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Posts Tagged ‘Grow a Sustainable Diet’

SeedLibraries covergrow a sustainable diet coverAfter being away from this blog since I broke my wrist in March, I’m back! To celebrate my return, I am offering a 25% discount through January 1, 2017 on my cover crop and garden plan DVDs and on my books Grow a Sustainable Diet and Seed Libraries. As always, shipping is free in the US. My DVDs and Grow a Sustainable Diet are educational tools and used in the sustainable agriculture program at Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA where I used to teach. When I produced them, I had in mind those who couldn’t take my classes in person. So, if you have been wanting to learn more about cover crops, garden planning, garden plan dvd coverplannicover-crop-dvd-blogng your diet around your garden, and planning your permaculture homestead, take advantage of this opportunity to purchase an educational  program that will walk you through the process and help you apply your new found information to your own situation. Or, you may have someone on your holiday gift list that would benefit from these materials. You’ll find these sale prices on my website at www.HomeplaceEarth.com, along with deals for a few great books that I didn’t write.

flax-flowers-blog

flax flowers in the garden

I did enjoy my time off from writing. No matter what you are involved in, it is always good to step back now and then. My wrist has healed nicely, although I am still a bit careful with it. My husband and I took a long-awaited trip to Ireland in May and it was nice not working blog posts around that. In spite of working slower due to my injury, I grew several new crops this year. Flax for linen has been harvested and retted and is

yarn-and-indigo-plants-2-blog

wool yarn nestled among the Japanese indigo plants it was dyed with

waiting for me to build some fiber tools to process it (next on my to-do list). I trialed two kinds of rice this year. I also grew Japanese indigo and used it for some dye work, part of my new focus on fiber and textiles. Once I was sufficiently recovered, I was back to spinning my homegrown naturally-colored cotton for a shirt that I intended to make, weaving the fabric on my small table loom. It’s finished and I wore it for the first time on Thanksgiving.

Working with homegrown fiber is important to me in so many ways. Of course, there was the challenge to see if I could grow, spin, weave, design, and sew garments for myself to wear, and now I have a vest and

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa shirt. Hurray! I’ve used my time away from this blog to read and learn more about the history of textiles. What was once local production fueled the industrial revolution and the exploiting of people and resources has continued ever since to bring us cheap clothes—way too many cheap clothes. When you shop for clothes I would like you to consider how the people who produced them and the earth that provided the raw materials were compensated to bring you such bargains. There is much to talk about on this subject, so stay tuned. I will be telling you all about my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton shirt in a future post. I will also be sharing my adventures with the flax, rice, Japanese indigo and other natural dyeing, while I continue addressing the many topics you have enjoyed in this blog.

Learning about my new shirt, however, will have to wait until I fill you in about what has been happening in the seed library world. Seed libraries have been deemed exempt from state seed laws, by the way. You can learn more about that in my next post, which should appear next week. After that I will go back to my old schedule of posting every two weeks.

The video Seed: The Untold Story has been making the rounds and will be shown in Charlottesville, VA on December 8. You need to reserve your ticket ahead of time and you can do that here. After the film there will be a question and answer period with a panel staffed by folks from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and ME. If you go, be sure and catch me afterwards. I’m always happy to meet the people who read my words.homeplace earth

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lettuce washing Cindy--BLOGOnce you have gotten quite good at producing food for your table, it is natural to think of providing for others. You could casually share with your neighbors and the local food bank, but many want to take it further and exchange their extra veggies for cash. If that is where your thoughts have been leading you, I would like to offer some things for you to carefully consider before becoming a market gardener. There is a big difference between doing what you love when you have the time and turning doing what you love into a business. During my time as a market grower I grew and sold a lot of lettuce. This photo shows me washing it for a restaurant delivery.

On January 29 I gave the presentation Scaling Up from Homestead to Market Garden at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference. It was well received and people who heard me speak approached me that evening and the next day to thank me for the presentation. Those who had already been selling said that my points hit home. I became an organic gardener so that I would have a healthy family. In order to also have a healthy community I became a market gardener in 1992 and sold to area restaurants. The farmers market network was not yet established at that time. In 1997-98 I had a small CSA in addition to the restaurant sales and in 1999 I was a founding farmer at our local farmers market. I left selling produce and eggs for others after the 2001 season to concentrate on teaching and researching so that I could put more knowledgeable consumers and producers at the markets.

