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.
The Snarky Gardener entered his vegetables in the local county fair. Now the Snarky Girlfriend will never hear the end of it.
A little while back, the Snarky Girlfriend picked up this year’s Portage County Randolph Ohio fair book. She thought it would be cool for us to enter some items just for fun. She had some photos she wanted to enter, including one of my dog River. According to the rules, our entry forms had to be in by 8/5 even though the entries needed to be onsite when the fair started two weeks later. Telling the future is hard with garden produce, though I did have the option to enter and then just not have them. Going with a conservative first-timer approach, I perused the book, looking for viable vegetable categories.
Vegetables not quite ready for the big show:
1. Tomatoes and peppers – behind all year with cool wet weather
2. Corn – a few weeks off, not sure they would be ready by then
3. Beans – they wanted a quart of beans and I didn’t have that many.
4. Swiss chard – would rather eat it then enter it
5. Carrots – not enough and/or too small
1. Red potatoes – Red Chieftain
2. Golden potatoes – Yukon Golds
3. Kale – Red Russian
4. Turnips – Purple Top
5. Zucchini Under 10 inches- Sure Thing from Burpee
We dropped them off on Sunday 8/17, the day before the first day of the fair. Right away I realized something was amiss. People with kale and Swiss chard were using jars of water to keep them hydrated. The fair book said to do this, but somehow I didn’t pick up on it (oh well – lesson learned). On the plus side, we didn’t see any other turnip entries, so I knew I had a good chance of winning something in that category. The turnips I entered were far from perfect, as they had pits and marks on them. From the Internet articles I read after the fact, fair entered vegetables should all be little clones of each other and as close to retail sale quality as possible.
On Thursday (a long 4 days later), we attended the fair with some friends to see how I did (at least that’s how I saw it). They seemed to be interested in other things first, like seeing the Snarky Girlfriend’s pictures (she won a second place ribbon for a flower picture), and eating fair food. Finally we arrived at my vegetables and lo and behold, some had ribbons! Two firsts and a second (yeah). My red potatoes didn’t win (3rd place out of 3) as they were noticeable smaller and less uniform than the other competing entries. But my Yukon Golds won second place (out of 4) – not bad at all. My sad turnips garnered a first place ribbon as they had no competition. But the topper was my zucchini which earned 1st place out of five. Mine seemed to look the most like the ones you see at the grocery store. Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to spend all the prize money on. I wonder what I can purchase for $5.50?
The Snarky Gardener discusses not his love for groundhogs, but what groundhogs love to eat from his garden.
For the garden, groundhogs are very destructive. They have great appetites and can wipe out a whole season’s productivity. Fencing does help, although groundhogs are known for going under or over to get at the buffet the Snarky Gardener has provided. After seasons of experience, the SG has developed a strategy to mitigate vegetable loss. Below is a list of groundhog favorites and another list of those that have never been touched. Some of the “groundhog safe” plants have even been grown outside the fence with no munching, including garlic, onions, turnips, and various herbs. Going forward, more of these will be planted outside the fencing and efforts will be redoubled (more fencing!) to keep these little guys out of the good stuff.
Groundhogs have never munched on:
Herbs (lemon balm, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary)
What groundhogs really love (in order):
Corn (pulled down the stalks to eat the cobs!)
Pumpkins (the outside of the fruit)
The Snarky Gardener writes an abundance of words about abundance. Imagine that.
To the Snarky Gardener, abundance means having plenty (even too much) of a thing. Often people are concerned with what they can’t grow or what’s not doing well because of pests, lack of sunlight, or poor soil. But if you take this “problem” and turn it on its head with abundance, your mindset totally changes. The question, “What can I grow a boat load of?”, offers up all kinds of possibilities. I believe food growers should build upon their successes, with new and experimental plants taking only a small amount of total resources, and removal of those that produce poorly. At Snarky Acres, that means growing more sunchokes, turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, kale, garlic, onions, greens, zucchini, corn, Swiss chard, comfrey, and herbs (especially perennials like mint, lemon balm, oregano, and sage). It also means growing less (or no) broccoli, watermelon, peppers, eggplant, spinach, and beets. It’s hard to stop trying with those fruits and vegetables we love to eat, but not everything grows well everywhere, even in the same relative climate.
How to create abundance:
1. Grow a lot more of what grows well.
2. Look for alternative resources (weeds, trees, native species)
3. Create environments where abundance happens naturally (perennials and self-seeding plants)
4. Save seeds, plant extra starts (tomatoes, etc), and start new plants from cuttings.
5. Grow in non-optimal spaces (shade, poor soil)
6. “Invasive” also means “Abundance”
How to utilize abundance:
1. Find trading partners (food swaps, seed swaps, time banks, neighborhood barter systems)
2. Learn to preserve (canning, freezing, drying)
3. Find other uses (dynamic accumulators, medicinal)
4. Learn to create products from your produce (extracts, salves, pesto)