Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Great American Farm Tour

I’ve been watching the great YouTube videos from Justin Rhodes and family.  They are traveling around the country visiting farms and gardens all over the country.  You will learn a lot and be entertained as well.  Enjoy!


Why we have a wood chip Garden

Why we have a Wood Chip Garden

I’ve been gardening for a long time. I really love working outside with the plants and getting delicious homegrown produce and herbs is a big bonus. I’ve gardened in so many different ways from raised beds to large pots when I was renting and couldn’t dig up the lawn. A few years ago I heard about this movie called Back to Eden. It’s about Paul Gautschi who’s an organic gardener from Washington State. He lives in an area that has very dry summers and came up with this great mulching system to keep the plants moist.

There have been many books about mulch and how good it is for your garden but most of the one’s I’ve seen, like Ruth Stouts books use straw for mulch. We live in Northern California where we have very dry summers so when we moved here a few years ago and I was getting ready to start a new garden from scratch, I knew I wanted to try Paul’s system.

We needed to have a number of trees cut down to make a spot for our garden as our property is heavily wooded so part of what we looked for was someone with a really big chipper. We found a great company and they chipped most of the trees that came down in the garden area. The rest we chopped into firewood. We did a layer of cardboard to cover the weeds, then a layer of cow manure, then a layer of compost then at least six inches of wood chips.

We got our garden finished in early April of 2013. Ideally, you are supposed to get your wood garden finished six months before you plant but it didn’t work out for us that way. I planted about a quarter of the garden out in June and figured it would be an experiment as it was too soon to expect good results.

It did really well! We got tomatoes (including a great volunteer plant from the compost we used under the chips), eggplant, pumpkins and one great melon plant. I planted a few things over the winter like garlic and cabbage, but as we got so little rain and I didn’t water at all, it just did okay.

This summer I went for it. Planted a lot and it’s been just amazing. We have irrigation water so I am supplementing water but only an hour or so, twice a week. I don’t think I make a garden any other way. The chips absorb moisture if they get to wet, and keep moisture when it’s dry.

Here’s the link to the movie and the picture is our garden this past August.

You can watch Back to Eden for free at the link below.


Beneficial Garden Bugs


This week we have a guest post by Jakob Barry.   Thanks Jacob!    Mom


Garden Insects worth Keeping Around

While out in the garden you may come across a variety of bugs that are strange looking and others downright scary. Nevertheless, it’s important to distinguish between the good ones and the bad ones, as the former can positively affect the state of your crops by acting as a natural form of pesticide and killing and eating the latter.

This often means cultivating a hospitable environment for the good ones so they’ll enjoy your yard and keep fruits and vegetable plants healthy without the need for chemicals.

However, before inviting the little critters in to your organic reserve it’s probably a good idea to get to know a little about who they are:

Lady bugs: Beloved by gardeners, most are completely harmless to humans. They love eating aphids and many other small bugs attacking your plants. They are attracted to certain herbs like dill and flowers full of nectar and as long as they have plenty to eat they will be faithful to your garden.

Lacewings: They also love nectar, can be attracted by lots of flowers such as dandelions and sunflowers, and in many cases one lacewing will eat up to 100 aphids a week. Multiply that by even 50 and you have some hearty helpers!

Dragon flies: Primarily found near marshland or other moist areas their larvae are aquatic but eventually crawl out of the water and mature into these truly remarkable insects. You may find dragon flies eating some of the other good bugs but know they will mainly feast on the pest population.

Hover flies: They look like tiny bees and give off the appearance they are hovering even though the anti-gravity pose is simply a result of their wings moving very fast. Hover fly larva are an early spring savior for gardeners and <a href= > landscapers </a> killing aphids where bigger bugs can’t or won’t go because it’s still too cool for them outside.

Spiders: Garden spiders generally won’t discriminate between good and bad garden bugs but will kill larger amounts of the ones you’re trying to get rid of.

Praying mantis: They are valuable predators that will kill anything small enough to be caught but won’t harm people or pets.

Bees: They are not in the predator business like some of their insect peers but as they move from flower to flower their importance in the realm of pollination is unparalleled.

Slugs: While they are unwanted in most parts of the garden because of the destruction they will bring one place where they are welcome is in compost bins. There they are great consumers of organic matter including animal matter such as other dead slugs.