Selling to others on a regular basis highlights the need for good record keeping. You need to plan for how much to grow and to plan for how much money it will bring to your business. No matter how good you are at growing some crops, such as broccoli and cabbage, the income from the same amount of other crops, such as specialty lettuce mixes, will exceed it every time. If you have already been a home gardener and have kept some records of your yields you will be able to anticipate how much you can produce from the space you have. Keep in mind, however, that if you have to break new ground for this endeavor, it may not be as productive as the garden you have been building the soil in for years. Some crops might surprise you. Onions turned out to be a good crop, as well as potatoes, winter squash and garlic—all crops that are not as labor intensive as lettuce.

You need to know what your crops will sell for before you even grow them. Notice what they are being sold for in area grocery stores and farmers markets. Start now and make a chart of the stores and markets in your area with a list of vegetables you might want to sell. Record the prices for them each week throughout the year, noting if they are sold by the piece, pound, bunch, etc. If by the piece, how many pieces make a pound? If by the bunch, how many items make a bunch and how heavy is it? Also record the origin of each crop. This list will be invaluable to you as you move forward with your plans.

Cindy's booth at 17th street--BLOG

Potatoes in wooden boxes were sold by the pound. Small potatoes in pasteboard containers were sold by container.

Although prices might fluctuate in the greater marketplace, I decided on a price that was fair for both myself and for my customers for each crop and kept it the same throughout the season. That said, there are a number of things you could do to vary the price. If you have an abundance of something, you could offer a larger quantity of seconds at a cheaper price per pound. I sorted my potatoes and displayed the smaller ones in pint and quart containers at a higher price per pound than the larger potatoes that were sold by the pound. The price displayed for the containers was by the container size, not by the pound. Nevertheless, the prices remained the same for the abundant seconds (cucumbers), the pints and quarts of potatoes, and everything else for the duration of that season.

Know your produce. People often comment on how much more expensive the colored peppers are in the grocery store compared to the green ones. Well, you need to leave the green peppers on the plant for a few additional weeks to ripen to red, yellow, or orange and anything can happen during that time. I priced my colored peppers at twice as much per pound as the green ones and had no complaints. Besides the prices, you need to know the nutritional value of everything you have and what to do with it in the kitchen. The more information you can pass on to the buyers, the more sales you will make.

I sold a limited variety of produce to the restaurants; primarily leaf and romaine lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and onions and the chefs did not need me to suggest what to do with it. For the farmers market I needed a larger variety of things for my booth and my customers welcomed my suggestions. The greater population has gotten away from cooking from scratch at home and need some instruction as they move back to that. If you package all the ingredients for salsa, for example, plus the recipe, many are more likely to try it. Packaging all the colors of the peppers you have together will entice your customers to buy the package, rather than just the one or two peppers that they had in mind.

Your passion and enthusiasm will go a long way to making sales, but keep in mind that you need to tend to your family first—and to your soil. If you feel you can grow more than you alrFeed the soileady do, maybe it is time to expand what you are growing for your own table, rather than grow for others. How much of your staple crops, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and grains do you grow? Are you growing enough cover crops to feed back the soil and provide all your own compost?

The first DVD I produced was Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden and I was excited that I could show people how to manage cover crops in their gardens with hand tools. I knew it would be a tremendous help to small scale market gardeners—those gardeners moving from growing for their family to growing for others. The garden plan DVD followed which shows how to put together a notebook with your complete plan. I wanted gardeners to have a good foundation to help them plan to feed their families and others. Through my teaching I met folks who were ready to jump into growing for the markets with little experience of getting their hands dirty, let alone an understanding of what is going on in the soil when things grow and in our bodies when we eat the food. By the way, you will get dirty, sweaty, and tired. So tired that you will fall into bed at night thoroughly exhausted, only to get back up early in the morning to do it all again. It is not an occupation for the fainthearted.

