Archive for the ‘biointensive’ Category

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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garden in June--BLOGI am often asked how much space it would take to grow all one’s food.  That depends on a lot of factors.  I can only address the issue from the sustainability of also growing all the compost crops to feed back the soil.  With the world population now topping seven billion, using the least area for this project is high on the list of considerations.

Limiting your diet to only what you could grow in the least area, sustainably, brings nutritional challenges, with the most limiting nutrients being calories, calcium, and protein.  Those can be met with careful planning, however the resulting diet may or may not be something you want to eat everyday at this time in your life.  This is exactly what is studied at the Intermediate level of GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-farming.  The basic information for GROW BIOINTENSIVE can be found in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.

GB_2000calorieThe USDA has interactive diet planning information at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/.  You can find the nutrients for specific foods there.  According to the SuperTracker feature, at a moderate rate of exercise, I should eat 2000 calories per day.  The number of servings from each food group is suggested to reach that goal.  However, limiting myself to only my garden, I won’t have all those food groups available.  A GROW BIOINTENSIVE 2000 calorie diet might look like what’s in the box on the right.  It’s a vegan diet and includes no vitamin B12, a critical nutrient necessary for healthy nerves and to prevent anemia.  As with any diet, there are other nutritional considerations.  You would need to eat this amount each day to reach 2000 calories.  If you get pretty good yields, you could probably grow this amount of food for one person, along with the necessary cover/compost crops in about 3,800 sq. ft. of bed space, including compost piles, in zone 7.  I know that vegans often use supplements to get what is missing in their diet.  Personally, I believe in getting all my nutrients in the food I eat, the way Mother Nature intended.  The food contains the nutrients in balance with other things necessary for assimilation in our bodies.

Most likely you would want to expand on this diet.  Chickens are becoming pretty popular, even in city backyards, and would help with that B12 deficiency.  If you are considering the total ecological footprint of your diet, you would have to include the area your chicken’s food came from, including everything it went through from farm to you.  Pasturing your poultry helps, but most people buy in the grains they need.  You could grow your own and then use the straw and stalks for bedding before it all goes to compost.  Harvey Ussery has been working on some ideas for additional homegrown feed, including worms and soldier fly larvae.  He wrote about it in his book The Small-Scale Poultry FlockThe Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe is another book of interest that takes a close look at growing much of your diet.

Then, of course, there’s dairy.  Cheese, yogurt, and other products are pretty nice to have, but they come at a cost of widening the ecological footprint.  And so it goes for each addition.  You could drive yourself crazy worrying about every detail.  I worry when people drop whole food groups from their diet.  I believe we need to feed ourselves from a variety of foods available seasonally and as locally as we can.  This does much to lessen our footprint.  Chickens could be raised for eggs, with the young roosters and old layers for meat, taking the place of the broiler industry.  Limiting our beef consumption to the young steers and old cows from the dairy herds could do away with the sorry feedlots the current beef industry now maintains.  The amount of these animal products and the way we eat them would have to change, but change needs to come anyway.

Our local newspaper just had an article about a family with 13 children, including four sets of twins, who were born between 1954 and 1974.  Reminiscing, one pair of twins talked of the large family garden, fruit trees, pigs, chickens, and hunted deer that fed their family in those days.  If their memory serves them, one season all their parents bought was salt and pepper for the table.  That is impressive.  I’m sure all of them were involved in growing that food.  I have a feeling that a lot of you would like to do the same thing.  Maybe you can, but if you haven’t been brought up with those skills, there’s a lot to learn.  Some people want to grow all their own food out of fear for what the future holds.  Remember, we are not alone in this world.  Furthermore, everything is connected.  We need to recognize that interdependence and build upon it.  It is in building our communities that we can develop a resilient food system that will feed everyone.  Most likely, as you go about becoming involved with the people in your community, you will meet just the ones who can teach you the skills you lack.

grape arbor and friends-BLOGPermaculture ethics call us to care for the earth, care for the people, and return the surplus.  Each of us has talents we can use to strengthen the network within our own communities.  If our talents and resources allow us to grow more food than we can consume ourselves, we can share, barter, or sell the surplus within our community, building strong ties with others and expanding our own options.  Fear can be crippling.  We need to act out of love for the earth and each other.  In acting out of love, fear falls away.

