Cascadian Farm Organic Goodness

WELCOME TO OUR ALMANAC! READ ABOUT ALL THINGS ECO FROM ORGANIC VEGGIE
GARDEN TIPS TO GREEN FAMILY ACTIVITIES.

GOOD QUESTIONS

Why do you grow organic?

It makes me feel good! I love to eat, and organic foods not only taste better, but they're better for you. They contain more nutrients and knowing that they've been grown without chemicals that are harmful to me and the environment makes me feel like I'm doing my part.

What is your best organic tip?

Read labels! Many products claim to be organic or "all natural" when they're not. Look for the USDA Organic label to be sure. Oh, and you don't have to go all organic or not at all - small changes make a big difference.

What is your favorite book on organics?

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. Her family's goal to live off of only what they could grow on their small organic farm (or purchase locally from neighboring farmers) inspired me to start an organic garden and try to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

What is your favorite quote?

"One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

If you had to decide, what would you be: animal, plant, or mineral?

Animal - I enjoy growing and eating plants way too much to be one!

Lately it seems like everywhere I go I hear the term “gluten-free”. Many restaurants and most grocery stores carry gluten-free meals or products of some sort. I just assumed it was only  for those with Celiac disease, a serious gluten intolerance, and moved on. It wasn’t until my mother-in-law discovered that her dog had a gluten allergy that I realized what a big issue this is. In fact, she found that while she does not have Celiac disease, she is sensitive to gluten as well. She has changed her diet and started a blog chronically her journey, My Gluten Free Canine and Me.

So I had to ask, what is gluten anyway? I thought it was wheat, so why is there a need for gluten-free ice cream?! Well, gluten refers to the protein in some grains (wheat, barley, rye) that gives dough its elasticity and creates structure and texture in bread. Gluten also gives bread its absorbent property. These characteristics are desired in vegetarian imitation meats (“mock chicken”, etc.) in which wheat gluten is often a primary ingredient. In other unlikely items, such as sauces, condiments, and even ice cream, gluten can be used as a stabilizer. The FDA considers gluten to be “generally recognized as safe” as a food additive, but some disagree.

What do you think? Are you concerned about gluten as a food additive?

Photo by Whatshername?

Community Gardening

Gardening is a therapeutic past time. The fresh air and sunshine; the time spent focusing on the well-being of another living thing (that never talks back). It can be exhausting but it is always satisfying. Unfortunately, not everyone has a piece of land or even a balcony where they can have a garden. That's where community gardens come in. Community gardens allow groups of people to come together and grow plants and vegetables on a plot of land that is not being used. A community garden benefits the gardeners as well as the community in a variety of ways. Community gardens have been shown to have psychological benefits, provide food at a low cost, beautify urban areas, bring neighbors together and reduce crime! (Source: Surls, UCCE)

Some community gardens are in vacant lots, others on school or government grounds. Most gardens have at least 15 plots to which gardeners are assigned. There is typically a small fee to cover water and other miscellaneous expenses. Each gardener is responsible for the care of their own plants as they would be in their own yard. Some community gardens also have rest areas where neighbors can take a break and get to know each other, while other gardens include a children’s garden and/or play area.

If you are interested in being a part of a community garden you can visit the American Community Gardening Association's website to search for gardens in your area. If there are none, the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources has a fantasticCommunity Garden Start-Up Guide that thoroughly outlines how to start one. It requires a bit of work but can be an amazing asset to your community. Whether in your community or in your yard - get out there and grow!

 

Photo Credit: “The Gardens Community Garden, Haringey” by Department for Communities and Local Government

In organic gardening, a great expression to keep in mind is “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." There are a number of steps you can take to considerably reduce instances of disease and pests before they become a problem. Most of the following practices are inexpensive or even free but are invaluable for maintaining a healthy garden.

Water early in the day. Watering before noon allows plants to dry before dark, which can prevent fungus from growing.