I want gardeners to understand all of that before they ramp up to feed others. I expanded on what was in the DVDs when I wrote Grow a Sustainable Diet. It includes an additional worksheet (How Much to Grow), and information on nutrition, food processing and storage, garden washing stations, sheds, fences, and more on garden rotations with cover crops. With that book and the DVDs it is like taking a class from me. No matter how many people you are growing for or how much land you are using, my teaching materials apply. I’ve been talking here about determining how much money you could make, but sometimes the profit in this is not so much about the money you make, but the life you make. You become an integral part of the community around you and you can’t put a dollar value on that.homeplace earth

 

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garden plan dvd coverHere it is– a new year and time to plan your new garden. Before you do that, however, I urge you to think about last year’s garden. Most likely, if you are reading this you probably did some sort of planning last year. That’s what my DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan is all about. In the DVD I show you how to put together a notebook with your complete garden plan. It even comes with a CD with all the worksheets I talk about, such as a Seed Inventory, How Many Seeds and Plants Needed, Plant / Harvest Times, and a Plant / Harvest Schedule. My book Grow a Sustainable Diet has an additional worksheet—How Much to Grow. It is great to work up a plan, but you might be like someone I met recently who put her plan together in a notebook, just like I advise, but neglected to keep track of things afterward. That is a great start and all is not lost. Even though you didn’t write it down, surely you remember something that happened through the year. Take the time now to note the highlights of 2015 and make a report of your gardening year. Then, file it away with the garden plan you made for 2015 for reference.

overlapping maps-BLOGFor many years my garden plan consisted mainly of my garden maps, the one I made showing what I intended to plant where and when, the Actual version that showed what actually happened, and the Amendments version that showed what amendments were added to each bed and when. It is the Actual version that will help you plan this year’s garden. If you completed it you will know what was in each bed throughout the year and when it was planted, particularly, what is in there now; but the subject of garden maps is a whole other post. Once I became a certified Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-farming Teacher I had to keep many other records and send them to John Jeavons each year, accompanied by a letter that explained what went on that year. It always gave the highs and lows of the year, what I was particularly working on, etc. It is that letter that I want you to write for yourself about your 2015 garden.

If you didn’t get past the initial plan, just making that plan should be considered a high. Not following through would probably be considered a low, but I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances. You should note those. It might be that you took a vacation and never quite got back to garden recordkeeping when you returned. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces pretty much serve to get even the best planners off track, as do the activities of your children and parents. Building projects around your homestead might keep you occupied, and then there is the weather, which is always a good excuse for messing up your plans. If any of those things happened to you this year, they should be in your annual garden report. Although many of the things I mentioned cannot be foreseen or avoided, things like vacations can. If your vacation seems to coincide with crucial harvest times each year, change your vacation time for this year or time your plantings so their harvests will not conflict.

Thinking through the year will help you put things in perspective. If there is something you wished you could do better, such as fill in your Actual Garden Map as the season progresses, you might decide that will be a priority in 2016. What crops were you especially proud of? Even if you didn’t keep yield records you should have an idea if you were pleased or not with the harvest of most of the things you planted. Your pleasure or displeasure could be with the yield, taste, color, or whatever other traits you remember. Put that in your garden report. If you wished you had planted more or less of something, besides mentioning it in your report, make a note to change the amount planted in 2016.

What did you do differently last year? Did you try any new varieties or new ways of managing your tried-and-true varieties? What amendments did you bring in to your garden, if any? What did you use as mulch and where did it come from? Write about those kinds of things.

leatherwing on mint--BLOG

Leatherwing on mint

I hope you took photos of your garden through the year. It is amazing how things will look to you at another time. Having that visual record helps you to remember what was going on. Besides the plants and overall garden throughout the season, take photos of things you built or tools you used. Also, take photos of the insects and other wildlife in your garden. As you can see, I found leatherwings in my mint last summer. If you look closely, you might be surprised to see just how many varieties of insect helpers you have in your garden. This can all go in your annual garden report.

If you depend on the computer to store your photos, make sure to file them somewhere, hopefully in a file titled for that year, such as “2015 Garden”, with copies filed in appropriate files, such as “insects”, “crops”, or “tools”. Some people like to put photo books together online and then receive copies of the actual book. You could document all sorts of things in a book like that. Maybe that could be a project for your children to do, compiling information throughout the gardening season with that in mind.

Through the years I have often referred back to the letters that accompanied my records to John Jeavons and Ecology Action. Your annual garden report will reflect more than what is on record sheets. It can tell of the excitement, disappointment, discoveries, and enlightenment you experienced throughout the year. So, before you plan for 2016, take time to reflect on 2015. By writing an annual report, you can better direct your actions for planning this year’s garden.homeplace earth

 

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Garden in late winter with compost piles as part of the rotation.

Garden in late winter with compost piles as part of the rotation.

For many years I had compost bins lined up on the edge of my garden. Discussion about compost generally included what kind of bins I used and where I sourced the materials to put in them. My bins were made from pallets I acquired for free. Each of three sides was made by pounding two t-posts into the ground and sliding a pallet over them. If one side needed to be replaced, that could be easily done, since the sides weren’t tied or nailed together. The fourth side was made by using bungee cords to hold it in place. To remove the compost, I released that side by removing the bungee cords.

The ingredients of those piles were usually animal bedding (from our animals or some I brought in from other places), leaves (from here or elsewhere), food scraps from our table, and maybe grass clippings. The compost bin was a handy place to toss garden residue—weeds and spent plants. Gradually I stopped including outside materials in my compost as I studied GROW BIONTENSIVE (GB) methods and produced more of my own compost biomass in my garden. The bulk of the material I used to bring in was for the carbon. With GB I grew more grains and corn, using the straw and stalks for carbon. Eventually, all the compost materials were coming from my own garden.

Butternut squash growing around and over the compost pile.

Butternut squash growing around and over the compost pile.

Rethinking the materials is only part of rethinking compost piles. If you are into tidy, and think compost requires a bin, you may have a hard time thinking outside that, but I urge you to try. Besides keeping them tidy, bins serve to keep animals out of your piles. If you include food scraps in your piles and have a dog, or neighborhood dogs frequent your place, you may want a bin. However, if your compost pile is within your fenced garden, you have already fenced out the critters. Once I put a fence around the garden I did away with the bins, but the piles were still on the edge of the garden space. It was when butternut squash grew wild around and over my pile one year that I began to think about the nutrients that were leaching into the ground each year beneath the piles and not being used.

Having to walk back and forth to the edge of the garden to put compost materials there that had grown in the garden, or to retrieve compost for the beds, also served to nudge me into planning to have my compost piles as part of my garden rotation. By the way, I did away with the notion that compost needed to be turned regularly long ago. Left to what they do best and the microbes turn all that organic matter into finished compost all by themselves. I do water occasionally to keep them hydrated.

Now I devote a garden bed, actually more than one, to compost. On my garden map, compost is shown, just as all the crops for the year are. The two biggest times for starting a new pile for me are in June when the grains are harvested and in October when the cornstalks, sweet potato, and peanuts are harvested. It is in October when the new compost bed is put to use. Whatever bed is designated to store compost for the coming year is where I start the new pile in October. The pile I created in the summer that needs more time to cure will be moved to this new compost bed. That is the only time it gets turned. If the new compost bed is part of the garden rotation it will be located next to the old compost bed, making the transition an easy one. You do not want to do any long distance hauling—just fork it from one bed to the next.

numbered compost piles

numbered compost piles

The rest of the compost in that bed, including the one started the previous October, should be ready to spread, which I do in September and October before I plant cover crops. Throughout the year there will be other materials added to the piles as weeding and harvesting is done. There will also be finished compost available to add to beds each time a new crop goes in. By following GB guidelines and having at least 60% of the garden devoted to compost crops for the year, it is easy to have an abundance of compost. To keep track of the order the piles were made, so I know which will be ready to use next and which needs to set longer, I use old smooth metal fence posts (the kind used for electric fence) with blocks of wood on top with a number painted on them. Some people have little signs for their piles that say such things as “use me”, “feed me”, or “working.” The pile that I make in the fall will not be ready to use until the next fall. Wanting to make the best use of all my resources, including space and available nutrients, I plant butternut squash around the base of that pile and let the plants grow over it. Besides soaking up nutrients from beneath, the plants shade the pile, preventing weeds from moving in. By the time the winter squash is harvested, the compost is ready to spread.

In October I plant winter rye in the bed that the compost vacated. That cover crop soaks up all the nutrients that may have leached from the piles and gives them to the corn that will go into that bed the following year. When the rye is shedding pollen (about May 7 here in Zone 7), I cut it with a sickle and leave it lie in the bed as mulch. Two weeks later I transplant corn into the mulch. Generally there is a small amount of a legume, such as Austrian winter peas, sown and harvested with the rye. I have my best crop of corn in the bed that follows the compost.

This might all seem confusing, but if you take time to think it through, it will become clear. In Grow a Sustainable Diet I explain GROW BIOINTENSIVE methods and how to plan to have 60% of your garden in cover crops for the year. In that book I also have a garden map and explanation for the Garden of Ideas that shows compost as part of the garden rotation. My DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden shows compost making in the beds and the management of the cover crops with hand tools through the growing season. Think outside the compost bin and make compost an integral part of your garden!Homeplace Earth

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garden-august 2008-combined - BLOG???????????????????????????????In my last post I wrote about the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that I had decided to take on. Usually I write about growing food, but in reality, it begins with what we are eating. With each bite we take we have the opportunity to focus on a more local and sustainable diet, or not. Since my first garden in 1974 I have been putting homegrown food on our table. Not everything we eat is homegrown, but the amount has increased each year, along with my skills and experience in both growing and preparing it.

The conversations about the challenge on Facebook bring to light the roadblocks some have experienced, such as the distance they have to travel to buy from a local farmer, even if it is within the 100 mile limit. The time it takes to plan and shop this way are obstacles that have been expressed. Also, even if eggs are found locally, what the chickens are eating may not have come from within 100 miles and very well might be GMO grains.

In 2000 I became concerned about GMOs in both my diet and the diet of my chickens, so I began to prepare my own chicken feed. At first I would buy corn from a local farmer and add oats from the feed store and organic wheat that I bought elsewhere. Once I stopped selling eggs I kept fewer chickens and no longer bought corn twelve bushels at a time from the farmer. That farm has since switched to GMO varieties. Now I buy organic grains–corn, wheat, and oats–from Countryside Organics, which is within 100 miles from here. I haven’t checked lately, but I’m sure not all the grain is grown within that limit. Nevertheless, I included eggs from my chickens in my local diet.

Mississippi Silver Cowpeas and Bloody Butcher Corn

Mississippi Silver Cowpeas and Bloody Butcher Corn

In Grow a Sustainable Diet, I wrote that with a sustainable diet we would be eating less meat prepared in different ways. So, it is fitting that when I checked our freezer when I decided to take the challenge at the spur-of-the-moment, I found a package of chicken backs and a package of ground sausage. Although we have raised all our own meat in the past, now it is only the meat from our few young roosters and old hens that grace the table from our farm. I depend on the growers at the farmers market if I want more. This whole year has been a year of BUSY and my meat supplies were low. I cooked the chicken backs in a crock pot. There was enough meat to have chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes for a couple meals for my husband and I and chicken broth enough for potato soup for another couple meals. I had already used most of the Irish potatoes that had come from my garden this year, so was very happy when our daughter showed up with ten pounds from her garden. I made sausage gravy over mashed potatoes for another couple meals. Vegetables from the garden completed those meals. Vegetable soup was on the menu that week, as well as cowpeas with salsa. Homegrown Mississippi Silver cowpeas are a staple in my pantry. The salsa was some that I had put up from garden ingredients this summer.

As much as I enjoy growing our own food, I am happy for the farmers market to add variety. I bought some beef there and had pot roast for Sunday dinner when our son and grandson joined us at the table during the challenge. My homegrown corn provided cornbread and breakfasts of cornmeal mush over the ten days. I didn’t have a lot of wheat I’d grown in my garden this year, but I had some. That went into Saturday morning pancakes and the gravy I made with chicken broth and sausage. When I visit family in Ohio I buy maple syrup produced nearby and bring it back to Virginia. I counted that as a local product, not an exotic.

The exotics during my ten days were milk, butter, vinegar (to put on the kale, as a salsa ingredient, and to sour the milk for the pancakes in place of yogurt), salt, onions, baking powder, black tea, and whatever was added to the pork to make the sausage and bacon. We didn’t eat bacon during the ten days, but I cooked with bacon grease. The pork is grown locally on pasture, but also receives some grain. The farmers there are working toward eventually growing their own grain. The animals are processed within the 100 mile limit. The beef we ate was grassfed. I could have lived without the tea, since I also make tea from homegrown herbs.

The milk we consumed during the challenge could have been local, but it wasn’t. For seven years when our children were growing up we kept a milk cow, so I have experienced that. I participated in a milk share one year. When the farmer moved and sold her cows to another milk share I decided not to continue as a customer because too many distractions were creeping into my life to pick up the milk at a certain time each week. So, I understand how that is, also. With milk you can make butter, yogurt, and cheese.

String of onions.

String of onions.

Onions were included as an exotic because I was out of the ones I’d grown—or rather thought I was out. I found some later that week that had been a late harvest and were not in their usual place. With such a wet spring, I didn’t harvest as many onions as I had hoped to this year. Onions and garlic are really important for a healthy diet. We have plenty of homegrown garlic. There are not enough storage onions available at the farmers market and the garlic growers often run out of garlic before fall. If you are a producer, grow more storage onions and garlic for your customers.

I made “zucchini” bread with homegrown sorghum for the flour and some late butternut squash that wouldn’t have time to mature in the garden before frost. We had locally grown popcorn cooked in butter for a snack. I also snacked on homegrown peanuts. Having the community to rely on, not just my own garden as I did for Homegrown Fridays, really expanded our diet. Except for the salt and the additions to make pork into sausage and bacon, my exotics were not so exotic and could have been produced locally or at home, if necessary.

This challenge was a good assessment of how far I have come on this journey—and it has been a journey. Eating this way didn’t happen all at once. Of course, my children are grown now and I work from home, which makes a difference. However, that doesn’t mean that I have more time than anyone else to make this happen. We all have the same amount of time, we just use it differently. If your ultimate goal is to have a local/homegrown diet, begin eating that way as much as is possible in the situation you find yourself in at the time. If you aren’t growing enough food yourself yet, and can’t find local options, choose food to prepare that you could grow if you had the time, place, and skills to do so. Certainly, there are limitations in the marketplace that have not yet been adequately addressed, but often the biggest limitation is ourselves. If we change ourselves, the rest of the world changes around us. Homeplace Earth

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logo-10daychallengeIn early September I received an email newsletter from Vicki Robin, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us. It gave notice of the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that would begin in October. It sounded interesting and I was glad she was doing that, but I was over my head in work and barely had time to read the email, let alone act on it. I was away from home from September 12-23 and two more newsletters about the challenge arrived in my inbox during that time. I’m back now—at least until October 24 when I leave for the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas—and I am beginning to get caught up. Thinking the local food challenge would make a good topic for my blog, I took the time to look into it.

The guidelines of this challenge are to select 10 days in October 2014 when you will eat only food sourced within 100 miles or so from your home. You are allowed 10 exotics, which are foods not found in that target area. You can do it by yourself or get others to join you. You can make a formal commitment to this project by taking an online survey and joining the Facebook Group for the project. Or, you can only make a personal commitment if you don’t want to be public about it. That’s okay, but one of the reasons for this project is to gather information about our local food systems and come up with ideas about how to make them better. The survey results and the comments from the online community will help toward that end. If it turns out that you can’t fulfill your plan to do this, that’s okay, too. No one will come knocking at your door asking to see what is on your plate. It is an opportunity to learn more about what you eat and where it comes from. Maybe you can’t do it for the whole 10 days–so do it for 5 days–or 1 day. If you aren’t ready to make a commitment, but want to stay informed about the project, you can sign up through the website for that, too.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

The emails began arriving in early September to give participants an opportunity to begin preparing, but I was too busy to pay attention. With no preparation at all, I decided to jump into this and began my 10 days on Sunday, October 5. I say no preparation, but in reality I’ve been preparing for something like this for a long time. I have experienced my Homegrown Fridays when, during the Fridays in Lent, I only consumed what I had grown myself. No exotics allowed. This seems much easier than that. Sure, I have to stick to it for 10 days straight, but I have so many more options. On top of that, I have the luxury of 10 exotics!

Our dinner on October 5 included acorn squash, kale, and roasted radishes from Peacemeal Farm, homegrown peppers and green tomatoes sauteed in bacon grease that was saved another day when I cooked bacon from Keenbell Farm, and watermelon that I found hiding in the weeds when I cleaned up the garden. I made some cornbread that day from the recipe in The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe. The salt, butter, and baking powder that were required are on my list of exotics. The cornmeal and eggs were grown right here by me. This recipe requires no wheat. I already have jam made from local and homegrown fruit sweetened with homegrown honey.

VA 100 mile map - BLOGBesides being an interesting challenge (and promising to be easier than Homegrown Fridays) I was also attracted to this challenge because I used to assign my students at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College a project to contemplate what it would be like if the trucks stopped coming to the grocery stores. I told them at the start of the semester in late August that this would happen on January 1 and they needed to plan now to source their food for the next year from within 100 miles. We had many good discussions over that 100 Mile Food Plan project. They received extra credit if they marked circles on a highway map showing 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles from their home. Actually, just that act of putting the circles on the map was a real eye-opener for most. They began seeing all the possibilities, rather than limitations. If you don’t know where the sources are in your area for local food you can begin your search with www.localharvest.org.

Another attraction to the 10-Day Challenge is to put into practice what I wrote about in Grow a Sustainable Diet. In this book I show you how to plan a diet around homegrown and local foods, while at the same time planning to grow cover crops that will feed the soil. When your food comes from sources other than your garden, take the time to question the farmers who grew it about their soil building practices. It is great to do as much as we can for ourselves, but we don’t have to do everything ourselves. It is in joining with others in our communities that we gain strength and resilience for whatever the future holds.

I hope I have encouraged you to join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge. If you have been following my work and thought that Homegrown Fridays might be a bit too much to do, give this a try. To my former students, now is the time to update that plan you made years ago and act on it. To the current JSRCC sustainable agriculture students, this seems made to order for you. Put your plan into action! If circumstances prevent you from actually doing this now, at least begin to think about it. You could plan one meal, maybe with friends, with all the ingredients being homegrown or sourced locally. To those who have read my book, taking this 10-Day Local Food Challenge is an opportunity to reinforce what you have learned and expand your thinking.Homeplace Earth When you take the survey to join, there will be space to write additional information. Please take that opportunity to say that Cindy Conner sent you. That way they can track how people learned about he challenge. Best wishes to all who join this adventure!

 

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Cornstalks and Machete

Use a machete to cut corn stalks into manageable lengths for the compost pile.

As you harvest the last of your summer crops, realize that the steps you take now are the beginning of next year’s garden. You could just leave everything as it is, looking not so good through the winter. Mother Nature likes to keep things green, so will provide her own seeds to fill in the space if you don’t. That’s where the unwanted weeds come from. The spent plants from your summer crops are actually valuable compost material at the ready. Harvest them for your compost pile as you clean up your garden. Next year this time the compost you make now will be available to spread as fertilizer for your garden. If you have grown corn and sunflowers, those stalks are wonderful sources of carbon for your compost. Some folks till all their spent plants, including cornstalks, into the soil. However, since I advocate managing your garden with hand tools, I chop the stalks down and cut them into manageable lengths with a machete, as shown in the photo. The cornstalks then go into the compost pile with all the other harvestable plants, plus some soil. You can see me in action chopping cornstalks and adding them to the compost in my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden. When you look at the plants in your garden, make sure to recognize their value as a compost material.

