Speaking about Organic Gardening

It’s been a whirlwind of new year for us at Homegrown Harvest. You wouldn’t think the dead of winter would be a busy time of year for a couple of gardeners, but it has been.

We’ve been putting together a new lecture series on organic gardening. A few months ago, I was asked by a friend to come speak at her volunteer organizations’ opening meeting.  I’d never been asked to speak – although Mark and I had talked about the idea earlier in our IMG_1039organizational days of beginning Homegrown Harvest- so I agreed.  I decided to do a talk on the whys and hows of healthy eating – why you should grow food and not lawns.  It was going to be the first time I was ever in front of an audience of people who wouldn’t fail the class for being absent. I had never ever given given a talk or lead a discussion like this before. High school, in front of a few Trinity classmates perhaps was the last time I did anything remotely close to this. In college at BU,  I made sure to stay away from speaking opportunities, the exception being in my photography class where they made you get up and present your photo before a firing squad as your “peers”.  Okay perhaps they didn’t riddle my work with bullet holes but each comment felt like a slap in the face of humiliation at at the time.

My years working for my brother in the hedge fund industry taught me how to put together presentations, so sitting down and writing out the discussions has proven to be a cathartic activity for me, reinforcing my beliefs in organic land care management.   It was a moment of clarity brought on my Dennis Hopper and an Ameritrade ad that helped me diverge from following my brother’s path any further and create my own.  My work on the Hows and Why of Healthy Eating turned into 52 slides filled with vegetable facts, flowers and photography with given some animation. Hours and days of numerous edits , dry runs with more edits and more dry runs in my living room with my laptop, projector, screen and audience of five four footed friends of mine.

Finally, the day arrived. with about 40 women attended the September meeting of the National Charity League that morning and my despite the fact it was to be my virgin takeoff into the world of public speaking – I was relatively calm and not afraid to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers.  Instead I found myself to be excited by the possible opportunity public speaking could lead to for Homegrown Harvest.  Afterwards many people came up to me to tell me how much they learned and enjoyed my talk. One used the word ‘inspired’ to describe how they felt afterwards – the best compliment I could ever hope to ever receive and it has given me more confidence to go forward.

I decided shortly after that lecture that perhaps I would approach the New Canaan Library with the idea for a Spring Garden Series.  They recently started up a seed bank so I though it would be a natural tie in for us as a local vegetable gardening business.  It seemed a much better way for us to get out message out to people that healthy home vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be difficult and the healthy rewards you reap are beyond comparison.

Mark and I consider ourselves to be garden coaches – why not? People have life coaches, sports coaches, spiritual coaches. We don’t just sell you a product and walk away. We help you as much or as little as you want. Many people are too busy to get things up and started or don’t know how or where to begin.  We help teach and guide people in the process – making it easier for them to enjoy all the healthy benefits that go along with growing their own harvests.

Before the end of 2014, I had the privilege again to be asked by another volunteer organization, the New Canaan Beautification League to wanted me to come talk to them at their February meeting. They asked me to do a Garden to Table talk – oh and by the way – we’d like to video tape it if you don’t mind and put in on our public access channel CH79 New Canaan! Videotape? Um? Okay…

What had I agreed to?  I’ve never been videotaped except in home movies and those are not anything to be shared! So now I am going to be on TV? Um, that heightened the nerves a bit. So now I had to come up with a cohesive presentation that made sense talking to fellow gardeners about setting up a vegetable garden and the inspiration it en-vibes on your meals.

At the recommendation of a good friend of mine, I decided to take an online Dale Carnegie class on public speaking.  I’ve been to a number of lectures and presentations in my professional career, where the speaker went off on tangents, jumped around in their thoughts and slides – leaving my confused just wanting to take the handouts to figure everything out for myself later.  I certainly don’t want to be one of those types of speakers.

There is tons of information you hope to share with your audience but its crucial to not give too much which could overload and just confuse matters.  I find when I sit down to start one of these presentations that I want to tell a story. The overall point being that we can all enjoy growing some of our own food and by doing so reap the multiple rewards that vegetable gardening brings to our bodies and our souls.

Our local library loved the idea of doing a spring gardening series and we set up two dates in February and two more in April. March was off limits as the town does a one book, one town sort of things and everything revolves around that in March.  So our first two discussions in February I decided to focus on organic small space gardening dividing the discussions into two; focusing the first on container gardening. February can be a brutal month, and this year has been a doozy! This morning temperature was 14 degrees which has warmed up from the at zero and below zero days we’ve been experiencing here in Connecticut.

IMG_1640The first program 28 registrants signed up for the free lecture – 12 brave soles showed up. The weather had been snowy earlier and bitter cold, proving too challenging even those with cabin fever to start thinking about spring gardening.  Tomorrow we have our second installment in the Spring Series – we have put together a discussion on the organic benefits of building a polyculture garden. A polyculture is an organic method that brings in variety to the garden, breaking up the monoculture, in turn helping to deter disease and bad bug infestation simultaneously adding health, beauty and color to the garden.  The weather is still frigid but clear and bright with a newly developed threat of snow later in the afternoon that hopefully will not keep people from coming out to enjoy learning about the vast benefits of growing your food efficiently and effectively through intensive planting.

Time to Dream and Plan

heirloom onthe plantIt’s 5 degrees out this morning here in our neck of the woods.  It’s even colder where some of the kids are up at college like Burlington where it’s -18 right now and 4 degrees in Ithaca feeling like minus 4.  In Boston where our other one is at it’s 5 degrees but the winds up there are making it feel more like 10 below. Brrrr…it is cold out there today. It’s around this time of year that we start to jones for one of our homegrown heirloom tomatoes. Thank god weIMG_0007 made sauce at least. The garden is covered with a thick quilt of hard-packed snow about 20 inches deep burying our overwintering vegetables and Charlie the gnome.

The new year has brought us a new Sears Craftsman riding lawn tractor. We decided to get the snow blower attachment so we could us the things year round – mowing and mulching during the summer, snow blowing now.  We’ve already had the pleasure of clearing the driveway 6 times in the last month – quickly making back some money on our investment. Making me think we should have done this a long time ago.

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Right off the truck before the snow

Getting to know the ins and outs of snow blowing our own driveway has had it’s ups and downs but nothing that hasn’t been resolved quickly.  Day one, Mark threw a pin trying to clear a path to the garbage shed – not to self watch the  natural rock wall on the left hand side of the path.  Day two I’m clearing the front of the driveway by the mailbox when Ruby – yes we’ve named her – decides to stop throwing snow and emit a slight burnt rubber smell.  Thankfully, that too was fixable although not sure exactly why it happened – the belt to the auger seemed to have stretched or the cable did…regardless Mark was able to trouble shoot and we were back to throwing more snow in no time. According to the groundhog, we have 6 more weeks of winter so it will be a while before we get to take the snow thrower attachment off and put the lawn mower deck on the bottom.

On frigid cold days like these where Jack Frost is nipping more than just the nose; it’s best to stay inside and grab one of the many seed catalogs that have been pouring into the mailbox last month.  I’ve been really busy preparing for a number of lectures on the schedule for February, just finishing the first one this past Wednesday.

GardenToTableI gave a Garden to Table presentation to the members of the New Canaan Beautification League at the New Canaan Nature Center.  There is a lot of material to cover when you want to paint a picture for an audience of why and how they can grown some of their own delicious food. So much material that the next programs I have coming up is actually a 4 part spring garden series where I can go more in depth to areas like composting, setting up polycultures, and container gardening.  The spring garden series will be hosted by the New Canaan Library which I am really excited to being working with. Our library has recently set up a new Seed Bank – so I am excited at the possibilities going forward that there is an increasing interest in edible gardening locally.

I’ve lived in my town for the last twenty years, raising my kids and working for my brother most of that time, but volunteering in my community is ways like coaching girls lacrosse. My fiance and business partner, Mark has been an EMT at our volunteer ambulance corp – NCVAC for past two years. The members of the Beautification League volunteer to their time to helping keep our pretty little village looking it’s best via working with nature. Volunteering has always been a big part of my life. When I was a teenager. my mother was at one point the President of the YWCA of New York City. She had started at the Y as a volunteer coordinator and her work ethic and passion for the place propelled her to president at lightening speed. The woman knew how to make things happen.

Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to a community or organization you feel passionate about. It’s a great way to get out and meet like minded people who enjoy similar passions. I purposely use the word ‘volunteering’ as opposed to ‘community service’ because at some point in today’s world, the legal system has dished out ‘community service’ to many making it sound more like a penalty than something that can be very rewarding for the volunteer, them-self. It’s a shame that to a generation of children the words ‘community service’ doesn’t sound like something you would want to do but have to do.

In the gardening world, ‘volunteers’ means something different than people giving of their time to do something for free. Instead when you hear a gardener refer to a ‘volunteer’ they are referring to a specific plant that wasn’t purposely seeded but successfully growing where ever its seed lay.  Last summer we had a number of ‘volunteers’ come up in our backyard and not all in our raised beds.  We had a couple tomato plants come up over in wood chipped area and two more in the raised beds – one in my designated 3 Sister beds and the other in my cabbage bed.  The ones in the raised beds fared better than the wood chipped areas – most likely since we had composted the beds and perhaps the wood chips reduced the ph too much for the tomato plants to fruit. The two plants in the wood chip grew pretty big – one just flowered but didn’t fruit, the other fruited but very late in the season and we only were able to take some of the cherry tomatoes off before they had a chance to ripen on the vine.  Conversely, the volunteers in the raised beds gave off a lot of fruit – both of those were also cherry tomato plants.

From our garden a beautiful snap pea begins to bloom.
A beautiful snap pea begins to bloom

I’m reminded of all this when I was preparing my presentation and was scanning my hundreds of photos of our garden and our client’s gardens.  The pictures get me thinking about the possibilities for this season.  What varieties should we plant this year?  Peas for certain will be among the first things, along with a variety of lettuce…The seed catalogs have sat untouched by me until just the other day.  I was afraid if I opened even one I would be too distracted to work on my Garden To Table presentation.  Later in the night, the day of the presentation, I finally cracked open my first bit of what we fondly refer to as garden porn.  Beautiful photographs of the most delicious looking fruits and vegetables are coupled with mouth-watering descriptions which causes you to have eyes bigger than your garden beds.

I was proud of myself, I didn’t go seed crazy and deliberately focused on edible flowers in as I checked out Annie’s Heirloom Seeds catalog and then also the strawberry starts – had to get those before they sell out like last year. Oh, then there is the potatoes – had to get some of Binje potatoes to try this year…Luckily I was exhausted form my day and that was all my tired eyes could handle at the time.

A few days have past since my seed binge and now we have these wicked cold temperatures outside, I think it’s the perfect time to start breaking out the paper and pen and start listing what we want grow this season.  I’ll need to check the cupboard where I keep our seed supply in neatly labeled plastic containers with pop-tops for one handed handling when out in the garden.  It took me a while to figure out the best way to save and keep seeds organized.  I like the plastic containers because they keep seeds dry and safe, whereas envelopes don’t reseal always and get wet and then compromise the seeds. Or land up at the bottom of your pockets, purse, garden bag, truck…

February is the best time to plan your garden – remember to consider crop rotations into your plan. Crop rotation is the practice of growing related vegetable families in different areas in consecutive years.  There are four plant families that benefit from crop rotation: the cabbage family, the carrot family, the cucumber & squash family and lastly, the tomato & eggplant family. Rotating these vegetable families will help prevent soil borne disease from building up and help keep and provides a principle mechanism for building healthy soils and organically controls pests.

When you plan things out on paper first it makes it a lot easier for to take into account things like crop rotations and companion planting. This way you can also makes sure that the proper companion plants are not only coupled together but the plants which should be kept away from one another will always stay away from one another.

One of many harvestsSo grab your hot beverage of choice and that stack of seed catalogs and enjoy dreaming about what can be. Fresh delicious harvests that will inspire most every meal!

If you are just starting a new garden and would like some ideas, I highly suggest looking at organic seed websites perhaps with your laptop or iPad or other mobile device to see the different types of delicious food you possibly could be growing in your backyard, porch or balcony. If you are in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area and need help you getting your garden started, please reach out for us to help at info@homegrownharvest.com – that’s what we do. Elsewhere, check your local listing for organic land care professionals that may help get you started. Here is the northeast we have NOFA – the Northeast Organic Farming Association but I am sure there are many regional organizations like NOFA which are committed to promoting and supporting organic land care practices.

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For Better or Worse – A Guide to Companion Planting

Many experienced gardeners already know that having a diverse mix of plants helps give you a beautiful and healthy garden.   Some also believe that certain plant combinations have extraordinary powers for helping each other grow.   Scientific study of companion planting has confirmed that some combinations have real benefits unique to those combinations, while experience has demonstrated to many gardeners how to combine certain plants for their mutual benefit.  

How can companion plantings help you?

  • Companion plantings brings variety into the garden by helping to break up the monoculture, this aids in deterring disease and bad bug infestation.
  • It’s a holistic approach to working with the intricate layers of the ecology of your garden.
  • Reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Many vegetables and herbs store natural substances in their roots, flowers and leaves that repel unwanted pests and attract beneficial insects.
  • Enhances the beauty as well as the flavor and overall health of your garden by working in harmony with nature.  

How close should the plants be to each other?

  • Take the average spacing between the two varieties.  

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Ancient Companions Over the centuries, companion planting has played a vital role in the survival of people throughout history. The Iroquois American Indians in the Northeast used the “Three Sisters” or De-o-ha-ko. De-o-ha-ko literally means “our sustainers” or “those who support us”. When companion plantings are used they help one another grow, thrive and produce higher yields efficiently and with little impact on the environment.  
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Scientific Foundations for using Companion Plantings

Trap Cropping – one plant will lure bugs and pests away from another plant and serves to distract.  
Symbiotic nitrogen fixation – legumes (peas, clover, beans) fix atmospheric nitrogen for their own use and benefit of nearby plants via symbiotic relationship with rhizobium bacteria.  
Biochemical pest suppression – certain plants give off chemicals in their roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests and protect neighboring plants.  
Physical spatial interactions – tall growing plants which love sun sharing space with low growing shade tolerant plants gives higher yields in less space, as well as yielding pest control.  
Beneficial Habitats – or refugia is when companion plants provide a desirable environment for beneficial insects and other arthropods, like predatory and parasitic insects which help keep the pest population in balance. Agroecologists believe this is a good way to both reduce pest damage and pesticide use.  
Security via Diversity – a mixed variety of plants, herbs and vegetables helps limit the possible destruction that can be caused to a single crop or cultivar. Simply mixing cultivars will achieve the diversity needed as the University of California demonstrated with broccoli.

As much as there are plants that are compatible together, there are some that are just as incompatible together as well.  Please refer to our Companion Planting Guide that also gives hints as to certain ways that plant may be used to deter certain critters, big and small.

Condensed Companion Planting Guide
Asparagus Plant plant with Aster family of flowers, basil, tomato, parsley, dill, coriander, comfrey, marigolds. Do not plant with garlic, onions, potatoes.    

Basil plant with tomatoes, peppers, oregano, asparagus, petunias; helps improve flavor and growth and aids in repelling thrips, flies, mosquitoes, deer. Do not plant with rue, sage   

Beans are wonderful to plant with most vegetables and herbs (carrots, cauliflower, celery, chards, corn, eggplant, radish, strawberry,
potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage)Beans help to enrich the soil with nitrogen Do not plant with (alliums) garlic, onions    

Beets plant with lettuce, cabbage, onions, kohlrabi, garlic, mint. Beets are good for adding minerals to the soil (leaves are made of up of 25% magnesium), valuable addition to the compost; beets flavor is improved by garlic and mint.
Do not plant with pole beans.  

Broccoli is great to plant with basil, bush beans, cucumber, dill, garlic, hyssop, lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, potato, radish, rosemary, sage, thyme, tomato.   Celery, onions and broccoli improve broccoli’s flavor; broccoli loves calcium so pairing it with plants that don’t need calcium like nasturtiums and beets – free up the calcium in the soil for broccoli.  Do not plant with grapes, strawberries, mustards, rue.  

Cabbage Family includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and cabbage are all wonderful when paired with celery, beets, onions, potato, spinach, chard, sage, thyme, mint, rosemary. Chamomile and cabbage improves flavor while celery and cabbage improves growth and health. Do not plant with tomatoes, strawberries, pole beans, peppers, eggplants, grapes, lettuce.   

Carrots plant with leaf lettuce, onions, peas, onions, leeks, chives, rosemary. Do not plant with dill, parsnips, Queen Ann’s lace     

Celery plant with potatoes, spinach, bush beans, onions, cabbage families, leeks, tomato, cosmos, daisies, snapdragons. Do not plant with corn, potatoes, aster. Carrots can be infected with yellow disease from aster flowers  

Chards plant with beans, cabbage family, tomato, onion and roses. Do not plant with cucurbits, melons, corn or herbs    

Chives plant with carrots, tomatoes, apples, brassica family, mums, sunflowers. Improves growth & flavor of carrots and tomatoes; chives keeps aphids away, drives away Japanese beetles and carrot rustfly; Do not plant with beans and peas.

