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Archive for March, 2015

20" long compost thermometer with a 1 3/4" face

20″ long compost thermometer with a 1 3/4″ face

Spring is here and I know you are anxious to be in the garden. As soon as the temperatures begin to climb it is really tempting to get seeds in the ground. Before you take that step, however, I encourage you to make sure the ground is ready for your seeds. Of course, you will loosen the soil and add compost and, if necessary, organic fertilizers, but did you take the temperature of the soil?

Seeds are naturally programmed to germinate and grow within a certain range of temperatures. Within that range they will grow faster or slower, depending on their comfort zone. It has been my experience that just because it is the right time to plant on the calendar, it may not be the right time to plant according to the soil. The temperature of the soil is more important than the date on the calendar. When I was a market gardener I would be anxious to get sugar snap peas in the ground in early March. I would put in another planting two weeks later. If the weather had been too cool, the first planting may not come into production until the second planting did. I learned to pull back the leaf mulch that covered the bed over the winter and put down a sheet of plastic two weeks before planting the sugar snaps to warm the soil. If the weather has been too cool and wet there is the danger that the seeds will rot and not germinate at all. Peas, beans, and corn are most susceptible to this, which is why you might find those seeds for sale coated with fungicide. Steer clear of fungicide coated seeds and plant at the right time. Beans and corn like the soil to be 60° F (15.6 °C) and cowpeas would like it if you wait to plant until it warms to 65° F (18.3°C).

If you have mulch covering some of your garden beds, go out and stick your hand in the soil under the mulch and then put your hand in the soil in a bed without mulch. You will feel a noticeable difference in the temperature. During the winter an organic mulch such as leaves or straw does a good job of protecting the soil and providing habitat for the earthworms. However, when things begin to warm up in the spring the mulch will insulate the soil from the sun’s rays. Removing the mulch two weeks ahead of planting will help to warm the soil. I am not so much in a hurry these days, so I don’t use plastic to further warm the soil, but it is an option. With my system of cover cropping, when the cover crop is finished, it is naturally time to plant the next crop.

thermometer with a 5" stem and 1 1/4" face

thermometer with a 5″ stem and 1 1/4″ face

You can monitor the temperature of the soil with a thermometer or by sticking your hand in the ground. Even better, go barefoot. There’s nothing like the whole body experience. You might want to use a thermometer until you can gauge the temperature by touch. I use either a 20” long compost thermometer with a 1¾” face (top photo) or a thermometer with a 5” stem and 1¼” face that I bought at the grocery store. I keep the long thermometer stuck in the soil somewhere so I don’t lose it. Usually it is in my coldframe, where it is right now. The nice thing about the compost thermometer is that it is easy to read without bending over too much. The small thermometer has so many uses. It comes with a plastic sleeve that has a pocket clip –handy if you are going to be carrying it around. The one you see in the photo is the one I use to monitor the temperature in my solar food dryer. It sticks through a hole drilled for that purpose with just the gauge showing on the outside of the dryer. A small thermometer such as this can be used in the kitchen, which is why you will find it in the grocery store.

You can find a chart showing a list of crops and the minimum, optimum, optimum range, and maximum soil temperature conditions for each in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. A chart I find interesting is Days to Appearance of Seedlings at Various Soil Temperatures from Seed Planted at ½” Depth, compiled by J.F. Harrington. You can find it with an Internet search. It shows the number of days it takes for each crop to germinate at different temperatures. For example, peas will take 36 days to germinate at a soil temperature of 41°F (5°C), 13 days at 50°F (10°C) and 9 days at 59°F (15°C). You can see how warming up the soil will contribute to an earlier crop.

tomato,pepper, and zinnia seedlings in the coldframe???????????????????????????????

coldframe seedlings–tomatoes, peppers, and zinnias

Peppers, on the other hand, are shown to take 25 days to germinate at 59°F, 12 days at 68°F (20°C) and 9 days at 77° F (25° C). If you plant pepper and tomato seeds at the same time, the tomatoes will germinate first—in 14 days at 59°F, 8 days at 68°, and 6 days at 77°. I start my seeds in my coldframes, which provide cooler temperatures than starting them in the house. I put tomato, pepper, and other seeds of warm weather crops in my coldframe during the last week of March. Since I save much of my own seeds, I am developing strains of each crop that will germinate in cooler soil. The healthy plants that I take out of the coldframe are the ones that have germinated and thrived in the cooler conditions. The peppers that I have been most successful with in the coldframe are Corno di Toro and Ruffled Hungarian.

By saving your own seeds, you can develop strains of your crops that will germinate and grow under the conditions that you want to work with. Experiment with planting times and conditions in your garden. I would advise, however, to only take chances with what you can afford to lose. If you go into it with that attitude, you won’t be disappointed.

Homeplace Earth

 

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Cindy Conner - blogCome and see me at the Ashland branch of the Pamunkey Regional Library in Ashland, Virginia on Wednesday, March 18 from 7-8:30 pm! The library will be giving away new seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and I will be giving the presentation Growing to Seed to Share. My talk will include organic gardening and seed saving tips, as well as well as inform you of the seed library movement taking place around the country. Afterward, I’ll be signing my books–Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People and Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth.Homeplace Earth My DVDs will also be for sale.

See you there!

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John Jeavons giving a free lecture at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the evening before a 3 -Day Workshop in 2008.

John Jeavons giving a free lecture at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the evening before a 3 -Day Workshop in 2008.

