Cascadian Farm Organic Goodness


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

Many beginning gardeners believe that all you need to grow healthy plants and vegetables is water and sunlight. However, plants also need healthy soil rich in nutrients to be able to grow properly. And composting is a great way to do just that.

But before you start composting, there are a few things to keep in mind. Like what can and cannot be composted.

The IN List:

  • Animal (cow or horse) manure
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Nutshells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Yard trimmings

The OUT List:

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
    • Release substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash
    • Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
    • Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
    • Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
    • Might kill beneficial composting organisms

Source: “Create Your Own Compost Pile” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Photo credit: "Bac a compost communautaire et bac a compost normal" by solylunafamilia 

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.


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.


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


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


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

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

Many of you know that in order for us to use the "Certified Organic" seal, we have to grow our crops without using synthetic chemicals for pest & weed control. Jim explains how he uses natural checks and balances that exist in a diverse ecosystem to keep "bad bugs" in check.

If you're interested in more information about organic pest control, read about how we plant insectiaries for natural pest control.

For the last 37 years, we’ve been proud to deliver quality food that’s certified organic and guaranteed delicious. We started out with a little farm in the Skagit Valley of Washington, selling our berries and jams at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Since then, we’ve expanded quite a bit and now sell our fruits, vegetables, cereals, bars, and other products in co-ops and grocery stores across the country. Over the years, our commitment to producing and sourcing delicious organic ingredients, grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, has never wavered.

One resource that has been essential to Cascadian Farm and our farming partners is the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). OFRF’s mission is to “foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems.” They do this by sponsoring organic research projects funded through their grant- making program. They also distribute the findings of these projects to organic farmers and conventional growers who are interested in converting their farms to organic. Ultimately, OFRF strives to convert more farm land into organic acres through the education of farmers, the public, and government agencies.

Cascadian Farm has supported OFRF since its inception in 1990. Working together, we’ve seen thousands of acres of land converted from conventional farms to organic farm systems — saving literally tons of chemicals from ending up in our rivers, lakes, and ecosystems. In addition, OFRF provides resources and information to help farmers achieve higher yields, lower pest and disease levels, and run profitable organic farms.

“Personally, I have worked with Gene Kahn, Cascadian Farm’s founder, and his team for decades. More recently, we have worked together on policy-related issues, shared research-related results, and supported the free exchange of ideas among the men and women of the organic farming industry. Cascadian Farm has supported OFRF since the day it was founded.”

-Bob Scowcroft, Executive Director, OFRF

We’re proud to support OFRF, and we hope you’ll join us. Learn more at: to Support: The Organic Farming Research Foundation

Hi Friends! This week, Farmer Jim gives his expertise on how to grow some amazing blueberries. Typically blueberry plants last about 25 years, but Jim has developed a system in which he expects his plants to last 75-100 years. His secret? It’s all about making the blueberries feel at home! Take a look.

This week Jim sheds some light on why it’s important to rotate your crops each season. If you have any other questions, leave them in the comment box below. Thanks and enjoy!

Lately we hear a lot about “going green”, but living walls take the idea in a whole new direction, literally. Living walls or vertical gardens allow you to bring green where space is limited, either indoors or out. They are basically a framework of plants placed onto the side of a building or wall. Patrick Blanc, a French botanist and pioneer in the field vertical gardens, has created some truly amazing large scale installations and his website is a must-see. However, these walls can be small scale as well using flowers, succulents - even vegetables. Keep in mind that plants with shallow roots are best as they have an easier time staying attached to a vertical surface. If you are a do-it-yourself-er check out ELT Living Wall Systems list of plants that work well.

The living wall trend has recently caught on here in San Diego, where space is definitely a commodity. The wall above (photo by Scott Neubacher Caligure) was created by Tend Living a local company whose inspired owner; Britton Neubacher describes the walls as “living art”. Tend Living’s various “plant scapes”, including fantastic hanging “orbs” (modern terrariums in locally hand blown glass containers) have been displayed at Jett Gallery. They recently teamed up with Pigment to erect a 6’x8’ wall in their North Park location and are busy with many residential projects around town.

The living wall concept is really catching on. They really are gorgeous, not to mention beneficial, purifying the air by removing harmful toxins and adding humidity. The visual effect is amazing; it reminds me of an aerial, bird’s eye view of a rainforest. A smaller wall could easily replace framed art on the wall of any home. Succulents would be perfect in a modern setting; flowing plants or flowers would work well in a traditional home. I love the idea of bringing the outdoors in and can’t imagine a better way to do it.

So what's the big deal with organic food anyway? Organic products are almost always more expensive than other foods on the grocery store shelf. And it seams like these days everyone is marketing some sort of "natural" or "green" product just because it's trendy. So why pay more for ours or other organic food companies products?

The short answer, is that organic foods are good for your body, and good for the planet.

Cascadian Farm Lower FieldBut here's a little longer answer: Food - in any form - comes from farms. Even if there were many steps between your mouth and the field, all food came from a farm of some kind. This may seem obvious to you - but by the time our food ends up in a box on the grocery store shelf, it can be easy to forget that at some point it was planted, grown, & harvested on a farm.

Our food isn't just "natural," it's organic (see our: "Why organic?" page for more info). And that means the farms that grew our food had to do (or not do) all of the following:

  • Don't use synthetic pesticides, herbicides and soil fumigants.
  • Don't use genetic engineering
  • Don't use sewage sludge as fertilizer
  • Do improve the quality and fertility of the soil
  • Do protect water quality
  • Do reduce soil erosion
  • Do rely on natural biological systems for pest and weed control
  • Do reduce the impact of agriculture on our environment
  • Do produce high quality, great tasting food

So here comes the sales pitch: if you are not currently purchasing organic foods, try it. See what products on your weekly grocery list you can replace with organic ones. If you can't commit to going 100% organic (this is really very difficult these days), will you see where you can start?

We believe that every dollar you spend on purchasing organic food, is actually quite literally an investment in saving the planet. Our home-farm was started over 35 years ago with the thought that this little plot of land can make an impact on the rest of the planet. And we've grown well beyond the boundaries of our 28 acres since then, but we have organic farming partners around the country, and around the world that are putting less chemicals into the soil and water system, improving water quality, and reducing erosion.

So that's the big deal. To us anways. Organic food is better for our bodies - and that's important, but it's about something bigger than that: organic farming helps save the planet, and and works towards a better earth for generations to come.

Each day our agriculture staff strives to assist Cascadian Farm growers to improve their farming operations. One research and extension program aims to improve pest control methods in vegetables using beneficial insects. As with any biological control program the aim is to attract and retain the beneficial insects (this is our organic pest control) in close proximity to the crop. By providing them with habitat and adequate and easily available food, we can encourage a diverse range of beneficial and pollinator insects to visit the field. We know pest populations will vary with each crop, location, environment and season, so building diversity helps to deal with any variation in pest population within a growing season.

"The soil is the stomach of the plant." 


This quote is the basis for a lot that goes on at Cascadian Farm. Basically, a famers feeds the soil, the soil feeds the plant, and the plant feeds the people.

Each year Jim makes one huge pile, about 200 cubic yards, of compost. The pile is made out of grass clippings from the Farm and sawdust brought in from a nearby town. In order to turn the compost pile, Jim uses 2 tractors and a manure spreader. He scoops the compost up and throws it in the manure spreader, than the spreader throws it out the backend and eventually builds itself over again, 10 yards away.

For several weeks now growers in eastern Washington have sown their fields to fall and over wintering green manure crops as summer crop harvests are completed. That task will continue for just a few more weeks until the shorter days and cooler temperatures do not allow for sufficient crop growth prior to winter. The primary aims of growing a cover crop are to

  • reduce soil erosion due to wind and water
  • provide food and habitat for fauna and flora
  • capture soil nutrients within the crop rooting zone and retain these for the following season
  • help break up compacted soils
  • build soil structure and quality
  • add soil nitrogen by including legume species
  • help suppress weeds, pests and diseases.

By carefully selecting the right species for your location, season, crop rotation and intended goal, you can go a long way to preparing your soil for next season's crop, while at the same time giving back to mother nature and the environment.

For details on suitable cover crops in your area search for articles from your university extension office or check out these resources: