The GArdens Are Still Producing

As it is mid-November, it’s not surprising that people say to me, “I guess you are done with your gardening.” My answer does surprise them. “No, the gardens are still producing like crazy and we’ll be delivering vegetables for another six weeks.”

In mid-August, after the spring and summer vegetables peter out, we sow all of our fields in fall crops. Buckwheat is used as a nurse crop for all kinds of brassicas, or cabbage family, plants. After a frost lays down the buckwheat, the gardens are full of food.

Arugula is a spicy green that reminds me of creasy salad. It is used like an herb, in small amounts. We try to send three bushels each week to our 180 member CSA.

The mustard patch looks great, with a bright green color and lots of frilly leaves. Mizuna is a lacey-leafed, mild mustard we grow too. 15 bushels go to town every week.

We send a few hundred turnips in each week, along with plenty of greens. Besides the common purple-top, we grow a white one called Haukeri, a red one called Scarlet Queen, and a yellow turnip, Gold Ball. Rutabega has leaves more like kale, but they are a lot like turnips, and our variety is All-American.

Daikon radishes come in several varieties, too. Besides the long white one, we have a red one, China Rose, and a green one that’s red-fleshed called Watermelon radish. Daikons are a good mix for the cover crop because their roots go deep and help loosen heavy soils.

The flat-leafed Kale will go all winter. The other kales we have are Tuscany, Siberian and Red Russian. Georgia Collards are similar, with larger leafs.

Bokchoys are fun to grow. Joi Choi gets huge, up to five pounds. Mei Qing is a more refrigerator friendly kind that gets to be about a pound. Tat Soi has deep green leaves, as does a variety called Vitamin Green. The Chinese Cabbage we grow are also called Napa, and we have two kinds, Minvet and Rubicon.

Lots of lettuces are still making heads, and mixed with Bloomsdale Spinach makes for an awesome salad. The lettuce won’t last, but we should have spinach all winter and into spring.

The Swiss Chard and Parsley, planted in spring, have come back beautifully after a bit of summer dormancy. Our fall broccoli and kohlrabi did not make, I planted them too late.

Reemay, a floating row cover used for tobacco beds, gets stretched over the rows for 6’ to 8’ of frost protection. We try to hold it down with boards, and the wind tries to blow it off. What doesn’t get covered suffers when the temperatures hit the teens.

The cellar still supplies red and white potatoes. A little garlic is still left, and enough onions for one more delivery. A few bushels of spaghetti squash and acorn squash are dwarfed by a ton or so of butternuts. These will keep all winter and help us do a winter CSA.

Best of all are the sweet potatoes. We eat them almost daily and never get tired of them. With a hundred bushels left, the CSA will have plenty.

For a special surprise, the old Arkansaw Black trees in my new front yard have yielded bushels of delicious apples. A persimmon tree on the ridge offers another even sweeter treat. Yes, it is no surprise that the gardens are still going great, and it looks like we’ll have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

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Soil

As important as soils are, most people and many farmers know little about how they work. This was not always so. Publications on farming from 100 to 150 years ago indicate a widespread understanding of the role of humus, soil structure and fertility, and how plants grow. Recent discoveries in soil microbiology verify these wise traditions of diversified crops and rotations, composting for a stable humus, and the integration of animal husbandry and crop production on all farms. Why is this knowledge so obscured?

When President Eisenhower’s farwell address warned us of the military/industrial complex over fifty years ago, little attention was given to agriculture. Once we realize gunpowder and agriculture chemicals are made from the same ingredients by the same companies, a picture develops. A bit of history helps understanding this connection.

Most of the weapons used by both sides during WWI were made by the same companies. They are made from ammonia, phosphorus and potassium nitrate, the same familiar NPK used for artificial fertilizers. Marketing these products to farmers after WWI proved difficult, because traditional farming wisdom kept soils fertile and they didn’t need extra fertilizers.

The military/industrial/agricultural complex, if I may amend Pres. Ike, started funding ag colleges, which then began a misinformation campaign. Students, often sent to college from self sufficient, diversified family farms, were taught that a farm should either raise livestock or crops, but not both. This separation spelled disaster for our nation’s soil, because healthy humus production relies on animal impact. Land grant colleges still enforce this disconnection today.

As the new generation began following these recommendations, the microorganisms in the soil that are responsible for moving nutrients into plants were killed. For example, nitrogen fertilizer destroys nitrogen fixing bacteria, and the same is true for other microbes and elements. When humus levels drop, plants become susceptible to insects and diseases, and more chemicals are deemed necessary. By the end of WWII, many American farmers were using chemicals.

Ultimately, we have GMD crops sprayed with herbicides, which are either fed to confined animals feeding operations, made into unhealthy pre-packaged grocery items, or given as aid to underdeveloped countries, undermining their local food systems. But let’s not forget that 70% of world food production still comes from small landowners on 5 acres or less, according to the U.N. World Food Organization. Also, 70% of environmental pollution comes from agricultural runoff. Agribusiness doesn’t feed people, it feeds the military/industrial complexes at the expense of our health.

The concentration of vast quantities of wealth has given rise to a banking system holding most people in perpetual debt, an educational system obscuring agricultural wisdom, and the necessity of a large military presence worldwide.

What do we do? We grow gardens and feed ourselves and our neighbors, we boycott big ag products, and we support local farmers who understand soils and treat them with wisdom of traditional agriculture. And we get together at the annual Local Food Summit, held this year at Trevecca Nazerene University on Dec. 7th, where we will learn from different perspectives about healthy local food, and enjoy it in meals prepared by Nashville’s premier restaurants.

More info can be found online at TNlocalfoods.com.

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Purcell Log Cabin

I have moved. I apologize for the sporadic columns this summer, but I believe I’ll get back into the swing of things soon. There is certainly a lot to write about.

First of all, I haven’t moved very far, just a few miles downstream. We spent the last year fixing up the old Purcell house on Heady Ridge Road. It has an interesting story.

In 1929 the log cabin that the Purcell family lived in burned down. They were camping out and heard a commotion coming up the driveway. It was a wagon full of doors and windows.

Rufus West had a sawmill across the Long Hungry Creek. He was the wealthiest man around, he ate hog meat everyday. Another team of horses pulled up with a wagon load of neighbors. They said “Where do you want it?”

Unasked, they had come to build this house. As we fixed it up, my carpenter friends kept mumbling “This place was built by farmers.” Steve is convinced that one corner fell off the foundation stone, but no one noticed until they’d already hammered it together. The floors and walls have waves and curves adding to the character.

I had n o plans. No budget and no timeline. Eventually I decided where the kitchen and bathroom would be. as we stripped out the walls and ceiling, I decided to keep cleaning to get rid of all the old dust. Behind the drywall we found beautiful popular siding, so we sanded it and sanded it.