Ecology Action began more than forty years ago when John Jeavons was seeking the answer to his question of how much space it would take to grow food for one person for a year. The focus on this work expanded to include also growing the crops to feed the soil. Besides researching growing a complete diet and the cover/compost crops needed for the soil, all in as small a space as possible, Ecology Action seeks to educate people worldwide to better feed themselves while building and preserving the soil and conserving resources.

Ecology Action maintains a website at www.GrowBiointensive.org where you will find information about their work, intern/apprentice opportunities, and a list of publications, some of which are in languages other than English. The outlet for Ecology Action’s research is Bountiful Gardens. There, in addition to seeds, you will find the Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE® publications. You can also purchase the DVD Grow Biointensive: A Beginner’s Guide in 8 Easy Sessions through Bountiful Gardens or watch each session for free at www.johnjeavons.info/video.

In January 2014 Ecology Action held a 2-Week Farmers Course at their place in Willlits, California. This important event contained lectures from twelve different sustainability experts from around the world plus hands-on learning experiences. Through the wonders of the Internet, you now have access to some of the lectures in that course. Having produced two DVDs myself, I have an appreciation of what an undertaking it was to have the Farmers Course filmed, edited, and made available to you at www.vimeo.com/ondemand/ecologyaction. There are four free lectures and another seven lectures available for $1.99 each or $11.99 for all seven.

Ecology Action holds 3-Day Workshops which consist of lectures with a half-day of hands-on activities in the garden. Watching these Farmers Course lectures will give you a taste of what a 3-Day Workshop is like if you’ve never been to one. If you have, these lectures will support what you’ve already learned and supply you with new insights and knowledge. One advantage of being able to watch them on your computer is that you can stop if you need to take a break or if you want more time to take notes.

HTGMV 8--BLOGOne of the four free episodes is a 40 minute introduction to the course which is different than the paid Introduction. The free episode shows a number of speakers from throughout the course besides John Jeavons; including Steve Moore, Jake Blehm, Eric Buteyn, Jed Diamond, Patricia Mayagoitia, Juan Manuel Martinez Valdez, Samuel Nderitu, and Peris Wanjiru. The $1.99 Introduction contains John’s full lecture on the world situation (parts of it are in the free introduction). Although the world situation looks dire, John stresses that we are each the solution to a dying world, which is actually a theme throughout the course.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklets  #34, #32, and #36.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklets #34, #31, and #36.

If you want to get the full benefit of these videos it is good to already be familiar with John’s book How to Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV). If you want to better understand his Diet Design lecture, it would be good to have first read Ecology Action’s Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #31 Designing a GROW BIONTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farm. In the Diet lecture, he refers to worksheets that are found in Booklet #31. Booklets #34 Food for the Future Now and #36 An Experimental 33-Bed GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-Farm are also good resources. When attending an Ecology Action 3-Day Workshop it is recommended that you have read the Ecology Action publications ahead of time.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #32

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #32

I consider Ecology Action Booklet #32 GROW BIOINTENSIVE Composting and Growing Compost Materials a companion to John’s Compost lecture. In that talk he speaks of the importance of building organic matter in the soil using compost, specifically compost made from materials grown biointensively in your garden. Compost holds 6 times its weight in water, which is an important consideration in times of water scarcity. You can store water in your soil by using compost to increase the organic matter in your garden. John explains why compost piles that are cool, rather than hot, contain more microbes than the hot piles and puts to rest any thought of needing to turn your compost piles regularly. It is better to let them molder in place, particularly if that place is in rotation in your garden. You can find more information about having a compost pile in your garden rotation in my DVDs and my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. The short and long range benefits of having a carbon to nitrogen ratio greater than 30:1 are also part of this lecture.

The lectures in this series include Operational Seed Security Systems by Sameul Nderitu from Kenya. He explains how his organization, G-BIACK, is encouraging farmers to save their own seeds. Just as in the U.S., farmers in Kenya tend to buy all their seeds each year from seed companies. In Kenya it is illegal for a farmer to sell seeds unless he has fulfilled all the requirements of a seed company, which is prohibitive. So, instead of selling their seeds as seeds, they sell them as food, which is legal.

Samuel’s wife, Peris Wanjiru spoke of Women Empowerment Programmes through G-BIACK . The women in Kenya are predominately illiterate and responsible for all of the household. If G-BIACK can teach the women biointensive gardening, solar cooking, and baking (to mention only a few of the subjects), they can help the whole family much more than targeting the men for education. G-BIACK stands for Grow Biontensive Agriculture Centre of Kenya. Samuel and Peris are graduates of the Manor House in Kenya, which expects its graduates to go back to their communities and make a difference. G-BIACK is the non-profit that they started and it has made a difference in the lives of so many people in Kenya. In turn, those people go back to their communities and teach others.

Steve Moore’s lecture on Farm Layout and Agroecology brings permaculture to the program and explains how a Biointensive garden needs to blend into the natural world and not be separate from it. Biointensive is actually the intensive gardening part of permaculture. Part of GROW BIOINTENSIVE teaching is that at least half of the area managed should be left to the wild. We need the wild areas of the natural world to filter our air and water, store water, and remove toxins.

There is more, but you will just have to watch these videos and check it out for yourself. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about GROW BIOINTENSIVE, John Jeavons, Ecology Action, and the whole crew of folks you will be seeing on the screen.

Homeplace Earth

 

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