Worms: Like bees their contribution to the garden is different but no less unique. Rather, their tunneling through soil gives it composition and important drainage. As a fertilizer their feces do wonders for plant growth and pest control and provides the soil nutrients against disease. While they enrich soil they also like enriched soil so keep dumping compost in the garden and they will be happy to stick around.

Jakob Barry writes for, a growing community of homeowners and contractors getting the most from their resources by sharing and monitoring home improvement projects. He covers various home improvement topics including <a href=[]=496#type=tabs&category[]=496 > Green Living </a> and <a href= >grounds maintenance</a>.

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Cute Coop ideas

We’ve had backyard chickens for two years now. It’s been so wonderful to have pastured, organic eggs, right from our own backyard. I love my chickens and as I’d like to have more in the next few years, researching coop ideas has become a hobby for me. I was very happy to be able to review this book.

Art of the Chicken Coop by Chris Gleason has seven different coop ideas. Four of them are for flocks of six chickens or less, which is a great size for a back yard flock. We get on average five eggs per week from each of our chickens; this gives us enough for our family, as well as some to share occasionally.

If you are planning on keep more chickens, three of the coop designs are for larger coops, if you’d like to have twelve to fifteen chickens. Also included are some guidelines on how to increase the size of any coops in the book. There’s even instructions for a coop made out of salvaged materials.

This is also a great book for the beginning chicken owner, because not only are there coop designs but there are a lot of chicken keeping tips through out the book and explanations for what you need to have in your coop and why.

The book includes a completely supply list, step-by-step pictures – which I love – and some great egg recipes as well. There is also a section on the popular backyard breeds with pictures and a bit on info on each.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that it called for chicken wire in the coops. From my research I have learned that you need to use hardware cloth in your coop building as the holes in chicken wire are too big, and raccoons and other predators can get through it. Also I would have loved more then one movable coop idea. Other then that, I thought this book was just great.

I do not have much building experience but I would feel confident trying to build any of the coops in this book. Recommended!

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Buying and Saving Seeds

I’ve been buying organic and heirloom seeds for a number of years now. I’ve also been learning to save seeds. As Monsanto continues to be allowed to patent seeds and life it makes it even more important to save seeds.

This year I had joined the Seed Savers Exchange as I read good thing about them in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable and Miracle book.  I will not join them ever again.  I read a letter from their original founder telling about the people who took over Seed Savers and threw him out of his own non-profit. They are putting every seed in their holding into a seed bank that supplies Monsanto and Syngenta. Basically they’re giving away all the seeds that the members have contributed in good faith to the corporations who are trying to own seeds for profit.

You can read about it here:

So I wanted to share links from some places I’ve used and found that have organic and heirloom seeds.  All of these I’ve either used personally, or had recommendations from other who have used them.

Let’s support the companies who are working to keep our seeds organic and heirloom. There’s nothing better then fruit and veggies fresh from your own garden.

Here are some sites that teach about how to save your own seeds:

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Seed Starting

I used to make a small garden when I was a child. I loved watching the little plants grow, tending them and having wonderful vegetables to eat when they were ripe – even though we shared a lot of the harvest with the local bunny population.

I started gardening again as an adult when my kids were little.  At first I’d buy a few starter plants, maybe tomatoes and cucumbers and put them in a small garden area.  The results varied but it was still a fun project for us to do together.

As the years have gone on, I’ve gotten more serious about my gardening and try to learn and grow something new each year.  My gardens have always been organic but I’ve learned more as I’ve got along about natural fertilizers, making compost and foliar feeding.  I’ve usually grown a few plants from seed; sometimes herbs or various other plants, but I decided a few years ago that I wanted to try growing everything I plant in my garden from seed. 

And you know, it’s really easy.  There’s a great company, Gardener’s Supply. They are employee owned and have a number of wonderful and very inexpensive seed starting kits.  I’ve tried a few over the years but the one I’m using this year – as I have limited space at the greenhouse window in my kitchen is this one:,37-933,default,cp.html

You can buy the units separately but I do like to use their germinating mix as well.  And you can use the seed starter over again each year. I do start some plants right in the garden but I’m starting 8 different types of tomatoes, 3 types of peppers and 3 types of cucumbers in my kitchen this year.

