The Snarky Gardener (of Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns) will be presenting “Easy Lazy Food Gardening” at the Kent Free Library on April 22nd at 7 PM.
The Kent Free Library begins a series of monthly programs focusing on backyard gardening with a presentation by Don Abbott of Kent Food Not Lawns on Wednesday, April 22 at 7:00 pm.
Abbott, a gardener, educator, and blogger, says that the biggest complaint most people have about gardening is that it’s too much work. He will suggest useful strategies you can start using this summer to have a productive food garden without all the hassle year after year.
All participants will receive free seed packets. Please contact the Information Desk at 330.673.4414 to register. Visit Upcoming Events for information about future gardening programs.
Registration is requested and is underway. Please visit or contact the Information Desk (330.673.4414) to register.
The Snarky Gardener tells you how to avoid weeds in your garden so you can do less work and produce more food.
People and weeds have been enemies since the beginning of time. You plant the things you want and other plants have the audacity to grow instead. Ever wonder why this is the case? Are there techniques you can use to lower or even eliminate the problem? Of course there are – why else would I be writing this article? (OK, maybe just to hear myself type, as my ego does take over at times).
Let’s start by understanding what weeds are. In nature (and yes, your garden is in nature, despite what you try to do
to make it not so), weeds are used to cover and repair disturbances – fires, landslides, tree uprootings, volcanoes, sharknadoes, etc. Bare soil is bad as the sun will damage it and water will wash it away. Weed seeds are designed to sit in the soil for years and decades, just waiting for such an event. Then they spring to action, coming up fast and producing lots and lots and lots of seeds. After a year or two of this, other bigger species come in to take over (brambles, bushes, small trees, and eventually a whole forest).
When we till the soil, we are causing a giant disturbance. It helps to cause this explosion of activity which our annual garden vegetables like, especially the cabbages (aka brassicas – kale, mustard, turnips, collards, broccoli). Yes, I just called the vegetables we love to eat “weeds”. Several years ago was my worst season for weeds. It was also the last time I tilled my entire garden space. Coincidence? I think not. So what can we smarter gardeners do about the weeds?
Weed avoidance strategies
1. Don’t Till Very Much
Tilling should be kept to a minimum in your garden. If you are converting lawn or have some really compacted soil, then till away. I gave up my tiller a few years back and now use a broadfork instead. It’s still technically tilling but it’s gentler (especially to the worms) and you can only do so much damage by hand (pant, pant, pant). And to keep the soil from getting compacted in the first place, don’t step on the places where you want to grow stuff. Plan out your garden so it flows naturally, and then create permanent beds and paths.
2. Use Mulch
Mulch is one of nature’s greatest inventions against weeds. Weed seeds need light to grow and mulch keeps the sun away from them (be it leaves, straw, hay, food scraps, wood chips, newspaper, cardboard, or even man-made materials like plastic). Plus organic mulch will break down and become more soil, helping your plants in the future. Also, mulch not only your planting beds but your paths too. Stomping on weeds keeps them at bay, but some actually prefer compacted soil.
3. Grow Cover Crops
Cover crops, like clover or mustard, will cover the ground and compete with weeds while making your soil better.
4. Identify and Utilize Your Current Weeds
Have you ever looked up your garden weeds to see if they are edible or have other uses? There are plant identification groups on the Internet (Facebook, etc) that will help you to figure out what your weeds are. For example, I had one particularly obnoxious weed that would grow before anything else and would compete with my veggies. Took me 2 years to ID it, but I finally confirmed that it was Quick Weed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galinsoga_parviflora), an edible plant. Now I just eat it.
Lambs Quarters – a great wild edible “weed”
5. Make Your Own Weeds
If you let your plants go to seed, especially the leafy green ones, you can establish your own edible ‘weeds”. I currently have oregano, lemon balm, corn salad, turnips, mustard, and several others that just come up all over the garden. Some are the first to be eaten in the spring before other less evolved gardeners are even planning their spring tilling. Some people see these plants as “invasive”, but I just think of them as perennial annuals.
