Blog : farm

Stop planting carrots. Please.

Look I get it – you like carrots but you really don’t like carrots after you start planting them.

In my first year of doing garden installations I was so excited to go outside and help people install a garden they could harvest and hopefully learn how to grow and harvest their own food. In the business world of things it wasn’t the most thought out plan due to the fact that eventually my clientele won’t need me – but I don’t care about that.

One thing I always asked people was ‘what do you want to grow’ and then I was hit with a truck load of wants and needs and wow….we’re off running.  I never considered that I can not ask that question any more.  Due to many facts but one is that I was installing a garden and the ‘know how’ was left on me and yes I gave people this cute little printed/laminated hand off to learn quickly about their veggies and fruits but I was finding that many people did not read them – at all.

To experienced gardener carrots, beets, tomatoes, and so on always seem easy.  But if you can remember growing your first carrot – it probably didn’t go so well and if it did you only grew it once that year.

Most cold weather crops IE lettuces, alliums(onions), salad green(mustards, beet family), and carrot family need a few things to happen for great success.  One is succession and the other is thinning.  There are many other factors but those come first in my book.

Now if you’re a root vegetable lover of carrots and beets you know the pains of thinning.  Imagine you plant thousands of seeds and then in about 10 days you come back and have to ‘thin’ them out.  It’s the polite term for killing or making room so to say for the others.  Beets and carrots both need this process.  So that’s your step 2, step one was planting in the first place.

Step 3 – this step happens 10 days after you plant.  It’s call ‘succession’ growing.  You see unlike planting a tomato seed whereby you get lots of tomatoes if you plant a carrot seed you only get one carrot and there is no multiplicity to that seed.  In the long run one day well after we are gone we’ll have to consider plants and vegetation that is efficient and less time-intensive – carrots I feel won’t make that list.

So now do you still want carrots?  Is it really worth it?  Plant, thin, re-plant.  Oh and hope you’re soil is good enough due to their sensitive nature of hitting most other forms and deforming in the soil and add to that timing – these are cold weather crops that once temps stay about 60-65 day and night begin to bolt(go to seed) or full on remain in a vegetative state.  I’ve had beet seedlings grow throughout the summer and only until september they finally began to bulb out.

Yesterday I bought decent little bushel of carrots for $1 and was just discouraged for the farmer wishing he would never plant them.   Just doing the math was discouraging for me and to think I paid a dollar – for someones efforts over 40 days a dollar!

I never tell people to plant carrots because it is not worth it.  Just like lettuces.  A small discussion came up at our house yesterday about lettuces and I feel the same way about lettuces as I do carrots.  You need to have coordination, a bit of know how, and lots of lettuce to fill the shelves of your fridge and at the end of day are you really eating that many salads to want fresh lettuce every time?  I will say that fresh lettuces last longer than store bought ones and if you’re planting kales – I recommend getting your hands on some asian flowering kale.

We’re coming out with a small book in the spring of 2016 about what people should be planting in their first garden to make it worth it.  I have about a dozen books on gardening and in the back is an A-Z list of what you can grow.  Awesome, great, and who is about to do all that?  We need to show generations having a garden can be productive and life changing – and it’s not going to be with carrots.  In my garden alone I grew over 60lbs of food and I have only 60 square feet of space and that is roughly 1lb/square foot.  I feel accomplished and sure if you’re growing the big squashes you can smash that number due to overall density – I did it with tomatoes, beans, zucchini, and cucumbers.  And we never recorded herbs because that’s just takes forever.

Stay tuned, stay in touch, and lets turn a generation around by telling them the truth.

Tell me your thoughts, confessions, and triumphs and trials…I want to know.  I’d rather hear from someone who has failed as opposed to the success stories because often we learn our best from where we fail and we seem to only revel in success than learn from what we did right.

Radish Days to Harvest | 30-40 Cold Weathering crop Space 2-3" apart Succession at sign of true leaves.

A radish is a good example, the only photo I had, to give an example of why these species shouldn’t be grown by the amateur.  This radish is grown on a soil block and it took about 30 days.  1 radish 30 days.  If I planted 1 tomato I get dozens of tomatoes.  The math is better and we need to create success and not stress.  Radishes need to be sown early on to prevent bolting, and spaced out properly, and given plenty of water since its’ small roots don’t root out like tomatoes.  Still want radishes now?

Redefining community gardens.

I get asked a lot about what I do – as if bartending 40+ hours a week isn’t enough.  I garden, and some could say I am a professional gardener.  But I am not about to grow you shrubs and decor.  I want you to grow something good for you! I want you to be growing so much food you are giving it away to your family, friends, and neighbors.

What a thought right? A whole community of people, neighbors, growing food and sharing in the abundance! Can you imagine if Tom next door had the best sun so he is in charge of peppers and to know everything about peppers…and dill.  And then Susan and her husband Nick who live 3 doors down have the second best sun plus 3 kids so they get tomatoes and the kids get weeding duty! Get where I am going with this?  A community garden should not be a place we go to but where we live.  Our neighbors should be our community garden and each neighborhood designed with the ability to sufficiently grow plenty of food for all!