Plumbing, wiring, doors, windows and the list went on. Then came the trim work. I found a good deal on some basswood and sassafras, and it looks fantastic. A new front porch and back deck went on a few weeks ago, and I started moving my stuff here.

There is still a lot to do. We’ll have to build a root cellar and outdoor shed. Parking is an issue, I may have to sacrifice some flat spot that I’d rather plant in. grown up brush needs cutting, trees and shrubs planted, and berries, herbs and coldframes will have to go in, too.

The chilly mornings remind me to put the stove in and cut some firewood. Once I get a fire warming the house it will really feel like home. It’s a beautiful place in a potentially beautiful setting, and I look forward to landscaping the yard.

The old log cabin will house my students, but it is no longer my home. There is a bit of sadness. I love that place and the neighborhood. We’ll keep growing chickens and pigs there, and maybe fence it off for cattle.

So come visit me. It’s the right hand driveway down the hill from the county landfill on Heady Ridge Road. This is my first column written from here, and I hope to write many more.

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Hellbenders

Have you ever seen a hellbender? It is a two foot long salamander that lives in the creeks which flow up to the Barren River. I’ve seen them twice, a bout 25 years ago, in the Long Hungry Creek.

The state biologist and the curator of the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere are looking for signs of hellbenders. We spent Wednesday afternoon wading our creek and the Long Fork Creek, lifting up big rocks and observing aquatic life.

Like plats, animals are classified by genus and species, and then the broader category of a family. Hellbenders are unique, with only 2 other species in their family; a giant Chinese one that gets six feet long, and another one from Japan.

This family of amphibians dates back to the dinosaur age, which very few animals existing now do. They sure look prehistoric, with a big nose and little feet. The Hellbender Society, a group of scientists interested in them, is quite concerned about the dramatic decrease in their populations recently.

The magazine “Tennessee Conservationist” had an article about the decline of hellbenders and questioned weather Glysophosphate was responsible. This is the active ingredient in Round Up, a widely used herbicide. Hellbenders eat crayfish, and poisons concentrate upward in the food chain.

The scientists in the creek with m e confirmed these fears. Monsanto falsified research to put Round Up approved, and it is deadly to the salamanders and frogs in our creeks. They’ve watched amphibians suffer as herbicide usage increases.

A bottle brush crayfish zoomed out from under a rock they lifted. It has hairy antenna and beautiful scarlet markings down the back. They are only found in Tennessee and Kentucky in the Barren River watershed, and this was the first one ever documented in the Long Hungry.

I learned a lot with these guys. They want to come back and canoe the creeks and look for hellbenders again. We would love to hear if anyone has spotted any recently.

Herbicides are very, very dangerous, causing cancer and many other health issues. The widespread use of them is having drastic effects on our environment. Please be extremely cautious with them, and consider alternatives like mowing. Decision to spray all distribution lines without asking land owners permission has grave consequences for public health and is an environmental disaster.

I have a sign at the shop that says “Do Not Spray, Organic Farm.” The state road department sprayed herbicide on either side of the sign.

Hellbenders are the “canary in the coalmine,” or the first sign that things are getting dangerous and we need to change what we’re doing. Don’t believe Monsanto when they claim Round Up or 24D are safe. Herbicides kill plants, animals and you.

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Harvesting

The potatoes want to be harvested soon, too. The green tops are browning, and after they are dead for two weeks the skins will tough enough to handle without peeling off. Then we’ll plow them up and get them in the cellar.

Summer squash and cucumbers are finally appearing in all their glory, thoroughly enjoying all the moisture. But it can be so muddy that we sink up to our ankles getting them. A mulch would help, but I can’t imagine how to get it spread.

Weeds have engulfed the lettuce, which is about gone anyway. We are pulling weeds in the winter squash and watermelons, and have some Johnson grass to deg out, too. The sweet potato field has six rows hoed, but eight rows are filled with very happy weeds, who are loving the rain which is keeping us out.

Every Monday we harvest celery, swiss chard, parsley, beets and other vegetables, whether it rains or not. The procession of produce marches on through all kinds weather. We don’t complain about rain or the mud between our toes, but remain thankful for the water on the crops.

It is raining on my parade of vegetable harvesting. We got the garlic in quickly this year, and it is curing out well. By turning the talks over and drying them out, they will soon be tied and hung up, and will store through mid-winter.

On the other hand, the onions have me a bit concerned. They like it to be dry and hot during their last month of growth, which made last year perfect onion weather. They are all out of the ground, or I could say “mud,” but have a soft spot where they were underground.

We have them laid out in the barn, on top of hay. In years past I have lost a lot to rot, so we are keeping an eye on them. A truck farmer would simply sell them all now; as they are big and beautiful. But a CSA farmer needs onions to send every week, so we try to store them. Our customers can help, by taking all the onion they can and storing them in their own garage or shed.

Lay them on something like a screen or hang them up by tying a few together with twine, feel the bottoms, and if they are soft, use those first. Onions can be blanched and frozen, or dehydrated.

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Busy As Bee's

A slow wet spring delayed garden work for a few weeks, but June found us busy as bees. The weeds are growing like weeds, and the vegetables are right behind them. It’s been a great growing season as long as you ignore the calendar.

Monday deliveries of fresh produce have been lettuce, radish, onion, beet, swiss chard and celery, plus a few herbs like thyme, oregeno and garlic. Soon we’ll send potatoes, squash, beans and cucumbers. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will follow, along with sweet corn and melons. We are still planting sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Every week is different.

You can get in on the action. The shop in RBS, across from the Head Start, is open on Monday afternoons. Local folks gather there to get fresh vegetables and learn how to eat healthier.

In Nashville we deliver to three locations. One is in Berry Hill, one in East Nashville at Porter Road Butcher, and one at Headquarters Coffee in West Nashville. This all happens on Monday afternoons, too.

 Diligent hoeing takes up a lot of our time. The young plants need assurance that n o weeds will bother them. But more importantly, we hoe to conserve soil moisture. By keeping the soil surface loose, the moisture underneath does not leave. If the soil is tight, capillary action evaporates and dries out the soil, wicking away the previous water the same way a candle wick draws up wax.

Irrigation is not necessary here. We get plenty of rain. By building a live soil humus, winter and spring rains soak in and supply water to the crops during summer. Compost, cover crops and tillage are more efficient than an irrigation system.

I can’t find any potato beetles. The plants must have a high sugar content, because if they didn’t there would be little red Colorado beetle larvae devouring the leaves. Bugs do not have a pancreas, so they cannot digest sugar.

If you want bugs, use commercial fertilizer. The nitrate nitrogen will use up the sugar in the plants so that bugs can eat them. Then you use the poisons on the plants. These a re the recommendations from the fertilizer/pesticide industry which funds the land grand colleges and the USDA extension service.