Avoid standing water. Bird baths are fine, but large pools of stagnant water can attract insects.

Clean garden tools regularly. It’s good to get in the habit; it can prevent spreading bacteria. It may go without saying, but always disinfect tools that have been used on diseased plants. Also, avoid touching healthy plants after diseased plants, or handling plants when they are wet.

Weed early and often. Weeds in and even near your garden can attract bugs. Regular weeding started early in the summer can help keep weeds at bay and pests to a minimum.

Feed the soil. Feed the soil so it can feed the plant. Adding compost to the soil helps keep it and your plants healthy, and protects beneficial insects.

 

What preventative measures do you take to keep your garden healthy?

 

Sources Cited: “Preventing Lawn Diseases” from Gardening by the Yard on HGTV.com, “Basic Gardening Pest Control Tips” from Lawn-Pro, “Disease Control – Cultural Control” from Plant Path University of Wisconsin, “5 Things You Can Do Now to Prevent Next Year’s Pest Problems” from Debbie Hadley on About.com, “Beneficial Insects: Keep Your Garden Pests in Check” from ezgarden.com

 

Photo Credit: “Big Horrible Pest,” by Daniel Pink

This year in our new yard, we have decided to build a raised bed for our garden. A raised bed can be built with a variety of non-toxic materials: concrete blocks, brick, untreated wood. (Treated wood contains toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil and enter the plants.)  Sunset has great step-by-step instructions to create a 4’ x 8’ wood bed. A four-foot width, with sides 12–16 inches high, is ideal because it allows you to sit on the edge and reach into your plants. A raised bed has many other advantages:

  • Space saving—since you do not need walking space between each row (only between beds), they take up less space.
  • Longer planting season—raised beds warm up earlier in the spring and hold onto heat longer in the fall, allowing you earlier and later planting.
  • Reduced soil compaction because you don’t walk on the growing medium.
  • Better drainage and retention of water, as well as aeration of the soil due to the minimal soil compaction.
  • Bigger yields due to greater root development—the benefits to the soil benefit the plants!

 

Do you have raised beds in your garden? What benefits have you found?

Image Source: “raised bed” by Aka Hige

I have to admit that I love lush, green, traditional grass lawns. For me, they conjure up wonderful childhood memories. For others, they’re a calming reminder of a leisurely day on the golf course. That being said, the grass in my backyard has never come close to looking like a golf course. There are always dandelions, patches of dead grass, and yellow spots. I’m convinced that the only way to achieve a beautiful grass lawn is by using toxic weed killers and inorganic fertilizers—something I REFUSE to do. And then there’s the amount of watering required, which, in my drought-prone area, makes me wasteful. Here are a few alternative options to a typical grass lawn.

Native Plantings

It has become increasingly popular to replace grass lawns with native, drought-resistant plants and/or edible gardens. It creates a beautiful, varied landscape that is far from a boring grass lawn. Small “hard-scaped” areas (using pavers, concrete, etc.) can easily be integrated into this type of landscaping to create a seating or play area.

Green Ground Cover

It is possible to get a sea of green without the grass by using a ground cover like moss or clover. Moss is low-growing, great for shady areas, and has a lush appearance. Clover can actually be mowed to create a “lawn.” Clover is low maintenance, drought tolerant, doesn’t get yellow dog spots, and is insect resistant. In fact, it attracts beneficial insects, great for your vegetable garden! If you’re like me and want a soft spot for your kids and pets to play, without all the upkeep of grass, then clover may be the best option for you.

Artificial Grass

I know, I know! Fake grass?! I have never been a fan of any type of artificial plants. In fact, a few years ago I considered fake grass one step above paving over your yard and painting it green. But the ecological benefits to using artificial grass have begun to change my opinion. First of all, it is made of recycled plastic and uses recycled tire “crumbs” to hold it in place. It requires zero water, fertilizer, or weed killer to keep it green. And the zero-maintenance lawn it provides is not just a matter of convenience—think of the carbon load that is eliminated without the need to cut it with a gas lawnmower. Aesthetically, artificial grass has come a long way. It really does look good—it has its place. However, it is still synthetic, and I personally think it’s best for small areas and places where growing is very difficult. How do you feel about fake grass?

Are you considering replacing your traditional grass lawn?

Photo Sources: “Clover and Little White Flowers” by roens, “Fake grass – love it! Low Maint, always looks good!” by Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ

Here at Cascadian Farm, we have a saying: “Feed the soil, so it can feed the plants.” Organic farming focuses on adding rich organic matter to the soil, so that the various microbes and chemical processes in the soil food web can convert them to available plant nutrients over time. Kari has outlined a few ways you can add nutrients to your soil:

Soil preparation is a critical part of organic gardening. Plants “feed” off the soil, pulling water and essential nutrients from it. Amending the soil to replace those lost nutrients is a great way to ensure this year’s fruits and veggies will flourish. Once you determine your soil’s needs, the organic matter can be worked in using a fork, spade, or rototiller, depending on the size of your garden. There are a number of organic amendments that can be added to improve your soil. A few of the most common are compost, manure, peat moss, lime, sand, and sawdust.

Compost

Composed of garden trimmings and kitchen scraps or composted animal manure, compost helps your soil retain moisture and provides nitrogen, an essential element.

Peat Moss

A commercially grown, lightweight moss, peat moss’s sponge-like quality increases soil’s ability to retain moisture.

Lime

Ground limestone dust or pellets contain calcium and magnesium to help your soil maintain a proper pH level (between 6 and 7).

Sand

Coarse “Builder’s Sand” will loosen the soil, allowing roots room to grow, as well as improve soil drainage.

Sawdust

Sawdust or wood chips from tree bark are other materials that aid in proper soil drainage.

Soil tests are available at nurseries so you can determine exactly what your soil needs. Improve your garden this year by giving back to the earth and feeding the soil.

Photo by timsamoff

The time has come to start making your dream garden a reality - start planting seeds indoors. Vegetable garden favorites like tomatoes and peppers have a long growing season so you can start seeds now to have seedlings ready to plant by May.

First, select a container. You can use a cell pack or individual containers. I typically recycle plastic containers, approximately 4 inches is a good size. Regardless of the container, make sure that you clean it thoroughly first. Soak it in a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach for a half hour to kill any bacteria.

Next, fill pot with potting soil or a seed starter. You can make your own using one part each of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. Saturate the soil with water and let it drain. Read seed packet instructions for planting depth, then scatter seeds, cover with recommended amount of soil and water lightly.

Keep seeds warm (between 75F and 90F) until they germinate. Most nurseries sell thin waterproof heating pads you can use to maintain temperature if necessary. Once the seeds sprout, they can be moved to a brightly lit area with temperatures between 60F and 75F.

Lastly, vegetable seeds need a lot of light. If you don’t have an adequate spot, you can supplement with a fluorescent grow light. Make sure the seedlings are in a location with good ventilation and try not to over water them - you do not want them standing in water for too long.

Have you started seeds yet?

Photo by jeremy_w_osborne

Gardening and children are a perfect fit. Children love being outside and playing in the dirt. Most are fascinated by plants and flowers, so why not teach them to garden where they can learn about a plant’s life cycle firsthand? There are many benefits to gardening with children. It’s the perfect way to teach them about responsibility, healthy foods and respect for the environment. This has been recognized by many schools across the country, who are incorporating gardening in their curriculum. (Learn more about programs and find great resources for gardening with children at Kids Gardening.)

So how do you encourage your children to garden without making it a chore? I think the most important thing is for them to see how much you love gardening and spend a little time with you in the garden every day. Here are a few more tips for gardening with your children.

  1. Let them have their own garden or area - a space that is all their own. Their age will dictate how much you will need to help out with the watering and weeding, but try not to take over.
  2. Allow them to choose the plants, but steer them towards those that are easy to grow - Lettuces, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and carrots are few favorites. And no child’s garden is complete without quick growing, sunny sunflowers!
  3. Start from seed - children enjoy watching seeds sprout up from the soil and they learn so much more than starting from seedling.
  4. Have fun! Make time for digging holes and inspecting insects. Don’t forget to express how proud you are of their hard work. Be sure to show off their garden when guests visit your home.

 

How do you get your children involved with gardening?

Photo by tm-tm

To prune or not prune...that is the question. Back in September we moved into a new home which, to my delight, has a large lime tree in the back yard. Having fresh lime a few steps away from my kitchen has been wonderful! Fish tacos... guacamole... margaritas... need I say more? However, now that winter is here I’m left wondering how to care for the tree. Does it need to be pruned to insure healthy growth and fruit production? And if so, how? And when? I did a little research and here are the most important factors to consider when pruning:

Have a plan. Whether you want to prune your plant or tree to improve the quality of fruit, train it to grow in a certain direction or to improve the health by removing diseased foliage it's important to have a plan. If you start with your desired outcome in mind it will help you avoid making unnecessary cuts.

Remove dead or diseased limbs first. Trimming back limbs to a strong lateral branch or shoot is often the only pruning necessary.

Timing is everything. Although there are exceptions, typically the best time to prune most plants is during late winter or early spring. Pruning after new growth begins in the spring not recommended as it can weaken the plant and stunt growth.

Make the right cut. It's essential to make clean cuts using sharp shears when pruning to make sure the wound heals quickly. Jagged cuts or tears in the bark can encourage disease and insect infestation. It's best to cut limbs that intersect at no more than a 45 degree angle.

In short, do some research for your specific plant and situation before you pick up the shears. This page, here, is a great place to learn pruning terminology and view diagrams of various cuts.

 

Photo by Kari Burks

Okay everyone, class is in session! As a gardener, there are a number terms you should understand in order for your plants to survive in a specific location. Often plants are tagged at the nursery with important information as to the type of plant it is, what type of soil it will do best in, etc. Here is an abbreviated glossary of basic gardening terms to help you make the best selections for your garden.

  • Annual: A plant that grows and blooms for one season.
  • Biennial: A plant that has two growing seasons. It produces leaves in the first and bears fruit or flowers in the second.
  • Bolt: A term used to describe a plant that has gone to seed prematurely.
  • Companion Planting: Laying out a garden so that the plants with characteristics that benefit each are placed in close proximity.
  • Cover Crop: Vegetation grown for the purpose of improving (or maintaining) the health of the soil during a dormant time.
  • Cutting: Taking a piece of a plant (leaf, stem, root or bud) and planting it in a growing medium to propagate a new plant.
  • Deep Shade: A plant requiring less than 2 hours of partial sun a day.
  • Direct Seed: To seed directly into the soil rather than starting the seeds indoors.
  • Frost Date: This is the average day of frost for your area. Frost dates determine your gardening zone.
  • Germinate: When a seed sprouts above the soil.
  • Heavy Soil: A soil that contains a high proportion of clay and is poorly drained.
  • Mulch: Any organic material, such as wood chips, grass clippings, compost, straw, or leaves that is spread over the soil surface (around plants) to hold in moisture and help control weeds.
  • Perennial: A plant that grows and flowers for years. They are either evergreens or may die back to the ground but will grow again the following season.
  • pH: A scale from 0-14 that describes the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, with 7 being neutral. Acidic or “sour” soil has a pH lower than 7. Alkaline or “sweet” soil has a pH that is higher than 7.
  • Succession Planting: Planting several seeds at once and again at one or two week intervals.
  • Tilth: Describes a soil condition based on its balance of nutrients, air and water. A healthy soil is in “good tilth”.
  • Transplant: To move a plant from one area to another or from container into the ground.

Photo by Salvadonica, Chianti, Tuscany

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