Crop Rotation for the Home Garden, Part 2: Pathogen Prevention

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Pathogen…. That just sounds like a creepy, scary word. And when you are talking about pathogens in your soil, it really can be.

Crop Rotation for Pathogen Prevention and Control

Irish Potato Famine

You’ve all heard of the Irish Potato Famine, right? A million Irish people died and another million emigrated because the Irish potato crops were decimated by a pathogen called Phytophthora infestans.

When it happened, Irish farmers were growing potatoes about like the rest of us grow weeds. They were so good at it, that the diets of the Irish poor revolved around that one calorie crop. Little did they know that a vicious pathogen was lurking in their soil, biding its time until it had the numbers to totally decimate the Irish food supply.

OK, in reality, the pathogen itself is not quite that menacing. The real reason this was such a big deal was because more diverse food options were not available for a large percentage of the Irish population. (The wealthy had diverse diets; the poor relied on potatoes.)

Additionally, because potatoes were planted prolifically, the pathogen spread quickly through the sharing of seed potatoes (like the way a cold spreads through an office). Once in the soil, it stayed dormant until significant rains sent it into reproductive overdrive and allowed it to infect and thrive in sopping wet potato plants. Heavy rain is to fungal pathogens what dry wind is to an open fire.

Crop Rotation for Pathogen Prevention and Control

How Pathogens Spread

If you grow tomatoes, you are probably familiar with two well-known pathogens commonly called blight and wilt. These pathogens are similar to the Irish potato plant killer. They spread slowly in the soil—usually transmitted by transplants, compost, soil mixes, or even your shoes.

In relatively dry conditions, these pathogens may be present in the soil, but have no impact on your plant. Then one day, you get 2 inches of rain, your soil compacts and doesn’t dry out for days, and leaves turn yellow and drop off. Then, on the next sunny day, your tomatoes get ugly sun scald spots and rot before you can eat them.

Here’s the thing: Pathogens alone present no risks. Many of them are plant specific, which means that unless they come into contact with a suitable host plant, they are harmless. Even when you have the pathogen and the plant in the same place, this will not necessarily result in plant damage.

It’s only when you get a trifecta of conditions that include the right plant, the right pathogen, and environmental conditions suitable for incubation and infestation that problems happen. Here’s a simple mathematical expression for how that works:

Pathogen + Susceptible Plant Host + Optimal Environmental Conditions = Disaster

Remove one of these pieces from the equation, and you can avert disaster. Since you often don’t know the pathogen is present in your soil and you can’t control things like the weather, the most logical way to avert disaster is to take the host plant out of the equation.

Crop Rotation for Pathogen Prevention and Control

Rotate Plants by Family to Reduce Risk

This is where the idea of only planting one family of plants in the same plot once every four (or more) years comes into play. By rotating your plants, you limit the risk for having a trifecta. Also, depending on the life cycle of your pathogen, sometimes without a host plant, the pathogen will disappear over time.

Crop Rotation Slows the Spread

Additionally, with good plant-rotation plans, even if you do occasionally get small infestations of a pathogen, you can slow the spread by not offering host plants in close proximity year to year. Many pathogens are soil bound. They must make their way around on the bodies of soilborne critters, through transplants, on your garden tools, by catching a ride with an airborne insect, etc.

If they can move from host plant to host plant year after year, they can build up more quickly. With no nearby hosts, they remain dormant and pathogen populations remain in check.

Crop Rotation Gives you Time to Identify and Solve Pathogen Problems

Four-year rotations improve your odds by limiting a buildup of pathogens and spreading risk. Longer rotations are even better, since many pathogens can persist in the soil for 10 years or more. However, this can be more difficult to achieve in a small garden.

Luckily, if you do have plants that become infected with a pathogen, four-year crop rotation plans give you time to research and remedy your pathogen before you plant that family in that location again.

Start by identifying the pathogen. Aim to understand its life cycle and avoid planting the susceptible host plant again until you are sure the pathogen is gone.

Depending on your pathogen, there are different strategies you can follow to make your soil safe for planting again. For example, you can plant certain kinds of mustard and till them in. This practice is called biofumigation.

