Category Archives: gardening

What to Get a Gardener for Christmas

This list is based purely on the items which I’ve found most useful for gardening over the years. There are a few items on the list which I can’t imagine gardening without, like the rubber tubs with handles. Weeding is a big part of gardening and there are at least four items below which aid in weeding, although some of them are actually multi-purpose tools.

Readers are welcome to add to this list with suggestions in the comments.

1. The Japanese hand hoe. This is THE BEST short-handled hoe I can imagine. We literally fight over it at our house. I bought it for myself and found it missing all of the time, so my husband bought me a new one as he’d stolen the one that I bought… you get the picture. They sell them at our local McGuckin Hardware store.

2. The “Made in Holland” long handled hoe. This is my husband’s favorite hoe and he swears by it. He’s tried others and nothing else will do. Unfortunately, we can’t locate them anymore. If readers know where to buy one, please leave a comment.

3. The Hori-hori knife. This one that I have is made by A.M. Leonard. It is good for planting seedlings and for digging, and from what I hear, many serious gardeners love it and use it even more than I do.

4. The serrated-scoop style trowel. I use this all the time for planting seedlings and potted plants, for scraping small weeds away, and even for moving dirt. This is one of my most-used garden tools and it has held up well over more than a decade of use.

5. The rubber tub. We have three rubber tubs for gardening at our house – two large ones and this medium-sized one. We use them for everything and at any given time two, if not all three of them are in use. This black one stays on the patio and is used for kitchen scraps which will be moved to the back compost pile later.

6. The knee pad. This comes in handy frequently, and I often use it to sit on, too.

7. The water sprinkler hose attachment. This is made by Nelson and is a good-quality sprinkler for hand watering. Another option (not pictured) that I also love and wouldn’t be without is the old-fashioned brass nozzle sprayer, the same as my grandparents used, because you can adjust the distance of the spray.

8. The pickaxe. This may not be necessary for everyone, but since we moved to Boulder it is about No. 1 on my gardening tool list, because there are rocks in the ground “everywhere” you happen to dig, rendering shovels useless.

9. The small sharp pruner. I use this a lot and appreciate how sharp it is. This one is Soboten 1210, another garden tool which I love that is made in Japan.

The Nutrition Benefits of Fall Fruits and Vegetables

Interestingly, consumption of fall vegetables has fallen in this country. It makes sense that if you believe in eating locally and in season, incorporating as many of these into your cooking as possible is a practical idea that our grandparents knew well. Many fall vegetables store for a long time.

At our house we love to eat curried squash soup and also roasted root vegetables tossed in oil and herbs such as rosemary. And, I appreciate cooking with onions more with each passing year. I can appreciate it that Indian’s riot over a lack of onions.

Eating fall vegetables is NOT a punishment and will help combat food waste, too.

From the USDA:

Americans consumed 49.7 pounds per person of traditional fall vegetables in their fresh form in 2012. Despite many of these traditional fall vegetables now being grown year-round in parts of the United States and eaten throughout the year, consumption has fallen 13.1 pounds per person since 1970.

Much of this decline is due to consumption of fresh potatoes falling from 46.6 pounds per person in 1970 to 26.8 pounds in 2012. Per person consumption of potatoes in all forms (fresh, frozen, canned, dehydrated, etc.) has also fallen—by 10.8 pounds over the last 40 years.

However, consumption of most of the other traditional fall vegetables in their fresh form has grown, including fresh onions, which were the second most consumed fresh fall vegetable at 8 pounds per person.

Consumption of fresh pumpkins and sweet potatoes combined was 1.5 pounds per person in 2012.

Organic Tomato Farm’s Soils Produce High Yields During Terrible Drought

Today’s post is reprinted by permission of Charles M. “Chuck” Benbrook, who is a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.

Long-time readers of this site know that healthy organic soils retain moisture far better during drought-stressed conditions. Today’s post offers a pretty profound example of that principle in action this past summer during California’s drought.

Charles Benbrook reports about an organic tomato farm in California and its amazing success even during last summer’s terrible drought. The numbers he includes in this article of tomato yields and rainfall are astounding in a positive good-news way for producers of every kind, everywhere. He attributes this tomato production “miracle” to the organic soil health of the long-standing farm. (Although, I suspect because it is “Northern California-coastal” it is also receiving some moisture in the way of fogs.) Then, he warns growers that if they wish to be resilient in future weather-stresses expected from climate change, they need to establish similar soils in their own growing fields.

It’s a win-win.

Better tasting tomatoes, lower input costs, and crop resiliency.

It is better to let Nature do the work for us, instead of destroying the natural systems and then repairing the damage to get the yields we’re after.
—Kay M.


Promoting Global Food Security One Crop of Tomatoes at a Time

By Chuck Benbrook

In early September I visited a remarkable organic farm on the coast of California. This farm has been in organic production for about 30 years, and its harvests of mostly organic tomatoes have been marketed through a variety of outlets in Northern California.

I arrived on the day picking had just begun on a sloping tomato field about 6 acres in size. The crop was exceptionally clean, with virtually no insect damage and few weeds. Minimal, organically approved control measures had been used, including applications of sulfur and releases of trichogramma (beneficial wasps), along with many hours of hand weeding.

One of every dozen-plus fruits had minor, cosmetic blemishing on the skin, typically where the tomatoes contacted the soil. Otherwise, the tomatoes were picture perfect. I can also vouch for their organoleptic quality, from a first-hand eating experience at a dinner during my stay. These tomatoes also, no doubt, contain markedly higher levels of health-promoting phenolic acids and Vitamin C, for reasons discussed in an earlier blog (“A Tale of Two Tomatoes,” February 23, 2013).

The grower has since reported that the field produced about 30,000 pounds of tomatoes per acre.

Farmers in other tomato-producing regions often produce substantially more per acre.  My friend and colleague Madeline Mellinger runs Glades Crop Care (GCC), South Florida’s major independent crop consulting firm.  She and the GCC staff scout and advise farmers on pest management across about 11,000 acres of tomatoes each year.  In their neck of the woods, conventionally grown tomato yields average 50,000 pounds per acre, and in all but unusual years, range from 35,000 to 65,000 pounds/acre. Yields of 60,000 pounds per acre are common.

So what’s the big deal about a 30,000 pound per acre organic tomato yield in sunny California, when Florida (and some other California) growers often produce twice that per acre?

This was a dryland field of organic tomatoes – no, none, zero supplemental irrigation had been applied.  The field was planted in April.  Detailed weather data is accessible from a nearby weather station, which I accessed upon return to my office.

On August 6th and 7th, the last measurable rainfall had fallen in the area (0.02 inches, or two one-hundredths of an inch, i.e. almost none).  July rainfall totaled 0.16 inch, and 0.04 inch fell in both May and June. A far-below average 0.45 inch fell in April, and only 1.12 inches came in March, usually one of the year’s wettest months.

Total precipitation for the 2014 production season was 1.83 inches.  On California’s irrigated fresh market tomato fields, around 30” of irrigation water is applied to bring a crop to market, and according to the USDA, average yields are about 35,000 pounds per acre.

Organic production + 1.83 inches of rainfall = 30,000 pounds of tomatoes.

Conventional production + 30 inches of irrigation water = 35,000 pounds of tomatoes.

If a drought-weary California is forced to look for new ways to conserve water, the performance of this organic farm is both impressive and hopeful, given that it produced over 16,000 pounds of tomatoes per inch of rainfall.  On a typical, irrigated, fresh market tomato field in California, experienced growers harvest about 1,200 pounds of tomatoes per inch of irrigation water, and somewhat less than 1,000 pounds per inch of rainfall-plus-irrigation water.

How could 30,000 pounds of tomatoes per acre be harvested on a field receiving so little rainfall?

It’s all about the soil. Over the last 30-plus years, this field has been in a complex rotation, with ample amounts of added organic material and routine cover cropping. The organic matter content of the soil has been increased about two-fold – from around 1.5% to about 3% — promoting rapid water infiltration (when it rains), as well as enhancing the soil’s water holding capacity.

So what does this un-irrigated, organic tomato field have to do with feeding the world?

Governments around the world are urging people to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables to at least four servings per day (the USDA recommendation is 5-8 servings/day). The population of California is currently 38 million, so each and everyday, the good citizens of the State should be consuming at least 152,000,000 servings of fruits and vegetables.  Surely, mankind does not live by tomatoes alone, but for the sake of making an important point, bear with me.

According to the USDA, one serving of fresh tomatoes weighs 90 grams, or 0.19842 pound (i.e., there are about five servings in one pound of tomatoes).  Accordingly, 1,005 acres of similarly managed, organic tomatoes yielding, on average, 30,000 pounds per acre, would produce enough tomatoes to feed 38 million Californians four servings of this vegetable for one day.  Year-round, at the same yield level, only 366,943 acres would be needed to assure 38 million Californians get their four servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

The surface area of California is about 101 million acres, of which about 30 million acres are classified as farmland.  About 6 million acres in California are regarded as “prime” farmland. Over 500,000 acres of California land are planted to cotton most years, and another 1.5 million produce hay.  Clearly, finding 366,943 acres to produce enough fruits and vegetables (F+Vs) for all Californians should not be a major problem, at least not for a very long time.

For 314 million Americans, and the 7 billion on Planet Earth, less than 3% of available, high quality agricultural land would be required to assure production of at least four servings of F+Vs a day, per capita, year round.