As you can see from the picture, once the plants grow too big I transplant them into small nursery pots and then start another batch in the seed starter.  In a few weeks when they’ve grown a bit more I’ll give them some hours outside during the day and once they’re hardened off (used to being outside), I’ll plant them. I have two raised beds but I also use a lot of large pots and have found some things like peppers and tomatoes grow as well or even better in those.

As large corporations like Monsanto try to patent all the seeds they can, it makes it even more important that we grow and save our own seeds.  There are a number of places you can get wonderful organic and heirloom seeds from:  – Seeds of Change. They are owned by M&M Mars now but they carry only organic, GMO free seeds and have over 1200 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  – This is Peaceful Valley farm and garden supply and they have a wonderful selection of seeds, fruit tree and other supplies for your organic garden. I just found this one recently. They have a nice selection of heirloom seeds and are very reasonably priced as well.

If you want to learn to save your own seeds, I highly recommend Seed to Seed – the link to Amazon is below.

It’s easy to grow your own vegetables and it’s a great activity to share with your children. In my experience it gives them a greater appreciation for vegetables because there is nothing more delicious then food just picked from your own garden.  Happy Gardening!

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If you happened to read this article the first week I wrote it, you’ll notice I took out my recommendation for Seedsavers Exchange.  This is why:

Michael Pollan’s latest thoughts on the White House Kitchen Garden

Michael Pollan first called for an edible landscape at the White House way back in 1991, during the Bush I era.

    Imagine an 18-acre victory garden on the grounds of the White House, managed according to the highest organic principles. This garden, which need not contain any broccoli, would stand as a paradigm of environmental responsibility.

    The White House has enough land to become self-sufficient in food — a model of Jeffersonian independence and thrift. Alternatively, a White House garden could help supply food for Washington’s poor. Depending which party is in power, a few elephants or donkeys should be maintained for the purpose of fertilization.

    Earlier this week, he was interviewed on Fresh Air, mainly about his new piece in The New York Times Magazine, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch: How American cooking became a spectator sport, and what we lost along the way.

At the end of the interview, guest host Dave Davies and Michael Pollan had this exchange :

    DAVIES: You know, last October, you wrote a piece in the Times Magazine called “Farmer in Chief,” which was an open letter to the next president – the election was still going on then. And you essentially argued that changing the way we grow and process food was critical to energy policy and, thus, a matter of national security – you know, the way we grow and process food at an industrial scale and transport it thousands of miles drains energy, pollutes the environment and harms our health. And you said that it’s really important for the next president to take a lead in changing things. How would you rate President Obama on the challenge of rebuilding the food culture?

    Mr. POLLAN: Well, I think Obama’s taken some very encouraging steps. I think that Obama has shown that he recognized the links between the way we grow food and feed ourselves and the health-care crisis on the one side and the climate-change and energy crisis on the other.

    So I’m encouraged by some of the rhetoric. I’m encouraged by some of the appointments. There are some progressive people in the USDA, the Department of Agriculture. And there has been the new agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, has spoken in, you know, very encouraging terms about the importance of local food systems, the importance of farmers’ markets, the importance of organic food.

    So all that is very encouraging, I think. But, you know, frankly, the most important thing that’s happened has been the garden that Michelle Obama planted, which has had a galvanizing effect around the world.

    There’s now a garden in Buckingham Palace. People are planting gardens all over America. You can’t find seeds in garden centers, there’s such a run on gardening. I think that’s a very encouraging thing. I don’t think it is merely symbolic. And by the way, I think it’s very deliberate on the part of the Obamas. I think they understand that before you can begin to change this food system, you need to raise consciousness about it because for a lot of people, the food system works just fine.

    There’s plenty of cheap and abundant food. The fact that it makes people sick, the fact that it takes an enormous toll on the environment, on animals, on workers, isn’t really clear to everybody so that there’s a kind of raising of consciousness that needs to happen. And I think that Michelle Obama is playing a very important role in that. And then you can follow, one hopes, with a different kind of farm bill that would encourage the kind of fresh, local food that Michelle Obama has been extolling.

    So, you know, I’m encouraged. I don’t see any evidence that they’re willing to take on agribusiness in any significant way yet. I think what’s more likely to happen is that this administration will take steps to educate people on the value of real food and cooking and that they will also do things to promote local food economies.

    Whether they will also go after the large food companies, it may happen in the anti-trust realm. It might happen with the farm bill, but there is, you know, some huge obstacles to real reform at that level, beginning with the agriculture committees in Congress.

-Michael Pollan’s next book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma Young Readers Edition, hits bookstores in October.

-For more on the Buckingham Palace vegetable garden, see Obama Foodorama’s post, The ‘First Lady Factor’ In Action? A New Organic Vegetable Garden At Buckingham Palace.

-If the new Pollan article puts you in a cooking mood, perhaps as a service to military families, see Obama Foodorama’s post, Supporting Our Troops: The Michelle Obama Military Family Menu…With Recipes.

Oldschool photo of Michael Pollan gardening with his son Issac courtesy San Francisco Chronicle photo by Penni Gladstone.


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Chickens in your backyard

How do you know you’re eating safe eggs.  Raise chickens!  More and more people are starting to have their own backyard flock. I recently found out we are allowed chickens in our suburban area, so we at MomsForSafeFood are getting our chickens in a few weeks and can’t wait. 🙂

Envisioning the End of ‘Don’t Cluck, Don’t Tell’



In the modest backyard of Rosemarie Morgan’s 1890-era house, about a half-mile from Yale University, there is a small Buddha, azalea and forsythia, Japanese cherry and plum trees, and an Amish-made chicken coop with five residents — four who lay eggs and Gloria, who is barren but one heck of a watchdog.

The fowl are technically illegal under New Haven’s zoning code, which prohibited raising hens and other livestock when it was updated during the 1950s. But these days, many dozens of backyard hens are generally tolerated under the city’s informal enforcement program — call it “don’t cluck, don’t tell” — that mostly looks the other way. With urban fowl increasingly common, Alderman Roland Lemar has introduced legislation that would allow residents to raise up to six hens.

Ms. Morgan, a Victorianist at Yale who specializes in Thomas Hardy and grew up with assorted animals in England and Scotland, may not be the face of modern agriculture. But she’s a perfect representative of a tiny sliver of it — the vogue for urban farming that has cities around the country updating and tweaking zoning codes.

To Ms. Morgan — whose other Rhode Island reds and hybrids are named Brunnhilde, Tosca, Carmen and Mimi — the zoning fight is a little baffling.

“It seems extraordinary to me that you could have a cat or a dog or a caged bird, but you can’t have a chicken,” she said the other day, sprinkling corn in the yard for her little brood. “Slightly barbaric really.”

Of course, not many New Haven residents or Yale professors were raising chickens a few years ago. But some combination of the locavore craze, the growth of immigrant communities with traditions of raising hens and the recession making the idea of free eggs or milk in the backyard attractive, cities and suburbs around the country are reviewing all manner of critter ordinances.

Seattle recently allowed residents to have up to three goats. Minneapolis just legalized beekeeping.

At the center of the Brave New World of urban ag is the humble hen, whose care and keeping is the subject of Web sites like,,, or Just Food’s City Chicken Meetup NYC, which has 101 hen-friendly members in New York.

Ms. Morgan, whose East Rock neighborhood was once known as Goatville, took up raising hens when she lived in the Berkshires and, along with some friends, resumed it when she moved back to New Haven seven years ago. She likes the fresh eggs and the link to our vanished natural past. She’s very fond of her feathered friends, who eat bugs and mosquitoes and don’t make much noise other than a triumphant squawk when laying.

“The eggs are fabulous,” she said. “And it’s very emotionally fulfilling. They’re not exactly pets — they still have a wild way about them, but they’re very smart and easy to have around. And noise? They’re not as loud as blue jays, no worse than a cat’s meow, certainly quieter than a barking dog.”

Most municipalities are much less hospitable to roosters (consider that next door every dawn) than hens. But the clear trend is toward being more permissive. Jennifer Blecha, who did a doctoral dissertation on people’s attitudes about urban livestock, surveyed the zoning codes of American cities and found 53 allow hens, 16 prohibit them and 9 make no mention. In general, Ms. Blecha said, cities are much more tolerant of domestic livestock than suburbs.

“People like the idea of I take care of them, and they take care of me,” she said, explaining that the personal agrisystem of feeding food scraps to chickens that, in turn, produce breakfast, has enormous appeal.