Once again, I’m working on Homegrown Fridays.  That’s when I eat only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent.  I grow a lot of food, but not all we eat.  I often think about what would be involved if I did.  Just as with communities, in our gardens we need to think in whole systems.  There should be no waste because excess from one operation would be a resource in another.  Your permaculture garden would have more than just vegetables.  There would be a hedgerow with filbert trees and berries, grapevines growing overhead, mushrooms in the shady areas, and beehives.  There are many ways to add food and shrink your diet footprint.  If you are building the soil as you grow, you can provide your family with more nutritious food than you can get anywhere else.  Buying from local producers what you can’t grow provides your family with a safety net that is only available within strong, resilient communities.

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Bloody Butcher Corn-BLOG

Bloody Butcher Corn

As you are planning your garden, what to grow would be the first thing that comes to mind.  Then, of course, the area you have available, which leads to making a garden map.  With the map done, you know how much space you have for each crop.  Next is figuring out how many seeds you need.  If you are just starting out in gardening, the number of seeds in a packet are probably more than you need for the year.  However, as your garden grows and you are more interested in really growing a substantial part of your diet, exactly what to expect from a seed packet is important.

You probably already know that not every seed you have is going to germinate.  There is a minimum legal germination rate that the seed companies have to abide by.  Their seeds can be over that rate, but not under.  You can find the minimum legal germination rate in the Master Charts of How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) by John Jeavons.  If you buy from reputable sources, most often the seeds are well over that rate.  In fact, some companies label the packages with the tested germination rate and when they tested it.  On the other hand, I have heard of companies combining old seed with their new batch, getting rid of the old seed and lowering the germination rate.   All they are concerned about is making sure it meets the minimum legal rate.  Being aware of what the minimum rate is helps you plan.  You might be using seed leftover from a previous year or seed that you have saved yourself.  Since seed loses viability over time, you might want to test the germination rate.  Information on how to do that is available many places, including my video Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan.

seed packet germination rate-BLOG

seed packet with germination rate listed

A Seeds and Plants Needed form is included on the CD that comes with that garden plan video.  You can print it out and put pencil to paper, or use it in Excel form on your computer.  Besides how many might germinate, you need to know how many seeds are likely to be in an ounce.  That information is in the Master Charts in HTGMV and in the seed catalogs at the beginning of each crop.  The catalogs will tell how much the packets weigh and how many seeds to expect.  By the way, there are 28 grams in one ounce.  Often the seed packets show the amount of seeds in grams.

The seed packets sometimes suggest how many feet of row that the packet will plant.  It really depends on how you are spacing your plants and you might be planting in a bed with offset spacing, which would require more plants than just in rows.  If you have a small area, work out the planting on graph paper. Once you know the spacing of your plants, either from the seed catalogs, back of the packets, or HTGMV Master Charts, you can figure how many square feet each plant needs and how many will fit in your allotted area.   Add about 13% if you are using offset spacing, rather than planting in rows.

You have accounted for the fact that some of your seeds won’t germinate, but then not all that do will be the perfect specimens that you want to transplant.  You might plan to have as many as 20% more plants than you intend to transplant so you can choose the best.  Once you have done the math on your own, worked through the Seeds and Plants Needed form, consulted HTGMV Master Charts, or however you have arrived at your total seeds and plants needed, you should have the number and/or the weight of seeds you need.  Compare that with what you find available in the seed packets.

For some of you, this is just the information you are looking for.  For others, if you are still reading, it is way more than you want to know.  One spring, years ago, I was helping a friend who was in her eighties plant her garden.  She had only begun taking on the gardening chores once her husband passed, about six years before.  We prepared the beds, then it was time to plant zucchini.  I asked her how many hills she wanted me to make and she could come behind and put in the seeds.  She was confused at what I was asking.  Her method was to just plant as she went along and when the packet was empty, she was done.  She admitted that she always had more zucchini than she could use.  She said it never occurred to her to count the seeds beforehand.  Her garden, by the way, was big enough that she could do that.  Whatever works for you is the best method to use.   Once that way stops working, it’s time to consider other possibilities.

