3. In the Garden

Interview with a mother and new home owner:

Q: Are you going to have time to start a garden this year?    A: Absolutely!

Q: Why do you feel that is important?

A: I shop at Trader Joes and I do like their products, but when I see “Organic Tomatoes” from Mexico, I think, “Really? There are not enough organically grown (or at least “pesticide-free”) tomatoes in the U.S.? We have to ship them from Mexico? Come on!” So, with our own garden, we can produce local organic tomatoes for our family.

Q: Since you just bought your new home and it’s still winter where you live, what do you do now?

A: I try to buy as much local products as I can, like at the farmer’s market. They may seem overpriced, but at least there is no or little packaging and much less transportation cost. Like I said, I like Trader Joe’s because they have cheaper priced foods than other specialty stores with healthy food sections, yet their products do not have all the crap ingredients like regular processed foods. I also buy in bulk at Costco. Sometimes it’s hard, like when I only need one product, I will run down to the closest store and sometimes do not buy the organic version. I try to avoid that by buying good quality products on sale and stocking foods.

Live in town? Not much room to grow food? Look for local food from many local sources at: www.localharvest.org

Consider what Rob Hopkins has to say about Transition Towns: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQF09NG00V8  He works with cities and towns to take their existing “green” spaces and encourages citizens to work with their local government and chamber of commerce to replace ornamental plants with functional food-producting plants! Next time you are in town, stop by your chamber of commerce and see what they are willing to do to work with you. http://transitionculture.org/ 

Also, ask them about COMMUNITY GARDENS, if they don’t have one, ask to start one. If your town does have one, maybe that is the way you can grow your own food and meet new people too!

For kids, a great program is “farm to school” which is related to government, but can totally be done at the local school level on their own as well (maybe a project for the horticulture class?) This project offers kids the chance to learn how to grow food in a garden and then the school can use that food to cook tasty fresh meals! If only mac and cheese or pizza grew on a plant…! http://www.farmtoschool.org/

PALLET GARDENING: This is the coolest “new” gardening idea. Put a pallet board (found free, ask your hardware store or any business that deals in bulk products) up on end and staple the back with garden fabric. Fill with soil and plant! Here are more detailed instructions and a beautiful picture: http://lifeonthebalcony.com/how-to-turn-a-pallet-into-a-garden/

BIODIVERSITY is an important factor in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem = a sustainable one! Consider ways that you as an individual can make a difference by protecting biodiversity:

  • Consider raising heritage varieties of seed, meaning that you can save seeds from your crop, plant them the next season, and you will get the same crop to grow (which is not true for GM or hybrid seeds/plants). SAVING your own SEED is a great recession project…because seed is expensive. All that you can dry and save for the next season means that much less cost of raising food! (plus shipping!)
  • Preserves distinct genetic lines, so that ecosystems can fight off disease and pests.
  • Developing countries depend on maintaining their seed stock for survival and for the hopes of being able to feed their own people. GM seeds can contaminate other seeds through pollination, and if that happens in developing countries, their entire culture could be wiped out!
  • Commit to buying your garden seed ONLY from companies that clearly state they sell only 100% non-GMO seed products. For a current list of these companies (not all-inclusive, as many companies are very very small family owned companies that may not be online) check out this website and start by looking for local companies in your own state to find seeds suited to your own environment: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/viewpage.aspx?pageid=261
  • Help protect our variety of seeds. Write/call seed companies and ask them about GM seeds and if they do or do not associate with/sell them:

Why does it matter if you specifically call/write and ask them (I mean, isn’t the information already online)? Yes, many companies post online. But they need to hear from YOU the consumer (and every other buyer of their products) to get feedback on their products. They cannot read your mind. If you are against or in favor of something, you need to notify them. That does not mean you should call them up and start a debate. When I wrote to seed companies, I asked these questions: “Do you sell any genetically modified seeds? Do you buy seed from any companies that make or sell any genetically modified products?” I did not have to state my opinion one way or another, they knew what I was asking! But if you prefer, you could state, “I prefer to buy seed from companies that do not use or sell genetically modified seeds.”

(Here is an example article about the concerns for biodiversity with GM plants: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/pest-evolves-resistance-to-gm-crops-779794.html)

Remember, BIODIVERSITY is not only for plants…biodiversity is for animals, too! For more information, check out our section on sustainable farming.

Here are some tips for new gardeners, courtesy of my Grandmother (a “green thumb”):

Get rid of garbage service and start composting…it’s too easy to throw away things you would feed your plants!

Get worms, they’re not expensive and you can build their houses out of anything. What they give you is like gold. Mix them together with your compost and they make the best fertilizer.

I save egg shells (those that I don’t give back to chickens) for my tomatoes, as many problems with tomatoes are from not enough calcium. I crush them up in my blender first.

Start saving your own seeds, heirloom or “open-pollinated”… Be careful that you only grow ONE kind at a time, if you want them to be true, because they will cross. For example: If you grow Nantes carrots with Danver long carrots, they would cross and you wouldn’t have true seed.

If you cannot afford a greenhouse, which is especially a problem in the North, a hoop house or hoops over your garden will make all the difference in the world. I got the best crop of tomatoes and peppers to throw away because of my hoop house.

[Q: Which company do you recommend?] I like Nickels of Albany Oregon, simply because they are close to my climate, and my plants grow better from that seed. Fedco, back East, are amazing for organic gardeners. Yes, the safe seed pledge is a good resource for companies.

[Q: What are easy crops to start with so they don’t get discouraged?] Green leafy plants such as spinach and lettuce are the easiest and they grow quickly. You can’t go wrong with green beans. Almost all herbs grow very easy, but a lot are frost sensitive. Rosemary, basil, ones like that you should grow in a sunny area of your house in pots. 

Crop strategies for farm or garden:

  • Intercropping – planting two complimentary crops next to each other to reduce pest populations. For example, Graysmarsh Farm grows roses on the end of berry rows to keep away pests.
  • Multi-cropping – Planting more than one crop to reduce weeds (example: planting a new alfalfa stand, put in oats which will come up quickly and keep weeds out as the alfalfa matures, first hay crop may be mixed, but next year’s alfalfa will be excellent)
  • Inter-planting – Protect the soil and maximize productivity at the same time. Example: growing pumpkins within a stand of eating corn.
  • Strip cropping – To reduce erosion, plant corn and maybe plant carrots on the west side and strawberries on the east. For farmers, this means planting a long, narrow section of corn followed by a long narrow section of alfalfa followed by a long narrow section of soybeans. The strips can then be rotated:
  • Rotate crops – For example, rotate corn around so it’s not in the same spot every year. Balances nutrients throughout the garden. For farmers, that would mean not planting the same crop every year and every few years, fields should be allowed to rest, permanent pasture of hay fields are preferred.
  • Cover Crops – Crops meant to keep the soil in place until the next growing season. In your garden, you could plant cold season crops or overwinter root crops.
  • Green Manure – Planting legume crops to get nitrogen from the air back into the soil.

8 thoughts on “3. In the Garden

  1. tammy sheets

    i liked the hay bale tip. i will work that into my garden space this year. i also use old tires. they really warm the soil and i am able to grow watermelons and cantalope. i plant my started plants in them. we have a shorter growing season and it helps alot. i have a request in for my husband to bring me up some more of the old tires. a great way to recycle and the plants grow very well in them. i am trying new to me varieties this year that i got from baker creek heirloom seed company. i got the blaktail mountain watermelon. the golden midget. the sweet siberian and the moon and stars. i went exclusively heirloom seeds this year from both baker creek and sand hill preservation center.


  2. Alissa

    I don’t have room for a greenhouse, and you mention hoop houses, but I heard it’s not a good idea to start seeds outside cause of the climate. I have raised beds, would a tent greenhouse work, or does it need to be warmer to start seeds? By the way, in Southern Oregon there is great company called Siskiyou Seeds, which sell organic heirloom seeds, http://www.siskiyouseeds.com.


    1. Spirited Rose Dairy

      I’ll definitely check out the seed company, I’d like to buy more local!
      Have you tried cold frames? With your raised beds, all that would involve would be adding a “window” to the top for protection. This link has some ideas of what I am talking about: http://www.mastergardening.com/cold-frames-greenhouses-1/?gclid=COOBx5yjg68CFeJe7AodP18H3g
      As you can see, some are very “tent-like” so I think they would be helpful. You could also put straw bales around the raised beds for extra protection in the winter.

      For my frames, I used pallet boards (we found some really deep ones) and on top you can put some old windows. Very “cheap” if you want! 🙂 I find the herbs prefer just being in regular ground, and the bed works better for my peas, lettuce, carrots, etc.


  3. Jan

    We have a rock garden in front of our house. With the extreme temperatures we experience, I’ve always struggled with ways to keep it pretty without replanting annuals. My first successes were lavender and chives. Wow! Do they ever love that spot!

    My second discovery was planting the hardier herbs, like rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and winter savory (basil has to come in during the winter). How did I ever go 50 years without realizing that they were hardy enough to endure our climate! There’s nothing better on a weekend morning than a fresh “scramble” made with a bunch of leftovers out of the fridge, sauteed and mixed with any mixture of these fresh herbs, scrambled with eggs, topped with cheese. I’m truly amazed at the flavor…and it’s different each time!

    Consider the cost savings: purchase the seed or plant once, plant, and you’ll have it forever. Purchase those tiny amounts in the grocery store time after time, add up the cost! Not to mention, the flavor of the fresh herbs is so incredibly more mouthwatering than the dull, drab spices purchased that may have been on the shelf for an unknown period of time.

    Now I’m pretty well-known for killing any houseplant that I have tried to grow, but the herbs require virtually no care but to keep them pruned back to keep the plants to a desirable size/density, but if you need to snip a bunch and dry it for those gift-giving occasions? Voila! In our dry climate (unlike the humid coastal areas) you can simply lay these herbs out on a screen for a few days and they dry beautifully.


  4. Spirited Rose Dairy

    Here’s a note from my aunt and uncle about learning about GARDENING IN A HAY BALE:
    “They had two set up in a T and had spread some dairy compost over them and planted in that. Another woman said she’d had good luck with tomatoes by parting the hay and planting the tomato with the soil it came in, in the hay. The composting hay produces heat to sustain the plants during our cool nights.”


  5. For those who can’t have a garden for whatever reason or who want to supplement their output, subscribing to a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) is wonderful. I love supporting local farmers and trying unfamiliar produce. I’m kind of scared of canning, but I do like freezing to make the produce last. I freeze herbs, cherries, and zucchini. Still working on last year’s zucchini and will get a few more loaves of bread out of it after having frozen loaves for the fall and well into the winter.


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