Old time farmers don’t have extra money from subsidy and crop insurance, so they rely on composted manures. It’s the cheaper way to go.

The summer solstice has come and gone. Our annual celebration went well, preceded by weeks of planting and hoeing. As we enter summer, the soil is loose, the crops look good, and the hoes will continue to stir. We are late on making hay, but the sun is shining.

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Summer Gardens

The summer garden is still in the seed packages, so let us talk about lettuce. Of the many different kinds, we grow a lot of the Batavian type. These are the summer crisp lettuces which hold up well in hot weather.
A cold frame was prepared in early April. An equal part of soil, compost and sand were thoroughly mixed up and put into a box six inches deep. Handfuls of rock phosphate and kelp were racked in and shallow furrows formed six inches apart.
I pour seed into the palm of my left hand and grab a pinchful with my right thumb and forefinger. By rubbing them, a steady flow of seeds thinly falls into the row. They need to not be piled up thickly, but about an inch apart.
The side of my hand pushes the seed down, and my fingers rake dry soil on top. I don’t water it. There is plenty of moisture in the soil, and by firming the soil and seed together they will swell up and sprout, and they grow faster then vegetables.
Once the lettuce is up, fingers tickle the loose soil in the beds. The sand really helps keep the beds easy to work. In about a month the plants are five to six inches tall and ready to transplant.
A well-composted garden bed is prepared and the plants are dug up. One person drops and another person plants. The left hand pulls the soil open, and the right hand picks the lettuce plant up by the leaves. Once the root is in the hole both hands firm it in and down the row we go. Afterward we give them all a splash of water.
Nevada, Concept, Magenta, and Sierra are the Batavian lettuces lining the beds. We grow the Romaine varieties, Paris Island Cos and Winter Density. Buttercruch and Little Gem are Bibb varieties we also grow, and I like the Iceburg type called Prizehead.
Now all they need is a bit more tickling with that hoe about once a week and watch them grow. Lettuce quickly jumps up and covers the bed. They are set out about a foot apart in rows 18” wide, so as they mature their leaves touch and shade out the weeds.
Lettuce is cut when the heads have formed and then it is dipped in cool water. T his takes away the heat and keeps them from wilting. They are shipped quickly to a cooler cellar and then off to the customers.
The cool weather suits lettuce just fine. Soon it will warm up and we’ll plant everything else. But the ground has to dry up first. Then we’ll talk about something besides lettuce.

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Plants

    8. There are two kinds of warmth for plants, a leaf-and-flower warmth that is dead, and a root warmth which is living. The moment warmth is drawn into the earth by the limestone it is changed into a certain condition of vitality. Air, too, is alive in the soil and dead above. Soil is full of aerobic, live beings, much more so than air.

Earth and water, on the other hand, become more dead in the earth than outside it. By losing life they become receptive to distant forces, especially in mid-winter.

    9. The minerals in the earth become under the influence of the most distant forces between January 15 and February 15. These are the crystal-forming forces. Before and after this period, minerals ray out forces particularly important for plant growth. We make practical use of this knowledge when we buy manure-filled horns during winter.

   10. For tilling the soil, we must know the conditions which enable distant forces access to the earth. We can learn this from the seed-forming process.

It is when a seed matures, when its protein is the most complex, that it disintegrates into chaos and the entire universe is able to stamp itself upon the seed. That which we see as a plant is always the image of some constellation. Steiner is telling us that pollination is an incomplete process. Afterwards, something happens in the seed, this turning into chaos, that opens it up to receive forces from the universe, making it become the particular species its parents were.

    11. The only way to help bring the new plant back to earthly forces is to place it in a humus-rich soil. When plant life has not reached the chaos of seed-formation, we plow it in to improve the humus content of the soil. The flowering stage is the time to cut and incorporate cover crops.

    12. Steiner encourages us to heighten our observational powers. “We can trace the process quite exactly. We can see this directly.” Earthly forces work in the horizontal leaf and flower formation. The seed at the end of the vertical stem irradiates the leaf and flower with distant forces.

    13. Plant-leaves would not be green with just the earth forces in them. The sun forces living in the leaves makes them green. Colored flowers not only have the sun forces, but also the supplementary forces which the sun receives from the distant planets. In red flowers we see forces of Mars, in yellow or white flowers we see Jupiter, and in blue ones, Saturn. These forces, as we have seen, work most strongly underground in the roots, but does shine out in the color of the flowers.

    14. In a plant we have the cosmic nature in the root, with just a little present in the coloring above. But in a much divided root, like those of grass plants, the earthly nature is working downward from its normal place above the soil level. The sun lives in the green leaves between root and blossom. The cosmic, distant forces work upward from inside the Earth with the help of silica, and the earthly forces work downward with the help of calcium.

    15. These plants with much-divided roots are the fodder plants which really build good soil. The best soils in the world are the great plains and savannahs where grass grows and gets grazed periodically for centuries. We mimic this by rotational, intensive grazing or the growing of grass and grain cover crops. These are silica plants with sharp, pointy leaves. When the cosmic is help up in the stalk, not shooting into the flowers, silica is working as in the plant, horsetail. We will use this practical information later to make an antifungal preparation.

    16. On the other hand, if we want the cosmic forces to not shoot upwards but to remain below, we would put the plant in a sandy soil. Remember, clay helps transport silica forces upward. Potatoes do not need to shoot up into seed production, so they like a sandy soil to enhance stem foundation near the root. We must always be able to distinguish between cosmic and earthly forces.

    17. Steiner then proceeds to explain that humanity was able to create the different kinds of fruits from primitive varieties by this kind of knowledge and instinctive wisdom. We must re-discover it, and again new knowledge in order to enter again into the whole Nature-relationship of these things.

    18. The silica receives light into the earth and makes it effective there. Humus, which stands nearer to the earthly-living nature does not receive light, it gives rise to a light-less working.

    19. Regarding animals, this is the peculiar relation. If on any farm you have the right amount of animals, these will give the farm the right amount of manure. The farm is healthy in as much as it provides its own manure. The farm is healthy in as much as it provides its own manure from its own stock.

   20. From the nose towards the heart of the animal, the distant forces are at work. In the heart itself the sun is at work, and from the tail back towards the heart the inner planets have influence. Besides direct sunlight, we have light reflected by the moon. Its effects are only from behind the animal.

Steiner asks us to learn to read the form, and suggests studying skeletons at a museum. You have the true contrast of the sun and the moon in the form and figure of the animals head and the attachment of the thighs, and you will be able to discover a definite relationship between the manure and the needs of the earth where the animal is grazing.