I hope you will choose to buy your seeds from a company that has signed the Safe Seed Pledge to not knowingly carry genetically modified seeds.  Seeds are precious things.  They determine our future survival.  Choose varieties that will do well in your area.  At first, don’t plant too many varieties of one crop until you have a base knowledge of that crop in general.  However, everyone wants to experiment and will usually try the new thing that comes along at some point.  I remember when Sugar Snap Peas were released back in 1979.  The pole variety was the only one available then.  I liked them and have been growing them ever since, adding Sugar Ann as a bush variety.  Other things I’ve tried, such as early or disease resistant tomatoes I didn’t like so much.  Often, people want to know what I’m planting.  I want you to do the homework yourself.  There are just so many reasons why you would plant different things than I do.  Read the seed catalogs, especially the ones that specialize in your region.  Talk to other gardeners.

seed exchange-BLOG

If you don’t know any other gardeners, maybe you could put up a notice in your local library to have a gathering.  I believe most libraries will make a room available for things like that.   A Seed Swap would be a good topic to start with.  At a seed swap, everyone brings in their extra seeds to share and people who want some can take them.  It might be seeds that were left from another year or extra from this year that you know won’t get used.  Having old envelopes on hand and pens for labeling is helpful.  It’s also good to have seed catalogs for more information.  Usually you don’t need to contribute seeds to be able to take some home.   If you are new, this is the place to find gardeners.  If you are an experienced gardener, this is the place to offer the help that you wished someone gave you when you were coming along.  On a local note, there is going to be a Seed Swap at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA on March 24, 2012 from 2-4 pm.  The public is invited.

Here in Virginia, the weather has been so mild, we were wondering if winter was ever going to start before it was over.  We just had a 4.5 inch snow, but it’s not even lasting 24 hours. Very soon it will be time to be in the garden.  Acquiring all your seeds for the year now will help your efforts go smoothly the rest of the year, with no delays between crops.  Some things you try this year will work great, and some, not so much.  There are no mistakes.  Everything is a learning experience.  The most important thing to remember is to have fun.

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garden map 2012-BLOG

garden map

If you are serious about growing your own food, having a good map of your garden space is essential.  At one glance it can show you what is planted where, any day of the year.  It will also show when one crop is expected to come out and the next go in.  My garden map is the one thing I refer to more than any of my other garden records throughout the year.  Here is a copy of the map of part of my garden.  As you can see, I add color to easily identify the crops grown.

To make your map, measure your area and draw it out, showing where the beds are.  If you are making a garden for the first time, you need to decide where those beds will be.  I prefer to run my beds from east to west.  Four feet is a good width for most people.  People with a shorter reach may prefer a 3’ wide bed, but I wouldn’t go any narrower than that, unless you are planting against a wall or fence, then the bed might be only 2’ wide.  The wider the beds are, the more efficient use of space, but there is a limit.  You need to be able to reach all parts of the bed without stepping in it.  I would caution against anything wider than 5’.   Label each bed with a number or letter or, in some cases, both.  My large garden has four sections (A,B,C,&D), with each section having 9 beds.  So I have A1-A9, B1-B9, etc.  Maybe you want to give each bed a name.  It’s your garden.  Labeling helps to identify each bed in your planning.  To get the measuring done, a 100′ tape measure is a great help and is fairly inexpensive.

one hundred ft. tape measure-BLOG

100 ft. tape measure

There is more to a garden map than the outline of the beds.  It helps your planning if all the beds contain the same area.  Many of your crops will occupy a whole bed—tomatoes, corn, and potatoes come to mind.  Some will need less space, such as lettuce and zucchini.  Those can be grouped together in a bed.  You will need to plan rotations and put those rotation arrows on the map.  It is not good to keep planting the same thing in the same place year after year.   That goes for things in the same crop families.  You can plan so that the crop, or group of crops, that are planted in each bed rotates to the next bed the next year.  There is a lot to explore in the area of rotations.  Eliot Coleman has a chapter in New Organic Grower about rotations.  Also, The New Self-Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour is a good resource on the subject.    My pet peeve with computerized garden maps that are often available is that they only show you the plan for one year, with no rotations.  It may be that part of your garden is shady and you have specific crops that go there.  In that case you would have two rotation plans—one for the shady area and one for the sunny part.  Maybe you have both large and small area beds.  If the large areas are twice the size of the small areas you might do as Brent did in my garden plan video and count each large bed as two beds.    Or, you might have a rotation schedule for the large beds and one for the small beds.  If you have only one garden bed, consider rotating the spaces within the bed.