Don’t think it’s possible.  I put possible to the test this year.  I have 60 square feet of garden space in my rental home in Interlochen.  That is 6 raised beds each have 10 square feet.  Each bed is 7.5″ raised from the soil level up.

As of today, Friday September 18th I have harvested 55.9 pounds of produce from my garden.  That is nearly 1 pound of food per foot.  1lb = 1sq/ft.  To me that’s impressive because were not growing pumpkins or large heavy set squash.

The breakdown

27.1 lbs of TOMATOES

11.9 lbs of Zucchini

6.4 lbs of Cucumbers

2.5 lbs of Acorn Squash

8 lbs misc(documented but not detailed)

1 pound for every square foot.  I have tomatoes stuffed in drawers everywhere and I’ve even given plenty away.  We made 3 loafs of Zucchini bread and 2 dinners of Zucchini boats and still….Zucchini was around!

We never measured our herbs cause well – it takes forever and I don’t have the right scale.

You don’t need the space you think you need and you don’t need the light you think you need.  I don’t recommend growing the hard things or things that are technique very hard, surprisingly this is carrots and lettuces.

Imagine communities with 3 gardens focusing in on growing one or two things in 30 square feet.  5 houses with 3 gardens each would be 15 gardens, 150 square feet – that’s 150 pounds of produce in 5 houses.  That’s only 5 houses – not hard to do! Do it with a friend and coordinate a friend network of gardens and share in the wealth! Just give me some credit when ya do it!

I had extra space too…plenty of it! Next year we’ll shoot for 2 pounds per foot…seems crazy, but it can be done. You just have to know what you are planting.  And stop planting carrots please!

Young plants and young humans

Young plants and young humans

So this year I’ve been doing soil blocks for my seed starting.

First off if you ever get a chance to soil block – I’d recommend it.

For those of you who actually ready this and don’t know what that is – soil block is a technique small farms use to “block” or form together a custom soil mix usually compromised of a few or many organic matter/nutrients.  Predominantly made up of peat moss, it’s the binder, it ends up being very similar to peat pods(netted peat) and better yet will decompose in your garden.  Although the peat pots claim the net is “biodegradable” I’ve def found them year after year in my gardens and I don’t appreciate it.

So now I soil block.  And I love it! As the plants grow I can see their health as roots form out of the sides and bottoms.  It’s such an interesting technique and far better than using pods, plastics, and having to continually transplant into bigger planters.

But during my moments of soil block I had that “ah ha” moment of why we need so many chemicals to control plants and their vigor and health.  We are growing them up to be pansies.  Essentially what I mean is we give them these pristine environments such as perfects soils, temperature controlled, available water and we don’t let them work for their lives.  Then we throw them out into nature and all the sudden it’s “make it or break it day” when growing.  So we throw chemicals and sprays to defend its pour immune system because up until now it has not been tested.

We as humans are doing a very similar thing to our kids.  We now shelter them to never get sick and pump them full of meds and never let their immune system learn and recover.  It’s all about patch work when it comes to our immune system.

Ah – so that was my two cents after awhile.  Growing is going awesome and I am very excited for the 2015 season and going bigger this year and showcasing how great gardening can be.Photo Jan 20, 11 30 41 AM

The least of 3 evils.

 

The least of 3 evils: An examination of GMO’s, Big Farming Practice, and Preservatives.

GMO’s.  Oddly enough it’s not as common as a term as I had thought.  I recent documentary highlighted this issue and I was myself astonished thinking….how do people not know about GMO’s?  But then again – it is tied into a field which is at the fabric of what I am doing and I am sure, 100 percent positive, there is much I don’t know about a product I use that is quite controversial.  So I don’t blame you, I understand.

Lets shed some light on the GMO.  Genetically – Modified – Organism.  They are basically playing gene therapy to plants we eat.  Who?  Lots of companies.  Why? GMO’s grow better – they can cross pollinate, inject, change the DNA of a plant in order for it to grow better and be less harmed by the environment.  This is predominantly for mono-crop systems like big agro.  They need the crops that can withstand a lot because well they are going to grow it well beyond it’s normal means and need to assure there is profit. If you grow one thing in one area for a long time you need help, in many ways.(pun intended) What?  Still don’t get it? The biggest argument is that GMO’s do not have human trials so we have no idea what these new organisms will be doing to our molecular body so many years from now.  But does that really matter – you have diet coke in the fridge.  So do you really care?  No.  And in all honesty they aren’t planting new chemicals into the plant and they aren’t playing god.

Now to give you something to worry about.

Chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and anything else that ends with “cide”.  Why?  Because it’s still on your food! You should always wash your produce for two reasons.  One – kids.  Two – kids.  Three – farming sprays.

I know the USDA said it was ok to spray this chemical at this time and no point past bloom and it would evaporate or come off in a rain before harvest but when was the last time I trusted the USDA?  USDA organic?  Oh ok, define organic? That’s a certification you get by paying up not planning out.

We should be more concerned with what they put onto our food rather than what they try to cross-pollinate it with!  I don’t particularly want chemicals of any sort in any capacity on my food! There is a reason the farm workers where full protection suits while dispensing these chemicals! It is bad for you.  A list of chemicals which chernobyl can’t concoct and here we are spraying it on our food and wondering where the cancers come from?!

They need to spray each chemical because mono-cropping, producing one item in a large area, invites all the predators! You can expect a tomato horn worm family to show up if you put up a buffet table acres long and of just one item which is their favorite item!

Most of the time GMO and Pesticides are connected.  It would be rare if you had GMO but not organic.  Or if you had organic but GMO.  Now granted most of your local farmers are GMO but Organic.  What does that refer to?  It means they are using a GMO seed/varietal but have organic practices(usually listed as Hybrid and not a GMO).  And you can have not organic raised GMO.  Yeah…I had to think about that one too.

So which do you go for?   Which matters more?  I’d say Organic is list topper.  If they used a GMO seed but raised it organically without sprays/chemicals – awesome.  Probably got some good yields but were still having to raise it properly.  But it was Heirloom(non-gmo) variety but raised un-organic(technically not a coined term yet even though this is almost all your food) in which they raised a naturally occurring plant but applied chemicals then I don’t want chemicals.  If you don’t think chemicals affect you in the smallest ways then feel free to take a benadryl and see what happens. A small pill the size of a pez can knock you out so why it is you think chemicals and sprays won’t affect you.  Sure – not on a level you notice – but you body notices.

Third party problems – preservatives. Everything beyond the ‘grocery’ or ‘produce’ isle has preservatives.  Keep that in mind.  Isles 1-15 whatever are boxed, canned, concocted, mixed up, dried up, and dressed to sell.  It likely has more sugar, corn syrup, and starch than you’ll ever need.  Keep this  in mind about grocery stores – it is a store – where you buy things and those things are meant to profit other things(CEO’s) and do you think they are there to keep your best interests in mind? NO! A store is a store is a store.  There is no such thing as anyone selling for under cost.  They will put whatever ads, vitamin labels, and fancy coloring to sell to you – and if you’re with kids then they are not targeting you.  They are targeting the little buyer next to you – the one who is crying.  I won’t even touch the soft drink isle.  I get mean.

Does this help? Does this make sense?

Maybe now go out and buy a cookbook and learn how to cook food again.  Do the dishes.  Talk, converse, laugh, cry, sing, dance while doing the dishes(I do) and be human.  Find out about your food – you are on a computer – you literally have the world’s library in your fingertips.  Ever looked up what baking soda is?  You should! Cause last I checked  we don’t grow plants called ‘soda’.  hint hint.

 

What are your growing now?

What am I growing now?  Well, next to nothing.  Although once the farm is up and running there are many techniques one can employ to grow year round crops.  We’re just not there yet but we hope to one day!

What I am growing is my knowledge by reading books.  Each book has some tidbit of info I’ve never heard of or trick I want to try.  Each book carries unique techniques from that person and farm! But most of all I reflect on my own growing skills and what I will change next year for growing and sowing.

So what am I growing – knowledge.  I can tackle next season well before it starts and really set a good plan in place to produce the most of in the most organic way.  What would I change about my 2014 season?

Lets start with the hardware.  I had a poly cover over my beds which I won’t do again.  Unless you are completely closed system which temp, humidity, and air flow regulation I don’t recommend the purchase.  At best it kept the rain off and thats about it.

Row Covers per bed will be practiced.  You’ve seen row covers you just don’t know it.  They are white and long across farms.  Up close they are lightweight, air and water permeable, and pest resistant.  Depending on the thickness it does help with temps going up and down at night and some even can protect from frost.  So I look forward to employing row covers next year!

More skinny beds.  I left a lot of dead space and I feel that is because my beds are 4 feet wide! This poses a problem if I want to plant or harvest anything in the middle so I will construct 2 foot wide beds that can be easily jumped or stepped over and just plain reached over.  I’d suggest never creating raised beds you can’t reach all the way across so the length of your arm is a good rule to go by.

Next year I will be incorporating more flowers as pollinators and also to attract beneficial insects.  I may even put in a bat house.

Buy the right tools not the cheap tools.  I took more tools and things back because the product was terrible.  I’ve learned now that expensive means quality and consistency.  I don’t mind paying hundreds of dollars if it saves me time and trouble!  I’ve got to think long-term about tools.  You can’t use things for one season – you’ll never get your money out of it.  I need products to last for 5 years minimum or more.

Get things done when you can not tomorrow.  Come fall time in the Northern Michigan sunny days are few and far between and so are dry ones.  You don’t want to be caught trying to finish out projects in 40 degree weather raining and windy especially it that is trying to mulch leaves! If it can be done – do it.

Next year will be different.  I am moving to be a better location and will have my garden right out by back door and plan to grow and show the world how fun and easy gardening can be regardless of time, effort, money, and what not.  I just want to show you it is possible to have fresh, whole, unsprayed, un-altered food just steps away.