Doing so, and getting the tomatoes, citrus, berries, and potatoes to the people who need them, including the poor, remains an enormous challenge, but not because of land shortages, lower yields on organic farms, or even persistent drought. In years when drought, or too much rain and flooding, or an untimely freeze, reduces fruit and vegetable production in one region, other areas can pick up at least some of the slack.  And through new methods to preserve and store F+Vs, the nation could (and probably will someday) create a strategic F+V reserve.

As climate change and severe drought become more commonplace, the importance of building soil quality as a hedge against catastrophic crop failure will grow.  Experience and insights gained on long-term, well-managed organic farms will provide a benchmark of what can be accomplished and how healthier, richer soil can serve as a buffer against climate extremes. And this will promote global food security, one field at a time.


Photo via FlickrCC Mr.TinDC.

White Vegetables in My White Garden

It’s been six years since we moved to Boulder from Lincoln, Nebraska. I had a white garden there, and had begun to miss it.

Because some dirt work needed to be done around a basement window this spring which had been the source of some leaking during heavy rains and the flood last fall, my husband added to the project by removing a rectangle of grass around that window well so that I could again have a white garden. The spot is very harsh here in this climate, receiving only afternoon sun.

For the new garden, I started white zinnias, shasta daisies, and phlox from seed. I also ordered some white blooming prairie plants from High Country Gardens. And, because I expected that in its first year, the garden would be sparse, I thought I’d put white vegetables on the one end. For this, I started some chives, white pumpkins, and white eggplants from seed. Needless to say, the pumpkins took over more than their share of the garden by early August but when I harvested them a couple weeks ago, I was not sorry.

Here, I must put in a plug for the source of my seeds, John Sheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, because all of the seeds from them which I used to start this garden were true. They were white and they all turned out to be what they were supposed to be. I can’t say that for other seed starting experiences I’ve had in the past and it’s a lot of work to start seedlings and nurture them into garden plants. You don’t want to waste your time with poor seeds and who can you trust?

We’ve only had a light frost here so far, and my white garden is blooming very nicely on this mid-October date. It was well worth the effort. Yesterday, I planted white bulbs into it: crocus, daffodils, and tulips. I can hardly wait for next year and it hasn’t even frosted yet.

Here are a few photos for you.


Bee on a white coneflower.


Blanca eggplant started from seed.


Boer Ford flat pumpkins started from seed. Note black cat in background.

As you can see, we’re more than ready for Halloween at our house!

Leaf Illustrations and Charts to Help Diagnose Plant Nutrient Deficiencies

For the farmer or gardener, it is important to be able to read your plant. The seasoned grower develops an intuitive sense over time in response to plant signals of stress. The key is observing and being able to notice unhealthy leaves, and developing the ability to understand what the plant’s leaf is telling you. Something to note is that a young leaf’s message differs from an old leaf’s message. In this post, I have assembled a number of good graphics to help you do just that. While there is some overlap between the illustrations, they should be helpful as a whole in helping you figure out your specific problem.

PLANT LEAF CHART OF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES


Credit: Twitter @FarmerRaviVKV “Plants speak to us through their leaves what they want. Farmers must keenly understand the language of his plants.”


DIAGNOSING NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES CHART


Credit: Twitter @trouttroller Day 2 of #canoLAB14. John Mayko with a great slide depicting location of nutrient deficiency symptoms.


SIMPLE PLANT DEFICIENCY GUIDE


Credit: Twitter @JSKProperty. Plant deficiency guide – Some possible problems because of nutrient deficiency or even too much of any one nutrient.


CORN LEAF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY ILLUSTRATION


Credit: farmwifediary.blogspot


CHART OF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS IN PLANTS



Credit: Atlantis Hydroponics.
For more charts showing the inter-relationships between nutrients (excess-induced deficiencies) see this PDF, also from Atlantis Hydroponics.


LEAF DEFICIENCY GUIDE (MAPLE LEAVES)





Credit: CANNA.


NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY FLOWCHART – OLD AND NEW LEAVES – CHLOROSIS AND NECROSIS


Credit: UNKNOWN


NUTRIENT ANTAGONISMS CHART


Credit: UNKNOWN


NUTRIENT DISORDERS MARIJUANA LEAVES



Credit: mjforum


DEFICIENCIES AND ABUNDANCE OF FERTILIZATION ELEMENTS (MARIJUANA LEAVES)



Credit: OCK.PEACE.ORG


NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS – Citrus


Credit: Twitter @247Garden. Nutrient deficiency symptoms at a glance! #growing #gardening #hydroponics #green Courtesy of NATESC and IPCC.


AQUATIC PLANTS – LEAF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY


Credit: Zapins at Aquatic Plant Central. Plant Deficiency Picture Diagram for aquatic plants.


CHART EXPLAINING LEAF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY


Credit: Hawaii.edu. Plant Nutritional Deficiencies Symptoms chart.


If you have any links to other great graphics on this subject, please leave them in the comments.