Once you have the map drawn, complete with the rotation arrows, have some copies made to play with.  Write in the names of the main season crops you will have there and the beginning and end dates those crops will be in the beds.  Your garden is out there every day all year soaking up the sun.  Fill in the beds for the rest of the year with additional crops, cover crops, companions, etc.  If you don’t plant something there, Mother Nature will.  Once you think you have everything like you want it, take a good look.  If you have overwintered cover crops or eating crops such as greens or carrots in a bed, the group of crops rotating to that bed the next year needs to begin with what’s already going to be there.  If you plant garlic in bed B3 in the fall and the next year the crops from the current year B2 will be planted there, that selection of crops from B2 needs to begin with garlic.  Most often it is a cover crop that will be overwintering.  If a bed is the first to be planted in the spring with onions, lettuce, and sugarsnap peas, the cover crop planted there in the fall needs to be one that will winterkill.  Or, you could prepare the bed in the fall and cover it with leaves.  Pull them back two weeks before planting time to allow the soil to warm up.  You can click on the pictures in my posts and they will each open larger in a new window.  If you take a closer look at my colorful garden map you will see a couple places where the rotations don’t match for the next year.  That’s because it shows what’s there right now as the first crop, but I’ve made some changes for next year, so the last crop in the bed will be with the new plan.  For more information on planning cover crops for sustainability, refer to my blog posts Planning for Soil Fertility and Compost Materials on August 9, 2011 and Choosing Which Cover Crops to Plant Where on August 23, 2011.  For cautions on bringing in outside sources of mulch and compost read Killer Compost from July 26, 2011.  My video Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden takes you through the year from March to November, showing you the different cover crops and how to manage them using only hand tools.

4-bed rotation map-BLOG

4-bed rotation map

It is good to have a “to-scale” map, but in some cases your working map might look a little different, with the beds large enough to write in all the necessary information. Just as long as you know how much area you are working with and that what you are planning for that area will fit.  In my video, Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan, I work through the rotations in this 4-bed plan.  I’ve had people tell me they really didn’t understand rotations until they saw me explain it in the video.  That video comes with a companion CD that includes this 4-bed map, plus worksheets to help you plan when your crops need to be planted, how long the harvest will be, and when the bed will be ready for the next crop.    In addition, the CD has a 7-bed rotation map that corresponds with Betsy’s Garden at Sunfield Farm, the garden you see in the video.  That map is included as a real-life example of a working rotation.

Now that you have your map as you like it, label it with the year and “Proposed”.  Take two more blank maps (which is why you need to make multiple copies) and label one “Actual” and another “Amendments”.  Put them in your garden notebook and fill them in as you go along.  At the end of the season, you will have a record of what actually was in each bed and when.  You will also have a record of anything you may have added during the year on the amendments map.  Have fun with your garden maps.  Spring will be here soon and you want to be ready.

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onion plant-BLOGI hope you consider growing onions in your garden, not only for diversity, but for better health.  If you aren’t growing them, I certainly hope you start eating more of them.  As you know, I’m interested in a crop mix that can provide a significant portion of one’s diet, and onions are on the list for sure.  From my research, I’ve learned that eating onions helps to improve kidney function, lowers cholesterol, and breaks up mucous in the throat, lungs, and nasal passages.  Onions also have antibacterial properties.  Eating raw onions regularly could help raise your HDL (good cholesterol) levels.  Cooked onions wouldn’t be as effective for that, but cooked or raw, onions have been shown to have blood thinning qualities, acting much the same way that aspirin does.  You can read more details about that in Jean Carper’s book, The Food Pharmacy.  James Duke, in The Green Pharmacy , recommends onions and garlic for controlling allergies because of their high concentration of quercetin which helps to retard inflammatory reactions.  According to Duke, onions, because of their quercetin content, will help reduce cataracts in diabetes patients.  Quercetin is important to your health in a lot of ways.

Over the years, I remember reading that onions are pretty powerful against cancer, being able to prevent new tumors and slow, or stop, the growth of tumors already present.  So, for some updated information I decided to google “onions as a cure for cancer” and found lots of good information, including this article at http://www.brokenearth.org/onioncancer.htm. There is so much out there about the health benefits of eating onions.  I had long known that you want to eat the yellow or red storage onions for these benefits and this article affirms that.  Then I googled “onions and diabetes” and “onions and heart health”.  Check it out for yourself.  You want to be eating onions.

yellow storage onions-BLOG

yellow storage onions

Although people don’t usually associate onions with calories, onions are one of the more area efficient crops when it comes to growing calories.  That means that you can grow more calories in a smaller space with onions than with many other crops.   If you were getting a considerable portion of your diet from your garden, you would want to pay attention to this.  You can find more information about growing calorie crops in How To Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.  The new 8th edition is scheduled to be released on February 7, 2012.

I found a statistic that said onions are the largest vegetable crop grown in the U.S.  If that is so, why don’t I see more onions at the farmers markets?  When I was selling at the markets, I found great potential for onions.  My customers loved them and I never had enough.  If I would have continued selling, rather than turning my energies to teaching, I would have made onions a major crop.  Let me tell you, they are a lot easier to manage than most other things.  If you do sell them at the markets, educate yourself on these health benefits so you can educate your customers.

There are many different kinds of onions, but most important for you to know as a grower is that onions are day-length sensitive.  You can’t just stick them in anytime of the year.  Generally, the long-day onions are the pungent ones (with more health benefits), and the short-day onions are the sweeter mild ones.  I’m going to let my friend Pam Dawling tell you all about long-day/short-day at http://www.vabf.org/docs/information-sheets .  This is a website sponsored by the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, of which I am a member.  Look for the information sheet titled Onions: Organic Production in Virginia.  Even if you don’t live in Virginia, this article will be helpful to you.  Check out the whole VABF website.  Their annual conference is in Richmond this year on February 10-11, 2012.  I will be there.  Look for me in the Homeplace Earth booth.

The easiest way to get started with onions is to plant sets, which are small onions.  In late winter you will find them at your local feed/garden store.  The more local the store is, the better chance that the variety is suited to your area.  If you have a choice, look for the ones no bigger around than a dime.  The larger ones think they are in their second year of growing and will send up a seed stalk.  Large onion sets don’t give you larger onions, they give you onions going to seed.  You want to plant them early in March.  Preparing the soil in the fall and mulching that space for the winter, or having a cover crop there that will winterkill, would have your space ready for you with little trouble at planting time.  If you are starting from seed, now is the time to be doing that.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a good source for onion seeds, particularly if you live in the mid-Atlantic. Their catalog has helpful culture information as well as open pollinated varieties, which is what I look for.  Here in Virginia, we are right on the line between the recommendations for long-day-vs-short-day varieties.  According to the Southern Exposure catalog, “not all LD types can bulb up as far South as Virginia, but ours can”.  Choose your varieties carefully.

flats in the greenhouse-BLOG

flats in the greenhouse

I have gone to starting everything outside in my coldframes and have done that with onions in January.  When I was a market gardener I used to have the onion flats in the house for just a week, which is all it took for them to germinate.  Then I would put the flats in my small, unheated greenhouse to grow out until planting time, transplanting to deeper flats as necessary.  You would be surprised how many roots onions can have and you have to make room for them.  This year the bulk of my onions are multiplier ones planted in the fall.  They are a whole other thing to learn about—and I’m still learning.  I am working with some I got from Southern Exposure and some a neighbor gave me that he’d been growing out for years.  (Thanks Ronnie!).  I’ll tell you about multipliers another time.

While you are waiting for those seeds to come, or for the right time to put the onion sets in, get out your cookbooks and learn more about cooking with onions.  They are often a key flavor ingredient.  Find ways to get even the reluctant eaters at your table to like them.  Your/their health depends on it.

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John Jeavons at Eastern Mennonite University October 2008

John Jeavons, Director of Ecology Action in California, will be presenting a 3-Day Workshop at the Pratt Institute on January 6-8, 2012.  This workshop will focus on the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming methods developed by John and the Ecology Action staff over the past 40 years.  You can find more information about this workshop at http://www.johnjeavons.info/

 When I was learning to garden back in the 70’s, I had read John’s book How to Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) along with all the other organic gardening information available at the time.  I gained skills and knowledge over the years, first growing food to keep my family healthy, then expanding as a market gardener, growing food for my community.  Since I was the only organic grower most people knew, I would get a lot of questions.  In fact, the cooperative extension office used to refer people to me.  Out of self defense, I began teaching through our county parks and recreation program in 1998 and at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College (JSRCC) in Goochland, VA in 1999.  Those classes are the Sustainable Agriculture Program offered there now.  I left the college in 2010, but the classes continue with our daughter, Betsy Trice, as the instructor. 

How To Grow More Vegetables....5th edition

When I began teaching, I was bringing together a lot of material from various sources.  About that time I came across a copy of the 5th edition of HTGMV in a used bookstore.  I was pleased to see the ongoing research on sustainability.  Just what I needed for my classes!  I took a new look at what John Jeavons was doing at Ecology Action and discovered their teacher certification program.  All the better!  The requirements are outlined in Ecology Action’s Booklet #30 which is available for download at www.growbiointensive.org or in print form from Bountiful Gardens catalog. 

John Jeavons at 3 Day Workshop at Wilson College October, 2000.

The first steps to becoming a GROW BIOINTENSIVE teacher are to attend a 3-Day Workshop and keep the appropriate records.  I began keeping the records and attended the workshop in Pennsylvania in October 2000.  At that workshop I became more aware of the world situation and began thinking more about my diet, crop choices, and how I could best feed back the soil.  The GROW BIOINTENSIVE method includes eight aspects:  1. Deep soil preparation:  2. Compost;  3. Close plant spacing;  4. Open pollinated seeds;  5. Carbon and Calorie Crops;  6. Special Calorie Root Crops:  7. Companion planting and interplanting;  and 8. The Whole System. This is exactly what I needed to be studying and teaching. 

Since 1992, I had been selling vegetables to local restaurants and through a small CSA, and in 1999 helped start our local farmers market.  In those years I was growing A LOT of lettuce to sell, plus the usual vegetables.  To replenish my garden beds I was using lots and lots of leaves for mulch.  Our son, Jarod, has a lawn service and would bring me the leaves.  By 2000 I was beginning to transition to cover cropping the beds over the winter, rather than layering them with leaves.  GROW BIOINTENSIVE offered guidelines for working cover crops and compost into my whole plan.  I began re-thinking crop choices and in 2001 I grew more potatoes, butternut squash, onions, and garlic as market crops and less lettuce, cucumbers and other vegetables.  Also, I was accepted into the teacher workshop at Ecology Action for July 2001 and would be gone for two weeks—one week for the workshop and an additional week of traveling.  Not only did the potatoes, squash, and alliums fit that summer schedule better, I felt that I was offering my customers more power packed nutrition.  By the end of the 2001 growing season, I realized I needed to step away from the markets and concentrate on teaching and researching.  I felt by doing that, I could put more knowledgeable consumers and producers out there.  Fall semester 2001 I had the opportunity to add a Growing for Market class, followed by Complete Diet Mini-farming in the spring.  These classes were in addition to Introduction to Biointensive Mini-farming (spring) and Four Season Food Production (fall).

In the years since, Ecology Action has kept researching and updating their information.  February 7, 2012 is the release date for the 8th edition of HTGMV.  Additional information can be found in the booklets available through Bountiful Gardens.  In addition to what you see there now, Booklet #35 Low Rainfall Food Growing and Booklet #36 will be available in the 2012 catalog.  Booklet #36 “describes a basic experimental model for how to grow all your food, compost, and a modest income on as little as 3,300 sq. ft. at intermediate-level GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming yields.”   It has evolved from Booklet #14 and 25 years of additional experience.  John offers the self-teaching video series GROW BIOINTENSIVE: a beginners guide at www.johnjeavons.info.

pocket notebooks

After incorporating  GROW BIOINTENSIVE in my work, I developed some teaching tools of my own–the videos.  Our filmmaker son, Luke, made that possible.  Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden and Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan are still part of the curriculum at JSRCC and are great for individual or small group learning.  Becoming a certified GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming teacher required a lot of disciplined record keeping.  It didn’t come easily, all that record keeping.  I was already pretty good at making a garden map showing all the crops for the year with rotations planned in.  My in-the-garden method of data collection was to write everything in a small spiral notebook that I carried in my back pocket.  I buy those in quantity at an office supply store.  That was my chronological record and the map was my at-a-glance crop location and planting record.  I would make a “proposed” map and an “actual” map, along with an “ammendments” map.  For the more extensive records I needed to keep on my demonstration area for teacher certification I would transfer the information from the pocket notebooks to a data sheet for each crop, along with yield totals.  That would all go on a yearly summary form.  It does take some adjustment and discipline and you want to be careful not to take on more than you can care for, but the rewards are terrific.  I have learned so much in the process.  The more I learn, however, the more questions I have.  There is always more to learn.

If you want to learn more about GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming and what John Jeavons is up to, I hope you can participate in a 3-Day Workshop.  Besides the one in New York in January, he gives one each March and November at Ecology Action.  If you can’t do a three day workshop maybe you can catch him at the NOFA/MA Winter Conference (www.nofamass.org/conferences/winter/index.php ) on January 14, 2012 or the next day, January 15, at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm.  Pre-reading and pre-registration is required. 

It’s up to you.  It’s your journey.  There are exciting times ahead and we need as many people as possible to help lead others onto the sustainable food-growing path.  First you have to learn to feed yourself, then you can better know how to feed others.  You can begin on your own using all these teaching tools or become more involved with a workshop.  Nevertheless, I hope you welcome the challenge and join us.

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