Cilantro(Chinese parsley, the seeds are coriander)   Anise, caraway, potatoes, dill. Cilantro repels harmful insects(aphids, spidermites & potato beetle) 

Corn  Amaranth, white geraniums, lamb’s quarters, melons, morning glory, parsley, peanuts, pumpkin, soybeans, sunflower, potatoes, peas, beans, squash, cucumbers. Corn feeds off of the nitrogen left behind by the beans when interplanted together. Do not plant with tomatoes

Cucumber plant with beans, corn, radishes, peas, sunflower, dill, beets, nasturtiums.When planted with nasturtiums growth & flavor improve and when planted with dill it attracts predatory beneficials. Do not plant with cauliflower, potatoes, basil, sage, rue.  

Eggplant plant with amaranth, beans, spinach, tarragon, thyme, marigolds, peppers         

Garlic plant with most herbs, roses, raspberries, apple trees, pear trees, celery
cucumbers, peas, and lettuce. Garlic accumulates sulfur, a natural fungicide which prevents disease. it helps in offending codling moths, Japanese beetles, root maggots, snails and carrot rootfly; time release capsules planted at the base of trees deters deer.

Lettuce plant with beets, broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, carrot, onion, strawberries,  sunflowers radishes, cucumbers, dill. Do not plant with cabbage, parsley    

Marigolds, French plant with most plants but do not plant with beans, cabbage French marigolds keeps soil free of bad nematodes and discourages many garden pests/insects.

Mint plant with cabbage, tomatoes. It improves the health of cabbage & tomatoes. While it also deters white cabbage moths, ants, rodents, flea beetles, fleas, aphids by attracting beneficials like hoverflies & predatory wasps.

Onion plant with beets, carrots, leeks, kohlrabi, brassicas, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, dill, chamomile, summer savory. Onions & strawberries help the berries fight disease; intercropping with leeks and onions with carrots confuses carrot & onion flies. Do not plant with peas or asparagus.   

Peas plant with corn, cucumber, celery, eggplants, bush/pole beans, radishes,
spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, turnips . Do not plant with chives, potatoes, onions, gladiolus, grapes.     

Pepper, sweet bell plant with tomatoes, okra, parsley, basil, carrots, marjoram, petunia, onions. Do not plant with fennel, kohlrabi, apricot trees    

Pepper, hot plant with cucumbers, eggplant, escarole, tomato, okra, swiss chard, squash, basil, oregano, parsley & rosemary.  Chili peppers roots exude a substance which prevents root rot and other fusarium diseases; teas made from hot peppers can be used as insect sprays   

Potato plant with bush beans, celery, carrots, corn, cabbage, horseradish, marigolds, peas, petunias, onions, French marigolds. Do not plant with asparagus, kohlrabi, rutabaga, fennel, turnip, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers     

Pumpkin plant with corn, beans, radishes, peas, oregano, marigolds, squash, melon, nasturtiums. When planted with marigolds deters beetles, planted with nasturtiums deters bugs & beetles, with oregano for the pest pest protection   

Radish plant with beets, bush beans, pole beans carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, peas, spinach, members of squash family, nasturtium. Planted with squash helps deter squash borers; deter cucumber beetles & rust flies, chervil and nasturtiums improve radishes growth & flavor; lure leafminers away from spinach. Do not plant with hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips.

Spinach plant with peas, beans, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, strawberries, squash, fava bean.

Squash plant with beans, pumpkins, corn, cucumbers, onions, melon, mint, borage, marigolds, oregano. When planted with borage deters worms and improves growth & flavor; marigolds deter beetles, oregano best pest protection. Do not plant with potatoes.

Strawberry plant with beans, borage, lettuce, onions, spinach, thyme. Borage strengthens resistance to insects and disease.  Do not plant with cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi.

Tomato plant with asparagus, carrots, head lettuce, mint, nasturtium, onions, beans, basil, lettuce, garlic, cucumber,celery, chives, peas, peppers, parsley, marigolds. Basil helps repel flies, mosquitoes, deer and improves growth & flavor; bee balm, chives & mint improves flavor & health of tomatoes. Do not plant with dill, fennel, apricot trees, potatoes, kohlrabi, corn.

Turnips plant with peas and cabbage. Do not plant with potatoes, radishes or other root vegetables, delphinium, larkspur, mustard.

Zucchini plant with nasturtium and flowering herbs.

It’s a lot in information and I have plenty more which is why this only a consolidated companion growing guide.  We love to work with companions in our raised beds and there a wonderful way to help guide you while putting together containers.  Happy Gardening!