The Snarky Gardener grew some microgreens this winter so he could get some fresh nutritious greens while the snow fell outside
I read a blog post last summer that made me rethink my winter gardening. Normally I just grow herbs (and sometimes cherry tomatoes and jalapeno peppers) in my AeroGardens while I wait until it’s time (after March 1 here at Snarky Acres) to start my plants for the coming summer garden. For some reason, it never occurred to me to just fill some pots and plant trays with soil and seeds. Using an old AeroGarden and a sun lamp for light, I started with a Container Herb Mix from Burpee (parsley, borage, catgrass, basil, and watercress tangy) as it sounded perfect for indoor growing. The room I started them in is somewhat unheated (averages around 50 degrees F), so the basil never took off, but as you can see by the above pictures, everything else did very well.
A few weeks later I decided to fill a seed starting flat with organic soil (though seed starting mix would probably be better) and spinach seeds. Again, being a cooler room, the spinach sprouted within a week. About a month after that, the baby spinach was ready for dinner, though I ate some during this time as I thinned. The most difficult part of growing these is to remember to water every other day or so. I also used a spray bottle to mist them from time to time. I was hoping they would grow faster but I think the combination of chilly air and irregular watering have slowed them down. Then again, I might just be too impatient.
Microgreens are leafy greens grown just to the first true leaves. According to the USDA, they are several times more nutritionally packed than their full grown versions. So don’t be too worried about the their size (or lack there of). Just add them to your salads for a winter time boost of vitamins and minerals.
The Snarky Gardener spent an evening with the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Seed Sharing Library
On a random visit to the the Akron-Summit County Public Library, I discovered that they have a seed library in their Science and Technology Division at their Main Branch in downtown Akron. A seed library is a collection of packaged seeds that can be “checked out” by community members. Up to six packets of seeds a month may be checked out. Borrowers are encouraged to return seed saved out of their gardens at the end of the season but it’s not required. Some plants that are straight forward to save seeds from, like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, and peas, are marked as “easy to save”.
With my Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns involvement, I have done research on seed libraries with thoughts of possibly starting one here in Kent. Currently there are efforts by state departments of agriculture to close down such libraries as they violate laws that were written for large scale seed producers. The issue seems to be not the lending but the receiving of seeds back. The concern is that the seeds of noxious or poisonous plants will be slipped into the system by unscrupulous people and that all seeds need to be professionally tested. At this writing, there have been cases in at least 3 states – Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Maryland. In the Pennsylvania case, the library compromised with the Department of Agriculture by agreeing to host several seed swaps a year instead.
A few weeks after my initial visit, I returned to the Seed Sharing Library, this time as a volunteer helping to split out donated seed into smaller packets. Most commercial packets have many seasons of seeds and can be divided into 4 or 5 packets without issue. Six of us spent 3 hours splitting out just a third of the donated and purchased seed. It became very tedious by the time we finished up. Nonetheless, if they have another packing event, I’ll be there with some of my Kent Food Not Lawns members. I’ll also be donating some of my own saved seed, including turnips, beans, tomatoes, and peppers.
The Snarky Gardener is expanding his food production area in 2015.
The Snarky Gardener is expanding his growing space by 100% in 2015. He has plenty of room east of his current fenced in primary 50 ft X 30 ft garden. The new area will be approximately 60 ft X 20 ft (1,200 square feet). It won’t be fenced in but instead will be planted with vegetables that groundhogs and rabbits find less desirable (see Groundhog Love for the complete list). Garlic was already planted outside this fence during the fall. The Snarky Gardener doesn’t usually believe in rototilling as it damages the soil so he will be strategically broadforking just what he needs and when he needs it. He might also schedule a “broadforking class” a la Tom Sawyer through Kent Food Not Lawns or the Kent Community Time Bank to get additional assistance.
Potatoes will be planted next to the garlic in April or so. Since potatoes are in the nightshade family, animals normally leave them alone (unless they are really hungry deer). Tomatoes will be planted along 2 fences (50 foot long and 5 foot tall) running east to west. These steel fences will be reused to fence in and protect other crops in future seasons. Added in between these tomato rows will be onions, leeks, peppers, and bush zucchini. Members of the Allium family (onions, garlic, chives, leeks) are generally avoided by animals, especially deer and rabbits. Some gardeners will specifically plant garlic around areas they want protected from unauthorized munching. The bush zucchini will be protected with fencing and/or cover until big enough to have protective spines. Years of groundhog intrusions (and watching the neighbor’s unprotected garden) have taught the Snarky Gardener that they won’t seem to mess with the spinier vegetables. Turnips, mustard, and clover will cover any other bare soil as living mulch. Turnips and mustard have been outside the fence for the years now at Snarky Acres without so much as a bite. Clover could be eaten by herbivores, but there’s plenty already out in the yard, so the SG is not concerned.
The Snarky Gardener will also be adding more hugelkultur mounds to his property. Last fall, there were 4 raised beds built with much sweat and cursing. At least two more will added to the south of these in the spring. The six plus will be filled with plenty of annuals, including tomatoes, peppers, beans, and greens. There are additional plans to build hugelkultur beds north of the garden where big, giant pine logs (2 feet in diameter) have been attracting groundhogs, poison ivy, and brambles. These logs will be cut up and used to create perennial herb, onion, turnip, and rhubarb beds. All these can handle a little shade as this area is in the 4 to 6 hour daily sunlight realm and should be left alone by the aforementioned plant-eating wild animals.
One more thing: the Snarky Gardener may be adding second-hand vegetables (aka livestock) to Snarky Acres in 2015 and will be writing about it in the spring.
The Snarky Gardener toured Tierra Verde Farms, his favorite place to buy quality food, including grass fed beef, free range chickens and nitrate free pork.
Tierra Verde Farms (which roughly translates to Green Acres) is a local farm we discovered through a pamphlet at my doctor’s office of all places. A group of us from Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns showed up on a Sunday afternoon to get a personalized 2 hour tour from the owner, Mike Jones. We started in his store front as he explained that his farm is designed based on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms system of rotational grazing with chickens pasturing after cows, etc. It was easy to see from his presentation that Mike considers the animals part of his family, with all the emotions and attachments that entails.
After our talk, we started the walking part of the tour with the Thanksgiving turkeys. The Snarky Gardener had ordered one a few months back and wanted to meet him/her personally. We found them gobbling away out in the pasture. They came up to us as we looked like people with food. Sorry guys, no food here! Trying to find our specific turkey was impossible as they didn’t have name tags.
From the turkeys we moved onto the meat chickens. They were housed in “chicken tractors” that are moved every day so the chickens can get fresh stuff to eat. Mike’s tractors were very well designed as they had automatic waterers and lots of fencing to keep out predators (hawks, coyotes, etc.). Would love to have a smaller version here at Snarky Acres but I think that’s a few years away.
Next on the agenda were the pigs. They were fenced in under a stand of trees as pigs are forest dwellers in nature. With this type of farm, it’s important that the animals get to be themselves as much as possible so they are happy. These pigs are able to root in the mud and eat plenty of forage, including acorns and other nuts, just like they would in the wild. Mike let us go in to see the pigs closeup though I think his idea was to give the pigs people to play with as they kept nipping at the back of our shoes.
From the pigs we moooooved onto the beef cow pasture. Beautiful brown cows welcomed us by staying together as a herd and looking at us warily. Cows are herd animals and their ancestors survived by keeping together. These particular cows are hybrids, which helps them be productive, much like an F1 plant has hybrid vigor (an interesting concept in the least).
Our final tour stop was the egg laying chickens. They were truly free range with a portable trailer coop to lay eggs and receive shelter. The chickens have been trained to come in by a certain time before the automatic door leaves them out in the cold and vulnerable to predation. Mike told us that after the chickens reach two years old he sells them off for $5 a piece to home egg producers. These older hens don’t produce as many eggs per week (3 to 4 versus 6 for younger chickens), but for a home raiser that should be plenty. Never thought of buying a used egg chicken before (hmmmmm).
If you are interested in learning more or purchasing some meat products (but not Maynard, he’s ours), please visit their website http://www.tierraverdefarms.com/
The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!). The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.
This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds. In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage. Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.
The Snarky Gardener is managing his herd of Jacob’s Cattle beans.
Saving bean seed is really easy. Allow your bean plants with with beans still attached to turn yellow and die off. Collect the seed pods. Open up the pods and there are your seeds. You will want to let these dry out completely before putting them in an airtight container (I use old vitamin bottles though glass jars will work also). Make sure to keep an eye on them over the winter as they could mold up if there was any moisture in them.
After I do my “shelling”, I like to divide them up based how they look. Some will be deformed or have some flaw that makes them less than perfect. These will be put into the “eat me” pile. Jacob’s Cattle beans are specifically “dry” beans (think kidney or black beans), but I do eat some green.
So, you might be asking “Why does the Snarky Gardener bother with saving bean seed when it’s so inexpensive to buy at the store or online?” In a word, adaptation. These plants grew up in my garden with it’s specific conditions. Plus beans make the soil better, especially through their nitrogen fixing nodules.