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Knowledge

Steiner begins the second lecture by giving an overview of the whole agriculture course. We will spend the first lectures gathering knowledge so as to recognize the conditions on which the prosperity of agriculture depends and observing hoe agriculture lives in the totality of the Universe. In the later lectures we will draw the practical conclusions, but for now we must gather, recognize and observe.

Notice the Goethenistic approach. We are not starting with a problem and hypothesis, as in Newtonian Science. Instead, we are looking for information, conditions, and how something (agriculture) lives. There are no boundaries to where we will look. Because of their diversity, I will number the various items of knowledge.

  1. The first condition is clear. “A farm is true to its essential nature if it is conceived as a kind of individuality entity in itself- a self-contained entity… whatever you need for agricultural production, you should try to posses it within the farm itself (including in the farm the due amount of cattle).”

Steiner insists from the start that a farm needs livestock, and then explains why. “It is not a matter of indifference whether we get our cow-dung from the neighbor or from our own farm.” What makes our farm’s cow-dung different? The humus content of a soil, with specific microbes, is formed in a large part by the animals on it. They eat the plants growing on the farm, digesting and transforming the microbiology in their stomachs. A cycle of rejunevation happens as it’s returned back to the soil and new plants grow there.

He justifies this need for a farm’s own livestock by considering the Earth and the influences from the Universe beyond. That means calcium forces in the manure and silica forces communicating intelligence from afar. This will be considered from various standpoints, and now we will begin with the soil.

  1. The soil is more than its mineral content and humus. Soil contains not only life but an effective astral principle. Astral refers to the stars, the influences from beyond the realm of earthly life. This inner life of the earthly soil, the fine and intimate astral effects, is different in summer and in winter, which has significance in practical life. We’ll learn how to use this difference when we bury cow horns.
  2. After this second item we have gathered, a third one is added. “The surface of the Earth is a kind of organ in that organism which reveals itself throughout the growth of Nature.” It is like a human diaphram. In the agricultural individuality, all the plants, animals and humus live in the belly of an organism whose head and nervous system are underground. “There is a constant and living mutual interplay of the above-the-Earth and below-the-Earth.”
  3. We are next begged to observe where these influences are localized. Activities above the Earth are immediately dependant on the inner plants supplementing and modifying the influences of the sun. The distant planets work upon all that is beneath the Earth’s surface, assisting those influences which the sun exercises from below the Earth.

In chapter one we were introduced to calcium and silica, and their relationship to the inner and distant planets, respectively. Now we have their locales. Again, we are still just gathering various items of knowledge. Notice that both sets of planets work with the sun. inner planets supplement and modify, while the outer planets simply assist.

  1. It is through what are commonly called sand, rocks, and stone that we have influences that depend on the farthest distances of the Universe. They are the most important for the unfolding of the growth-processes. This is where life comes into the soil, through the communication and intelligence of silica.
  2. You may wonder how what is poured down, so to speak, gets carried back up into the plant. Everything in the nature of clay is a means of transport. Adding clay to a sandy soil and adding sand to a clayey soil are old-time farming recommendations. The greater surface area of clay particles facilitates transportation.

What is drawn in from the Universe by the way of silicon and the root-nature, “head” beneath the soil, is able to be led upward through the plant by the clayey substances in the soil. Clay is the carrier of the upward stream of silica’s activity beneath the soil.

  1. Plant-growth in the air above the soil is a kind of digestion. The cycles of animals and crops on a farm create continual compost possibilities. A true mutual interaction arises when microbes and fine homeopathis substances are engendered by the water and air above the earth through the lives of plants and animals.

All that is above the soil in this kind of digestive process must be drawn downward into the soil. Limestone in the soil and in homeopathic doses in the air is there to carry into the soil the earthly process of digestion. Farmers spread lime on top of their fields, knowing it will work its way downward.

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Subtle Influences

Substances like silica make the plant receptive to the expanses of the universe, they arouse the plant’s senses so that it takes up from the whole universe what is shaped by Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Conversely, what makes a plant capable of the reproduction is taken from the spheres of Moon, Venus and Mercury via the forces of the calcium-like substances.

Silica is everywhere in minute doses, and fungi have been found in outer space. Remember, plants are a direct reflection of the stars, and silica is the communication and intelligence system. When plants become food or fodder, substances like silica (which would include mercury, lead and arsenic) are involved.

Calcium and related substances (potassium, sodium and magnesium) are involved in growth and propagation. Mother’s milk is calcium-rich, and we remember that calcium is what brings nitrogen into the plant.

Water promotes the forces of calcium; it is the ideal substance for the distribution of lunar forces. Plant growth shoots up after a rain and a full moon. A lack of calcium or water limits the capacity for growth and reproduction.

Warmth promotes the forces of silica; on the other hand, plants need warm weather to ripen their nourishing fruits and seeds. A lack of silica means less nutrition.

Steiner goes as far as to claim that the warmth from a fire will not be as healthy from trees that were planted with no considerations to the rhythms of the outer planets. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn affect the life of perrenial plants. People go through life quite thoughtlessly today, glad to not have to think about such things, and conceive of the whole of nature in a materialistic way, functioning like a machine.

Materialism, exemplified in Newtonian physics, allows us to understand the world of motion, time and space. Steiner acknowledges the achievements we’ve accomplished with lifeless machines, and that instinctual peasant wisdom had to step aside for the rise of scientific discoveries. But now it’s time to join the two world views together. Recent biological discoveries reveal some of the insights that Steiner, and Goethe before him, were well aware of.

Life does not work in a materialistic and mechanical way. A living organism is not a simple reductionist system, but a very interdependent interaction of many different things, from stars to microbes. This is the primary lesson in the first lecture. We have come to a starting point with the revelation of how silica and calcium work to bring nitrogen into our crops in the proper way for maximum animal and human nutrition.

This materialistic thinking is directly responsible for the simple fact that Steiner cannot find potatoes as good as the ones he ate as a boy. He has tried them everywhere. “Especially in the last few decades, a lot of things have diminished in their nutritive value simply because people no longer understand the more subtle influences at work in the universe.”

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Communication and Intelligence

By way of introduction, Steiner indicates what is most important to agriculture. Instead of talking about the chemical and physical components of something, he asks us to look carefully at how human beings live. We find a considerable degree of emancipation from the outer world, but this is less so with animals. Plants are still embedded in and quite dependant on what is occurring in their earthly surroundings, still very much a reflection of the universe.

An example of this would be that plants can only breed at specific seasons, animals have a boarder range, and humans are totally emancipated from the annual cycle. The point here is that plants reflect directly the celestial positions, where as in animals it is less so, and humans appear quite free in regard to heavenly positions. I say appear because astrology certainly questions this. Nevertheless we are much freer than plants, whose growth requires very specific seasons.

The first thing we need to take into account is the extremely important role silica plays, silica is a combination of elements silicon and oxygen, and makes up one half of the earth’s crust. Quartz, sand and many rocks are primarily silica, and so are computer chips. Why is silica so important?

Communication and intelligence are the answers. Fungal hyphae, the underground parts of fungis, are tubes made of silica. They are the roads, so to speak, that allow live soil nitrogen to be transported into the plant. Silica-rich, fungal hyphae unite the plant root with distant soil particales, nutrients and water. They are also called mycelium.

When a plant needs nitrogen, or any other element, a signal is sent down to the root. Bacteria and fungi living on the roots help the plant get what it is needing, in return for their food, which is what sloughs off of the root as it is growing. It is a symbolic relationship in healthy soil. Every plant species has specific microbes that colonize their roots, and make sure the plant grows well.

Not all nitrogen is the same. Live nitrogen in the form of amino acids is the most easily used by the plant. This comes from the living beings in the soil, from the microscopic to dead bugs to earth worm castings. Just the right amounts are whisked away up the silica-rich tubes of the fungal hyphae and into the plant.

Silica has an antagonist, nitrate. This is the dead nitrogen. It takes then times as much energy (sugar) for the plant to use. Nitrates harm the soil fungi, and repeated use causes fungal populations to decrease.

Live nitrogen in a plant means more sugar. W hen our kale grows with amino acids nitrogen, the sweetness is astounding. If the compost was too fresh, or it rains heavily, nitrates get into the kale and it doesn’t taste as sweet. Soil life is capable of utilizing a portion of the 1400 pounds of atmospheric nitrogen in the air above every square foot of soil. But nitrate nitrogen destroys these nitrogen-fixers and the fungal transportation system made of silica.

This is why organic farmers do not want water-soluable nutrients in the soil. They wont use fresh manure or chemical fertilizers, but rely on the wisdom of nature for growing healthy plants silica is responsible for the communication and intelligence between plants, fungi and the soil.

What moves the nitrogen-rich amino acids and other nutrients through the silica-rich fungal hyphae transport system? Calcium is the prime mover, and is always bound up with other elements. It grabs whatever the plant needs and gets it there. Calcium and silica are the great polarities in nature, with the plant in between. Clay in the soil mediates the forces of these two poles.

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Spring Into Action

I have onions on my mind, with potatoes close behind. Three boxes of Copra, and one each of Candy and Patterson, get sorted first. About 20% are too small for the field, so they go into a bed to get bigger before transplanting. The rest are awaiting proper field conditions. A box of leeks also wants to get planted.

In our rotations, onions follow potatoes. Two fields get chisel plowed as soon as soil can be worked in the spring. On the first pass I run lengthwise, and then soon afterwards it gets cross plowed. A field for the other spring vegetables gets the same treatment.

The chisel plow needs new points. A wire brush cleans the bolt threads to make their removal easier. The lower one comes off first because it’s more worn. I position myself and have to use my legs to break it loose. Oil helps.

When the bolt spins, a crowbar is used to pry the shoe tight. Plow bolts have no head to hold, so pressure is kept on their square shoulders inside the shoe. I wish I had a third hand. Eventually new shoes relieve the dull shoe blues.

Now I can really plow deeply. I am watering the crop this summer by opening up the soil now so that the spring rains soak into the humus. Soil surface management will follow to keep that moisture available for later. This is the key to farming without irrigations.

The potato field was composted and rough plowed last fall, I level the land by chisel plowing lengthwise. More compost will be put on this virgin field before I cross plow it deeply.

A light drizzle threatened to halt progress, but then stopped for just enough time to let me finish. Despite great odds, things do get d one on the farm. I stir up some horn manure and barrel compost and fling it on the freshly worked soil to help enliven the microbial activity which will later supply nutrients to the crops.

Rain comes that evening, so planting is delayed. This gives me time to make sure the farmall cranks up. I also noticed a tree fell and took down the fence, so maybe that will get mended before the cows notice it. They are paying close attention to their nine new calves and the last of the hay rolls. Their messy feeding spot will soon be piled to make next year’s compost.

It’s mid-March and nothing is planted. But the train has started to roll. Most of the gardens are busy growing cover crops of wheat or crimson clovers and are best left alone until the end of April. Cold frames are being prepared for an early April sowing of tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds, and a sweet potato bed will soon be created.

Spring is in the air. Daffodils, also called buttercups, have been blooming since January, and dryland fish are considering jumping above the forest floor. We are patiently preparing ourselves and our land to spring into action.

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Gardening

I love thinking about land use and talking about gardening. It would be a laugh to say I’m taking these things more seriously, but I am getting paid to do them, now. The dire stresses on our society, health and environment from corporate food systems compel me to help start small organic farms and share my 40 years of ridiculously stupid gardening mistakes, and here is how I go about it.

After sniffing the air and glancing around a new farm, I sit down and interview the landowners. They are the most important part of land use. I save walking the farm for later, but first I need to get to know them and what they want.

I may ask “Why a re you incarnated on earth now?” in an effort to draw out a mission statement. Before I can help them achieve their dream, they have to verbalize it. We will discuss the belief systems they rely on for their decision-making, so the base care values that will dictate land use surface.

Specific goals become apparent as we work our way to a vision of the land ten years from now. A list is formed of likes and dislikes, which will help us keep their quality of life in mind. Finally we picture the other people involved, their present and future resources, and what they want to produce from the land. Now lets walk.

The land has been used for many centuries. Native Americans ringed unproductive tees, so the Eastern Hardwood Forest contained mostly mast-producing species like oak, chestnut and beech. They also cleared land for crops. European settlers cut down the forests and made pastures for livestock and much more cropland. Thinking about land use has been going on for a long time.

Most forests are whatever is left after several removals of eh best lumber. I observe the prevalent plant growth and not non-native invasives running amok. I usually explain how to rid the woods of poison ivy, which is by cutting the hairy vines off of the trees. Possible woodland crops are Shiitake Mushrooms, or herbs like ginseng, golden seal and black cohosh.

Most pastures are under grazed, an unusual concept for many new owners of land. Soils are formed from grass plants being grazed and then resting without grazing. Too much of either destroys the soils productive capacity. Of the farm has cleared land, it needs cattle. Their proper management supplies the fertility necessary for the whole farm.

Most garden spots are compacted, and now we discuss soil tilthe. Again, it is the grass plants that create good tilthe, it cannot be done by tillage. We till in a way that destroys the tilthe as little as possible. A rototiller is the worst, and most common, implement. I much prefer plowing slowly for preserving soil structure.

As we study the plants, nutrient deficiencies become noticeable. Remineralization will likely be required, so we look for sources of lime, rock phosphate, granite meal and other rock dusts. I’m a fan of kelp and I love compost. Manure, leaf mold, rotten wood chips and old hay can be found and used to improve the biology on the farm through composting.

