Gardening 101 for Food, Fun, and a Friendly, Fertile World

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Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture

Okay, here I go again. I tried starting this yesterday and my computer disconnected as I was about to finish.

Several of us have been discussing gardening on one of my blog post threads, so we decided that I should start a gardening thread. I chose to do it here although it might also fit in the environment section.

Here are some related news items:

Thom Hartmann A reports that experts expect major world food shortages in the coming years due to global warming and population growth;

An internet article I read yesterday, said that farmers' markets have greatly increased in popularity over the past year;

My neighbor Doreen stopped by here to give us a couple of homegrown Persian Cucumbers last night. Fortunately for my wife and I, our Okinawan neighbors are good friends and into organic gardening also. In fact, I see 94 year old Shin tending to his garden almost every day. (By the way, I once did a blog post about Shin, but it was about how he evaded participation in WWII by migrating to Hawaii from Okinawa. Doreen is his daughter.)

I don't have any special knowledge about gardening, actually, just practical experience and what my curious mind has picked up from various people and sources over the years. My wife and I are both into organic gardening, and my wife has recently decided to turn her rose garden in the front yard into a fruit orchard, basically, so we have been adding quite a few fruit trees as well as other food bearing plants lately, despite the hot, dry summer weather here in Moreno Valley, CA. In fact, the temps reached about 106 degrees fahrenheit here yesterday.  In fact, one of our most successful crops is Dragon Fruit, which is a fruiting cactus related to Christmas Cactus.

We also have a greenhouse where we grow a lot of fruit and veggies, which doubles as a cat shelter. Everything we grow is organic -- that is, without the use of pesticides, as our our neighbors fruit and veggies.

I understand that Alberto Ceras and Leighmf have some expertise regarding this topic.

While growing up, my mother always used to do organic gardening, which influenced my brothers and I. My father of course always helped too. Actually, their garden is still organic and grows lots of food (which family members often "raid" i.e., harvest), but most of the work is now done by other people as my parents are old and unfortunately not capable of doing much yardwork anymore, unlike Shin.

My brother Bruce, in fact, went on to work at the agricultural station at U.C. Riverside, then get a bachelors degree and Ph. D. in Soil Science. He now works for the California Water Quality Control Board as an environmentalist, and is still very much involved in organic gardening and teaching others the same and proper use of water.

Any feedback regarding people's experiences and/or projects involving organic gardening and how it benefits us and the environment, is welcome.


SueN's picture
Growing your own organically

Growing your own organically can help the environment a lot, providing you do not use a lot of fossil-fuelled technology. It saves on transport, packaging, fertilisers and pesticides, all of which use a lot of energy from fossil fuels, emitting greenhouse gases. Some also cause other forms of pollution, e.g. fertiliser run-off harms waterways and packaging fills up rubbish tips and also needs to be transported.

If you plan your garden to have sufficient fresh food all year round, you may save on refrigeration, but alternatively you may do a lot of freezing which takes power.

Done right, it uses less water than some modern farmer's crops.

I've not tried it yet, but permaculture looks like a particularly productive form of organic gardening.

Bush_Wacker's picture
I am seeing more and more

I am seeing more and more people growing veggies in hanging bags filled with compost as opposed to taking up a lot of square footage in the yard.  I've see as many as 20 tomato plants on what looked like a shoe tree or tall hat rack.  I just saw someone who had carrots and potatoes growing in bags as well and they say that it works great because they have much better insect control and it takes a lot less water.  I just thought I'd throw in my two cents.  I don't have much of a green thumb myself.

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Sue, we use as much compost

Sue, we use as much compost as we can. We put fruit peels, etc. and even fish carcasses from fish we catch in the yard. However, there is also the commercial potting soil we sometimes use, and the commercial fertilizer we occasionally apply. I am pretty sure that oil products are used in the fertilizer, and perhaps in the potting soil, too. However, I do think we are saving on fertilizer, transport, packaging, pesticides, water and refrigeration, all of which is a good thing.

What exactly is permaculture, Sue? Is that something like the hydroponics that Bush-Wacker describes. A few years ago, we tried one of those doo-hickeys that is supposed to grow tomatoes upside down, but the tomato died and the container broke apart while we were on vacation. I have noticed that the tomatoes we were growing became more diseased and didn't grow as well over the years, although currently, we are having pretty good success with them by growing them in large pots in the greenhouse, although 2 of them already died in the dry heat. We love tomatoes as do many gardeners. Of course, the home grown ones taste the best and probably have the best health benefits. The Lycopene in tomatoes is an antioxidant, I believe, which has been found to help men's prostate glands especially well.

I saw a show on television illustrating what Bush_Wacker was talking about. There were some pretty amazing gardening set-ups in high rise apartments. Nutrient laden water dribbles through tubes from one plant to the next lower one. Some of these are homemade, while others are made by specialists.

Of course, there is always the "Green Acres" approach. One can try growing crops on one's balcony, and if that isn't satisfying enough, one can by a farm in someplace with a name like Hooterville. (At least it's not "Hooters-Ville.")

By the way, we just bought an "All-in-One" Almond tree a while ago, at my wife's behest. I kind of hope that is the last tree in this latest project of hers. We had one of those Almond trees before, but we unfortunately put it on the back hill, where it slowly died. It looks like we have prepared a better spot for this one.

delete jan in iowa
My husband is an agronomist

My husband is an agronomist and I'm a horticulturalist, we have lots of experience with growing things.  We live in the country and have an organic vegetable garden (1600 sf) and a newly planted fruit orchard (we are in our second year with our fruit trees) and we grow aronia berries for a cash crop.  If you would like I'll share with you some things I've been learning about vegetable gardening.

Here are some links to great places to buy organic seeds and plants for your garden:

Territorial Seed - instructional videos, organic seeds and supplies 

Grow Organic - instructional videos, organic seeds and supplies

First you should figure out what zone you live in:  here's a link for that

Plants grow best in soil, if the soil is rich in microbial life.  Usually the upper 12" of soil is the most alive.

Fertility - Fish emulsion/oil, calcium and sea salt (best balanced minerals available)  

I'll stop for now and see what you think about the information so far.... I'll check back tomorrow and see what you think.



Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Thanks for the links, Jan in

Thanks for the links, Jan in Iowa. It's good to hear that you and your husband work in this general field. I find the grow organic link to be very informative, in particular. I can tell you, we definitely don't live in Iowa. I have seen what zone we live in by searching the Sunset Gardening books but I forgot what it is. I have enough practical experience that it transcends those zones. They aren't very accurate around here due to the unflatness of the terrain and the various microclimates around here. (I think these are only for the western U.S.)

The heat wave we are having now is hard on most of our new plants, and certain thirsty types such as pepper plants. This is exactly what I was afraid of happening when my wife decided to buy so many new plants. Her response was that this would "test" the plants so that the survivors would be really healthy by next summer. My wife is a wee bit eccentric, though.

I have never heard of adding sea salt to the soil, but we add stuff like fish bones and fish carcasses as I think I mentioned before, which we find to be really good fertilizer, along with all the other organics we use. We have a couple of bags of commercial fertilizer we bought, too. I asked Eunice if I should distribute it in the greenhouse and the yard, but she said we should wait until after our vacation. She mentioned that she thought the Dragon Fruit would drop off if I gave them fertilizer when the fruit were forming. I doubt that but I complied and refrained from fertilizing for now. It looks like the Dragon Fruit are forming quite well at this time.

Aronia berries are supposed to be very healthful, aren't they? I think I saw Aronia Berry juice in Sprouts Market, and the label was touting its health benefits.

delete jan in iowa
Yes, aronia berries are

Yes, aronia berries are higher in anti-oxidents than any other berry.  They have MANY health benefits.

I've been talking with my husband about giving advice about gardening..... here's what we've come up with:

If you really want to help have sustainable food you should go to your local farmers' market and develop a relaltionship with a local organic farmer or farmers.  There are programs you can get on called "community based farming" where you can contract with a local farmer to provide your family with fresh vegetable on a regular basis depending on your needs.  This would give you fresh nutrient dense food and help the farmer all in a single action.

Growing nutrient dense vegetables is HARD, TIME CONSUMING and COMPLEX.  There are folks who have devoted their lives to farming that need your support.  They have tried different varieties of vegetables and have figured out what works best for your area.  They have a diverse selection of vegetables that can be harvested throughout the year.  They are the experts.

Go ahead and grow tomatoes or lettuces if you want, but you would do more to help yourselves and your community if you would support local organic farmers.

Just a suggestion to think about.

At the monastery, every bit

At the monastery, every bit of vegetable waste is composted in composting barrels. We add horse manure donated by a neighbor. The resulting "soil" is added to our edibles garden. Better harvests every year., and less watering is required.