You can solarize your soil. This will kill all the biological life in your soil, too. You’ll need to then build back up your biological life with organic matter inputs.

With some pathogens that have long life spans, you may also need to consider more drastic measures. Replacing your soil, installing equipment to improve drainage, and developing alternate garden areas may be necessary in some instances.

Rotate by Families Prone to Similar Pathogen Problems

Because pathogens tend to affect entire plant families, rotating by family is the most common way to avoid pathogen problems. For example, tomatoes and potatoes might seem like very different plants to us. However, even if they have a preference for tomatoes over potatoes, opportunistic pathogens will take what they can get.

These are the family categories I use in my vegetable plant rotations:

  1. Nightshade Family: Tomato, Potato, Pepper, Eggplant
  2. Grass Family: Corn, Sorghum, Wheat
  3. Lettuce Family: Lettuce, Sunflowers, Dandelion, Chicory, Radicchio
  4. Beet Family: Beets, Spinach, Chard
  5. Cole Family: Cabbage, Mustard, Turnips, Arugula, Broccoli, Cauliflower
  6. Curcurbit Family: Squash, Cucumbers, Melons, Pumpkins
  7. Legume Family: Peas, Beans, Clover, Alfalfa
  8. Umbel Family: Carrots, Parsnips, Parsley, Fennel, Celery
  9. Allium Family: Onions, Garlic, Chives, Shallots
  10. Miscellaneous: Buckwheat, Okra, Sweet Potato

This is a lot to try to rotate in a small garden. Personally, I lump a few families together to create rotational pairings.

  • The nightshade, allium, cole, and sweet potato families tend to take up more space in my garden than the other families. They each get their own rotation.
  • I lump the grass, legume, and curcurbit families together in my rotations. I use that grouping because I tend to only need one row of space for those three plant families to one row of sweet potatoes based on how we eat. Sweet potatoes are a calorie crop that we need a lot of. Corn, cucumbers, and even beans (which are hard to grow enough of in useful amounts) are things we grow for fun to add variety to our diets.

Create Interplanting or Seasonal Plant Groupings

As long as you are consistent in your crop rotation methods, you can mix and match your families to get down to a four- or five-year planting rotation cycle.

If you use interplanting in your beds for soil protection, you may want to plan your family rotational groupings using this information. For example, if you grow carrots, radishes, and lettuce in the same bed at the same time, then one of your rotations would include the umbel, cole, and lettuce families.

Once you establish that grouping of families as a rotational pattern, then you can use that information to plan other rotations. You could grow early cabbage, followed by summer sunflowers, and then over-wintering parsnips. Using that same family grouping in different ways, you can achieve more food production while still having distinct rotations geared at preventing pathogens.

If you are following this series, you now have information to help you plan your crop rotation schedules to prevent pests and pathogens. However, there is one more really big reason why you may want to use crop rotation, even in a small garden. It’s for nutrient management. In the next post, we’ll cover that in more detail. Then you can take these three concepts and apply them to growing a more problem-free garden at home.

Read More: “Crop Rotation for the Home Garden, Part 1: Pest Control”

In the meantime, start thinking about what you grow, and the kind of pathogens that are common to your area. Are there any you are particularly worried about? Talk to your local agricultural office and find out what risks may apply to your garden.

If you have any tricks or tips you’ve learned that might help with crop -rotation planning, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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5 Keys to Food Security in Extreme Weather, for Home Gardeners

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Back in August 2015, I wrote a post about the findings of a joint task force of experts from the U.K. and U.S. The group had released recommendations for Extreme Weather and Resilience of the Global Food System. You can read the original post on food security here: 

Read More: “Extreme Weather and Food Resilience for Home Growers”

Quite frankly, that report was pretty scary. It detailed all sorts of reasons why our global food supply was in serious jeopardy. When that report was released in 2015, I had noted how relevant it was in light of a number of catastrophic weather events going on at the time, wreaking havoc on crops and raising food prices in some areas.

Now, just a couple of years later, the situation has become even worse. Hurricanes, mudslides, drought-related fires, disrupted weather patterns, wars, and more have caused crazy fluctuations in food supplies around the world.

In March 2017, the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) released a Global Report on Food Crises 2017.1)http://www.fao.org/3/a-br323e.pdf In that report, they indicated that the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity had increased by 35% since the release of the 2015 report.

Quite a bit of that lack of food security was related to conflict. However, catastrophic weather events like droughts had also driven up the costs of staple foods, making them unaffordable for large groups of people.

If you think this can only happen in poor, war-torn countries, then consider this. In the U.S. in 2017, there were at least 16 weather events that cost over a billion dollars each and resulted in losses of crops, livestock, and other resources, as well as of homes, businesses, personal property, and lives.2)https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017 In 2016, there were 15 of these weather catastrophes; in 2015, there were 9; in 2014, there were 8; and in 2013, there were 9.

It might be too early to say that 15-16 catastrophic, billion-dollar weather events is the new normal for the U.S. However, new data modeling shows that there are real risks that both the U.S. and China might simultaneously experience catastrophic crop losses that could drive up prices and send more countries into food famine in the coming decades.3)https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/15/climate-change-food-famine-study

In 2017, due to a weakened dollar, food prices in the U.S. increased by 8.2%.4)https://www.thebalance.com/why-are-food-prices-rising-causes-of-food-price-inflation-3306099 That trend hopefully won’t continue in 2018, but between weather and world volatility, isn’t it better to bank on building your own food security independent of global markets and events?

We think so, too! So, we want to give you some ideas to help you build your own food security at home.

Food Security Recommendation #1: Understand Your Risks

Building on the ideas from our earlier post on “Extreme Weather and Food Resilience for Home Growers,” it’s really important to know the risks for your area and plan your gardening practices to be resilient even when disaster hits.

Many  governments and global non-governmental organizations have made predictive models for the likely regional effects of climate change available. You can use these models to identify trends in your area. Here are a few example models available:

Even if you don’t live in one of these areas, a quick Internet search for “climate change impacts” for your area should give good results. This search may link to articles about impacts as well as to modeling tools. Focus on search hits from government or academic websites for more comprehensive, peer-reviewed climate change data.

Food Security Recommendation #2: Consider Using Permaculture-Based Landscape Design

There have been so many weather-related disasters recently that it is hard to know what to prepare for anymore. In California, extreme dry weather and winds made for a devastating fire season. Then, the loss of vegetation from the fire season led to severe mudslides during torrential rains. Parts of Australia have also been suffering similar catastrophic cycles of drought and flooding.

In Western North Carolina where I live—a locale that we chose specifically because it is expected to be less impacted by climate change (e.g., sea levels rising, coastal hurricanes, etc.)—we’ve had extended dry periods followed by heavy rains that led to lots of vegetation losses in our area.

Drought-flood cycles are extremely damaging to plant life. In dry periods, plant roots dehydrate and shrivel. Soil also shrinks from water loss. Then when heavy rains come, the soil and roots no longer have the water-holding capacity they once did. Rather than the rain being absorbed, it sits on top of dry, compacted soils in flat areas, causing flooding. Or it moves downhill, taking topsoil and vegetation with it as it goes, causing mudslides and flash flooding in other areas.

When you use permaculture design in planning your foodscapes, you take into account these kinds of cycles of drought and heavy rain that would otherwise be damaging to vegetation. In fact, you make them work for you. Simple solutions like catching and storing water high on your land can help you better weather the cycles of drought and flood.

By applying permaculture principles, you can help safeguard your food security by making your landscape more resilient to weather extremes and diversifying your food supply to ensure you get good yields regardless of weather.

To get an idea of how permaculture works, check out this tour of Zaytuna Farm given by Geoff Lawton.

Also, if you want a short but powerful introduction to what permaculture can do in extreme landscapes, check out these titles by Sepp Holzer:

Food Security Recommendation #3: Manage Your Microclimates

Every property has microclimates. For example, in North America, it will almost always be a bit warmer along the edges of a south-sloping blacktop driveway. This is because the path of the sun will cast more sun on southern-facing slopes. They are literally like sun scoops, catching its rays.

food security - blacktop asphalt

“Closeup of pavement with grass” by User:Angel caboodle is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Additionally, dark colors absorb more heat than light colors. If you painted that same driveway white, it would still be warmer due to its southern slope. However, the white paint would reflect light and heat away from the driveway and would keep that same area cooler than with a blacktop driveway.

The physical mass of blacktop asphalt material also acts as a heat sink. It draws in heat during the day and releases  it back into surrounding areas as air temperatures cool at night. The same driveway made with light-colored concrete might not absorb quite as much heat as an asphalt driveway due to its color. However, it would still act as a heat sink by virtue of its mass.

The shade of a large oak tree creates a cooler area than the dappled shade of a pruned fruit tree. Large bodies of water will help regulate extreme temperatures. A wide, stone knee wall around a raised bed will insulate the soil inside better than thin wood boards because of its mass. Boulders in your landscape are also heat sinks. Even things like black trash cans can impact temperatures directly around their vicinity.

Gaining a basic understanding of how colors attract light waves, learning how different kinds of mass (rocks, soil, trees, etc.) store heat and divert wind, and knowing the path of the sun at different times of the year in your area can help you use microclimates to moderate the effects of extreme cold and heat. Using your slopes, like north-facing slopes to keep things cooler and south-facing slopes to heat things up, can also help. Working with shade patterns to minimize or maximize sun exposure can help moderate hot and cold temperature extremes.

For example, I live in USDA planting Zone 7a. With the extreme cold weather we’ve had this year, our conditions were closer to Zone 5.  Some of my plants—like rosemary, which is hardy to zone 7—were killed by the cold. After our last risk of frost passes, I plan to replant rosemary bushes in front of our south-facing house and mulch them with dark stones. In that location, even if we have Zone 5 conditions again, my rosemary should make it just because the heat mass from our house and the stones, the southward orientation, and the wind protection give it the right microclimate.

Cold frames, greenhouses, and underground areas (e.g., walipinis) are also good ways to create microclimates on your property to ensure longer and more secure food production in extreme conditions. Check out this post from Marjory to learn about building your own underground greenhouse.

Read More: “Underground Walipini Pit Greenhouse Construction”

Food Security Recommendation #4: Go Big on Organic Matter in Your Soil

If I pour a bucket of water over some of the heavy clay soil in my landscape, water runs off on slopes. In flat or cratered areas, it sits on top, eventually making a big muddy mess that becomes algae-covered if we don’t have enough wind or sun to dry it out.

If I pour a bucket of water over the same approximate amount of area in one of my vegetable garden beds, loaded with compost, the bucket of water soaks in. Even on sloped beds, the water sinks and stays put rather than running off.

Soils that are high in organic matter are more porous and spacious than compacted soils.

If you try the same experiment with sand, the water will also soak in as it did in my garden bed. Unfortunately, it won’t stay there. Come back a few hours later and that water will be gone, which means it is not stored in the root zone for later use by plants.

Soils that are high in organic matter also preserve moisture better than sandy soils.

In order to hold water in your soil during droughts and catch it during heavy rains, you need a lot of organic matter in your soil. Here are a few easy ways you can up your organic matter quotient at home.

  1. Add compost.
  2. Mulch with things like wood chips, straw, old hay, grass clippings, and mulched leaves.
  3. Plant, then chop and drop cover crops like grain grasses, clover, mustard, or chicory.
  4. Use no-till or minimal till practices and leave decaying roots and plant matter in the soil.

Check out these TGN posts to learn more about these methods.

“No Till Gardening: Homesteading Basics (VIDEO)”

“Build Your Compost Pile Right On Your Garden Beds!”

“From Weeds to WOW: The Weed Island”

“No Bare Soil! Vegetable Garden Cover Crops”

Adding organic matter not only slows the flow of water in your landscape and sinks it deeper into plant roots, but it actually sinks carbon dioxide, too.

Yes! Building soil that is higher in organic matter can actually help solve our CO2 problem. And solving our CO2 problem will moderate the disastrous effects of climate change and can mitigate future weather extremes. (No, this one answer won’t solve all our problems—but if lots of us do it, it will help!)

Food Security Recommendation #5: Remember ABC—Always Be Cover-cropping

Plant roots are like plumbing for your soil. They create little channels that help divert water down into the earth so it can be accessed by the plant and other biological soil inhabitants. By growing something in your soil at all times, you keep those pathways open for water to filter down into the soil.

For annual growing areas, planting cover crops in off seasons is critical. However, even for the rest of your landscape, having some sort of cover crop is necessary for extreme weather resilience.

Many of us grow lawns as our primary perennial cover crop. Traditional lawns, though, are shallow-rooted and do not contribute much to soil health. Growing grasses with deeper root systems like perennial rye and other prairie- or meadow-type grasses can be even more beautiful and give you deep roots to help sink water further into your soil.

Using vegetative perennials (i.e., that die back in the winter) with expansive root systems is also a great way to prevent soil erosion and build biomass in your landscape. Yarrow, Russian comfrey, curly dock, burdock, vetches, and even invasives like mints are useful for covering bare soil in a hurry. Since these plants lose their leaves each year and can be heavily pruned in the growing season, they make great green manure or mulch plants, too. Tap-rooted trees like black locust and paw paw also drill water and air down deep into your soil.

In addition, having a continuous cover of plants (or leaves from those plants) keeps your soil cooler on hot days and warmer on cool days. This protects all the biological life in your soil like bacteria, fungi, worms, and more so that they can work year-round. Their continued hard work means that your soil will get better year after year so that your plants will have more disease resistance and resilience during bad weather streaks.

Bare soil  = No biological life = More pests, more diseases, and greater weather sensitivity for your plants

Covered soil = Year-round biological workers = Healthier plants better adapted to your weather extremes

If you are willing to do the research and the work, there are plenty of things you can do to mitigate your risks from a changing climate and more volatile weather patterns. These ideas are barely the tip of the iceberg (which is lucky for us since glaciers are now melting at an alarming rate)!

What about you? What other ways are you safeguarding your food security against extreme weather patterns?

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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.fao.org/3/a-br323e.pdf
2. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017
3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/15/climate-change-food-famine-study
4. https://www.thebalance.com/why-are-food-prices-rising-causes-of-food-price-inflation-3306099

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How To Create A Simple No-Till Garden With Little Weeding – Forever!

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When it comes to working less, weeding less, and having more fun growing vegetables – a simple no-till garden is the answer! Simply put, there is never a need to till your garden. In fact, tilling your soil every garden

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The Laws of Nature: A Touchstone for Gardening

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As a rule, when we grow plants, we follow some known practices. The practices may be based on our own experience, on the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, or on scientific research. Whatever the source, it is useful to examine the practices through the lens of the Laws of Nature, sometimes referred to as ecological principles.

The Laws of Nature are broad and substantive statements for how nature functions.

So the question becomes, “Are our plant-growing practices in harmony with or in conflict with the Laws of Nature?”

What other criteria would we use for how we treat our lands, the soils, and all ecosystems, if not the Laws of Nature?

I think of this as a pyramid, with practices on the top, undergirded by Laws of Nature criteria. Then, the practices and Laws are undergirded by our personal land-use ethics.

9 Laws of Nature

Below, I’ve listed nine Laws of Nature.

This list is not fully inclusive; some may seem to be more pertinent than others; and someone else may choose to describe them in a different manner. Nevertheless, they are all statements that hold true, with rare exceptions.

In my garden, if a practice violates a Law of Nature, I look for a substitute practice that is in harmony with the Law.

This broad topic has deep implications and is worthy of further study. The more we understand and apply these Laws, the more we can grow healthier crops, become healthier ourselves, and more fully appreciate the magnificence of nature.

Calvin Bey - Harmony Gardens

#1: Everything in Nature Is Connected

It’s like a huge spider web. Every spot on the web is connected to the whole web. All the factors effecting growth and development—from the minerals in the air to the plant’s physiological processes to the soil microbes to hundreds of additional factors—are all part of the whole.

The implications of this concept are significant.

For example, apply too much nitrogen and the plants get a pretty green color, but at the same time produce an excessive amount of simple carbohydrates, which are ideal foods for the ever-present aphids.

Chemicals and other toxins that reduce soil microorganisms have impacts on soil mineralization and soil digestion processes, which all affect quality and quantity of production. For example, if your soil has a shortage of available calcium, a tomato plant is not likely to set fruit.

Laws of Nature - Mile-High Corn - Calvin Bey

#2: Plants Are Designed to be Healthy

Like humans and other living organisms, plants have an immune system that makes them resistant to insects and diseases that are native to their environment. Plants become weak and sick when they become stressed because of environmental factors, inadequate nutrition, and/or exposure to toxins.

Chemical pesticides and fertilizers create plant and soil conditions that are not conducive to the desirable bacteria and fungi in the soil. The soil microbiome is part of the plant’s defense mechanism.

#3: Insects and Disease Are the Appropriate Response to the Existing Conditions

Insect problems and disease are the result of plant weakness, not the cause of plant weakness. When we improve the conditions, we improve plant resistance. Diseases are nature’s demolition crew and insects are nature’s garbage collectors. Both are appropriate when plants are stressed. Unhealthy plants actually send signals to the insects so they can perform their meaningful designed role.

#4: Mineral Nutrition Supports Plant Immunity

When plant growth is supported with proper mineral nutrition, plants will create higher-order compounds—for example, plant secondary metabolites like essential oils. This and other enzyme developments can lead to optimum levels of health and immunity.

The thousands of enzymes needed in metabolic processes each require a mineral “enzyme cofactor” to function. Without the mineral cofactors, enzyme pathways collapse and plants accumulate soluble compounds in plant sap, leading to pest infestations as plant health begins to fall apart.

#5: Microbial Metabolites Are More Efficient Than Simple Ions as a Source of Nutrition

The ultimate level of plant nutrition and immunity exists when plants can absorb the majority of their nutritional requirements as microbial metabolites. In this model, the soil microbial community serves as the plant’s digestive system. A complex community of soil microorganisms digest and break down organic residues and plant root exudates. In this digestive process, minerals are extracted from the soil mineral matrix and released in a bioavailable form that plants absorb and utilize very efficiently.

Laws of Nature - Strawberry Harvest - Calvin Bey

#6: When Fruit Quality Improves, Yields Increase

When management emphasis is placed on plant nutrition to improve quality, the immunity of the crop increases, creating higher yields, longer produce shelf-life, improved flavor, and reduced dependence on pesticides.

This fundamentally different approach to plant nutrition can lead to yield increases ranging from 10–30 percent. Yield increases come in not only bushels per acre, but also in higher test weights, increased protein production, and increased nutrition per acre.

#7: Healthy Plants Create Healthy Soil—an Investment in Their Own Future

It is commonly understood that healthy soils create healthy plants. The reverse is also true.

Healthy plants create healthy soils.

Healthy plants with high levels of energy can, at times, send as much as 70 percent of their total photosynthates (manifested as sugars, amino acids, and other compounds) into the roots, and then out through the roots and into the soil. Those root exudates are the fuel that feed the soil microbial community and lead to the rapid formation of organic matter.

This process, called carbon induction, is the fastest and most efficient way to sequester carbon and build soil organic matter.

It is an advantage to the plants to invest in soil building. Root exudates rapidly build humic substances. Humic compounds last in the soils for many years. In the end, the entire process ends up rapidly building soil health. It’s another win-win for nature.

#8: Genetic Variability in Plants Serves as a Buffering System

Plant variability allows for selective fitting of plant genetics to specific qualitative differences in the environment. It’s like an insurance plan, with the goal of increased probability of improved plant survival and growth. There are positive synergistic effects, above and below ground, that result from creating diversity through the mixing of species.

#9: Weeds Are a Barometer of Soil Health

We know that different crops have different soil, mineral, and soil biology requirements. So, too, with weeds. When compared to healthy domesticated crops, weeds are usually pioneering (first to enter) species that thrive in soils with imbalanced microbial and nutritional profiles. As soil health improves, crops will improve and weeds will lose their vigor. The weeds are no longer needed to correct the soil imbalances.

Laws of Nature - Harvest Basket - Calvin Bey

Take-Home Lessons

To sum up how nature functions in nine Laws certainly does not do justice to the topic nor does it show the magnificence of nature. Still, despite the inadequacies, the nine Laws are sufficient to provide guidance as to which gardening practices fit the Laws of Nature model.

The following list of gardening practices, which I use in my natural/organic garden in Northwest Arkansas, respect the Laws of Nature. Furthermore, the practices fit my personal land-ethics values.

I do these things to eat healthy food, to teach others, and especially for the children and future generations.

I hope you will consider joining in the transformation.

  1. Use no or at least minimum tillage. Never use a roto-tiller. Besides destroying the natural soil structure, roto-tillers will seriously damage the beneficial fungi in all kinds of soil situations.
  2. Keep the soil covered with a vegetable crop, cover crop, or some type of organic mulch at all times. This practice will promote soil microbial life.
  3. Keep something growing on the beds for as long as possible throughout the year. Where you can, grow crops specifically for deep-root penetration and/or high carbon production.
  4. Wherever possible, encourage diversity of species. Use companion planting where you can.
  5. Use organic fertilizers, compost (sparingly), bio-pesticides (if needed), filtered or structured water, foliar fertilizer sprays, natural biologicals for organic matter decomposition, and natural amendments (like paramagnetic rock) for plant fortification.
  6. Among all things, “communicate” with your garden through positive intentions. Remember: “Thoughts become actions. Choose the good ones.”

Thanks to John Kempf of Advancing Eco-Agriculture (www.advancingecoag) for some of the ideas included in this article.

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No-Till Garden Cover Crops, How To Stop Next Year’s Weeds This Fall!

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When it comes to low maintenance gardening, nothing can quite lend a hand like planting no-till garden cover crops. Do you want to eliminate nearly all of your weeding woes next year? Would you like to plant your vegetables next

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Planting A Fall Garden Cover Crop – An Inexpensive Way To An Incredible Garden!

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Without a bit of hesitation, I can tell you our fall garden cover crop is the single most important factor in the overall success of our garden every single year. It simply delivers on so many levels! Want more fertile

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The 3 Most Common Fall Gardening Mistakes – And How To Avoid Them!

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One of the best ways to be sure to have a great garden next year is to avoid making fall gardening mistakes now! It’s hard to believe, but summer is coming to a close, and fall is right around the

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The Best Soup You Will Ever Eat – The Taste Of The Fall Garden Clean Up

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It is simply the best soup we ever make. Period! And the funny thing is, we say that every single year at just about this time. Each fall, as we clear out the garden, it has become tradition to make a huge

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4 Fall Garden Chores That Will Make Next Year’s Garden Rock!

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When it comes to the vegetable garden, there are 4 Fall garden chores that can make all the difference in the success of next year’s harvest! With a little work now, you can set the stage for your best-ever garden next season.

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The One Must-Do Fall Chore For Your Garden – Plant A Cover Crop!

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Without a shred of doubt, I can tell you that THE single most important key to our garden’s success each year is the planting of our fall cover crops. With one simple, quick, and inexpensive task – we help to recharge,

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The 4 Big Keys To A Great Garden – And A Happy Gardener!

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I have long been a believer that you don’t need to have a “green thumb” in order to have a great garden.  In reality, what it takes is a combination of a few simple things – like patience, a consistent and persistent approach, a

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Our Best Time Saving, Weed Free Garden Experiment Ever!

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As many of you that follow us regularly know, we like to try out a few new things in our garden each growing season. It’s always fun to see what might work and what won’t. Although some fail miserably, others have

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5 Natural DIY Fertilizers For Your Garden And Flowerbeds

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When it comes to our garden and the food we provide for our family, we like to keep everything natural – and that includes any and all types of fertilizers used on our plants. The simple truth is, when it comes

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How to Plant Sweet Potatoes

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Plant Sweet Potatoes from Slips, Vines, or Roots

If you live in a good climate for growing them, you should plant sweet potatoes every year.  They’re one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

Here’s how I plant my sweet potatoes.

Step 1: Get Your Planting Material!

This isn’t hard. Sometimes your local feed store or nursery will sell “slips,” which are just rooted segments of vines. This is a really easy way to get started, but if you have a little more time you can make your own sweet potato slips like I teach you here.

You can also simply buy a bag of sweet potatoes and start burying them in the garden… or take chunks of vine off an existing plant and start plunking the stems a few inches deep into the ground.

Plant sweet potatoes from the pantry

Rachel broke this chunk off a sweet potato in the pantry. It’s perfect.

I’ve done all of the above with good success. Think of them like ivy: they root easily at every node. Water them for a couple of weeks and they’ll take off.

Generally, we eat most of the big sweet potatoes through the winter and keep a basket of the smaller ones for planting in the spring. It doesn’t matter that they’re small. Unlike individual fruit or vegetables, the sweet potatoes we harvest all contain the exact same genes as the big ones we ate, so there’s not a problem with “selecting” for tiny roots.

No room for sweet potatoes?  Check this out: Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces

Step 2: Prep Your Bed

You don’t have to worry too much about preparation for sweet potatoes. Loose, loamy soil is great… but they’ll also grow in so-so sand without many complaints.

Plant sweet potatoes from tubers

The vines are shorter on this sweet potato so Rachel planted the entire root.

We grew this particular round of sweet potatoes in a bed where we planted white potatoes the year before. You don’t have to worry about sweet potatoes and white potatoes sharing diseases – they aren’t even remotely related species.

That said, after pulling white potatoes the year before, I covered the area in fall with a mixture of rye and lentils as a green manure cover crop.

Here’s what it looked like before I busted out the tiller:

Potato bed with rye and lentil cover crops

Cover crops add nutrition to the soil and keep it “alive” between plantings.

I dug three trenches about 4′ apart after tilling, then we planted the sweet potatoes at 4′ apart down the trenches.

Plant sweet potatoes from vines

Rachel covered this piece of vine with dirt all the way up to the leaves.

We get plenty of sweet potatoes from our gardens each year, and we wouldn’t want to be without them.

Infographic: Which Spud is Superior? White Potato vs Sweet Potato

Step 3: Water Well… and Stand Back!

Sweet potatoes will take off in warm weather and need little to no irrigation in years with decent rainfall. They also tend to run over most weeds and control the area where you plant them… and the areas around the garden… and some areas beyond that. I have them coming up 20′ from where I planted them last year. My kind of plant.

Plant sweet potatoes from old plants

This sweet potato yielded at least five good slips for planting.

If you haven’t planted your sweet potatoes yet, it’s time to get going as soon as the danger of frost has passed. If you have a long enough warm season, you can start one bed then use it to start a second, as I do in this video:

As a final note – sweet potatoes make a great ground cover for food forests, especially in the more tropical areas of Florida where they’ll grow year round. As a bonus, the longer you leave them in the ground… the bigger the roots tend to get.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and easy to plant. Get to it!

david-the-good-top-10-survival-crops

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The 3 Secrets To A Weed Free Garden

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If there is one thing that gardeners from around the world all dream about – it’s a weed free garden! Weeds are not only unsightly – but compete with the vegetable plants and flowers in your garden for the valuable minerals, nutrients and water

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4 Great Ways To Use Those Falling Leaves In Your Garden And Landscape!

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The leaves have begun to fall!!!  It’s the time of year when the skyline and ground begin to turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow thanks to all of those beautiful leaves. Those leaves may be a bit of a nuisance to some – but they are one of the best (and cheapest) ways you can ever find to add tons of organic magic to your soil. For us, we collect all we can of that free-falling bounty now to create great compost piles, protect our landscape plants and soil from the harsh winter – and power up next year’s garden! No leaves in your yard?  Don’t despair – the leaves are out there! If you’re not blessed with trees on your property – take a drive around your area and find neighborhoods that are.  It usually doesn’t take too long to find them – and most people are more than happy to let you take them off of their hands! Many times, the hard work is done for you – with homeowners already raking leaves to their curb or even bagging them up curbside for pickup.  A simple knock on the door and a friendly asking can usually net you more than […]