Winte killed oats in late February.

Winterkilled oats in late February.

After you clean up the garden beds by harvesting compost material, you will need to plant cover crop seeds. If you have beds producing food through the winter, that’s great. It’s the rest of the garden I’m talking about. The crops you plant now will determine how each bed is to be used next year. If you intend to have bed space devoted to early season plantings, such as peas, lettuce, greens, and onions, you want the cover crops to be finished by then. Cereal rye, often called winter rye, is a great cover crop for winter. However, it is not so great if you are managing it with hand tools and you want to plant those early spring crops. The rye will have put down a tremendous amount of roots and be growing vigorously in early spring. Options to plant now in those beds destined for early spring crops are oats or Daikon radish, two crops that will winterkill if you get severe enough winter weather. Here in Virginia in Zone 7 we usually have weather that will cause these crops to winterkill, however I remember a few mild winters when they didn’t. I also remember a winter I planted oats in a bed that had compost piles on the bed just to the north of it. The compost provided enough protection to keep the oats growing into the spring.

If you choose the route of planting crops to winterkill, you need to get them planted early enough so that they have a chance to produce a large volume of biomass before the weather turns cold. If you don’t already have these crops in the ground, the time to plant them is NOW. Actually, anytime in the past three weeks would have been better. Another alternative for that space for early spring crops is to mulch it with leaves for the winter. The leaves will protect the soil over the winter and when you pull them back in early spring you will find a fine layer of compost where the leaves meet the soil. The worms would have been working on those leaves all winter. Pull the leaves back a couple weeks before you intend to plant to allow the sun to warm the soil.

Rye and vetch cut at pollen shed.

This rye and vetch cover crop was cut at pollen shed (May 7) and will dry to become a mulch for the next crop.

You want a thick cover of plant growth with any cover crop. Planting at the right time will encourage that. The legumes, such as hairy vetch, crimson clover, and Austrian winter peas are often used as fall cover crops. It is best to get them in about a month before your last frost to ensure a good stand. That should encourage you to begin cleaning up the parts of your garden that have finished producing. Not all your garden beds will be host to the same cover crop, so you can do it bed by bed—an advantage over working on the whole garden at the same time. These legumes will begin to grow and will provide protection for the soil through the winter. In early spring they will take off, growing to their full capacity by the time of your last spring frost. You may have seen crimson clover flowering in garden beds at that time. You can cut this biomass with a sickle and add it to the compost pile. It would be a nitrogen component. You could lay it down as mulch right in the bed, but it would soon dissolve into the soil and not last as long as mulch that has more carbon. The advantage of the legumes is the nitrogen they leave in the soil from the nodules on their roots. If you should need the bed sooner than the date of your last frost, you could easily cut the legume a little early, leaving the roots. They are not so tenacious that you can’t plant into the bed soon after cutting.

The winter cover crop that will produce the most carbon for your compost and/or mulch is the rye that I mentioned earlier. It is also the crop that you can plant the latest into the fall and still have a good stand; making it a possible choice after things like tomatoes and peppers that produce until the first fall frost. You can let it grow to seed and cut it in early summer (mid-June here), giving you seed and mature straw. Or, you can cut it at pollen shed (about May 7 here) and leave it in the bed as mulch. Wait two weeks before planting to let the roots begin to die back. The bed would be suitable for putting in transplants, but not for seeds at that time. Often rye is planted with a legume. If you are planting late in the season, choose Austrian winter peas as a companion.

The information in my DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan and my book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, helps you to determine how to plan these cover/compost crops into your crop rotation. In the DVD you see me explaining a four bed rotation as I fill in the crop selections on a whiteboard. The book has three sample garden maps accompanied by explanations. The sample garden maps in the DVD and in the book have crops filling the beds for all twelve months of the year. Knowing how to fit enough cover crops in your garden plan to provide all of your compost and mulch material is definitely a skill that takes concentration and practice to learn. I hope the educational materials that I have produced will help many gardeners along that path. The most important thing is to just get started and plant something. Make note of your planting time and watch how it grows. The learning is in the doing.Homeplace Earth

 

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