Supplies of the stuff are limited, so much of our grounds are planted in native trees, shrubs and flowering plants...all originally started from gathered-seed. We grow and sell a  surplus of such plants. They sell well when people see their beauty in our landscaping combined with low maintenance.

I've been trying to get the community to switch to composting toilets. No luck. LOL

Our small lawn is grown more for it's grass clippings to be used as a mulch rather than for decorative purposes....though it does serve both purposes. The lawn is fertilized with animal waste once a year...donated horse manure.  It turns out that animal waste isn't waste!

We dry our plums and apricots for winter's use. Apricots are reliable at the location.  Plums, not so much. The plums came with the property.

If you can grow figs in your location,  grow them. You'll never touch another fig newton. Fresh  ripe figs have a totally different taste. They don't ship well. You can't buy them.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

delete jan in iowa
WTG poly.... sounds like the

WTG poly.... sounds like the monastery had the right ideas about food production and composting.

Most people think that simply putting their old veggies and yard clipping in a pile makes compost, that's actually not compost.  Compost must reach certain temperature levels to kill seeds and get past the "amonia" phase.  If you have a strong smell of amonia in your compost pile, it's not "finished." 

Actually the Rodale Institute has a very thick book about composting that is very helpful if you want to get an idea about the "proper" way to compost.  Here's a link to their Composting 101 that you may find helpful.

In some areas you can get "mushroom" compost.  That is what's left after mushroom growers discard the soil medium they've been growing mushrooms in.  It is usually a mixture of peat moss and manure.  It can be a great compost, but again you have to wait until any amonia smell breaksdown.

There is a new certified organic compost out of California, will post the name later can't find it right now, that seems to be fantastic.  We got some from a farmer friend in the Ames IA area who's going to be distributing it in the midwest to farmers.  We used it on our garden and the soil is very happy and our veggies are better than ever this year, but we will have to see how it works all season.  

Probably the most important thing in gardening is to make sure you have active microbial life in your soil.  The microbs (we call them bugs) are what make the plants grow and thrive, they are the life in the soil.  Adding organic materials (peat moss, bark mulch - but not too much, straw, compost and manures) to your soils is incredibly important.  

If you buy or are thinking about buying a bag of compost, do a germ test on it - germination test.  Place the compost or other potting soil in little pots (make more than one sample for each product) and plant the same type of seed in each sample, water and then see how long it takes for the seeds to come up.  Use the sample that germinates the best.  You'll be surprised at the results.

I'll post the name of the new compost product a little later......

delete jan in iowa
Okay, here is the compost

Okay, here is the compost product we're trying out in our garden:  Biotic Organic 4-4-4  which is a farm product.  Here is the main website for Perfect-Blend.

Here is a link to their residential gardening product.

This product is giving us great results and some of our farmer friends are trying in their field crops.  It will be interesting to see how it does over the next year or so.

delete jan in iowa
Natural.... how is the

Natural.... how is the gardening going?  

Have you planted a fall garden yet?  

Didn't you plant some tomatoes?  If so what variety did you plant?

norske's picture
We recently doubled our

We recently doubled our garden from 5 acres to 10 acres and added a 1500 sg. ft. green house. Might double it again next year if the US survives another year. We are off the grid so refrigeration doesn't cost anything. We belong to several food co-opts and supply food at no cost to food banks within a 30 mile radius. It's a trip to go out and pick the days food fresh from the garden every morning. Interesting evolution from major meat eater, to eating only the animals we raise ourselves under "ethical" conditions. to eating only vegan and mostly what we grow ourselves... Well... I still have the very occasional chocolate malt and the even more rare egg breakfast from our own chickens...

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Thanks for the replies during

Thanks for the replies during my vacation, people.

I might have seen that new fertilizer here in California, Jan. It seems as though we saw something like that. I don't think our compost is getting hot enough since seeds are sprouting in it, but I know it is at least adding nutrients to the soil.

The amazing thing about the ecosystem is how nothing is wasted. It's all fertilizer, to plants at least. We don't have anything so sophisticated as composting barrels, though. We used to put the compost in a large container, but now we are growing plants in that container.

It was very hot while we were on vacation, as much as 115 fahrenheit one day I hear, but the plants survived pretty well. We have several types of tomatoes growing in the greenhouse. A few weeks ago, we bought a hot weather one that is called "Phoenix" I think, and one which has a strange name that ends in the letters "be" I think, but I forget the name. Other than that and maintaining the plants we have, we are mostly trying to establish the trees we bought earlier this summer.