Of course, not everyone is happy. New Haven’s head of code enforcement does not like the idea of adding chicken coop inspection to his portfolio. On the New Haven Advocate’s Web site, one resident lamented the presence of “these foul, filthy, half flying, eat anything rats in the East Rock nabe.” And any health scare involving animals — see: swine flu — can lead to a pushback, though advocates say the real threat is from factory farming, not small urban populations.

Owen Taylor of Just Food, which promotes local agriculture in New York, said the key is for people to explain their plans to their neighbors, so they know what to expect. He praised New York’s codes, which deal with potential bad behavior (smell, noise, rodents) rather than the existence of the hens, for allowing responsible fowl behavior and punishing those who create a nuisance. Citing New York street wisdom, he added, “You deal with it on a coop by coop basis.”

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An Interview with Jon Wood

One thing we’ve done over years, as part of adding healthy nourishing food to our diet is to have a garden.  It’s been a wonderful thing to share with my kids and we’ve grown everything from tomatoes to pumpkins, sweet peas to cooking herbs.  There is nothing more delicious then eating a fresh picked tomato.

I’ve been a member of a wonderful Yahoo group for the past few years called Organic Homesteading and Gardening.  It was started in 2002 by Jon and now has over 7000 members.  If you are looking to learn about anything related to homesteading or gardening, one or more of the member of the group will know the answer. And Jon, who started the group has a wealth of knowledge that he always kindly shares with the group.  For me personally, I learned how to make my own pasta, brew kombucha tea and many other tips that have helped me to have a more prosperous garden and become more self-sufficient. There’s so much more I am learning everyday, thanks to Jon and OHG.

Jon kindly agreed to this interview. Thank you Jon!

When and why did you start the Organic Homesteading & Gardening Group?

When: April 16th, 2002

Why is too complicated to answer typing a paragraph or two. (so folks can learn how to garden organically to feed their family healthier).

Can you tell us a little about the group?

We have members from every state and principality of the USA, and from 90 countries around the globe. That I know of. All hungry to find the best and most sensible, way to homestead or farm.

What’s your experience homesteading and gardening?

Survival gardening in my youth during the first depression in the 30/s. I have had an organic garden since I was 5 which was 70 plus years ago. I’ve had one ever since. Plus a self-sustaining farm in my early adulthood. I also wrote about all aspects of farming, gardening, and everything pertaining to it.

What are your suggestions for people just starting out learning about Organic gardening and homesteading (other then joining your wonderful group?)

To find an elder willing to teach them the easiest way to become self-reliant. Not only in food production, but also in fruits, honey production, medicine making and preventative eating to avoid many of the sicknesses todays people must suffer through.

If you lived closer, we could sit and chat about it most of a week and never cover every aspect of becoming more self reliant and looking to the land to provide most of our foods, fruits, sweets, milk, cheese, eggs, and any other thing we’d normally purchase with worthless cash.

Everything I type about, I have done. I raise anything I talk about, or I HAVE raised it in the past. I have honeybees, fruit trees, grape vines, berry brambles, fruit trees, peaches, apples, pears, figs, apricots, nectarines, plums, and no less than 50 herbs grown in the gardens, and over 300 wild sown and wildcrafted. I’ve raised most every farm animal used on todays farms, and many that aren’t. We’ve home raised and killed our own meat from scratch, and processed it by hand on the farm in the good ol days. We’ve also made soap from scratch, molasses, and tapped trees just to see how much fun / work it was. And we fish. Now and in times past.

And I write about it in fact as well as in fiction: factoids. Childrens stories, Cherokee storytelling, and church related activities as well as a teacher of sorts.

I was born into a Methodist Ministers home in November of `30’s’. Mom was a professional teacher in the state of Georgia, my dad was ordained a Methodist minister when he was 15, and had his medical license by the time he was 20. I grew up hearing about medicines from both aspects; mom being tribal Cherokee medicine expert, and my father in home grown medicines shipped worldwide. Plus being a circuit rider for the church. Mom and dad had many children and some of us made it to adulthood, others died along the back trail. I am an elder in the Native American culture and am still learning tribal medicines, and teaching them at the same time to folks who listen. History is also important to me.

Jabber jabber jabber: I enjoy talking. Even with my fingers on a keyboard.

Jon-known by many names

Thank you Jon.  I can’t tell how much I appreciate your wonderful group and all you share with us.

If you’d like to join the Organic Homesteading & Gardening group, the homepage is here: