book was helpful to me when I became a market gardener in 1992. With the new century came an explosion of books and magazines on organic gardening, sustainable living, urban agriculture, etc. They are easy to find with an internet search or by browsing in your nearest bookstore. In preparation for this blog, I took a look at some of my old Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News magazines. I believe they could be re-published just as they are and be relevant today. In fact, Mother Earth News has all its old issues available on a CD and many articles accessible through its website.

I began teaching at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in 1999 because I had identified a need. Those classes continue with our daughter, Betsy Trice. Her next class, Organic Gardening Resources, begins May 24 and involves a lot of hands-on. Students will dig garlic, onions, and potatoes and evaluate the yield. They will cut rye and wheat, thresh out the grain, and make compost. For those who can’t take a class, she has started the business of Lightfoot Gardening Coach for people in the Richmond-to-Charlottesville (Virginia) area who may want someone at their side to guide them. She lives between the two cities. She can help people get started with vegetable gardening, backyard chickens, and other homesteading endeavors. Betsy and I are joining together to give a presentation at Ashland Coffee and Tea in Ashland, VA on Tuesday, May 29 at 7:30pm.  I will lead a Wheat Workshop at New Earth Farm in Virginia Beach, VA on Saturday, June 2. For those out of our area, if you check around, you may find learning opportunities near you. Some of you out there just might be the ones to offer such programs. You could start by giving a talk at your local library. Sponsoring a public showing of my videos is a good way to attract like-minded folks. You don’t need any special permission from me or pay any additional fee to do that. You can make hard-copies of the worksheets from the CD to use with participants/students in your own teaching, all with proper credit to Homeplace Earth, of course.  What you do not have permission to do is to make copies of the DVDs and CDs themselves.

Bloom where you are planted. The time to start is now and the place to start is wherever you are.  Best wishes in your endeavors!

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