Our Dragon Fruit are growing really well, and some are starting to ripen. We bought another cactus that has similar fruit a couple of years ago. It seemed to be languishing, so we moved it a couple of months ago, and while on vacation, it suddenly started growing a new branch. My father's caretaker, Maribel, wants us to give her a Dragon Fruit branch from one of our more successful plants. She also has been giving us some seeds and plants, and she watered the yard while we were gone. (Unfortunately, my father is now basically an invalid physically, although his mind is still good.)

Coincidentally, we had a huge amount of Apricots from one tree this year, Polycarp, and daughter Isabella has a Fig tree with a huge amount of fruit currently ripening. We brought home several bags of Figs on Saturday and gave most of them to Maribel. Also, we have lots of Nectarines and Peaches ripening at this time. Maribel ate a bunch of them while we were on vacation.

Speaking of berries, while we were on vacation, we found loads of wild berries, plus fennel and some type of wild pea, which we kept snacking on. It's surprising how few people eat these natural foods from public lands. This was in an area from Northern Cal through Washington State.

I remember that my parents bought mushroom compost when they had a planter built, and that soil has always been very fertile. It still produces well, although I noticed a recent absence of the worms I used to see in it.

I think the organic farmers and farmers market suggestion is a good one, Jan, but my wife always looks at supermarket flyers and tells me where to take her grocery shopping. I think people should be both utilizing local organic farmers products and growing some of their own food ideally, though.

Ten acres and a 1500 square foot greenhouse -- that's really impressive, Norske. You are really "walking the walk" it appears. When you say you are off the grid, do you mean you have solar power? Good on you for donating so much to food banks.

By the way, the Honda Insight we bought in April is doing great, with an average mileage of 49.0 mpg currently, and I believe averaging over 50 mpg on our trip, which saved us alot of money as well as conserving fuel.


delete jan in iowa
Natural..... Keep up the good

Natural..... Keep up the good work and continue posting how it's going.

We've planted our fall garden and will be harvesting our aronia berries this weekend.  My husband is going to make wine from them.  Should be interesting to see how it turns out.

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
We just ate some of our

We just ate some of our nectarines a while ago. My wife mentioned how much better they taste than the ones from the store.

I also noticed that one of our Dragon Fruit (a strange one that seems different from the other ones that have had fruit), is suddenly growing a bunch of new buds, even though it already has one fruit growing on it. I doubt that many of the buds will result in fruit, however.

After all the snacking we did on wild plants during our trip, I plan to look them up in the coming days. The only really familiar ones to me were Blackberries and Fennel, but we did see a board in Moiunt Rainier National Park which described and named the various types of edible berries that grow there, so I know that we also ate Red Huckleberries and Thimbleberries. I am not so sure about the other ones. I will report here what I find during my internet searches.

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Here is my report on the

Here is my report on the native foods we ate during our trip.

They included Blackberries (most common);

Salmonberries (most deliciious);

Red Huckleberries;

Blue Huckleberries;




and, Sierra Peas.

The Blackberries were in Washington State, Oregon and northern California;

The Salmonberries, Red Huckleberries and Thimbleberries that we ate were in Washington State;

The Blue Huckleberries and Fennel that we ate were in Oregon (although wild Fennel is also common along the coast of central and northern california);

The Sierra Peas were in northern Califronia, and the Serviceberries were in the mountains of central California (east of Fresno). Sierra Peas (Lathyrus Nevadensis) is listed as possibly being toxic (oops!), but the ones we ate showed no sign of toxicity whatsoever. All the berries and the Fennel are definitely 100% edible. Of course, it would be advisable to check the edibility of wild plants before trying them, but we didn't have that luxury so we used the sniff test and the cautious tasting test. There was one other blue colored berry that Eunice tasted and spit out, saying it was veryt bitter; I am not sure what it was but it had no ill effects on her.

delete jan in iowa
Garden Update..... Well,

Garden Update.....

Well, we've started our fall harvest and here's what we've gotten so far.

Carrots - 30# (in a single 12' row)

Potatoes - Yukon Gold, Mountain Rose, All Blue, German Butter, and Pontiac (red potato) total of 47#

This does not include the abundant amount of yellow summer squash, cucumbers, spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, and tomoatoes we have been getting since July.  I should be harvesting our lima beans in another week or so.  The eggplant was a bust, tried a white variety which did not germinate.  