I often recommend utilizing the neighbors’ cattle, tractor and organic matter. Let them run their livestock on your land, and manage hay fields, in return for some old manure and plowing your garden. A few baskets of tomatoes later on will sweeten the deal.

We’ll have to fence out deer, and think about other varmints. Looking at slope, aspects and sunshine, we’ll pick spots for an orchard, berries, vegetables, flowers and cold frames. After considering bees, chickens and larger livestock, I’ll try to talk them out of horses. Markets, machinery, buildings, labor and management may not be as fun as gardening, but it would have behooved me to think about them long before I did. I want to shorten the long learning curve (and wrong turns) I’ve traveled on.

I follow up with more thoughts in a week or two, and continue to help when needed. Introducing them to books, people and organizations, I try to draw them into the circle of new age, old time farmers who are changing the way we look at food and land use.

Gardening is fun to teach, because people really want to learn about it. They ask a lot of questions as I discuss minerals, tillage and biology. Varieties, mulching, weeding, insects and many other topics and techniques get covered. By building up our soil humus, we’ve grown 5 to 8 acres of vegetables with no irrigation for decades, and I love sharing and learning with others.

This year the classes will begin on Sunday, April 21, between 1 and 4 pm. We’ll hold them at Green Door Gourmet, which is on River Road, off of Charlotte Pike, exit 201 from I-40, west of Nashville. We also take interns on our farm in Red Boiling Springs, for a few days up to a few years.

Let’s fill up Middle Tennessee with organic and biodynamic farms and gardens for better health, meaningful work, and a clean environment. Although becoming a “local food” town, Nashvillians probably get less than 2% of their diet from local organic farms, we are on the right track and still have a long way to go.

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Chapter I

After gratefully appreciating the hosts of this lecture series, the first thing Steiner makes clear is that no one should talk about agriculture unless they have a sound basis in it, and really know what it means to grow grain, potatoes or beats. He includes the social aspects, the organizational aspects, and the economic principles.

The social aspects of agriculture are mentioned first, and echo Tolstoy’s observation that the people involved are of the utmost importance. Society in rural areas develops out of families. Everyone knows each other and their peculiar talents, habits, and personalities. This allows for an equitable distribution of work and goods because it is all on such a small, community-based scale.

Agriculture and civilization grew up together and remain inseperable. In several passages, Steiner describes himself as a peasant, and honors the wit, observational skills and instinct of country people. He goes so far as to credit his education more from this than the extensive academic training he consquently acquired.

Recent history suggests that when peasants move to cities, the practical intelligence they bring with them creates an economic boom for that country, lasting approximately two generations. We saw this in Europe during the industrial revolution, later in America and now in Asia. Education removed from agriculture loses its sound basis.

How a rural society takes care of itself remains best left to those who are farming there. Humbleness, compassion and practical sense become ingrained in one who cares for land, plants and animals. Not that something can’t be learned from urban environments, but social aspects are generally kinder in the country, and best left up to them.

The same is true or organizational aspects of a farm. It seems obvious that those who are in constant touch with the land should be the ones who know what to do. Again, insights gained from the synergy of city talent (with roots inevitably in farming) can be gleaned through by farm organizers, who can use what they need.

But it lowers quality, happiness and health for non-farmers to organize farms. The detrimental effects of agribusiness demonstrate this quite clearly. Organizing for short term profit rather than long term sustainability creates disorganization on farms.

Look at the word organize, and you can find organic. Life arises through organization. Who will best organize a farm so it consistently yields high quality crops and remains able to do so with a minimum of inputs? The farmer will.

The economic principles in farming also need to remain in the hands of the growers. They are the ones who know how much it costs to grow it again. Too much interference by middlemen, marketers, and giant corporations is always paid for by those practicing agriculture.

Supply and demand create price fluctuations that don’t reflect the costs of production. First and foremost this must be covered. Farming need not be gambling. Once the farmer is fairly compensated, then and only then should others concern themselves with the price of farm products.

Steiner affinity with Goethe surfaces when he mentions influences coming from the entire universe affecting what people erroneously consider to be self-contained entities. A pre-requisite to understanding the biodynamic method is the realization that all things in nature are interconnected. Instinctual knowledge reflects their truth, and science seems to be coming around.

For example, the rare English Bluebell is now known to acquire 15 different species of fungi to be present in the soil for it to grow. Some of these fungi stretch out for miles underground. Construction at a distance of five miles from the patch cuts off the fungal hyphae and kills the English Bluebells.

The inter workings of nature are the study of farmers, centuries of observation have led to crop and animal rotations, the proper utilization of the various species and the secrets of manuring. The introduction ends with more pouring out of gratitude and the notion that the instincts farmers had were quite specific and reliable. They were part of the interrelationship in nature.

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Barefoot Farmer’s Long Hungry Creek Farm

It was 20 years ago today, the newspaper gave me the new name. I write about my compost pile, but I’m guaranteed to raise a smile. So may I introduce to you the farm you’ve known for all these years, Barefoot Farmer’s Long Hungry Creek Farm.

We get by with a little help from our friends. The farm runs on love, from my best friends who work here with me, to all the helpful neighbors, eager apprentices and appreciative customers. Would you believe in our farm at first sight? Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.

Picture yourself on a farm in a garden with berries and trees and vegetable crops. Beautiful flowers of yellow and green towering over your head must be a row of sunflowers. Newspaper columns appear every week waiting to take you away, into a world of organic living and caring for the landscape.

It’s getting better all the time. Our soils are getting better with gentle tillage, remineralization and biodynamic compost. I’ve learned how to improve the soil tilthe and humus, raising the sugar content of the crops so that insects and diseases don’t bother them.

I’m fixing a hole where the cows get out and stop my mind from wondering. Where did they go? Agriculture requires cattle, and I’ve been chasing mine around for forty years. They are teaching me about rotational grazing. The realization that ruminants excrete more fertilizers than their own crops require gave rise to the domestication of animals and the dawn of civilization.

They’re leaving home after living together for so many years. This log cabin has been the home of my family, and a bunch of friends. Most recently, I’ve been blessed to have two young grandchildren staying here with me and helping with the chores. We are all leaving this home, and four other families from our neighborhood are leaving their homes, too.

For the benefit of the chicken fight there have been shows at night several times. From the benefits in Nashville to out gatherings at the Armour Hotel, donations and support have poured in. the common threat has brought a diverse group of people together. As one of the community members said “The chickens came and families had to move, but we have made lifelong friendships. We won!”

We are talking about the space between us all and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion. Lots of people are realizing the environmental and economic disaster that the corporate control of food has caused, but many are still unaware. In our local history, gardens and small farms created a culture around meals that also generated income and caring for the land. Healthy farms won’t want CAFO’s, gas fracking and other menaces threatening Tennessee.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more? Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64. Farming requires long-term thinking. We make decisions based on what will be happening on our farm twenty years later, not by sacrificing the future for short-term profit.

Lovely Rita by the creek, give us a wink and make me think of you. Hundreds of students and thousands of visitors make their way to the Long Hungry Creek. Many have fallen in love here and consequently we’ve had several weddings. Farms are for people, protecting nature and building a future.

Nothing to do to save the farm put your arms down. Going to work, got weeds to pull, it’s a hoedown. I’m going o move into the old Purcell house on Heady Ridge, after we fix it up. I will live again on the big farm and have my good mornings near the chickens, pigs and cows. As for the 40,000 chickens 450 feet from where I live now, the Tysons executives were certainly correct when they told me, “It will stink.”

We’re Barefoot Farmer’s Long Hungry Creek Farm, we’re sorry but it’s time to go. We’d like to thank you once again. The tremendous empathy and compassion you all have given me in the last two successful years has touched my heart. It has given me the strength, courage and hope to continue to work for a healthy agriculture throughout Middle Tennessee.

I read the news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who had a farm. And though the news was rather sad, I just had to laugh, I saw the photograph. A giant CAFO dwarfed Tennessee’s most famous gardens, with three hundred acres where it could have gone. I’d love to turn you on to homegrown, organic produce, an d help you learn to grow your own, without the Beatles.

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Gardens

Beautiful and extremely productive gardens have graced that land around my cabin for the past 16 years. They have been well documented on the Volunteer Gardener program, so many people who hadn’t been able to visit still got to enjoy them. These gardens, open to the public, are where my students learn, and where old gardeners come to learn new ideas.

Since this is the last garden I’ll get to grow here, and since it is December, let’s look at what is still growing out there. A market garden, or truck patch as it used to be called, gets replanted in late summer with fall vegetables and cover crops. We don’t want to leave the land bare, but whenever possible to always have food available.

Horseradish, spearmint and nettle are in the first perennial beds, opposite the lettuce filling up the cold frames. The barn still hosts baskets of pumpkins, which have been picked through to now just be special treats for the hogs. The hanging garlic and onions need to go inside for winter storage.

Bok Choy is the white-ribbed, dark green leafed, oriental cabbage in the first beds behind the barn. Along with the Chinese Cabbage, also called Napa, these vegetables can weigh up to five pounds each. Soups, slaws, stirfries and sauerkraut are but a few ways our customers enjoy these cabbages, which resist the worms way better than their European counterparts.

The two kinds of parsley are curly and Italian Flat-Leaf. I like the curly best, but most people like the Italian. Parsley is very good for you.

Swiss Chard is a member of the beet family. The dark skinny leaves offer a good alteration to the other greens, which are mostly in the brassica, or cabbage family. Chard has a finer texture, and doesn’t have that hint of sulfur that cabbages have.

Many of our visitors seem surprised to see celery growing here. What a wonderful plant, it’s sweet, crisp stalks bursting with flavor. We set out a thousand in the spring. After a few harvests of the outer stalks, we leave them alone during summer, only to really get production in the fall as the weather cools down.

Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach was sown August 29th, a little later than the time most fall greens are sown. The thin cotyledon leaves are hard to spot, but not so the dark green, savoyed leaves we love in our salads or slightly cooked. I planted another spinach row in late October for a March and April harvest.

A bed of sprouting broccoli is now giving us delicious heads. Nearby, two rows of parsnips are ready to dig.

A little dill still fills our weekly baskets. Arugula, Mizuna, tat soi and mei qing are unusual vegetables that continue to produce. Collards and mustard are more common, and we grow plenty of them.

By far our biggest plantings in the fall are kale, turnips and daikons. We’ve been saving seed from the flat leaf kale for 25 years or so. We also grow curly kale and Red Russian kale.

Turnips come in many colors. Scarlet Ohno, White Egg, Gold Ball and Purple Top supply red, white, yellow, and purple turnips. Radishes too, are colorful. We have red China Rose, White Daikons, Long Black Spanish, and my favorite, a green one with a bright red, sunburst color flesh. It is called Watermelon Radish, Misota red, or Red Meat, depending on where you buy the seed. Rutabagas are a yellow-fleshed root similar to turnips.

The rest is in cover crops of wheat and vetch, along with a field of barley. I guess I’ll sow these gardens back into hay crops after the winter kills back the greens. The soil is great, and will stay great in grass. Maybe I’ll get to garden here again, someday.

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Southeast Biodynamic Association

The Southeast Biodynamic Association was formed after our first annual conference in 1987. Realizing the value of shared experiences and observations, we agreed to gather together regularly, we think we are celebrating our silver anniversary, but our accounting may be off. Harvey Lisle called us the rebels, and insisted we hold our own conference. He had been involved with biodynamics since 1950, and was referring to the independent nature of Hugh Lovel, Hugh Courtney and me, who all lived in the south. Harvey’s own open-mindedness, mirth and spirituality certainly guided our group, and he never missed a conference and the opportunity to spring forth new ideas. Hugh Lovel hosted the first nine conferences in Blairsville, Georgia. Each year Hugh Courtney would focus on one of the nine preparations and we learned hands on how to make them. There were other lectures and workshops, and we did not shy away from controversial subjects. Waldorf teachers, Anthroposophical doctors and many other students of Rudolf Steiner kept a lively flow of conversations going. From the very start we agreed on one thing, we had to be on a farm eating our own food. We understand that the bridge between thinking and activity required proper nutrition. It would do no good to offer education without biodynamic farm and food to feel the difference and inspire commitment. Every August I loaded up the pickup truck with melons tomatoes and whatever else Hugh didn’t grow, and made the trip to Georgia. Everything from the breads and beans to the meat and diary was grown on our farms, and the meals were stellar. A festival atmosphere was created, mimicking the words used in the agriculture course regarding their conference. Children playing added to the merriment, and the music and bonfires and eventually a talent show all became as important as the lectures, and the food kept getting better as our soils improved. Forming our association on the last day of our first conference, we agreed on a few principals. The Southeast Biodynamic Association was open to all and required no dues. The conference fee of $100 (which is still the same 25 years later) would be waived if need be. You become a member by attending the party. We organized it using ideas gained from the three-fold social order. On the one hand, free reign was given to spiritual ideas with no strings attached. To do this we use no money, no staff, no newsletter and no rules. On the other hand we promote biodynamics through economics, by creating profitable, model farms. For example, by our farm being Demeter certified for 12 years, the word biodynamic appeared on grocery store shelves all over Tennessee. The many interns from our farms also spread the word, and several now have their own farms and gardens and apprenticeship programs. By 1995 we are hosting the conferences here in Red Boiling Springs. Our association accepts no grants or money, with one exception. The National Biodynamic Association helps us to bring in a lecturer most years. In 2005 we hosted the National Conference, and many folks commented that it was special to be on a farm rather than at a hotel. So here were are 25 years later, celebrating our 25th Southeast Biodynamic Conference. But I think it’d actually our 26th. Were lucky we don’t have accounting to deal with. The word conference has been changed to celebration, and the 150 attending members will no doubt do their best to add to t he festivities. The feeling we have as we go into our 25th (or is it 26th?) year is more of a family reunion. For more info about the conference this weekend can be found at barefootfarmer.com

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Master Gardeners

I love the people involved in the Master Gardeners Program.  Their curiosity has led them to take courses in horticulture from State University professors, and to help out in community gardening projects. I’ve lectured to master gardeners in many of Middle Tennessee.

The extension agent opened up the meeting. They were planning a field trip to Lexington to visit the labs where diseases are identified. The information in the Master Gardeners educational material stems from research on chemicals in agriculture, funded by chemical companies.

Apparently the “Volunteer Gardener” TV show gets aired in Kentucky because they all knew me. I started out by asking for questions, and was still trying to answer them three hours later. These folks came to learn.

I explain botany, microbiology and chemistry in simple examples from the garden. How a plant grows and its interaction with microbes and nutrients is a fascinating subject. Illuminating the causes for phenomenon experienced in their own gardens was deeply satisfying for all of us.

Many took notes. One lady claimed afterward to have five pages of them. These folks were craving information on how to garden organically. There seems to be much confusion about chemicals, and concern over their safety. They said a field trip to my farm would e much more to their liking.

Soil structure differs widely, depending on how we treat our ground. I can feel soil and  tell how it will grow plants. When it’s soft and silky, colloidal and crumbly, and not stuck together in clods and clumps, plants will thrive.

We stepped outside to look at the four by four gardens enclosed in boards and mulched in between by wood chips. The soil was weary from chemical use, packed and crusty, dry and lifeless. I had to look elsewhere to show them what I was talking about.

Underneath a nearby fence I dug out a clump of grass. Here we would see the beginnings of soil remediation. It was latticed with roots and had bugs and worms, but I could tell chemicals had been used.

It’s a shame, but understandable, that chemical companies fund agriculture education.  They make incredible amounts of money in return for their investment. It’s an honor to be able to teach a more natural approach to gardening, and a hopeful sign that people are so eager to learn and pursue it. The extension agent agreed with much of my talk, gave me a hat and made me an honorary extension agent for the University of Kentcky. But don’t tell Monsanto.

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Fall Crops

By mid-August I have changed my box of seeds. The last of the summer crops are planted, and it’s time for the fall ones. Although a  few rows and beds of cabbage and lettuce are in to make transplants, I patiently wait until August 15 before I go crazy.

The onion field brings fond memories. 50 bushels of large yellow bulbs grew here, many of which are hanging in the barn. Onions must like hot dry weather to cure, because we had very little rotten ones.

After bush hogging the weeds, a bucket of buckwheat gets two double handfuls of crimson clover mixed in it. Then I look in my box of brassica seed, and I choose Rutabega. I pace the length of the field and back, tossing the mixture of three very different species high into the air.

A restful is slowly released as my arm arches through the air. The seeds scatter beneath the sky and fall a few inches apart in a 20 foot wide swath. Four gallons of seed take me down  the field and back, an area of about ¼ acre.

Buckwheat is a fast growing, summer cover crop. In a month it will be two foot tall and full of white flowers. Bees love it, and buckwheat brings in lots of other insects, too. Lime in the soil is made more accessible for the next crop after buckwheat has been grown.

Crimson Clover is a winter cover crop. It is very slow to grow at first and can get taken over by weeds if sown alone. Buckwheat acts as a nurse crop for crimson clover, shading out the weeds and allowing it to get established. As a legume, it adds nitrogen to the soil.

The handful of Rutabega seed is just one of the many kinds of Brassuca family members who love the fall. Frost kills the buckwheat, and the Brassicas take over the field until winter. All along the clover hides underneath the leaf canopy. Awaiting March and April to grow and bloom in its bright red glory.

Long Black Spanish radish is the Brassica that goes into the lower half of the old onion field. I then pull the chisel plow with the spike-tooth harrows behind to cover up the seed. I wanted to follow with a cultipacker, but didn’t get to.

The next fields were where the potatoes grew, and they get the same treatment. Bok Choy, Michihili Cabbage and Calabras sprouting broccoli are in one spot, and collards are in the lower side. Another field has mustard on one side and kale on the other.

An old corn patch is slated for turnips and diakons, but we got interrupted by cattle escapees. Running them out of a field of winter squash was saddening, but planting Red Russian and Siberean Kale cheered me back up. A gentle rain fell last night to tuck the newly planted seeds in their new homes. Good things will happen in these beds under the covers of beneficial, soil improving cover crops.

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The Garden Changes Unpredictably

The garden changes unpredictably. I wanted to mow seven rows of drought-stricken cucumbers and beans, but save the nearby straightneck squash. By the time we got onions and potatoes up and I had the bushhog ready, the cucumbers and beans had arrived and the squash got mowed.

With the Purcell garden putting out squash at the rate of 20 or more bushels a week, we didn’t need this older planting. Old lettuce beds have new plantings of beans and cucumbers for fall. Beets are in the cave and squash is in their old spot. A potato field is in kale, along with buckwheat, after a thorough subsoiling and composting.

Fall plantings of greens are started in late July. Lettuce, Chinese Cabbage, Bok Choy, and broccoli go in rows, to be later transplanted a foot apart in beds. Turnips get planted in mid-August, probably in the corn field.

As soon as a crop is done, the garden gets a cover crop pf buckwheat, or another vegetable. There is no sense in letting it grow up in weeds. By mid-August through September, we’ll be planting crimson clover for a winter cover crop. We use a nurse crop of buckwheat and daikon to help the clover get established.

A beautiful field now is the June planting of pepper, eggplant and sweet potato. Weed-free, soft soil greets your feet as you admire bright red peppers or dark purple eggplants. The sea of vines guarantees several tons of sweet potatoes in a few months.

Small flower patches grace the edges of the garden. Zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers bring color to the green carpet, waving joyfully above it all. Fragrant herbs, like sweet basil and sill, delight our noses.

An early melon or three were quite lovely, and have us looking for more. The whole melon field has received and is blooming again. Maybe the drought didn’t kill them, but just delayed the main harvest.

Celery, chard and parsley patiently await cooler weather. They are alive and edible, but will really thrive in fall. Nearby, the climbing beans have wrapped around their bamboo poles and are reaching gracefully but in vain for the sky.

Tomatoes and cucumbers are anxious to be put up in jars. It all comes together, the exploding burst of summer’s abundance. Whatever is going on, it will be different tomorrow.

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