I have planted Blue Lake Green beans, Sweet Peas, lettuces, spinach and collard greens for a fall garden.  I did plant the green beans and sweet peas earlier and did not support them properly and didn't get any harvest, so that's why I planted again for the fall.  Hope to get 10 to 15 pounds of each if we're lucky.

Our aronia harvest was bad this year.  A late frost killed the blooms on our field with 635 plants so we were only able to harvest from our little patch of 100 plants.  Because of the drought here in Iowa our harvest was way down from the 50+ pounds we got from our little patch last year.  

My husband has decided to make wine from this harvest to see if we might start a winery using the berries and fruit from our orchard. He is starting out making one gallon using 1/2 each aronia berries and blueberries.  And another gallon with 1/2 each aronia berries and plums.  This will definitely be interest! 

We're having dinner out of the garden tonight!!!  This is the best year (our third here in Iowa) so far in our little 1600 SF garden.  

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Jan, thanks for the update.

Jan, thanks for the update. How bad is the drought there?

Here, there is another summer thunderstorm raging just to the southwest of here around Perris and Elsinore, which have flash flood warnings currently. We are gettting a few drops and are hoping for some rain to come this way. I can hear thunder as I write this. I am mentioning this because I am wondering about climate change. Have you noticed any signs of climate change in Iowa over the past few years?

We have had 2 heavy thunderstorms here (at my house) this summer and today's is the second one which is very close to here but not actually raining much here (at least not yet). There was also a big subtropical storm earlier this summer in this region, but it wound up mostly around Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and didn't bring any rain here

That might not seem like a lot of rain, but I assure you that it is for here during the summer months (June-September). As I recall, we have only had about one rain event here during the summer about every 5-10 years, although the San Bernardino mountains to our east get a lot more summer thunderstorms. The Big Bear area up in the mountains has really been pounded with rain this summer, I gather.

I have already noted on this site a few times that it seems to me that the rainy season has grown longer here over the past few years, which still holds true even though we didn't have as much winter rain as usual last winter. I suspect the rain pattern changes are due to global warming.

Surely this will affect gardening as well.

Congrats on your garden harvest, although some crops did well and others didn't. That is still a lot of good food.

I picked 18 Dragon Fruit last week, in addition to the 4 I had picked earlier. I weighed the 18 I picked last week at 10 pounds, 10 ounces. I mention that because those are the only fruit I from our garden I have actually weighed, and even that I did on a fish scale. Dragon Fruit can be quite expensive in the store, by the way. We have been picking other fruit such as Tomatoes, Peppers and Nectarines as they become ripe but I wouldn't say there have been any really large amounts.

As I mentioned previously, the Dragon Fruit are going to have another crop this year as there are now a good number of buds growing on most of the plants, and I think they have already had more fruit this year or about as many as in any previous year. The amount seems to grow every year in fact.

delete jan in iowa
The drought is terrible here

The drought is terrible here in Iowa.  It has destroyed much of the corn crop and is killing the soybean crop as well.  We did not get very much snow last winter so the soil was already in a little trouble, then with no rain, it is dry and miserable.  If we don't have lots of snow this winter and at the very least normal rain next year, we will be in deep sh#t.

Glad your Dragon Fruit is doing well.  Interesting about your rain fall.  I've lived in Oregon a couple of times over the last 15 years and found that summer dry season very different from growin up in Texas, lots of crazy rain and tornados in the summer months..... well now it's tornados year round!

Climate change is making an impact all over the world.  It's too bad we don't hear very much about the weather around the world here in the US.  

Thanks for your encouragement.  Will post when we start harvesting the beans and peas..... 

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
It's been raining here this

It's been raining here this afternoon -- again, very unusual for the summer (in the past). It seems more like the weather in Taiwan last August when I went there -- hot, humid and thunderstormy -- in short, tropical. Even during my vacation to the Pacific Northwest last month, the weather was hot, cloudy and humid most of the time, although it wasn't raining.

We went to Lowes earlier today and bought some more plants at my wife's behest, including a Grapfruit, Mandarin Orange, a Red and a Pink Dragon Fruit, plus some veggies such as peas, cabbage and lettuce that I think are intended for the fall. I have a lot to do aside from the yardwork so it's been a hassle, frankly, and my wife tends to overbuy a bit, but maybe the new plants will work out well.

delete jan in iowa
What a beautiful day it was

What a beautiful day it was here in Iowa!!!  Weather is very mild and sunny.  We had 2 nights of frost last weekend, but now it's warmed back up and is incredible.  We do have foliar damage on our tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and green beans, but they are still alive and producing.

I sat outside in the yard this afternoon shelling lima beans from the garden.  I think I'm going to get maybe 2-4 pounds of dried beans, should be able to finish them up tomorrow.  Last night we had German butter potatoes and steamed carrots from the garden... yum!

Across the road they've started harvesting the soybeans and should get to the farmstead we live on by Sunday. The farmer who rents this land is farming about 5,000 acres and has a pretty efficient harvesting/planting crew, nice guys.

norske........ what do you grow in your 10 acre garden?  How was/is your harvest this year? 

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
It's been relentlessly hot

It's been relentlessly hot here in SoCal since around the beginning of August. It seems to be getting a little cooler here, but not much. Again, I think it's a sign of global warming as I can seldom if ever recall such relentlessly hot weather here for such an extended period, in the past. As you pointed out in another thread, Jan, sea levels will rise 20 feet if Greenland's ice melts, and the climate will change faster than critters can adapt.

I don't know if you saw this, as I have mentioned it elsewhere but I have been sick with viral infections practically this entire month, including when I wrote my last two replies. I am getting a lot better but still coughing a lot. Nonetheless, I have been doing yardwork. My wife and I were out in the yard today, and it looks like most of our plants are doing well. Maybe it was a good time to buy those tropical plants, given the recent weather around here. The weather forecast mentioned that tropical storm Miriam would be in this area this weekend, but I only noticed a few high clouds today.

On the Dragon Fruit front, they have bloomed again, and we now have 20 new Dragon Fruit growing, This year is definitely the best we have had for these fruit. There weren't any even in the Chinese supermarket we went to a few days ago; normally, they should be in season and in the stores, so I don't know why there weren't any. We have been eating some of our Dragon Fruit and they are delicious as always, this year. They are also very good for cardiovascular health. We have also been giving them to daughter Isabella and my parent's caretaker Maribel, both of whom love Dragon Fruit.

My wife picked up a couple of the huge Sugar Pine cones while we were in the mountains on vacation, and it turns out that they have large seeds inside. We ate some a few days ago, and they taste just like the commercial pine nuts that are so expensive. The only problem was the difficulty of getting the seeds out of the shell.

If you want to extend

If you want to extend harvesting fresh greens well into winter, plant Swiss Chard. Cover it with straw, etc.  when temps fall below 32 degrees and when it snows. Uncover it on sunny days, and you'll extend your veggie harvest for several months after the rest of the garden is killed-off by winter frost.

It can be cooked like Spinach or used in salads.

Good soil is alive. Full of living organisms. Most are microscopic.  Organic materials feed them. Synthetic fertilizers tend to kill them. At that point, synthetics have to be used forever in order to grow anything. A lot of U. S. agricultural land is quite dead. Without synthetic fertilizers, it won't grow much of anything anymore.

Much of our agricultural land is now so lacking in organic materials, it can't retain moisture well.  It requires more water than a living soil.

My Uncle Harry used to rotate his grazing pastures with his corn crops. The pastures fed the cows and provided the milk.The cows and pasture crop fertilized the land for the corn. Corn waste was tilled under and helped to  fed the pastures as they rotated. He didn't buy fertilizer. He did, however, buy more seed for pasture re-planting than farmers do today. 1/3 of his farm was always out of commercial production. Rotated. The home veggie garden was composted.

At the monastery, we mix all of our waste vegetation with animal manure at a ratio of about 5 to 1, keep it slightly moist and mix it up every couple of days. The process of decay helps to  generate enough heat to enable the process. .The end result is a rich, black soil. I'd recommend a compost barrel (several for a continual supply).

It's really just a speeding up of a natural process.

Too much heat kills the microbes necessary in the process...ditto temps too cold.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
It is distressing to see that

It is distressing to see that our microbes are being killed by synthetic fertilizers. I guess that's just another piece of the puzzle that says we are in for hard times environmentally, due to our own shortsighted actions. Are these synthetic fertilizers the ones made from oil products, Polycarp?

I was taking antibiotics recently due to my infection, but they didn't seem to work. My tonsils seemed to be infected, and when I looked tonsilitis up, the internet sources I found said that it is normally caused by viruses, which explained why the antibiotics didn't work. I stopped taking the antibiotics and have continued to improve. I am actually better off without the antibiotics, since as my wife who gave me the pills in the first place says, they kill all kinds of bacteria, both good and bad. The same problem happens when microbe killing products are applied to soil.

Regarding Swiss Chard. we are growing a lot of it in our yard and eat it fairly often. It rarely freezes here, though, so we don't need to cover it. These plants grow year around in our yard without any help. We originally got the Swiss Chard from my parents' yard, although we did buy some "Rainbow Chard" plants a few years ago.

Your uncle Harry had the proper approach to agriculture, I would say. I would want to recycle as much as possible naturally if I were a farmer, too, and without pesticides.

We put waste vegetation in composting areas, but we don't do anything special with it. I am sure we could do a better job with the compost, but it does help the soil's fertility. Our Pineapple Guava tree that produces so many fruit, we just throw some veggie waste underneath sometimes, and the tree produces 500-1000 delicious and nutritious fruit per year (no exaggeration here). The fruit should begin ripening soon (like early October). My wife and I noticed, amazingly, that this tree is still blooming and apparently forming new fruit. It has been blooming since about April, when it bloomed most heavily. One can eat the flowers, too, which are fleshy and sweet.

 By the way, Polycarp, I noticed that this thread says "Updated." I didn't do anything to update the original post, though. Do you have any idea why this site says that?

From above: Are these

From above: Are these synthetic fertilizers the ones made from oil products, Polycarp?

poly replies: Primarily. Much of our agricultural land is now  dependent upon them. No production.

Many valuable soil amendments aren't harmful...especially those utilized to adjust ph. Good organic composition sometimes makes them un-necessary if the acidity/alkalinity aren't too extreme.

Uncle Harry's farm improved every year that he farmed it. The soil was better when he died than it was when he inherited it from his dad. I spent my boyhood summers there. Rode a cow called Brownie. Few cows are that mellow. My own preference is goats.

From above: By the way, Polycarp, I noticed that this thread says "Updated." I didn't do anything to update the original post, though. Do you have any idea why this site says that?

poly replies: It means someone has made a new posting to the thread.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease".

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Thanks for replying,

Thanks for replying, Polycarp. I just got around to checking this thread. With all the election coverage, I didn't expect any replies to this thread.

I figured those synthetic fertilizers were made from oil products, but I wanted to check with you. We will be in deep doo-doo, so to speak, when the oil runs out -- not that this is any news to anyone who is paying attention, but most people seem to be cruising along in denial mode.

It sounds like valuable soil amendments that aren't harmful are the way to go. About the only thing I know how to do is put organics in the soil and let them rot and fertilize. At least it doesn't harm the soil and it usually seems to work plant growth-wise.

The fact that I didn't know what "Updated" means on this site, shows how seldom I start threads on the message board. Almost everything I start is on the blog section of the site.

I have actually noticed the Dragon Fruit growing larger wherever we added organics recently. That's really fun and satisfying to see. We also have noticed that our efforts to keep our new trees alive and start them growing (by constant watering and adding organics) seems to be paying off as a couple of trees I thought were on the verge of dying are now growing new leaves. These are a couple of tropical exotics -- a Sapote tree and a Cherimoya, so whether they will ever bear fruit or not remains an iffy proposition.


SueN's picture
You are all making me so

You are all making me so jealous, I am temporarily without a garden and I miss my home grown fruit and veg.

There's a description of permaculture at

It's basically about working with nature.

Here's an introduction to one of the principle: Permaculture Principles in a Polyculture Orchard and here is one that is 2,000 years old. And here is one about zoning and placement for beneficial relationships.

Good garden practice simply

Good garden practice simply imitates nature. All life forms and their waste are returned to the soil from which they came. The rich top soils of the nation's bread basket were built in that manner.

Currently, the U.S. loses an equivalent of a 25,000 mile-long freight train filled with top soil to the sea every year. Bad agricultural practices.

In addition to stopping that, we should probably stop flushing our soil fertility into the world's oceans from the nation's toilets. Reclaim and sterlize it at water treatment plants, and bag it up.

I enjoyed your links particular the one about the 2,000 year old food forest. If that isn't an example of sustainable agriculture, what is?  I'd love to visit it.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Sorry to hear that, Sue. I

Sorry to hear that, Sue. I hope you soon will have a garden again.

Polycarp, I wrote a blog post on Biomimetics a while ago in terms of the economy, but I think it more directly relates to plant culture. Ecosystems evolved to use its resources as efficiently and effectively as possible, so growing plants should basically be a matter of effectively utilizing the system that is already in place, making ourselves part of this efficient system.

 I think one of the causes of the red tides which are so numerous in recent years in the ocean, is the flushing of nutrients into the ocean by people. It actually may be making the ocean more productive, although larger fishes are being overfished. But yeah, we should prevent human-caused erosion and the flushing of waste into the ocean. Some of this process has been accomplished actually, as, well...treated stuff that comes from people's toilets in many areas is being used for watering plants and for fertilizer, but this needs to be done with all of our waste products.

Some erosion is natural, of course, but humans have accelerated the process.

I will check your links, Sue.

SueN's picture
Red Tide near

Red Tide near Florida

Sediment Clouds the Chesapeake Bay

Aquatic Dead Zones

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
I enjoyed all of your links,

I enjoyed all of your links, Sue, especially the fruity forest in New South Wales and the 2,000 orchard in Morrocco.

I see that red tides have been raging in the Atlantic. It is around this time of year that the red tides are usually are at their worst.

Some aquatic dead zones may be natural due to naturally occuring low oxygen levels, for instance, but, the size of the deatd zones has increased greatly in recent years, which is tragic.

The link about the dead zones says this is due to algae blooms robbing water of its oxygen; the algae blooms happen because of human generated nutrients added to the ocean. The same thing happens in the Salton Sea in southern California, by the way, so that very few species survive there anymore. The only fish species left there, for instance, are Mozambique Tilapia, which were never even intended to be part of the Salton Sea ecosystem. They came into the lake from canals where they were stocked to control algae, since they can survive in both fresh and salt water.

nimblecivet's picture
Wow I didn't know there were

Wow I didn't know there were so many posts here, I haven't been able to read them yet. Just thought beginners might find this article useful, esp. in respect to rooftop gardens.

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Hello James. I obviously

Hello James. I obviously haven't been checking this thread very often. Yes, I was surprised by who replied to this thread. The people who said they wanted to talk gardening haven't showed up, but other people did. My wife's and my fruit tree managerie seems to be doing fairly well right now, in terms of plants surviving and starting to become established. Meanwhile, our "magic" Pineapple Guava tree is doing its thing, and we are even having some Mexican Guavas ripening.

By the way, I have been having some computer problems over the past few days. Today's trouble appears to have been that the signal from our modems wasn't strong enough. It's in a far part of the house, since that was the only place that the technician could find to put them (two little ones for Earthlink Cable). It seems to be better now and signal strength is back up to "excellent," from "fair." I had thought it was something else so I tried several system restores to no avail and now I frequently get a "Website restore error," but the computer is working.

I saw a show on television a few months ago that was about an amazing rooftop garden in Shanghai. (It was a Chinese language show.) I think that rooftop gardens and such are a "growing" thing.

SueN's picture
We are now coming into the

We are now coming into the season for staiying indoors and planning next year's garden. Not that I can plant anything next year unless I get a garden first, but I'd love to see a book that comprehensively lists which plants go well together, ready for when I can use it.

Sacramento Dave
Sacramento Dave's picture
"Ive been away from my

"Ive been away from my Sacramento garden for a good part of the summer this year. I just checked on it. The spinach, chard, and the Asian mustard I planted a few weeks ago is up and starting to grow strong. I still have some indeterminate beef stakes that are big and green, not red yet, lots of leeks, bunch onions, mint, self-seeding arugula, bell and super hot thai peppers, asian egpglants, asian bitter melons, and various asian greens and herbs. The winter lettuce that I sowed from seed a few weeks ago has not germinated yet. Probably too cold. I may need to plant some lettuce starts in the window this year. We had a couple of nights of frost here, but no hard freezes yet. I'm hoping to start a second winter garden where i stay when I'm in San Jose. I cleared a nice small plot there last week.

Natural Lefty
Natural Lefty's picture
Sue, Nimblecivet's link talks

Sue, Nimblecivet's link talks some about plants which go well together, although I don't know how relevant it would be for England. Actually, it probably would since San Francisco is so chilly.

Dave, one of my brothers lives in Davis, just west of you. I think he does gardening too, but I am not sure what his garden situation is now. I am surprised you have had frosts there. Most of the plants you are growing also grow well here in Moreno Valley, but spinach doesn't seem to, lettuce only grows well in the winter and we have never tried growing bitter melon even though my wife likes to eat it. I don't know what types of asian greens and herbs you are growing, but somebody gave us some beefstake plants, they seeded and this summer we had tons of them in some pots in the greenhouse.